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Contemporary China’s Mahāyāna Buddhist Sangha Education
The Most Venerable Xue Cheng

  Vice President & Secretary-General, The Buddhist Association of China

  Vice President, The Buddhist Academy of China

  Buddhism originates from ancient India — one of four ancient regions with great human civilizations.  Sakyamuni Buddha founded a religious-system from his great practices almost 2,600 years ago - through boundless epochs; currently, his system remains as one of the three major religious beliefs in the world.  It cultivates wholesome virtues from human society and allows people to purify their minds — allowing them to become delivered from afflictions and sufferings.  It emphasizes all living beings are able to reach the ultimate awakening — as the goal. 

  Buddhism was introduced to China in about the 1st century A.D.  It has been localized as Chinese Buddhism with Chinese national characteristics - over the duration of its dissemination and development.  Chinese Buddhism has developed unique characteristics with differences in regional areas — dependent on which era or route the Buddhism was absorbed from — illustrating the differences in national cultures or social and historical background.  China features three linguistic branches of Buddhism: Buddhism in Chinese language, Tibetan Language, or the Pāli Language in Yunnan. 

  Buddhism in Chinese language refers to Mahāyāna Buddhism, as largely practiced by the Chinese Han nationality.  Chinese Mahāyāna Buddhism integrated with traditional cultures — giving rise to various sects and schools with ‘native’ distinctions — evident in long-length sutra translations and lectures, as well as integrative interpretations.  Chinese Mahāyāna Buddhism was also introduced into Korea and Japan, as well as Thailand — during periods of Chinese prosperity throughout different historical periods. 

  Since the 19th Century, under the influences of the Industrial Revolution - the situation and perception of religious-beliefs in western countries has changed - while various forms of Buddhism found throughout Asia were introduced to the Western-world.  Since then, Buddhism has obtained popularity among the people than any other religion in Western society.  With rapid changes, both in society and in scientific-technology in world today - in the 21st century, Buddhism enlarges its influences and deepens its root in human society.  Since 1980’s, as more and more western people worried about the bad effects of modernization, they began to seek refuges in Buddhism, with humbled minds.  Moreover, in the Chinese mainland, and the regions of Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan — there has been a growing trend towards Buddhism, through influence and promotion.  Buddhism flourishes in areas of Chinese influence. 

  In April of 2006, the First World Buddhist Forum was proudly held in Zhejiang, in Eastern China through the joint-efforts of the hosts: the Buddhist Association of China, and the Chinese Religions Culture Communication Association.  There were more than one thousand eminent monks or distinguished guests from 37 countries and regions attending this forum.  The grand ‘assembly’ gained global attention.

  In modern China, Buddhism gradually was thrown into the wane along with the Qing Dynasty’s decline.  Buddhist communities lacked talented people, because only Buddhist sutra-service confessions were popular at this time.  At the end of 19th century, many people inside and outside of Buddhist circles realized Sangha education should be rejuvenated - modern schools were established for the Mahāyāna Sangha to revitalize Buddhist beliefs.

  Modern Chinese Mahāyāna Sangha education can be traced back to the early part of the 20th century.  In 1903, Ven. Li Yun in Kaimu Monastery in Changsha, Hunan established Hunan Sangha School, which became the earliest modern Buddhist academy in China.  Following this step, other Sangha-schools began: the Tianning Monastery of Changzhou and in Nanjing.  In 1907, Rev. Yang Wenhui in Nanjing Jinling Sutra Printing House established a Buddhist school called the Sanskrit Academy.  After the Revolution of 1911, various schools for Chinese Mahāyāna Sangha education flourished again.  Popular schools at that time were: Huayan Buddhist University, founded in Shanghai in 1914; Guanzong Institute, founded in Shuangzong Monastery in Ningbo of Zhejiang; Wuchang Buddhist Academy with complete modern educational modes, founded in Wuchang of Hubei in 1922; Minnan Buddhist Academy, founded in Nanputuo Monastery of Fujian in 1925; China Buddhist Academic School in Nanjing in 1922; the Sanshi Buddhist Academic Society in Beijing in 1927; and the Institute of Han and Tibetan Buddhism in Chongqing of Sichuan in 1932.  Through the changing times and different historical situations, all these Buddhist sangha schools gradually waned during the warring-period, from 1930’s to 1940’s.

  Looking back upon the history of Buddhism, developments in nations should not depend upon how many Buddhist temples were constructed or how many Buddhist disciples there were in the country — considerations must include the possession of a qualified Buddhist Sangha.  In the Tang Dynasty of China, ordinations were very strict - novice monks had to pass thorough examinations.  The great Buddhist sutra translator and traveler, the Most Venerable Xuan Zang became a monk under this system.  Many other countries, historically, have issued strict regulations, forcing the Buddhist Sangha to maintain pure precepts. 

