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In Search of The Dharma (Memoirs of a Modern Chinese Buddhist Pligrim)

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In Search of The Dharma (Memoirs of a Modern Chinese Buddhist Pligrim)
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Item Code: NAD803
Author: Denis C.Mair
Publisher: Sri Satguru Publications
Edition: 1994
ISBN: 8170303923
Pages: 310
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 9.0 inch X 6.0 inch
weight of the book: 448 gms
About the Book

This is the first and only book in English on modern Chinese Buddhism written by a practicing Chinese monk. Chen-hua provides a rare eyewitness account of Chinese monastic life and Buddhist practices before they were changed forever by the Communist revolution. It begins with his departure from home in northern China to study Buddhism in Kiansu and Chekiang in the south and ends with his rejoining the monastic order in Taiwan after spending several years as a draftee in the Nationalist army.

Following century-old traditions of Ch'an monks, Chen-hua made pilgrimages to all the major monasteries and holy sites, and sought instruction from many famous masters. His ordination at Paohua; "Buddha recitation weeks" at Ling-yen; scriptural studies at T' ienning; and a pilgrimage to P'u-t'o, the sacred island of Kuan-yin, are some of the highlights of this candid and perceptive book.

The Introduction by Chun-fang Y u places the work in a historical perspective. Notes, a glossary of Chinese terms, maps, and photos help readers who are new to the field.

Chun-fang Yu is Associate Professor in the Department of Religion at Rutgers University. She is the author of Renewal of Buddhism in China: Chu-hung and the Later Mingh Synthesis.


One of the most fundamental teachings in Buddhism is that everything in the world comes about as a result of causes and conditions. For instance, although a seed has the potentiality for growth, unless there are present the conditions of sunlight, water, soil, fertilizer, human labor as well as other factors, the seed will not be able to germinate, put out leaves, flower and finally bear fruit. Similarly, if only the conditions of sunlight, water, soil, fertilizer and human labor are present, but no seed is planted, there will likewise be no harvest. Mencius said, "If there is nourishment, nothing will fail to grow, but if there is no nourishment, then nothing will fail to die." What Mencius meant by the word "nourishment" is no different from the Buddhist concept of "causality". Both refer to the conditions which control the growth and decline of things. When the necessary conditions are present, anything one decides to do will invariably succeed. On the other hand, when the necessary conditions are absent, then anything one decides to do will always end up in failure. This is the universal and eternal truth. No one in the whole world can ever alter it. The Awakening of Faith in Mahayana expresses it this way: "There are causes and conditions responsible for the appearance of every dharma. Only when the causes and conditions are complete, will anything come to pass successfully." Some years ago I wrote the following gatha to convey the same idea:

Cause and conditions meet to form events;
No dharma can arise from cause alone.
Just look at the wintry river willows
Turning green after 'I touch of spring wind.
We should know that causal conditions are the moving forces both in the spiritual and the mundane realms. The reason why my book could undergo two printings in Taiwan and now appear in English translation is entirely due to the workings of causal conditions. It is truly remarkable.

It was over thirty years ago when Master Hsing-yun asked me to write for his journal awakening the World (Chueh-shi which was published once every ten days. He specifically wanted me to write about my experiences of studying Buddhism as a young monk in mainland China. I had never been very interested in writing. I also had very little confidence in myselfas a writer. But he was very persistent in his requests and kept asking me for the manuscript. Finally, with trepidation, I wrote four pieces which I entitled, • A Resolve Made in Ignorance”, "A Journey Tearfully Begun", "A Humiliating Stop at A Roadside Temple", and "Trouble on A Dark Road" for the journal. Because they met with good responses from the readers, I was asked to continue writing more installments for over a year. After that Master Hsing-yiin decided to publish the series separately as a book. When the book came out, it received several good reviews which praised it for its truthfulness. They gave me much encouragement and made me feel more confident in myself as a writer. This then was the causal condition which made the birth and the first publication of this book possible.

In December of 1977, about ten years after the publication of the book, a writer by the name of Chiang Kuei wrote a review of the book and published it in the overseas edition of a Taiwanese newspaper. A person living in the States read the article and became very interested in reading the book. So he wrote to Chiang Kuei and asked him to buy a copy for him in Taiwan. Even though I was familiar with the name Chiang Kuei, for he often wrote for newspapers and magazines, I did not know who he was. Nor did I read his review. It turned out that Chiang Kuei was the penname of a gentleman who often came to attend my lectures on the Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana which I gave at the Ten Thousand Buddha Monastery two years ago. But the book was long out of print by that time. Even I myself had only one copy. So when Chiang Kuei came to me for an extra copy, I could not help him. Just then Mr. Ch'en Hui chien, a lay Buddhist devotee and the owner of T’ien-hua Publishing Company, learned about this situation and offered to reprint the book. I consulted with Master Hsing-yun, the original publisher, who graciously surrendered the copyright without any conditions. In this way, the second printing became a reality.

