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Hsing Yun

Hsing Yun (TC: 星雲大師; Hanyu Pinyin: Xīngyún Dàshī) (July 22, 1927-) is a renowned Chinese Buddhist monk, as well as an important figure in modern Mahayana Buddhism.

As the founder of the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order, one of the largest religious and humanitarian organization in the Republic of China, he is well known and recognized in the international Buddhist community for his humanitarian work, calligraphy, Dharma propagation, and writing. As an active philanthropist, Hsing Yun contributes in pushing forth the ideal of Humanistic Buddhism, a modern Buddhist philosophy preached by many modern teachers of the Buddhist faith. He is well-known among Chinese Buddhists around the world and has received praise from many teachers. So far, more than 5,000 monastic disciples have been tonsured under Hsing Yun, with over a million lay followers worldwide.

Hsing Yun is a forty-eighth generation lineage holder of the Linji Chan (Rinzai Zen) school through Master Zhi Kai, his teacher.

Early life

Hsing Yun was born on July 22, 1927 in Jiangsu province in China under the name Li Guoshen (李國深). He was the third of four children, with an older brother, an older sister, and a younger brother. His father left home to do business and was never heard from again. When his mother, who was a faithful Buddhist herself, was desperately searching for her husband, he went to Nanjing. By chance, he came across the host monastic as Qixia Monastery. The host monastic asked young Li if he wanted to become a monastic, to which Li immediately answered "yes". The host monastic requested that Li could be tonsured under Zhi Kai, the abbot of the monastery, therefore, Zhi Kai would be his master. At the age of twelve, young Li was tonsured. He was ordained under the dharma names name Jinjue (今覺, to be enlightened today), and Wuche (悟徹, through enlightenment).

In 1941, Jinjue was fully ordained and went on to formal monastic training at Qixia Vinaya School and transferred to Chiao-Shan Buddhist College in 1945. One day, when Jinjue was still a student at Jiao-Shan Buddhist College, he happened to stumble onto the word "Nebula" in the dictionary, read as Xīngyún in Chinese. Jinjue happened to admired the infiniteness and boundlessness of these nebulas and wished that he could shed light on darkness and be as free and unbound as clouds and stars. When Jin Chueh needed a new identification card after China's victory over Japan, he gave himself the dharma name of Hsing Yun (spelled in Wade Giles pinyin).

He left the college at the age of twenty to become a principal at an elementary school in Yixing, a small town not far from Nanjing, where he learned about administration and interpersonal coordination skills. As mainland China was enmeshed in civil war, he left his home in 1949 to head for Taiwan. He began to propagate Dharma around the age of 31 to 40 at Ilan, thus beginning his writing career. In 1949, Hsing Yun wrote his first book, "Singing in Silence", the first stepping stone in his writing career. In later years, he founded several Buddhist publications, and was promoted as editor-in-chief for many Buddhist periodicals and newsletters for various temples, wrote articles for major Taiwanese newsletters and composed scripts for radio broadcast stations. In 1955, he published one of the first hardback biographies of the Buddha.

Pen names

When Hsing Yun was a writer for a local Taiwanese newsletters, magazines, and radio stations, he was known as Mo Jia (摩迦), the Chinese name for Mahakasyapa, a senior disciple of the Buddha. He called himself this because he made a strenuous effort in promoting the Dharma and writing. Some time later, he called himself Jiao Fu (腳夫), meaning porter. He called himself this because he served people, carried loads and labored.

Jiao Fu was also the pen name for a novel Hsing Yun wrote called "National Master Yulin" (玉琳國師), which was later turned into a television soap opera, Continued Fate of Love. He chose Jiao Fu because he wasn't sure if a romantic novel would be accepted by the public if it was written by a Buddhist monk.

Achievements

Starting in the 1950s, Hsing Yun started making many achievements at an early age. He taught numerous classes, built many schools for children, recorded the first Buddhist hymns, and was promoted as an executive in many Buddhist associations. In 1957, Hsing Yun established a Buddhist cultural center in which a variety of Buddhist books are published with training tools such as audio and visual aids. In 1959, Hsing Yun also supported the Tibetan movement against communist suppression, and organized the first float parade in celebration of Wesak in Taiwan.

Perhaps one of Hsing Yun's influential achievements was his push for Wesak to become a national holiday in Taiwan, a wish that had been granted by former ROC President Lee Teng-hui in 2000. However, it is not celebrated officially by all of the people in the ROC.

Hsing Yun was one of eight venerables who proposed the World Buddhist Forum in China in 2004, a suggestion that won support from Buddhist circles in countries like Japan and the Republic of Korea.

Interreligious Exchange

Roman Catholic Church

In 1997, Hsing Yun was invited to a Cross-century Religious Dialogue with Pope John Paul II. Under the invitation of the Roman Catholic Church at the Vatican, Hsing Yun met with the Pope for an inter-religious dialogue to promote inter-religious exchange between the two parties and to pray for world peace. On June 21, 2006, Hsing Yun met John Paul II's successor, Pope Benedict XVI, in a general audience at St. Peter's Basilica. During the meeting, Benedict XVI expressed his best regards for the Taiwanese and said he will pray for them. The pope also expressed the hope of meeting the Taiwan people if the chance arises.

The founding and involvement with Fo Guang Shan

In 1967, Hsing Yun purchased more than 30 hectares in Ta Shu Township, Kaohsiung County as the site for the construction of a monastery. The groundbreaking ceremony was held on May 16th. He began by building the colleges and their dormitories, and working slowly towards building the shrines.

