Subject: [CASonline] Grand Master Hsing Yun.

Dearest Friends @ CAS,
        From CAS's "Holy Masters Series" where we feature some of the most important figures in the Dharma, both past and present, we are sending to all friends, in this issue, a true Bodhisattva: Grand Master Hsing Yun.
        Master Hsing Yun founded one of the world's largest network of Buddhist organizations spanning the world's continents ...... -- including THE largest religious complex in the earth's southern hemisphere.
    Since the founding of Fo Guang Shan -- the name of Grand Master's Buddhist organization -- over one hundred and fifty branch temples have been established worldwide. Among them are the Hsi Lai Temple, the Nan Tien Temple and the Nan Hua Temple, the biggest temples ever built in North America, Australia, and Africa, respectively. Also established are art galleries, libraries, publishing houses, bookstores, a free medical clinic, a Buddhist research institute, two high schools (Chih-kuang and Pu-men High Schools), the Hsi Lai University in the United States, as well as the Fo Guang University and the Nan Hua University in Taiwan. In 1970, 1975, and 1987 respectively, The Great Kindness Nursery, Fo Guang Vihara and The Loving Kindness and Compassion Foundation were founded to accommodate the orphaned and the aged, and to provide support for emergency relief.
[ The paragraph above excerpted from ]
A prayer of the Buddha Light International Association:
"May kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity pervade all dharma realms;

May all beings from heaven and earth benefit from our blessings and friendship;

May our ethical practice of Ch'an and Pure Land help us to realize equality and patience;

May we undertake the greatest vows with humility and gratitude."

    Modeling our behaviors on the Four Great Bodhisattvas, we recite this motto before each meal to remind us of our vows to help others, to make this world a better place, to bring joy to humanity, and to achieve peace among nations.
    Keeping in mind the critical role Master Hsing Yun played in the precarious early days of the almost uniform and near-destruction of the holy Dharma in the 20th Century [ think: the advent of communisn in China, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Korean Wars, the First and Second World Wars...... ], it is probably no exaggeration, very objectively stating, basing upon carefully considered standards and parameters, that Master Hsing Yun and His ( extremely touching ) devoted and impressive school of the ordained and lay Sangha members, are indeed, crucial-instrumental, in the preservation and flourshing of the Buddha's Teachings, that we witness in so many places in the world today.
Ven. Master Hsing Yun, in His the opening address, at the inauguration of the Buddha Light International Association, a global network of Buddhist organizations under His guidance: 
"My compassionate vow is to save sentient beings;
My body is that of the Dharma ocean that binds no boats;
Ask me what have I achieved in this lifetime?
May the Buddha's Light shine over the five continents."
    Also a prolific scholar and writer, Master Hsing Yun has several important publications to His credit. His works have been distributed worldwide and translated into most of the major languages in the world.
    The powerful, beneficial effects of Master Hsing Yun's holy Aspirations and Work can never be overstated..... the impact encompassing almost every Buddhist organizations, not just within Chinese Buddhism, but truly, all across our human realm.
      We attach, too, in this issue of CASonline, a decidedly "monumental" interview with Master Hsing Yun.
    The topics overlapped some of the most controversial issues: euthanasia / capital punishment / homosexuality / marriage and others. Master Hsing Yun's insights into them are possibly provocative to some, although authoritative and "enlightened" to others, considering His "open" approach, which may differ from, perhaps, a more dogmatic-fundamental interpretation of the Buddha's teachings.    
    Master Hsing Yun's teachings are definitive for a significant majority of Buddhists in many parts of the world and, indeed, holds especial influence and veneration in the mainstream Chinese Buddhist tradition.   
      In-line with Fo Guang Shan's ( the name of Master Hsing Yun's organization ) "Tenet of the Four Givings", we sincerely dedicate this issue to all who seek hope, light and happiness, that they may achieve that which they seeketh..... ( !! ) 
"Namo Amituofo !!"
bb & all frens    @ CAS of Thousand-Arm Chenrezig
Fo Guang Shan's
"Tenet of the Four Givings"
 "To Give Confidence to Others;
To Give Hope to Others;
To Give Joy to Others;
To Give "Convenience" to Others."
An autobiographical sketch of Master Hsing Yun can be found in &
Information on Fo Guang Shan and the Buddha Light International Association can be found in
The interview is reproduced-in-full from "Buddhism: Pure and Simple" - published by Weatherhill, New York. 
    Grand Master Hsing Yun


An Interview with Master Hsing Yun

by Tom Graham and Venerable Yi Jih
translated by Tom Graham

Master Hsing Yun resides in a plain middle-class house -when he visits the United States. The house is near Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, California. Master Hsing Yun founded Hsi Lai Temple in 1988. We visited him one evening in July 1999. Our talk lasted about an hour and a half.

