In Memory of Chan Master Sheng Yen (1930-2009)
─The universe may one day perish, yet my vows are eternal
Chan Master Sheng Yen, born in China's Jiangsu Province in 1930, of the Dharma Drum Mountain in Taiwan and the Chan Meditation Center of New York passed into Nirvanic bliss in Taipei on February 3, 2009.
The Master used to say, "The Dharma is so good, yet so few people know about it and so many people misunderstand it." For this simple belief, Master Sheng Yen founded Dharma Drum Mountain (DDM) in Taiwan.
Calling himself "an itinerant monk pressing ahead through the wind and snow," and named as one of the fifty most influential people in Taiwan in the past four hundred years, Chan Master Sheng Yen actually had a life full of miseries, deprivations, tests, and turning points.
Whether on solitary retreat, studying in Japan, spreading the Dharma in the USA and Europe, or founding Dharma Drum Mountain, the Master said that he had always been able to conquer the difficulties and find the way out. This was because, to him, life was a process of realizing the Buddhadharma.
For higher prestige of orthodox Chinese Buddhism and the development of monasticism in Taiwan, at age forty, Master Sheng Yen resolutely went to study the doctorate degree in Japan. Next he started to propagate the Dharma around the world. The Master also dedicated much his energy and time to writing for the Dharma propagation. Now, over one hundred books (both Chinese and English) have been published and which are still influential.
As an erudite scholar and as a Dharma heir in both Linji and Caodong lineages of Chinese Buddhism, the Master established the Chung Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies, Dharma Drum Buddhist College, Dharma Drum Sangha University and Dharma Drum University to cultivate first class Buddhist researchers and sangha.
In recent years, he also actively initiated beneficent dialogues with celebrities from various fields in society for public good. His compassionate mind and global viewpoint soon earned him high recognition at home and abroad.
Vision Built on Vows
The Master's compassion spread even further from Dharma Drum Mountain World Center for Buddhist Education that was inaugurated on October 21, 2005, in line with the vision of "building a pure land on earth".
According to the Master, the notion of "a pure land on Earth" is actually stressed in the Mahayana Buddhism. The Huayan Sutra (Sanskrit: Avatamsaka Sutra) states: "The first moment you give rise to Bodhicitta, you have attained enlightenment." (Taisho Vol.9, p. 449) This means that as soon as you give rise to the aspiration to attain the Buddha's mind of compassion and wisdom, you have become a Buddha.
The Master said that although you are not yet a perfect and complete Buddha, your mind is in harmony with the enlightenment of Buddha. Therefore, when the mind is peaceful, the world you see is a pure land. In other words, peace is created in and with a mind at peace. The Master actively promoted the notion wherever he went. Those who received the Master's teachings had at the end turned into DDM's worldwide "ambassadors of peace".
Six Ethics of the Mind
Stating from 2008, Chan Master Sheng Yen's compassion for humanity was further revealed in "the Six Ethics of the Mind Campaign". They are Workplace Ethics, School Ethics, Family Ethics, Living Ethics, Environmental Ethics and Ethics between Ethnic Groups.
He believed that in today's society, chaos in all its manifestations springs from a lack of ethical and moral standards in interpersonal relationships among all walks of life. Thus, everyone scrambles for their rights while forgetting their obligations and duties. "Ethics" means doing one's duties and observing one's role and "morality" means respecting and caring for each other in interpersonal relationships.
The Master stressed that ethics represent a form of lovingkindness and the compassion of the bodhisattvas. One must benefit others while seeking our own; only by benefiting others will one own benefit be safeguarded. If one has only own interests at heart without considering the benefits of others, the benefit one enjoys will not be secure because others will covet it and vie for it.
In an increasingly chaotic environment, the promotion of ethical education and concepts becomes even more vital. Chan Master Sheng Yen thus hoped every one could act as an interpreter and pioneer for this campaign, developing himself by benefiting others in the spirit of serving and giving. This is the most superior value, and represents the true meaning of wellbeing and a happy life.
His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama once said, "When I listen to Master Sheng Yen's presentation of Chan Buddhist teachings, my immediate and very profound feeling is that I am listening to words of wisdom from someone who is very experienced and a great practitioner."
In light of the Master's longterm endeavor and compassion for the wellbeing of humanity, he received many awards from Taiwan's authorities such as The 3rd Outstanding Leadership Award for Social Peace Movement in 1993, The First National Civic Service Award in 1990, The 2nd Bodhi Prize of the Presidential Cultural Award in 2002, and The Distinguished Cultural Contribution Award from the Chinese Arts and Literature Association in 2008.
Indeed, it is the great loss to people in Taiwan, to Buddhist realm and even to those who care about the development of humanity. Ever since the Master had passed into Nirvanic bliss, from 3 to 15 February, over one hundred thousand people arrived the DDM World Center for Buddhist Education to pay the last tribute, participated Buddhist rituals for transference of merit and to join the ceremonies of the Master, such as Encoffining Ceremony, Cremation Ceremony, and Commemoration and Ash Burial Ceremony, in memory of Chan Master Sheng Yen.
Chan Master Sheng Yen said in his will: "What I am unable to accomplish in this life, I vow to push forward through countless future lives. What I am unable to accomplish personally, I exhort everyone to undertake together." His vigor, compassionate spirit and teachings will never disappear.
(The article is also published in April issue of the Eastern Horizon magazine of Young Buddhist Association of Malaysia.)