During that time that was spent clearing the mountains, the endless toiling away, wave upon wave of physical strain, the planning that carried on into all hours of the day, the barrage of floods and other natural disasters, and the belligerent mobs that surrounded the mountain were all quite beyond description. On windy and sunny days, the workers clothes would be soaked in sweat, dried up, and then soaked up again. They would be discussing throughout the day and go to bed late at night, and then as soon as the sun came out, they would work again. However, in the momentum of an incomparable courage, and by the blood and sweat of the laborers, the vast wilderness was transformed into the scenic Fo Guang Shan today.

Branch Temples

Soon after the building of Fo Guang Shan, many countries, including most parts of Taiwan, each had their own Fo Guang Shan branch temple. Hsi Lai Temple (USA), Nan Tien Temple (Australia), and Nan Hua Temple (South Africa) are among the biggest branch temples. Fo Guang Shan branch temples can be found in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia (Brisbane and Wollongong), France, the Netherlands, South Africa, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Abbotship: 1967-1985

Master Hsing Yun served as the abbot of Fo Guang Shan for the first three terms. From 1967, after Master Hsing Yun's founding of Fo Guang Shan, he worked relentlessly to promote Humanistic Buddhism. However, in an effort to systematize and modernize Buddhism, Master Hsing Yun announced his abdication on September 22nd, 1985 without any regret or hesitation. He handed not only the abbotship, but also gave dharma transmission to his most senior disciple, the most Venerable Hsin Ping.

At the time of the Venerable Master’s announcement, mostly every devotee was shocked by the news and could not bring themselves to accept the decision. The abdication of Master Hsing Yun was done for the sake of setting a fine example for the democratization of Buddhism. From a social point of view, Master Hsing Yun’s action served to educate and enlighten the minds of the people and for Fo Guang Shan, it was a day of historical importance.

Closing Fo Guang Shan

In May 1997, Master Hsing Yun announced that he would close the mountain gate of Fo Guang Shan to the general public, in part of his wish for himself and his disciples (lay and monastic) the cloistered atmosphere they need for their Buddhist practice. In Chinese Buddhism, it is common for most mountain monasteries to remain in retreat periodically for months, and sometimes years. At the end of 2000, ROC President Chen Shui-bian and government officials from Kaohsiung visited Fo Guang Shan bringing with them the wish from their constituents that Fo Guang Shan re-open its mountain gate. Fo Guang Shan decided to re-open the monastery a year later to some extent, thereby providing the public with a Pure Land environment in which to practice Buddhism.

Criticism

Some critics of Hsing Yun nickname him the political monk, most likely because of his involvement with politics, especially his promotion of the reunification of mainland China and Taiwan, and the democratization of Buddhism. Hsing Yun set a paradigm of democracy in the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order by establishing a system of Buddhist regulations, involving passing down Abbotship, systematic management, and guiding through an organizational structure. Critics, however, have suggested that Hsing Yun's democratic ideals have led him to stray far afield from the traditional monastic concerns. Supporters reply that such criticisms fail to see the stagnating situation of Chinese Buddhism in the Ming and Republican/Communist periods, largely due to ossification of authoritarian roles.

In 1996, Master Hsing Yun's main Fo Guang Shan branch temple in the United States, Hsi Lai Temple, became embroiled in a high-profile controversy involving the 1996 presidential campaign, when nuns there held a fund-raiser for Vice President Al Gore.

Awards and recognitions

  • 1978- Honorary Ph.D. by the University of Oriental Studies in Los Angeles
  • 1979- Taiwan's Social Education Construction Award
  • 1980- Promoted "Guiding Master" for the Buddhist Association of Taiwan
  • 1981- Promoted World Buddhist Sangha Council executive member
  • 1982- Awarded the Award of Excellence for Public Welfare Social for Religious Organizations and Indiviuals, appointment from Taiwan's Chinese Culture University
  • 1984- Awarded for meritorious service in social education
  • 1985- Elected honorary president of the World Fellowship of Buddhist Youths (WFBY)
  • 1986- Becomes honorary citizen of Kaohsiung, Taiwan
  • 1988- Becomes honorary citizen of Alhambra, California
  • 1989- Awarded the Golden Bell Award for his aired Dharma lecture on TTV
  • 1992- Elected permanent honorary president of the World Fellowship of Buddhists
  • 1990- Awarded the Golden Tripod Award for the directed compilation of the Fo Guang Buddhist Dictionary
  • 1992- South Africa grants land as an award to Fo Guang Shan (land used to build Nan Hua Temple), Awarded the Gentle Breeze Award and Outstanding Social Improvement Award, becomes honorary citizen of Austin, Texas, presented a certificate of appreciation from March Fong Eu, the California Secretary of State
  • 1994- Austin, Texas declares September 10 to be Austin Fo Guang Day, presented a key to the city from then Mayor Gus Garcia
  • 1997- Awarded the Social Construction Award for the airing of the TV film "Lotus Heart" on CTV, earns first class medals from the Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Taiwan, earns the Hua Xia medal, the highest medal given to a citizen of Taiwan
  • 1998- Honorary citizen of Houston, Texas, declared Houston Fo Guang Day on June 20th
  • 1999- Awarded the National Public Welfare award from President Lee Teng-hui
  • 2000- Hsing Yun's book "Historias Ch'an" becomes number one on the bestseller book chart in Brazil
  • 2003- Honorary Ph. D from Maha Chulalongkorn Buddhist University

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