  After the founding of People’s Republic of China, the Buddhist Academy of China was established in Fayuan Monastery of Beijing.  The Buddhist Association of China, since 1956, has been the highest Chinese Mahāyāna Sangha academy, nationally — for over fifty years.  In contemporary China, there are about forty Buddhist academies or schools, of various sizes - having different Buddhist training courses, enjoying popularity amongst monastic communities.  Training courses, in some ways, plays a very key role in the education of monks.  Although Buddhist academies are booming nowadays in China - under the contemporary situation: there are not enough graduates from Buddhist academies to meet the growing demands of people reclaiming Buddhist beliefs.

  Chinese Buddhism has enjoyed more than 2,000 years of history since first introduced into China.  It features the coexistence of three Buddhist linguistic-branches, or language-family types found within the country.  The three Buddhist linguistic-branches spread into China in succession, and in different forms with unique content-characterizations.  Due to the coexistence of the three linguistic-branches, China abounds in Buddhist culture - an accumulation, perhaps unparalleled in the world.

  Historically, Chinese Buddhism has gone through different epochs in its growth; but Buddhism in contemporary China is booming - since an open-policy by the Chinese government began in 1978.  In the world today, with the flourishing of materialism, science and technology - there are numerous challenges confronting the Chinese Mahāyāna Sangha education.  All these problems are not only limited to the Buddhist linguistic-branches found in China — but are also challenges Buddhists, globally. 

  The ancient Chinese philosopher, Guan Zi, suggested: a one year’s plan is needed for planting crops, a ten years’ plan should be made for planting trees, and a life-long plan is needed for the cultivation of talented people.  Over the past thirty-years since the Chinese government conducted this open-policy, Chinese Buddhist circles have taken Sangha education as its principle task to cultivate qualified young monks for the future of Chinese Buddhism.  The insightful Chinese Buddhist leaders reached an agreement for establishing more schools devoted to Sangha education.  The Rev. Zhao Puchu, the late President of B.A.C. suggested Chinese Buddhism is in a grand-new era abundant in helpful situations, and hopes to stay on this path originating from this historical turn of event — being more than just a mere link between the past and future, because all Buddhists are in a great need to develop.  Therefore, more and more educated monks would play key roles in the realization of this historical development in Chinese Buddhism.

  In the Chinese Mahāyāna traditional-system of practicing and learning - learning doesn’t simply mean ‘studies’.  In Buddhist terms, it means listening and thinking - learning means listening and thinking about Buddhadharma.  Pertaining to the higher-levels, the Buddhadharma being learned should relate towards personal practices: both physically and mentally.  The abolishment and purification of mental affiliations allows for cultivation or practice of higher-levels.  The complete combination of listening and thinking, as well as practicing, refers to the integration of practicing and learning.  This means: practicing what you learn for realities and be equipped with the ability to link theory with these realities.

  Due to objective reasoning, monks in temples have become engaged with management work or daily temple affairs — inducing a void in learning; while some circumstances might not allow for learning.  In this case, when engaging in temple-work, most are without Buddhadharma guidance and fail to really progress.  More daily-affairs engage monks, annoying them - or management work bounds them with affiliations.  In other instances, although there are some monks who attend only to chanting the names of the various attributes to the Buddha, they have no experience or interest in listening or learning sutras, or reading books — leading them into false beliefs, harmful to both themselves and others, because their weak practice is without systematic learning and training.  To confront these problems, Putian Guanghua Monastery in Fujian, China opened classes for monks — to listen to and learn Buddhadharma during their spare time, after daily activities.

  The Buddhist academies are similar to public or social schools with professional teachers and arranged lessons — in Buddhist theories.  In fact, although monk-students take part in temple activities, like: chanting, dining, or doing daily affairs — this is not enough for training to be a real ‘qualified’ member of the Sangha.  Temples should arrange for outstanding monk-student to become administrators or manage temple-affair tasks.  In this scenario, real management of temple affairs would enable monk-students to perform what they have learned - turning ‘theory’ into practice.  From the combination of practicing and learning in better ways - new Sangha educational-modes for Buddhist academies functioning in temples and any arising problems, could be worked out.

  With the theory of Buddhist academy functioning as a temple, temple functioning as a Buddhist academy - monk-students in academies, with their knowledge of Buddhadharma, would have the chance to use what they have learned towards practicing the truths of Buddhadharma.  Temple-monks, through training classes, could manage temple daily-affairs with Buddhadharma; through lessons, they benefit themselves and others.  In this case, daily affairs could be done well, while burdensome affiliations would be released — enabling greater awareness into real meaningful life experiences.

