Ven. Master Xuecheng delivered a speech at Utrecht University, Netherlands

From:Voice of Longquan     Author:Voice of Longquan     Time:2016-12-16 20:03:36
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On the afternoon of December 12, Ven. Master Xuecheng, president of the Buddhist Association of China and abbot of Beijing Longquan Monastery, delivered a keynote speech titled “The Spirit and Practice of Han Chinese Buddhism” to a full house at the School of Philosophy and Religious Sciences, Utrecht University, in the Netherlands. More than 200 people attended the event, including experts, scholars, faculty and students from the University, faculty and students from Chinese College Nederland, Chinese in the Netherlands, and Buddhist believers from other European countries. Below is the full text of the speech.

Today, economic globalization and highly developed scientific and technological civilization has turned the many countries that were once isolated from each other into one global village. Cultural encounters, exchange, collision and integration have become normal. Human destinies have never been as inextricably linked with each other. At this historical junction where Eastern and Western cultures converge, Buddhism, especially Chinese Buddhism, is committed to addressing the issues arising in the development of humankind.

This paper will first introduce the history and basic spirit of Chinese Buddhism, review its new development in modern times—mainly the proposal and practice of the idea of Humanistic Buddhism—and conclude with a briefing on how Chinese Buddhism is practiced at Beijing Longquan Monastery.

I.The history and basic spirit of Chinese Buddhism

1. The history of Chinese Buddhism

Buddhism first emerged and flourished in the 6th century BCE in India, and gradually spread to South, Southeast, Central and East Asian countries, giving rise to the three language families of Theravada Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism. Among them, Chinese Buddhism spread to China via land routes and the maritime Silk Road, and developed into a tradition with Chinese characteristics after integrating with the philosophies of indigenous Confucianism and Daoism. It has exerted unique and indispensable influence on the development of Chinese civilization, and later spread to the Korean Peninsula, Japan, Vietnam, and other places. Together with Theravada and Tibetan Buddhism, the three language families complemented each other through mutual exchange and learning.

The event indicating the arrival of Buddhism in China and its influence on Chinese society was the legend of the “White Horse Carrying Sutras." In the 7th year of the Yongping Era (64 BCE) Emperor Ming of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-200 CE) sent envoys to the Western Regions in search of the Buddha Dhamma. Three years later they returned to the capital, Luoyang, together with two Indian monks and white horses carrying many Buddha figures and sutras. The two Indian monks translatedthe Sutra of Forty-two Chapters, the first Buddhist text in Chinese. Thereafter, scriptural translation, doctrinal study, and Dharma practice and realization were carried out simultaneously with one complementing the other, pushing Chinese Buddhism to flourish and prosper in the Sui and Tang dynasties. Many schools emerged one after another, displaying a spectacle of one hundred flowers blooming in a riot of color. There were eight main schools, including Faxing (the Three Sastras Schools), Faxiang (the Yogacara School, Ci’en School or Conscious-only School), Tiantai, Xianshou (the Avatansaka School), Chan (the Dhyana School), the Pure Land, the Vinaya, and the Esoteric (the Tantra School). These eight major schools were commonly referred to in Chinese as Xing, Xiang, Tai, Xian, Chan, Jing, Lu and Mi. Of them, Chan Buddhism in particular thrived and became a school unique to Chinese Buddhism, and was subsequently developed into five families and seven schools. Two of them, Rinzai (Linji) and Soto (Caodong), have been passed down to date, exerting an important influence in East Asia and European and American societies.

