Amidst the deepening scandal surrounding Bliss and Wisdom, many of us are confused about who and what we should believe in. Both sides have yet to produce evidence in public to substantiate their claims – Ven Fan Yin’s camp has not released any evidence they may be holding on to, while Bliss & Wisdom has yet to produce any evidence proving that Mary Jin is indeed Master Jih-Chang legitimate successor, displayed his “colorful” relics in public, or released any financial information.
Rumors have it that Ven Fan Yin’s camp is seeking legal advice, and that the Taiwanese authorities have already frozen bank accounts as part of a money laundering probe. Meanwhile, some sources claim that BW is wasting no time in trying to remove incriminating evidence, dispose of assets, and hiring lawyers. In any case, any legal action or government investigation will likely take time.
Many BW followers are choosing to sit on the fence, and wait for further evidence to emerge, or for more Tibetan and Taiwanese Buddhist leaders to make a stand. In the meantime, here are two things every BW follower can do.
Firstly, suspend all donations until all BW achieves financial transparency, and all allegations are resolved.
BW monks often tell the lay people that as long as your motivation is sincere and your faith is strong, even if you make donations to a fake monk, you get tremendous merits. That may be true if you did not know the monk was a fraud at that point in time. But if there are reasons to doubt the monk or organization, it would be foolish to continue making offerings to them.
Furthermore, if a group of monks are behaving badly, lay people are doing them no favors by continuing to stuff money into their pockets, and are in fact implicit in encouraging their wrongdoing. For lay people, the best way to help the Buddha’s teachings flourish is to support good monks who teach the true dharma. In the vinaya, lay people should not be interfering in monastic affairs, nor do they have the power to punish or discipline monks. That should be left to the monks to resolve amongst themselves. Dubious organizations and monks should simply be kept at arms length. However, encouraging errant monks would be doing a great disservice to Buddhism.
Also, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has made his stand very clear in his response to Ven Fan Yin – even if the guru transgresses the vinaya, this wrongdoing must be made known to the public. Even if what the guru says is against the vinaya, we should still take the vinaya as the guiding principle. And, if there are any financial irregularities, the authorities should be informed so that appropriate legal action can be taken.
Even as lay people should not intervene in monastic affairs, lay people have a responsibility to the Buddhadharma and the monks. This is clearly explained by Ajahn Sujato, an Australian monk in the Theravada tradition. I reproduce his article in full here:
There’s been some discussion among the lay followers as to how best respond to WPP’s expulsion of Ajahn Brahm, and their failure to recognize or support women’s renunciate aspirations. A petition has been raised, and some have called for a boycott of monasteries that oppose bhikkhuni ordination.
I’d like to inform this debate by reference to a comparable situation that occured in the famous crisis at Kosambi. The events are told in the tenth chapter of the Pali Vinaya Khandhakas. Here I’ll just give a summary.
A serious split developed among the monks at Kosambi. Originally precipitated by a trivial dispute – whether it was allowable to leave water in the dipper in the bathroom – it rapidly escalated, hinting at underlying personal tensions. The Buddha attempted to resolve the dispute, but failed and left to go on retreat. Eventually, the lay people got sick of the monks arguing. They refused to pay respects to the monks and would not offer them any alms. Only when this happened did the monks decide to solve the problem. They left Kosambi and went to see the Buddha at Savatthi.
When they arrived, Ven Sariputta and other senior monks asked the Buddha how they should act. He said, ‘You should stand fast by the Dhamma.’ (yathā dhammo tathā tiṭṭhāhi). When Sariputta asked what the Dhamma was, the Buddha responded with ’18 points’.