As to how the English translation of the book came about, it was even more an example of the strange workings of causal conditions. It happened in April of 1977, before the events leading to the second printing of the book took place. I was then living on Mt. Chih-nan outside of Taipei. One day I suddenly received a telephone call from an unknown woman. She said that her name was Chiin-fang Yu and explained the reason for the call. Several months ago she happened to find my book at the Harvard- Yenching Library at Harvard University. Because she liked it and would like to have it translated into English, she decided to locate the whereabouts of its author so that she could get his consent. She asked her refuge master Sheng-yen in New York who happened to know me very well. So he told her my address and telephone number. She came to Taiwan to do research, and she would like to meet with me and talk about the translation project. I invited her to come.

The next day she came to visit me with her son, a good-looking boy of four or five. After we exchanged the usual greetings, I said to her right away, "You are to be commended for wanting to have my book translated into English. Not only will I be happy to give you my unconditional consent, but I want to thank you for doing this. However, before you begin this project, you must understand my intention of writing this book. I left the life of a householder when I was only fourteen. During my life I have encountered many difficulties and experienced much suffering. Fame and profit have long appeared to me like floating clouds. For several decades I have relied on the Buddhist sangha for my food and clothing. I naturally have a genuine feeling of love for Buddhism. Therefore, I feel only gratitude but no resentment toward Buddhism. I have no other desire but to practice Buddhism myself and teach others about it. When I criticized persons or things in the book, it was never because I harbored any ill will toward them. Precisely because I loved Buddhism so deeply, that was why I demanded more from its practitioners. I hope you will explain this clearly in the translation. Otherwise, I am afraid that readers may misunderstand me." She answered me with a smile, saying, "Please put your mind to ease, for I will not disappoint you. I took refuge with Master Nan-ting when I was in Taiwan. Later, after I went to the States, I took refuge again with Master Sheng-yen. From the standpoint of a fellow Buddhist, I think I understand the real motivation of your writing this book."

She left for Kyoto soon after our meeting and from there went back to the States the following year. Time went by quickly. Before long five years had passed. I had almost forgotten about this matter when one day, late in 1981, I got a call from Master Sheng-yen informing me that the English translation of my book had already appeared in print. I was very happy to hear this good news. In March 1982 I had an opportunity to go to the States. I visited monasteries in San Francisco, Toronto and New York. I stayed two weeks at the Ch'an Center in New York and received the hospitality of its abbot, Master Sheng-yen. While there Professor Chun-fang Yu came to visit me and presented me with the three issues of the journal Chinese Sociology and Anthropology which contained the entire translation of the book. Although I did not know any English, when I looked at the pages of the journal, the English words seemed to wink at me and I could not help myself from laughing.

Now another decade has passed and the translation will be published as a book. This cannot come to pass without the necessary causes and conditions. When Professor Yu asked me to supply a preface to th English edition, I thought it might be of interest to the reader if I reported the circumstances under which both the original Chinese and later English versions of the book came into being. I will conclude with a summary of my recent activities. I have been involved with teaching Buddhism in one form or another for the last ten years. I have gone to the United States, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Hong Kong to preach. In recent years Buddhism has experienced a revival in Taiwan. As a result, sutra lectures, ordination sessions, and "Buddha Recitation Week» were held in different places almost every day. As a monk who regards the propagation of the Dharma as his duty and the benefitting of all sentient beings as his task, I feel that I should exert myself to fulfill my obligation as a member Of the monastic community. Unless I accept all invitations to participate in the spreading of the Buddhist teaching, I will have failed to create affinities with people everywhere. But a person's mental and physical energy is limited. In the meantime, old age is also creeping upon me. Thus for some time now I have gone on propagating the Dharma in ill health. The last time I went abroad was in 1988 at the invitation of the King of Thailand. To celebrate his 60th birthday, he invited eminent monks from all over the world to receive his offerings. I went to Thailand as the adviser to the Chinese Devotees' Association. After that I have stayed in Taiwan devoting my time to manage the Fu-yen Buddhist Seminary.

Over the years I served in different monasteries as guest prefect, precenter, proctor, manager, and abbot. In Buddhist seminaries I served as teacher, dean of studies, deputy director and director. Aside from these offices, I have also served as secretary, catechist, ordination instructor, ordination abbot, honored witness, and confessor during ordination sessions.

During the forty years since I came to Taiwan I have written a number of articles .totalling about one million words. The two books which already appeared in print, Ts 'an-hsueb suo-t 'an (Fragmentary Reminiscences of My Search for Knowledge) and Hsing-hua tsa-chi (Miscellaneous Notes of Practicingand Teaching Buddhism), occupy a little over one-third of these. I plan to edit the rest for future publication.