2. The basic spirit of Chinese Buddhism

(1)Loving-kindness and compassion

Loving-kindness and compassion are the core concepts and essential spirit of Chinese Buddhism. Loving-kindness means bringing happiness to all sentient beings, while compassion means saving all beings from suffering. Just asA Treatise on the Great Wisdom to Enlightenment (Mahāprajñāpāramitā-śāstra) states, “Great kindness is to bring happiness to all sentient beings, while great compassion is to liberate all living beings from suffering. Great kindness is to bestow sentient beings with the causes and conditions for happiness, while great compassion is to liberate sentient beings from the causes and conditions of suffering.” Offering unconditional care and help to sentient beings for the sake of their happiness and joy, and giving unlimited compassion to all beings and alleviating their sufferings and misfortunes. This is what Buddhism always mentions as “unconditional loving-kindness and great compassion of oneness with all.” The spirit of compassion is built on the Buddhist worldview of Dependent Co-Arising and Equality. Buddhism believes that "All Dharmas proceed from causes and conditions, they will cease with the cessation of their conditions.” Every thing or phenomenon arises and passes away on the basis of certain causes and conditions, and the whole world is a network composed of innumerable continuous causal relationships in time and countless synchronous interdependent relationships in space. Everybody connects with other beings on an equal and consubstantial basis. They share weal and woe and are non-dualistic. Guided by compassion and wisdom, the act of benefiting oneself will lead to that of benefiting others whereas benefiting others is in fact benefiting oneself. This will ultimately help us reach a realm of life in which self and other advance as one and in harmony.

Chinese Buddhism attaches great importance to the spirit of compassion and stresses that the meaning of life is not just to seek individual happiness and freedom but to serve society and the public under the guidance of Buddhist wisdom. This is the most profound spiritual wealth accumulated in the nearly 2,000 years of development of Chinese Buddhism. The Bodhisattva’s vows of great compassion have become the major guiding principle of Chinese Buddhism, embodied in such axioms as “wish for sentient beings' freedom from suffering rather than the personal goal of seeking his own comfort,” “save all sentient beings before realizing the state of the Bodhi,” and “never attain Buddhahood until all are saved from the Hell.” Only by upholding the Bodhisattva spirit of “rescuing the world and all sentient beings with compassion” can Chinese Buddhism bring forth the new through the old while inheriting Indian Buddhism, manifesting its wisdom of unity and harmony, and earnestly engaging in social charitable undertakings.

(2)Unity and harmony

Unity means inclusiveness, and harmony means coexistence and integration. As a foreign religion, Buddhism was able to take root, sprout and thrive, bear fruit, be successfully localized and retain its long-term vitality mainly because of the spirit of unity and harmony developed in its long interaction with Chinese local cultures. In translating Buddhist texts, the translators rendered Indian Buddhist terminologies with lexical concepts from Taoism and Confucianism. In Buddhist doctrinal studies, eminent monks of generations were also devoted to absorbing the ethical and moral views of Taoism and Confucianism and applied them in Buddhism, effectively promoting the integration and development of ideas of the three schools. For example, Confucianism takes the Five Constant Virtues including benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom and fidelity as essentials for people to build their lives, whereas Buddhism promotes the Five Precepts of abstaining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and drinking intoxicants as the concrete behavior to implement the Five Constant Virtues of Confucianism. Conditioning to killing results in the loss of benevolence; fault of stealing causes the loss of righteousness; indulging in sexual misconduct leads to the loss of propriety, delighting in false speech makes one lose fidelity, and favoring drinking intoxicants causes one to lose wisdom. Confucianism and Taoism also perfect their theories of Mind Nature under the influence of Buddhism. Chinese Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism have become the three mainstreams of Chinese culture. They become an indispensable component of Chinese culture and are the essential cultural genes of the Chinese nation. They constitute the spiritual home for the Chinese people.

Chinese Buddhism successfully adapted itself to Chinese society in both Buddhist doctrine and organizational structure. Due to the unique social environment in China, the original precepts prescribed by the Buddha could no longer satisfy the actual needs of Chinese society; therefore, the ancient patriarchs stipulated various monastic rules, most typically the rules established by Chan Master Baizhang (720-814 CE), to administer monastics together with Buddhist precepts. The monastic rules were born out of Buddhist precepts as an integration of Indian Buddhism and Chinese culture. The major reforms concerning the management system of Chan Master Baizhang were as follows: Monastics changed their lifestyle of making alms-round to engaging in collective farming, becoming self-sufficient financially; they no longer practiced asceticism individually but cultivated under the mentor in a collective teaching environment, and their cultivation and enlightenment must be certified by the patriarch; concerning organizational  system, the Sangha was administered with both Buddhist precepts and monastic rules and had moral standards set for both individual and community behaviors.