  Fujian Buddhist Academy was founded in 1983, through the efforts of the late Most Ven. Yuan Zhuo and late Most Ven. Miao Zhan.  It is one of the key Buddhist academies founded during the beginning of Chinese government’s open policy.  The academy is divided into two branches: one for Bhiksu and the other for Bhiksuni.  The Bhiksu branch is at the Putian Guanghua Monastery while the Bhiksuni branch is at the Fuzhou Chongfu Nunnery - which enjoys fame as the best nunnery in Southern China.  Education in their Buddhist academy is very different from that of public schools — they aim at focusing on teaching Buddhist knowledge and cultivation of the qualified monk’s ‘personage’, through basic qualities: monk-student vows, aspirations, virtues, talent, and knowledge.  Therefore, there are both multi-media modes and traditional teachings for monk-students in the academy - monk-students obtaining rich Buddhist knowledge.  In the Putian Guanghua Monastery, both the cultivation of monks and management of the academy fall under the role of the monastery.  Monks in the academy and temple enjoy the religious life through sutra-chanting, dining, labor, reciting precepts and undertaking retreats together.  Outstanding monk-students in the academy are given practical experience in temple management.  Monk-graduates from Fujian Buddhist Academy are not only good at teaching in the Buddhist academy, but also can do management work in Buddhist temples.  They maintain traditional Sangha practices and apply lessons to fit modern society.  With abundant knowledge and intelligence, they convert what they learn into practical experiences.  In the spring of 2004, when the finger relics of Famen Monastery in Fufeng, Shānxi were taken to Hong Kong for worship, there were eight monk-students from Fujian Buddhist Academy on Dharma-duty, accompanying the relics.  With these outstanding qualities and deeds - they won high praises from Hong Kong Buddhist communities.

  After 25 years’ of hard work since its founding, Fujian Buddhist Academy enjoys fruitful achievements.  With increasing fame and popularity among Chinese Buddhist circles, there is a group of outstanding young masters qualified in both belief and academics.  There are dozens of teachers from both the academy and secular-social schools — educating in three levels.  Lessons cover the Buddhist schools of Abhidharma Kosa-satra; Wei-Shih; T’ien-t’ai; Pure Land; Vinaya; and Madhyamika.  Presently there are 200 monk students in the academy.  To this day, about 1,400 monk-students have graduated from the academy.  There are 40 graduates in further studies at the Buddhist Academy of China and 60 graduates teaching in other Buddhist academies nationwide; more than 50 graduates are furthering their studies or propagations in various other countries; and more than 100 graduates are employed in the management of different national Buddhist associations - in various levels.  Other graduates take charge of various temples or propagate Buddhadharma.  There are 200 literary-essays published in various religious magazines nationwide and dozens issued in journals abroad and over ten Buddhist academic texts issued.  Under these achievements in education and management, there are many delegations from Buddhist communities in Japan, South Korea, America, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia as well as regions of Hong Kong and Taiwan that visit the Fujian Buddhist Academy to experience exchange and friendly communication.

  Looking back upon the history of Buddhism, Buddhism was a very advanced religious-system, while Buddhist organizations were very advanced units.  In these cases, both the historical and present circumstances and responsibilities of the Buddhist organizations should be clearly noted.  Buddhism is a religion with belief as its roots; salvation - as fruit; education as the trunk; and culture as branches.  In order to: enhance the fundamental quality of Buddhist fourfold-disciples; to carry forward the spirit of Buddhism for the people’s benefit; to contribute to life; and purifying the human mind - in contemporary China, a new system of practicing and learning Chinese Mahāyāna Buddhism was begun towards social development.  Within the practical learning-system of Mahāyāna Buddhism, in accordance to the real need for a qualified Sangha to develop Buddhism - traditional education is the foundation, leaving the standards of the will, aspiration, virtues — to the knowledgeable talent developing within modern Chinese Mahāyāna Sangha education. 

  To eliminate ‘practical’ deficiencies in monk-students in Buddhist schools, unlearned in sutras — they are encouraged to take advantage of practice in traditional temples and the education found in modern Buddhist academies.  From letting temples function as institutes and letting institutes function as temples — a combination of management practice and learning develops under modern regulations. 

  To maintain a harmonious and peaceful Sangha, under the practical learning systems — ordinations, learning the precepts, and undertaking meditation retreats accord to regulations are undertaken.  In order to unite the fourfold-assembly of Buddhists — benefiting society, we established an advanced group of masters, students and laity — peacefully and quietly.  In order to enrich practice and learning, we initiated the desalination of the differences in Buddhist schools - to take advantage of benefits found within the various schools of Chinese Buddhism.  Moreover, young monk-students are encouraged to practice in ‘reality’ for greater experiences — and through the teachings of eminent monks, they obtain advice and progress in knowledge and practice.  Through various effective measures to cultivate culture and social advantages — outstanding monk-students are sent abroad to study — for greater progression in Buddhist knowledge.  This experimentation demonstrates successful stages in the practical learning system developed in Chinese Mahāyāna Buddhism. 

  Buddhism, existing for more than 2,500 years, is a precious heritage human civilization and societies — remaining glorious since ancient times.  We are confident, only if we take unremitting, forwarding steps and efforts together, for Buddhism — Buddhism as regarded as the lofty monument from Asian civilizations.  Buddhism will become more ‘splendid’ again and contribute more towards peace, progress, and the happiness of all sentient-beings.

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