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Sunday, August 6, 2006

Cause and Effect

It Ain't Feng Shui

Every now and then you meet someone that you suspect might become a "friend for life." Venerable Dun Chao is such a person. [2023: I haven't seen him since that week!]

Venerable Dun Chao

We had several good discussions, mostly about his temple.

I later learned that my patron, Mr. Wu, had been distressed over the condition of San Feng Si (Three Peaks Temple) in his hometown of Shouning. He brought together a group of younger monks to conduct an eight-day prayer service at the temple. Aside from the "supernatural" benefits of such an event, it was also meant to announce to the town's people that the temple was still alive, well, and functional. The aged abbot of the temple had moved into the city to be near medical care, and the temple staff had become rather lax.

After the ceremony, the monks who had come to conduct it sat down to discuss the situation. They decided that some of them would come stay at the temple to "put it back on its feet." After some time, Venerable Dun Chao was the only one remaining. So he is now the temple administrator (and de facto abbot).

The Kidz from Shouning

Many of our discussions involved him picking my brain for ideas about reviving the temple. He had, through his own efforts, brought 18 of the approximately 100 kids at the summer camp, and he is starting a fund to make sure that all eligible kids in Shouning have the financial means to go to university. We talked quite a bit about ways to make that happen.

But the first real discussion we had about his temple was a lament.

He listed four reasons why the temple had declined. (This does not include a proverbial expression about the place, something about "bad water, bad air," etc.) The four reasons were:

Economy: The general economy of the area had declined since its heyday.

Culture: There had once been a mayor of Shouning who was a cultural icon; since his time, things had changed. The Cultural Revolution was the final blow; after that, the best and the brightest of Shouning culture went off to the cities, leaving the area bereft.

Government: Given the economic situation of the area, and the "brain drain," the government had lost the incentive and even the means to do anything to change the situation.

These three reasons were all endemic to the area, not just the temple. The fourth reason was specifically temple-related:

Reputation: The monks of the temple had become lazy. They left people with the impression that they were more interested in money than in dharma, and had relinquished their teaching mission.

In just a few short years, Venerable Dun Chao had already begun to turn this situation around. He was finding ways to truly serve the community; witness the scholarship program described above, which places the temple in the forefront of means to restore Shouning to its former prosperity.

On the Grounds of San Feng
Temple, Shouning
(Photo by Diego Wu)

Look at those four reasons for decline again, and you will see in them a microcosm of the decline of Buddhism in China in general. Despite the jibe that one monk had made about America's feng shui, the fact is that Chinese Buddhism has fallen on hard times, and is just now beginning to resuscitate.

And I want to help. I am working on a plan which, if successful, will take my efforts at "The Temple Guy" to a new level of professionalism, and hopefully have a beneficial effect on the spread of the dharma in China. Watch for developments in the next few months.

* * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * *

August 7: I will leave this evening for China,
arriving Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. China time.
More posts later in the week!

[But in fact, I never posted to this journal again!
The Temple, predecessor to the
current site
, took over my interests.]

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