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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Off to Yangzhou

How I got my new job

This story starts a couple of years ago. At that time, my friend Gary (owner of Moondance, the bar where I used to hang out) asked me to teach a handful of Chinese businessmen. I gladly agreed.

One of them, Wang Fu Qing, was a practicing Buddhist and has since become a good Dharma Friend. In April of 2005, he took me on a tour of the Shaoguan area, including Bie Chuan Chan Temple in Dan Xia Shan Scenic Area (see pictures; I wrote quite a bit about the trip last July--with some rather surprising pictures). 

Here you can see Mr. Wang, the Abbot of the temple, and our friend, the monk Luohan. On this same trip, we visited Nanhua Temple, where I was fortunate to venerate the effigy of Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch of Chan (Zen).

My friendship with Mr. Wang continued to grow, and he he introduced me to another Dharma Friend, Wu Xian Shou. Mr. Wu and Mr. Wang grew up in the same small town in Fujian Province. Both came to Shenzhen and have done very well for themselves: Mr. Wang is a venture capitalist, and Mr. Wu a government officer. Both have been extremely generous to me. They took Lila and me to a temple under construction in Guangzhou, where we stayed in a beautiful mountain resort. They have also hosted numerous dinners at Summer Tea House, the best Buddhist restaurant in Shenzhen. But Mr. Wu's greatest gift was yet to come.

Last summer, through Mr. Wu's kindness, I was asked to teach at a temple in Fujian. I have written extensively about that experience, starting here. And accompanying me on that trip as translator and general go-between was Mr. Wu's son Diego, who had just graduated from Shenzhen Foreign Languages Middle School.

"Diego" (Wu Zhan) with his mother and father

I learned a lot on that trip, as my journal of last July shows. But it was also a summer of discovery for Diego. After our time together, the monk Dun Chao from Diego's hometown joined with another monk from Hong Kong, Venerable Hin Hong, to take a tour "In the Footsteps of Huineng," the Sixth Patriarch mentioned above. (Oh! How I'd love to take such a tour!) The trip was comprised of the two monks and a group of college-age students from both Hong Kong and the mainland. For a few days, the students lived a monastic lifestyle in a temple. This had a profound effect on Diego, and at the end of the summer he declared to me that he was now "a Buddhist." Since then he has been very active in philanthropic projects, especially raising money to send kids from his hometown to college. A really amazing young man.

Diego with Venerable Dun Chao

In September of last year, this amazing young man asked me to meet the monk Hin Hung. He's a fascinating man: Founding Fellow of the Centre for Buddhist Studies at Hong Kong University, on the board of the Hong Kong Buddhist Association, runs his own meditation center-- a real go-getter. That's not surprising, considering that he was once a stock trader married to a TV star. By mutual consent, they got divorced; he became a monk, she a nun. (He was profiled in May 2007 in the South China Morning Post, available here.)


From the SCMP article

So on September 30, 2006, I met Venerable Hin Hung (衍空, pinyin Yan Kong), and everything changed. After the usual question, "What do you do?" he hit me with an instant proposal: To create a program for monks in the Mainland to learn English. After some give-and-take over the next few months, including a meeting with the formidable Venerable Jing Yin (凈因) (Yangzhou native, Director of the CBS at HKU, and board member of the Jianzhen Academy), May 16 found me on an airplane flying to Yangzhou for my first taste of my new job.

The occasion of my arrival was a Buddhist Education Forum to be held at a new Library. Let's examine three institutions as a way of describing my new job.

Da Ming Temple (大明寺): This temple in Yangzhou is said to date back to 457. It's heyday, however (as with many Chinese temples) was during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The temple was home to Jianzhen (鉴真) , a masterful monk who was invited to Japan to spread Buddhism. A nice piece about him and the temple is archived here; a longer piece about him is here. Also from Yangzhou is Master Xing Yun (星云, Hsing Yun) of Fo Guang Shan in Taiwan. I was fortunate to study at the university he founded in Los Angeles, and work for a brief time at the temple in Hacienda Heights.

Jianzhen Academy: In honor of Masters Jianzhen and Xing Yun, Daming Temple decided to build a Buddhist academy to train monks to go abroad. According to a press release, Xu Yiming, Chairman of local Communist Party, said: "Jianzhen College , a higher education institution sponsored by Jiangsu Provincial Religious Association, is one of the key religious and cultural project[s]...[T]he college should make efforts to cultivate senior-rank talents for international exchanges and should shape its own characteristics of training and education."

Jianzhen Library looms in the rear; the buildings on either
side are the future home of the Jianzhen Academy

Jianzhen Library: In a chicken-and-egg development, Master Xing Yun is building a major Buddhist library on the Academy grounds. Another press release informs us: "The new library located at the Daming Temple is to be equipped with 100,000 volumes of books, a multimedia classroom and seven classrooms with slide projectors. It is expected that in 10 or 20 years of time, the library, through collecting Buddhism literature, will become the world center of information on Buddhism."

So, as you can see, I have become associated with a fledgling enterprise with high hopes. The fact that Fo Guang Shan has endowed the library with 50 million yuan (about 6.25 million U.S. dollars) leads me to believe that the dream is not too far-fetched.

Tying it all together is this statement in the Buddhist Education Forum brochure:

Today, the newly constructed Qiling Pagoda [at Da Ming Temple] has already reclaimed its place as a landmark of Yangzhou City; ... the newly opened Jianzhen Buddhist University has made its mark as a center for the development and training of international talent for the Chinese Sangha; and Jianzhen Library shall become a nucleus for the development of Buddhism in a modern social context.

(Note to Chinese language buffs: There is some disagreement about what to call the school in English. The Chinese name is "jian zhen xue yuan" (鉴真学院). My boss calls it "Jianzhen Academy," which I think is close to the meaning of 学院. "College" would be OK too. But many are calling it a university, which in fact, aside from all linguistic considerations, it most certainly is not.)

So what, exactly, is the job? I am to be Dean of Cross-Cultural Studies at Jianzhen (Buddhist) Academy. I will design and implement a program for the monks that will include:

  • Oral English
  • Buddhism in English
  • Cultural Literacy
  • Western-style study skills

Two students from the first year of the Jianzhen Academy

The monks will spend about 60% of their study time under my program; the rest of their time will involve studies of Buddhist teachings and culture in Chinese; Classical Chinese; Chinese history; and so on.

The time they spend in Cross-Cultural Studies is intended to prepare them for three things:

  • Further study abroad. Hence they need English, Cultural Literacy (knowing what every western high-schooler knows), and Western-style study skills.
  • Teaching of Buddhism abroad. Oral English and Buddhism in English will be useful for this.
  • Teaching of Buddhism to foreigners in China, using the same skills as teaching of Buddhism abroad.

Many of you have written to ask: "You just got married and you're moving to a temple?!" Yes. But there's no problem in our marriage. In fact, we got married when we did partly because I knew this job was coming, and I wanted to "pin her down" before I left town (as stated here). And the job pays very well (better than I ever got in the states), so part of the plan is to save up for a home in the Philippines.

Besides, I have ample holidays. I'm home in Shenzhen as I write this (August 2007); I'll get the usual month or so at Chinese New Year, and a week for the Oct. 1 and May 1 holidays, as well as over a month for summer break. And I'll fly home once or twice a month to see my sweetie. (Because she works in another city, I only see her on weekends now anyway. So if I come home once a month, I'm cutting down from eight days a month to two, not thirty to two!)

There's so much more to say. In another post, I'll tell you about my May trip. And then there's the two weeks I spent in Yangzhou in July. Stay tuned. 

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