17 Aug 2017
Yilan, Taiwan – Fengshan Monastery vice-abbot Ven Ru De paid a surprise visit to Ven Ziran of Guangming Temple in Yilan this morning, just after arriving in Taiwan. Ven Ru De attempted to convince Ven Ziran to support Mary Jin as Bliss and Wisdom’s successor, but was no match for Ven Ziran’s sharp perspicacity. Ven Ru De, who usually serves as Bliss and Wisdom’s spokesman, was sent back to Taiwan from Canada by the embattled Bliss and Wisdom organization to deal with the recent scandals.
Ven Ziran attended a meeting of senior Taiwanese monks at Nanputuo Temple on 5 Aug to discuss Bliss and Wisdom’s recent scandals. The outspoken monk posted a video online that same evening to share his thoughts on the day’s proceedings. In the video, Ven Ziran mentions that the former abbots of Bliss and Wisdom’s Fengshan Monastery need to explain why they allowed a lay woman to lead a male monastic community.
After attending the proceedings, Ven Ziran felt that the organizers lapsed in allowing the meeting to end on an inconclusive note, missing the chance to get the senior Taiwanese monks in attendance to issue a joint declaration against Bliss and Wisdom. He suggested that the monks should have issued a communiqué stating, “Bliss and Wisdom is not a Buddhist organization. Bliss and Wisdom has corrupted the Buddhist monastic system […] and this will affect monks all the way into the future. This will create the negative karma for monasticism to descend into depravity.”
Ven Zi Ran, who is known for speaking with candor, said, “We do not have to run around in circles arguing about their misconduct with them. We do not have so much spare time and energy to argue about their degenerate behavior, especially those which occurred in the past.” He thinks that the focus of any discussion should be on why the Bliss and Wisdom sangha is being led by a lay woman, which is against the vinaya and the Buddha’s teachings.
Ven Ru De told Ven Ziran this morning that he had seen Ven Ziran’s comments on the internet, as well as his videos. Immediately after arriving in Taiwan, he made it a point to travel to Guangming Temple in Yilan to meet Ven Ziran. Incindentally, the meeting at Nanputuo Temple on 5 Aug was initiated by Ven Ru De and Fengshan abbot Ven Ru Jing, both of whom suddenly backed out of the meeting, with the excuse that the monks should be practicing intensively on retreat during the summer vassa.
Ven Ziran made an audio recording of the entire conversation with Ven Ru De, and has posted it online:
Ven Ru De told Ven Ziran that Master Jih-Chang was not willing to select a monk as his successor, because “only someone with exceptional qualities could unite the sangha.” Here is an excerpt of their conversation:
Ziran: If it’s not easy for a monk to unite the sangha, then getting a lay woman to do it would be even more difficult. Because as a lay woman, she would not be able to fit into the structure a male monastic community necessarily demands. If a lay woman, someone who does not even fit into the concept and structure of a male monastic community, can be accepted by a group of monks so easily, then selecting a monk to do the job would be easier than selecting her. […] You should always remember, that you are a follower of Master Jih-Chang. Within Master Jih-Chang’s organizational structure and values, a bhikshu (monk) should have a certain gravitas.
Ru De: But because Master selected Mary Jin, so we….
Ziran: Are you sure Master really selected her?
Ru De: Because our senior monks, and senior lay people, we…
Ziran: Based on my feelings, I am not willing to accept that Master Jih-Chang selected her. We are all monks, we know the karmic consequences. You are dragging Master’s name into the mud. […] Because what was laid down by the Buddha must never be changed by anyone else. What was not added, must not be added; what was not reduced, must not be reduced. Especially when it comes to the values a sangha must embody.
Ven Ru De repeatedly emphasized that Mary Jin was anointed by Master Jih-Chang himself. Ven Ziran told him that the monks should have advised Master Jih-Chang not to do so, just like how a truly loyal minister should counsel the emperor if he attempts to do something foolish. Claiming repeatedly that it was Master Jih-Chang’s decision is an insult to Master Jih-Chang’s legacy as a great Buddhist master who followed the Buddha’s precepts well, said Ven Ziran.
Ven Ziran explained that in the vinaya, a bhikshu should not even walk behind a lay person, or sit below him, let alone bow to or practice devotion towards a lay person. A lay person leading the sangha would be even more preposterous. Ven Ru De tried to rebut that argument by saying that monks can learn from lay people as well, just like how some of them learn English or Japanese from lay people. Mary Jin is just a teacher of Buddhism, and does not even live inside the monastery compound, said Ven Ru De.
The fact that Mary Jin lives together with monks and novices is no secret. Even the location of her mansions in Prince Edward Island and Singapore, where she lives with monks and novices, have already been leaked online. First abbot Ven Fan Yin has also discussed the issue with Mary Jin before.
Ven Ziran did not pursue the issue of her living arrangements, but focused the discussion on the legitimacy of a lay person leading the sangha. According to Ven Ziran, monks can learn from lay people, and can be inspired in their practice by lay people, but a sangha cannot be governed by a lay person. The Buddha laid down many guidelines for the management of a monastic community, by the monastics themselves, and there is no scope for interference and management by a lay person. Ven Ru De then cited the example of Sudhana, saying that out of Sudhana’s 53 gurus, only two of them were monks. Ven Ziran reminded Ven Ru De that since Sudhana is not a monk, that would not be a problem for him at all.
For more exciting content, check out the video above (in Chinese only).