II. Humanistic Buddhism, the modernized Chinese Buddhism

1. The ideas of Humanistic Buddhism

After the mid-19th century, in the context of collision and exchange between Chinese and Western civilizations, China started the historical process of exploring modernization in its economic sphere and traditional culture. Chinese Buddhism would have fallen behind the times if it failed to transform its traditional role to become an organic part and the progressive force of modern society. This grim and immediate crisis has impelled people of lofty ideals in Buddhist circles to reform the set rules to create something new in various ways, thus blazing a new path for the development of Buddhism. They built new-style schools and Buddhist academies for monks and nuns, printed scriptures and made them circulate, organized Buddhist doctrinal study, founded Buddhist periodicals, and even set up Buddhist branches on local and national levels. All these efforts were to cultivate effectives of Buddhism, make the voice of Buddhism, manifest its value and safeguard its rights and interests through various forms such as education, ideology, culture, publicity, organization, and so on. With a positive attitude of entering the world to benefit people and the courage to face up to this responsibility, Buddhism in China has transformed the excellent traditional culture into a modern style. It integrated itself with different temporal and spatial conditions with high flexibility, opening space for Chinese traditional culture to grow and innovate.

Venerale Master Taixu (1890—1947), a leading figure in modern Chinese Buddhism, put forward the idea of Humanistic Buddhism and proposed this thought: “The Buddha we look up to and take refuge in perfected his character. By perfecting our own humanity, we attain Buddhahood. This is called real life.” Venerable Master Yinshun held that the highest standard of morals is that of a monk, and the supreme realization of humanity is attaining Buddhahood. Humanistic Buddhism, which is of Mahayana nature in form, places emphasis on Mahayana aspiration, or the spirit of enlightenment, and advocates the Bodhi path in the human world. Lay Buddhist Zhao Puchu once stated that Chinese Buddhism would, in full confidence, march into the future, the ideal realm of Humanistic Buddhism, and the worlds of flower treasury that feature peace, happiness and prosperity of the whole humankind. In terms of faith cultivation for a Buddhist, Rev. Zhao said that the lifelong deeds and aspirations of Buddhists were to put into practice the Buddha’s teaching by relying on the human world with compassion as the expedient. They basically contain the vast deeds and aspirations such as the Five Precepts, the Ten Virtuous Deeds, the Four Ways to Gather Disciples and the Six Perfections.

The idea of Humanistic Buddhism is a new philosophy adapted to the new time and is put forward in accordance with the Buddha’s teachings and the thoughts of eminent monks and virtuous teachers throughout the ages. It originated from Shakyamuni Buddha and was inherited and developed by eminent monks and virtuous teachers. The Numerical Agama Sutras (Ekottara-āgama) states: “All the Buddhas, the world-honored ones, came from the world.” It revealed the basic spirit of the Buddha: laying emphasis on the human world. Shakyamuni Buddha once told his disciples: those who set up a park or a grove; the people who construct a bridge; a place to drink and a well; those who give a residence; or them merit always increases; both by day and by night;” (Connected Discourses of the Buddha, (Saṃyuktāgama Sutra, Vol. 36) ).

The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra states: “If he expounds on the principles of government, or follows an occupation to make a living, it will all accord with the proper Dharma.” (Vol.6) “Therefore Buddhists should carry out worldly endeavor in a transcendental spirit to benefit all beings.” (Rev. Zhao Puchu)The Platform Sutra of the Six Patriarch states: “The Dharma is within this world, apart from the world, there is no awakening. Seeking Bodhi apart from the world is like looking for a rabbit’s horn.” It illuminates the relationship between the Buddha Dharma and the world.

