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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

July 18: Class, meeting a master, and tea

Master Ji Qun, and a walk

Today was our first day of blue skies, the typhoon having moved on.

Diego and me in the classroom (Photo by Bob)

It was also my first day of class. After giving my "bio" and answering questions (with Diego's help as translator), we divided the class into nine groups. Each group received a page with part of the life of the Shakyamuni Buddha on it. They were to read the page, be sure they understood it, and then create a play to present their part of the story to the rest of the class. So Diego and I spent time helping them understand the pages, and they prepared for the performances in tomorrow's class.

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Master Ji Qun arrives at the
temple (Photo by Bob)

The highlight of the day was the arrival of Master Ji Qun. He is a teaching monk whom Diego says is widely considered to be one of the foremost Chinese monks of the 21st century. He is also delightfully humble and unassuming.

He has a "Center" in Suzhou, from which he publishes books and travels around the country teaching. He has also taught in Singapore and Australia, but only in Chinese (like most Chinese monks I've met, he speaks no English).

Master Ji Qun (borrowed from his homepage)

Unfortunately, his name does not turn up in English-language internet searches. But entering "济群法师" in quotes yields 23,800 hits in Google! The first of these is, his homepage. (The picture above was "borrowed" from that site.) My friends who read Chinese will surely benefit from a visit to the site; those who don't might enjoy some of the pictures.

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The Pavilion
The View 

Today also involved two trips outside the temple compound. The first was to a small pavilion on a hill nearby; the view from there was nothing short of spectacular.

The Hermitage

In the late afternoon, Diego texted me to say that we were going to visit another temple. It turned out that was a sort of hermitage nearby, a place where the monks can go for quiet(er) practice. When I asked if it belonged to the temple, Venerable Hui Jing answered, "Well, it belongs to me, so it belongs to the temple." Cryptic.

Master Ji Qun leaves
before dinner

Master Ji Qun, Venerable Hui Jing, Diego, and I sat cross-legged at a table on a low platform in the front room and had tea. I was given the chance to ask the Master questions, and we talked about his work, and about the spread of the Dharma in China in general. That will be the topic of another post later.

We then sat outside. The Master left, and several of us stayed for dinner at an outside table with yet another spectacular view. After dinner, a free-for-all ensued about whether the Sangha includes lay people, or only monks. It was during this discussion that I came to an insight (explored later) about the importance of debate in Buddhism.

Our table--and the view

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When we returned that night, Master Ji Qun was teaching the kids. It was mainly a question and answer session; some of the more interesting portions are also in a later post.

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