The principle of Education through Public Outreach is to expand the influence of Buddhadharma in purifying the minds of the general public and on social customs. There are two major approaches: traditional Buddhist practices and contemporary cultural events.
In 1987, upon returning from the US, Master Sheng Yen held the first DDM seven-day Chan retreat at CHIBC. Later, one-, two- and three-day weekend retreats were added to accommodate working people and to make the experience more widely available. Longer retreats of ten, fourteen and forty-nine days were also added later. The number of people participating in retreats has also increased, ranging from a hundred to more than a thousand. For example, the two-day retreat in fall 2003 had more than sixteen hundred participants from all over Taiwan. Understandably, the work necessary to facilitate such events─planning, processing applications, organizing facilities, setting up living arrangements, caring for the participants, etc. ─is tremendous.
Thus arose a special feature of public events and retreats at DDM: the use of volunteers from all over the area, directed and organized by Sangha members to help with Dharma upholding activities─from guarding the residence, keeping time during meditation, preparing meals, assisting practitioners, manning water and rest stations, and guarding the entrance gates. The wholehearted devotion of volunteers assures an excellent environment for practice.
DDM is regarded in Taiwan as a leader in the practice and teaching of Chan meditation, as well as in protecting the spiritual environment. Internationally, it is getting a reputation of the same kind. Master Sheng Yen says:
Chinese Buddhism, especially the Chan tradition, is not bounded by specific practices or rituals, nor is it limited to any particular object of worship. It just uses Buddhadharma to practice observing the mind, to purify, calm, and clarify the mind. The mind, when free of vexation, is the mind of wisdom and compassion.
He points out that the Chan tradition is all-encompassing, accepting, pragmatic, and inclusive. Because it respects all religious traditions, it is well accepted by people of different cultures and backgrounds, even of different religious beliefs.
The propagation of Chinese Chan to the West started relatively late, only progressing slowly since the mid-twentieth century. Buddhist meditation in the West has been better known through Japanese Zen, Theravadin vipassana, Tibetan tantric, and some Korean Zen. Though not the first to introduce Chinese Chan to the West, Master Sheng Yen has definitely led DDM to the forefront of teaching Chinese Chan across Europe and the Americas.
Each year Master Sheng Yen regularly holds four retreats in the US, where the attendees are a mix of Western and Asian. The first lineage transmission in the West by Master Sheng Yen was to Dr. John Crook of the University of Bristol, UK. Since 1986 Dr. Cook twice traveled to New York to study Chan with Master Sheng Yen, and since 1989 has invited the Master to lead Chan retreats in Wales, UK. Beyond the US and Taiwan, the worldwide map of Chan practice influenced by DDM includes two retreat visits by Master Sheng Yen to Wales in 1992, visits to Poland and Czechoslovakia before that, and since then, visits to Croatia, Germany, Mexico, Russia and Switzerland. Among those places, he has set foot in the UK most often, including the three retreats, and visited Russia twice.
Everywhere he went, after completing a retreat, Master Sheng Yen always encouraged local participants to continue to practice in groups, and to teach and share the benefits of Chan practice to future comers. In the meantime, more and more Westerners came to DDM, especially after the opening of DDRC in 1997, near Pine Bush in upstate New York. The name of the place, Shawangunk, which means "white mountain" in Native American, was transliterated into Chinese as xiang gang ("Elephant Hill") by Master Sheng Yen, implying his hope that the Center will be a place where the noble dragons and great elephants of Dharma practice can originate. The Center spreads across over 120 acres of open land, encompassing a natural lake and beautiful surroundings with landscapes that vary with the season.
One important chapter of the Dharma propagation in the West was Master Sheng Yen's first-ever forty-nine-day Chan retreat at DDRC in 2000, with the Bodhisattva Precepts Initiation and Ceremony marking the final week. More than one hundred practitioners from eleven countries attended.
Cultural Endeavors with Long History and Lasting Future
Many people in Taiwan learned about DDM through reading a book or watching the TV program Great Dharma Drum, and Different Voices. These are examples of the second arm of DDM's education through public outreach: contemporary cultural endeavors. The efforts include print publications, TV and radio programs, audiovisual productions, Internet websites, etc. In particular, the more than one hundred books written by Master Sheng Yen in Chinese, English, Japanese, and the translations of Chan meditation books into 18 languages have played important roles in DDM's public outreach.
DDM began publishing under the imprint of Dongchu Publications in 1980. It mainly published scholarly works by faculty and students of CHIBS, as well as monographs by Master Sheng Yen. In 1982, CMC in New York established Dharma Drum Publications to publish English books about Chan by Master Sheng Yen. Even prior to the creation of CMC, while still at the Dajue Monastery (Temple of Great Enlightenment), Master Sheng Yen started Chan Magazine and Chan Newsletter. These publications have been important channels for DDM to share the wisdom of Chinese Chan and to spread its ideal around the world.
In 1995, Dongchu Publications was reorganized as Dharma Drum Corp., embracing current marketing concepts. In recent years it has achieved outstanding performance in the platforms of Buddhism, culture, and general categories. To date it has published more than one hundred volumes in series such as Guidance in Meditation, Introduction to Buddhism, Sea of Wisdom, Crystal of Literatures, Clear Mind in One Hundred Words, Pure Land on Earth, Traveling Around the World, Pocket Sutras, and Wisdom Notebooks, among others. The acclaimed Wisdom Notebooks deserves special mention in that the volumes in this widely read series combine the insightful words of Master Sheng Yen and the illustrations of renowned Taiwanese artists.
In addition to print media, Dharma Drum Corp. is active in audiovisual production and an on-line bookstore. It also has participated in several international book fairs in Taipei, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and the United States. These efforts greatly expand the reach of modern Chinese Buddhist culture.
The Dharma Drum Mountain Sangha
Most of Dharma Drum Mountain's public outreach education endeavors are planned and organized by the monastic Sangha, while the DDM Foundation and the business groups support execution and expansion. When Master Sheng Yen returned from the US to take charge of CHIBC ( Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Culture ), he also accepted the commission from the American Sutra Translation Institute to form its Taiwan branch in Nung Chan Monastery. A few members of the Sutra Translation Institute became interested in learning meditation. This was the instigation of Master Sheng Yen's Chan retreats in Taiwan. Eventually, some members' interest in meditation and Buddhist practice deepened and in 1980, several decided to take up monastic life under Master Sheng Yen. Thus was the beginning of the DDM Sangha.
According to Associate Director Ven. Guoguang, ever since the founding of DDM in 1989, followers all over Taiwan have often requested the establishment of local contact points. The Sangha responded by frequently visiting each locality.
Starting in 1991, DDM unveiled a series of environmental protection initiatives, such as the environmental protection fair, Buddhist-style joint funeral memorials, joint birthday celebrations, and joint weddings. The activities were planned and executed by the Sangha in the early days. Responsibility for these activities was later transferred to the foundation and other groups.
The DDM Sangha is headquartered in the Dharma Drum Mountain, with CHIBC as its first branch, and Nung Chang Monastery as the second. Other branches include the Taipei Anhe Branch, Zhaiming Monastery in Taoyuan, Taichung Branch, Dehua Monastery in Nantou, Tainan Branch, Ziyun Monastery in Kaoshung, Xinxing Monastery in Taidong, and the three Houses in Keelung, Taipei Zhongzheng, Taichung Zhongshan. Overseas affiliates include the Chan Meditation Center and the Dharma Drum Retreat Center, both in New York State.