Since Humanistic Buddhism was first put forward by Venerable Master Taixu in the 1930s, it has gained recognition and support from the disciples in the fourfold assembly and from experts and scholars of academic circles. In 1983, the Buddhist Association of China (BAC) subsumed vast deeds and aspirations which benefit both self and other such as the Five Precepts, the Ten Virtuous Deeds, the Four Ways to Gather Disciples and the Six Perfections in the main contents of Humanistic Buddhism. At the same time it included the practice of Humanistic Buddhist thought in its constitution. The tide of Humanistic Buddhism spread in full swing in the Chinese mainland and Taiwan and profoundly influenced Chinese society. It has played a unique and irreplaceable role in the fields of education, charity, and culture.

3. The practice of Humanistic Buddhism

Chinese Buddhism circles in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Chinese mainland have been dedicated to promoting the idea of Humanistic Buddhism. They attached importance to reforming society, promoting peace, and building an earthly Pure Land; advocated compassion and wisdom in resolving conflicts and eliminating disputes; and appealed to different countries, ethnicities, and religions to jointly build a harmonious world with long lasting peace and common prosperity. They also called on all Buddhist traditions to communicate with and learn from each other, promoted dialogue and cooperation between Buddhism and other religions, and advocated religious tolerance and promoted mutual understanding and respect. Besides, they made endeavors to adapt to the development of the time, respond to various issues in modern society and strengthen interaction between Buddhism and modern science and technology, providing spiritual resources for the progress of human civilization. Especially in recent years, with the successful holding of some international Buddhist conferences such as the "World Buddhist Forum,” the philosophy advocated and practiced by Chinese Buddhism is gaining understanding and recognition worldwide.

Humanistic Buddhism is also developed and practiced vigorously in monasteries in the Chinese Mainland. These monasteries conducted various activities to serve society, including dharma assembly visits, life education, cultural experience, public welfare and charity, online Buddhism proclaiming, and religious communication, etc. They provided education programs, organized lay Buddhists and volunteers to study and practice Buddhism together, actively guiding the laity onto the path of right belief and right action, and forging a study and practice system that operates in echelon. They also offered courses for the laity to learn and experience Buddhist chants and dharma instruments, to study Chinese painting, calligraphy, performing arts, handicraft techniques, as well as classes for Chinese learning and studies of traditional Chinese culture for children. Monasteries also explored more targeted charitable projects which fully display the diversified setup and breadth of social welfare causes. They applied technology in transmitting Buddhism, such as blogs, microblogs, WeChat, comic strips, and animation, etc. Additionally, they organized and participated in exchange activities among different religions, cultures, and Buddhist traditions, facilitating interaction between scholars of different areas.

III. A practical case of Chinese Buddhism: Beijing Longquan Monastery

This modern monastery has made many institutional innovations during its construction to accommodate the daily practice and life of the Sangha with modern society, thereby opening up more areas in Buddhism education to develop Buddhist culture and carry out public welfare and charitable undertakings.

1. A new type of Sangha

After the development of a decade, Longquan Monastery has built a pure and harmonious new type of Sangha that shares common understanding, lives in harmony and makes mutual progress. It also establishes a study and practice system of Chinese Buddhism in which monastics are disciplined by precepts, laities are guided by monastics, and monastics and laities work in coordination, forming a new-style Sangha education system that accords with the development of the time. The teaching research is conducted in line with the modern college mode, while traditional monastic life such as doing morning and evening services, eating meals at the refectory, chanting precepts, and meditating are well preserved.

The monastics practice thrift. Expect for essential articles of life and study, such as clothes and books, etc., they reduce their material needs as far as possible. They are not allowed to have electronic devices like cellphones. Traditional monastic life can guarantee the monastics to observe pure precepts. They can repent in a timely manner and restore the purity of their precepts even if they have conducted improper deportment, and can thus settle their body and mind in proper disciplines. This monastic lifestyle accords with the fundamental spirit of Buddhism. After days and years of conditioning to practice and study in the monastery, monastics are likely to behave in a dignified way, being solemn and plain with open hearts and graceful qualities, which are apparently different from those of ordinary people. When they leave the monastery to promote Buddhism, their behavior will draw spontaneous respect and admiration from those who have a chance to meet them.