I was born a poor peasant boy in north China, entered the monastic order at a young age, and often experienced setbacks in my search for truth. Yet because of certain causal conditions, I can now share my memories and observations with English readers. This is something that I have never anticipated. If this book can help them to get a better understanding of Chinese Buddhism, I will have realized my original intention in writing it.


Chen-hua is a prominent Chinese Buddhist monk now living in Taiwan. In the 1960s he wrote Ts'an-hsaeh suo-t'an, of which this book is a translation. He talked about his experiences as a young monk in mainland China with candor. He also offered frank and bold criticisms about monastic abuses which he witnessed personally. Both make this book a very unusual document. Traditionally, Chinese monks have been reluctant to talk about their personal lives. Although there have been some exceptions (the autobiography of Han-shan Te-ch’ing, 1546-1623,entitled Meng-yu chi, is one notable example), writing memoirs smacks too much of self- aggrandizement to be a common pursuit of monks who are supposed to have left behind their personal histories together with their secular names when they entered the monastic order. On the other hand, because most of Chinese Buddhists believed that they were living in the age of the decline of the Dharma, Buddhist masters since the 5th century A.D. have often decried the lack of monastic discipline among their contemporaries. However, although this cry of alarm is a leitmotif in monastic discourses, it is very rare indeed that specific abuses connected with identifiable monasteries and persons were made common knowledge to a wide reading public as in the present case.

Chen-hua was very aware of the unorthodox nature of his undertaking. He reiterated throughout the book that his criticisms were motivated not by personal grudge or vendetta, but by his deep love for Buddhism and his commitment to its reform. Instead of following the common practice of "hiding family scandals from the eyes of outsiders n, he chose to serve as the conscience and witness of his generation. Thus, what appears as ruthless attacks are intended to serve as pedagogical prodding for improvement? This ulterior motive becomes clear, for instance, when be states at the end of his scathing criticisms about the abuses at Pao-hua Mountain:

It is true that blemishes on a family's name should not be held up for all to see, but to give examples of the monastic system from which people of the future can select some things and reject others; it behooves me to reveal the dark side as well as publicizing the commendable side of things. Pao-hua Mountain is the establishment at which I was ordained. It would seem wrong for me to write about these somewhat unsavory matters, and thus needlessly incur ill feelings of outsiders but, the truth being more important than my personal likes and dislikes, I feel it would be better to make it known to monks, nuns and devotees around the world rather than to bury it in my own heart.

The same commitment to truth compelled Chen-hua to write about his own life with equally unflinching honesty. Even though he used the first person in the narrative, he did not call the book memoirs or autobiography. Instead, he made the four Chinese characters in the title stand for four different activities. In his preface to the Chinese edition, he explained their meanings this way:

. When the book was ready for publication, I asked a fellow monk who was good at drawing to design the cover. I asked him to draw four pictures depicting a monk engaged in four different kinds of activities. In the first picture, he is shown meditating under a tree. This represents Is 'an, meditation. In the second picture, he is shown reading a book in a room. This represents hsueh, study. The third picture shows him cutting firewood with a big axe. This represents suo, performing small tasks. And finally, in the fourth picture, the monk is shown giving sermons dressed in a formal cassock. Thisrepresents I 'all, lecture. The first two activities benefit one, while the last two activities benefit others. Together, they constitute the life orientations of a true Buddhist practitioner.

This book is, therefore, essentially about his activities in these areas, his efforts to learn Buddhism and to help others. Because Chen-hua wrote originally for a magazine, he arranged the series around key episodes in his life. Even though they follow a chronological order, the narrative does not constitute a consecutive sequence. In order to prepare the reader for what is being discussed in the book, I will provide some background information about the author and the condition of Buddhism in modem China. Important themes, problems, and Buddhist leaders will also be mentioned whenever necessary. I will center my discussion around two major topics: Chen-hua's personal history and his reflections on the conditions of Buddhism as he saw them. I will thus divide my remarks into two sections, Chen-hua the monk and Chen-hua the witness.


List of IllustrationsIX
Chapter IFrom Honan to Chiang Nan21
Chapter IIOrdination At Pao-Hua Mountain45
Chapter IIIReporting For Examinations At P'I-LU Monastery63
Chapter IVStaying At Tung-Yueh Temple77
Chapter VStudying At T'Ien Ning93
Chapter VILing-Yen Monastery in Soochow109
Chapter VIICollecting Rents At Lake T'Ai123
Chapter VIIIAbout My Father137
Chapter IXBuddha Recitation Week149
Chapter XVictory For The Chinese Communists159
Chapter XIP'U-T'O Island181
Chapter XIIArrival in Taiwan205
Chapter XIIIMedical Discharge From The Army In 1952213
Chapter XIVA Near-Fatal Illness219
Chapter XVTeachers And Teachings That I Cannot Forget243
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