A teacher of non-Dhamma is one who:
teaches non-Dhamma as Dhamma and vice versa;
teaches non-Vinaya as Vinaya and vice versa;
teaches what was not spoken by the Buddha as being spoken by the Buddha, and vice versa;
teaches what was not practiced by the Buddha as being practiced by the Buddha, and vice versa;
teaches what was not laid down as a Vinaya rule by the Buddha as if it were laid down by the Buddha, and vice versa;
teaches what is no offence as an offence, and vice versa;
teaches a slight offence as a serious offence, and vice versa;
teaches a resolvable offence as unresolvable, and vice versa;
teaches a corrupt offence as not corrupt, and vice versa.
A teacher of Dhamma teaches the opposite of all these.
Then Mahapajapati came to the Buddha and asked him how the bhikkhunis should act regarding the divisive monks. The Buddha said she should listen to Dhamma from both sides, and follow the views of those monks who speak Dhamma. The duties that the bhikkhunis are to expect from the bhikkhus (such as assisting in ordinations) should be sought from those who are speakers of Dhamma.
Then Anathapindika and Visakha, the lay supporters, came to see the Buddha with the same question. He said, ‘You should give offerings to both sides, and listen to Dhamma from both sides, but you should follow the views of the monks who are speakers of Dhamma.’
The Buddha also said to Sariputta that separate lodgings should be assigned for the quarreling monks, and that requisites should be distributed equally. In other words, there is to be no punitive measures among the Sangha in terms of lodgings or material gains.
After this, the quarreling monks realized their mistake, confessed it, and the matter was resolved.
There are a number of interesting features of this little story. First of all, the Buddha does not say, ‘Be nice to everyone and try to conciliate both sides.’ He says the monks should stick by the Dhamma. And the Dhamma is not merely a general sense of being harmonious, but specifically the Buddha’s teachings and practices.
Elsewhere in the Vinaya, the course that goes against the Dhamma and Vinaya is said to be the ‘Dark Side’. I kid you not, the Pali is kaṇhapakkha.
It is remarkable how much trust the Buddha had in human nature. He doesn’t tell people, ‘This lot are right and these are wrong.’ He gives the guidelines, and asks them to make their own judgments. There’s no room here for ‘bad faith’, for pretending that there is something virtuous about blindly following traditions.
It’s also interesting to note the role of the lay people. It is only their boycott that forces the monks to do anything. Even the Buddha couldn’t wield this kind of power! That boycott is something the Buddha does not comment on (at least in this version). He does not praise it, but he certainly does not criticize it.
Later, when the lay people ask for his advice, he recommends that they give offerings to both sides. But notice that when he gives that advice, the situation has already changed. The two sides have decided they need to resolve the problem, and even though it is not over yet, they have traveled to Savatthi to seek a resolution. The boycott of the Kosambi laypeople had already done its job. In this situation, there is no point to further pursuing the boycott.
For the lay people who wish to help create change in the Sangha, heed this lesson! If the Sangha is sincere, acknowledges the problem, and is actively seeking to redress it, your support is required – with discernment.
It is up to you to decide whether this applies in our situation. Consider carefully the 18 points, and if you aren’t confident to make up your mind with this framework, ask and inquire. Even Sariputta asked the Buddha, ‘What is the Dhamma here?’
If you find that there is a denial of the problem, a refusal to engage, a persistence in the same behaviours that caused the problem in the first place, then it is irrational to think that conciliation will lead to any improvement. In such cases, please remember that, despite everything that the Sangha hierarchy might suggest, it is you who have the power. Where the Buddha failed, you can succeed.
Secondly, use His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s guidance to discern the truth.
Even though no evidence has emerged to support or refute Ven Fan Yin’s allegations, one part of Bliss and Wisdom’s lineage remains in no doubt whatsoever – His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I’ve covered this in a previous article. Master Jih-Chang saw His Holiness the Dalai Lama as his most important guru, and sought his advice on matters concerning Bliss and Wisdom. Before Master’s death, he admonished his disciples to continue relying on His Holiness for guidance. On his part, His Holiness promised to continue taking care of Bliss and Wisdom even after Master Jih-Chang’s death, and encouraged BW followers to approach him freely should they have any questions or problems. All of this has been publicly announced by both Master Jih-Chang and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and reported in the Voice of Bliss and Wisdom magazine, BW’s official publication.