This kind of group life and the way of practice for the Sangha in Chinese Buddhist monasteries suits the dissemination of Buddhism in China, and is a valuable social formation. The organization form thus created attaches importance to the spirit of honoring the teacher and respecting his teaching and lays stress on the collective education system of the Sangha. It has provided many valuable references for college education system and organizational system of religions.

2. Spreading the Buddha Dharma

In the past decade, Longquan Monastery has done a lot of pioneering work both in software and hardware construction. In the process, it has not only pooled and cultivated a great number of monastics and laities equipped with true Buddhist belief and professional expertise, but also established various Buddhist undertakings in the fields of education, culture, charitable work, academic research and translation to serve society.

 (1) The construction of the monastery, which is people-oriented, fully caters to the functions and needs of Dharma dissemination in modern society, Buddhist education, cultural communication, public welfare and charity, international exchange, and positive interaction with all sectors of society. It creates an entirely new monastic environment that combines traditional landscape and modern functions, fine cultural ambience and a natural environment, traditional monastic life and international trends.

 (2) The cultural communication adopts a new way for Buddhists to serve society. To fully display the social value and cultural impact of Buddhism, we need to explore popular forms to spread compassion and wisdom, transmit positive energy and encourage virtuous conduct among people. It is a good try to promote the Dharma via new media like the internet. Through many expedient ways such as blogs, microblogs, animation, and microfilms, profound Buddhist doctrines are transformed into a fresh and lively mass culture.

(3) In the areas of public welfare and charity, Longquan Monastery has established the Beijing Ren Ai Charity Foundation, which has developed various programs, creating an image of Buddhism that embodies its compassionate salvation of the world and down-to-earth care for the masses.

(4) International communication of Chinese culture is carried out through translation of Buddhist scriptures, international visits and exchanges, multilingual microblogs, overseas Buddhist study groups and monasteries. The international spread of Buddhism and Chinese culture is dynamically pushed forward to meet the demand of overseas Chinese for faith and culture. It has promoted integration and communication of pluralistic cultures of the world and the reconstruction of new civilizations.

(5) Attaching equal importance to farming and Buddhist meditation, the Monastery has opened an organic farm, the Great Earth Heart, that uses no pesticides or chemical fertilizer but only organic compost made out of food leftovers, minimizing the production of garbage and damage to the environment.

Longquan Monastery plays multiple roles: academic institution, educational venue, philanthropic organization, library collection, cultural center, etc. The monastics have become the successors and communicators of knowledge and culture.

In the past year, with strong support from all walks of life, Longquan Great Compassion Monastery has made tentative exploration following causes and conditions to spread the Dharma. It set up a foreign language website, opened a public WeChat account, hosted various Dharma assemblies, and received visitors from local schools. It also organized a chorus, sponsored art and cultural exhibitions, started courses on meditation, Buddhist chants, sutra chanting, reciting of the Buddha’s name, Buddhist study and practice, and held various social and public welfare activities. Many foreign friends joined in the activities and had an intuitive experience of the spirit of Chinese Buddhism and its practice.

All these have provided valuable experience for the localization of Chinese Buddhism. How will Chinese Buddhism localize itself and transcend its own value fundamentally in the future? How to break the sense of a barrier between Buddhism and human beings? How to internalize, actualize, and popularize Chinese Buddhism so that it can become a part of Western culture and be integrated into the lives of Western people? These are the key issues for Chinese Buddhism to consider when it enters a new international age in the West.

I hope that in the future, by depending on the platform of the Longquan Great Compassion Monastery, and with the care and support of more and more laypeople, Buddhist scholars, people from Buddhist art and cultural circles and those from all sectors of society, Chinese Buddhism can be truly integrated into local society and can provide various practical and more convenient services for all of you.

In the end, I wish everyone be blessed with merit and wisdom. Have an auspicious and happy day.



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