2 Dec 2017
Prince Edward Island, Canada – Local communities in Canada’s smallest province, Prince Edward Island, are feeling overwhelmed by Taiwanese Buddhist group Bliss and Wisdom’s vast land purchases on the island.
According to PEI historian David Weale, GEBIS has purchased almost all the land in the Heatherdale community. “The community has become, de facto, one large monastic compound, controlled by one Corporation,” he says. Earlier, GEBIS spokesman Floyd Sanderson claimed that the land is meant to serve as a ‘buffer zone’ to ensure ‘quiet and solitude’ for the monks.
Bliss and Wisdom is the largest Tibetan Buddhist group in Taiwan, but a very controversial one. The Great Enlightenment Buddhist Institute Society (GEBIS) on Prince Edward Island is an overseas extension of the group, set up to bring half of Bliss and Wisdom’s 800 Taiwanese monks to PEI.
In the past few months, two of the most senior monks in the Bliss and Wisdom sangha, the first abbot Venerable Fan Yin and second abbot Venerable Jing Ming, were expelled for speaking out against abuses and scandals in the organization. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Eminence the 102nd Ganden Tripa Rizong Rinpoche (former head of the Tibetan Buddhist Gelugpa order) and Taiwanese Buddhist leaders have chastised Bliss and Wisdom for its transgression of Buddhist guidelines. Taiwanese monks called for Buddhists to declare Bliss and Wisdom a pseudo-Buddhist cult and excommunicate the group from the mainstream Buddhist community.
GEBIS’ expanding footprint in PEI is increasingly a source of worry for islanders and small local communities. Last month, local media reported that GEBIS will testify before a legislative committee after the National Farmer’s Union alleged that GEBIS has circumvented land ownership laws to buy vast tracts of land.
In July 2017, GEBIS made headlines for attempting to buy 45 acres of land opposite its new monastery in Heatherdale, which was initially blocked by the provincial government as local laws stipulate that corporations are not allowed to own more than five acres of land in aggregate. After confidential discussions, the PEI Executive Council approved the purchase.
This is not the first time that the PEI government and media have bent over backwards to accommodate GEBIS. A few years ago, the PEI Education Department gave the green light for Moonlight International Academy, an education institution set up by GEBIS to bring monks into Canada on student visas. The proposal was rejected several times before being approved after intense lobbying. In 2014, Alex MacDonald, deputy minister in the PEI Education Department, visited the Bliss and Wisdom group in Taiwan (on GEBIS’ dime perhaps?). Former GEBIS monks allege that GEBIS concealed tuberculosis outbreaks from the local media and health authorities, and utilized their connections on the island to convince local reporters to scale down coverage on rat infestations.
Islanders have also raised concerns about the treatment of young children in the GEBIS monastery.