There is completely no doubt that His Holiness should be BW’s foremost spiritual teacher. In contrast, the legitimacy of Mary Jin’s succession as BW’s guru, and as leader of the monks, is being strongly questioned by the monks who have left BW, including the first and second former abbots.
In that light, it seems strange that Ven Ru De has been asking BW followers not to listen to His Holiness’ response to Ven Fan Yin. BW followers are being told that His Holiness has been set up deliberately by Ven Fan Yin, and that the translator was brought in by Ven Fan Yin to do his bidding. In fact, the Tibetan-Chinese translator there was Jamyang Rinchen, the Dalai Lama’s long-time Chinese translator, and the video recording of the proceedings was produced by none other than the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama (OHHDL), with the unambiguous watermark “OHHDL”. It could be faked, say the BW supporters. Anyone who *dares* to watch the video will realize how outrageous these claims are. At any rate, His Holiness has not taken any sides in the dispute – he merely advised the monks to publicize any wrongdoing, and get the government to investigate any financial impropriety.
For all the guru devotion they spout, it is terribly hypocritical that His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s guidance on this scandal is not even being taken seriously.
Ven Ru De has now gone to the extent of declaring that Bliss and Wisdom is neither from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition nor the Chinese Buddhist tradition. On the surface, Ven Ru De’s proclamation seems like a clever strategy to deflect criticism from other Buddhist organizations – if Chinese Buddhist temples like Nanputuo criticize BW for not following the vinaya, BW can easily say, “well, we’re not Chinese Buddhist anyway, we take our bhikshu vows from the Dalai Lama, which are different from the Chinese vows. So we don’t have to follow your rules or the interpretation of your rules, and you have no right to judge us.”
Ven Ru De also says that it does not matter even if His Holiness the Dalai Lama does not recognize Bliss and Wisdom, or agree with BW’s practices. According to an informed source, His Holiness has expressed privately that since BW is not a Tibetan monastery directly under his spiritual authority, or directly under the authority of a Gelugpa lama, BW is technically independent of him. Hence, His Holiness cannot take any direct action against BW or its monks. However, while His Holiness may not have direct authority over BW, BW founder Master Jih-Chang saw His Holiness as BW’s spiritual leader. Should anyone try to change that now, by taking Mary Jin’s words more authoritatively than His Holiness’ words, and dismissing and restricting access to His Holiness’ teachings, this is tantamount to hijacking an organization which once took His Holiness as their guru, and deceptively usurping His Holiness with Mary Jin.
Even if Mary Jin is indeed Master Jih-Chang’s appointed successor, she would merely be assuming Master Jih-Chang’s position as leader of the BW organization. In no way should that usurp His Holiness’ position as spiritual leader of BW. If Mary Jin does indeed teach and behave the way Master Jih-Chang would, which she claims all the time, then she should continue relying on His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the same manner Master Jih-Chang has. In that case, BW followers should have no qualms about listening to His Holiness’ teachings and guidance, and taking advice from him.
If you ask me, Bliss and Wisdom should be considered as both Tibetan and Chinese Buddhist. Master Jih-Chang was ordained as a Chinese monk, and saw himself as a Chinese monk learning Tibetan Buddhism. He kept his Chinese robes and Chinese vows, observing both Chinese and Tibetan rituals, but saw His Holiness the Dalai Lama as his guru. If Mary Jin’s fans wish to elevate her to a position above His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and disown both the Tibetan and Chinese Buddhist traditions, then the honest thing to do would be to set up a separate organization estranged from mainstream Tibetan and Chinese Buddhist groups, forming their own “Zhen Ru tradition”. If they’re not going to listen to the Buddha’s word either, then they might as well disown the Buddha too, and set up a new Buddhist-inspired “Zhen Ru religion”.