Master Hsing Yun, who was born in 1927, entered Chi Hsia Shan monastery in China when he was twelve years old. He endured rigorous physical and spiritual training until he was twenty-two years old, when he was stranded in Taiwan during the communist revolution in China. His early years in Taiwan were marked by obscurity, hardship, and an undaunted independence. Since then, he has founded Fo Guang Shan, the largest Chinese Buddhist monastery in the world, and Buddha's Light International Association, the largest Chinese Buddhist organiza­tion in the -world. He has over one million followers. Though the years have slowed him down somewhat, his strength and vitality are very much evident in his eyes and in his deep voice.

Parts of our conversation appear below.



Master HY: ...Buddhism must not be put in a cage. The form that it takes can be anything. You can never confine Buddhism to a set of rules or laws or procedures. The deep truths of Buddhism are ultimate truths, supreme truths. The forms of practice that are used in this world to express or invoke those truths can be anything at all. Anything that leads people to the truth has value. That which makes them feel afraid, or lose respect for themselves, or for others    that is not Buddhism; that is just more of the relative world of birth and death and suffering.

Shakyamuni Buddha taught the truth. He also taught that we must be willing to adapt that truth to the conditions of the societies in which we find ourselves. Buddhism in China is different from Buddhism in India or Japan. As Buddhism grows in Europe and America, it will take on new forms that express the needs of the peoples in those societies. This is good. The purpose of Buddhism is to end suffering by teaching people how to understand themselves. The form that this teaching takes is valuable only if it attracts people to the Dharma. Shakyamuni Buddha spent forty-nine years showing the world how to end suffering; he taught people how to find freedom. He did not teach them to confine themselves within the narrow limits of an intellectual cage.



TG: Master, I wonder what you think is the right kind of practice for Westerners? What should we be focusing on?


Master HY: The best single thing to focus on is the bodhisattva way. The purpose of the bodhisattva way is to aid all sentient beings in the universe. How do we aid them?

Firstly, we aid them by being generous with them. Generosity cures greed. When we are gener­ous we help ourselves overcome our own greed as we show others that there are better ways for sentient beings to interact. Generosity teaches people to expand their awareness beyond the confines of what is normally valued in this world. The bigger you make your mind, the bigger the world you live in. Being generous is the right way to begin making your mind as large as the universe. Generosity can take many forms; we can be generous with what we say, or how we say it. We can be generous with our time and our emotions. The deep purpose of generosity is to show others that we care about them. In that moment of sharing, we become a Buddha.

The second aspect of the bodhisattva way is morality. The basic meaning of morality is this?ado not harm or violate other sentient beings in any way. Do not interfere with them. Do not trouble them. Do not cause them to feel fear or worry. Once you can do this, you will become very peaceful. An enormous freedom can be found by following the Buddha's basic rules of restraint. Once you have learned to restrain yourself, you will really be in a position to actively reach out and help others. If you have not learned to restrain yourself, however, you may cause harm when you think that you are bringing help.


TG:  Can you give us some examples of what you mean by this?

Master HY: Whenever people try to confine or limit other people without having a good reason for doing so, they are violating them. This is especially true when force or intimidation is used. For example, in America there still are people who use force to prevent others from getting an abortion. No one should get an abortion without good reason, but the decision of whether to do so or not should be made by the people who are most closely involved. Some stranger who adamantly declares that abortion is wrong is just speaking words. He is not the one who is going to have to raise the child. The woman who is pregnant is the one who should have the most say in the matter. She should consult her conscience and decide what she thinks is right. The conscience is a magnificent guide; it will rarely lead you astray. The Buddha emphasized the importance of understanding our intentions in all that we do. When we take the time to deeply contemplate our consciences, we will almost always see what the right thing to do is. Buddhism is a reli­gion of self-awareness. This is another reason why it is wrong to force others to do what we think is right. We should encourage oth­ers to look at themselves; that is enough.


Ven YJ: Why do people find it so hard to restrain themselves from interfering with others?

Master HY: There are many reasons for that, but the best reason can be found again in the bodhisattva way. People lack patience and tolerance. After morality, patience is the most important virtue on the bodhisattva way. Patience cures anger and aggression. Patience begins with physical patience. First we learn how to endure the hardships of the body?aheat, cold, hunger, illness, and pain. Once we can do that, we can begin to learn how to be patient with others.

Patience teaches us to tolerate others and to leave them alone, to not interfere with their happiness because of some belief that we have about what is right or wrong. Morality should teach us to be restrained in our behavior; it is not a guidebook for interfering in the lives of others. People who cling to rigid moral rules are no different from people who cling to wealth or fame or sensual pleasure. Buddhism is a religion that teaches the elevation of consciousness by understanding the truth. It does not teach us to cling to a single system of understanding, or a limited set of moral injunctions.



TG: Your discussion of physical patience makes me think of people who are terminally ill and suffering from great pain. Is there ever a time when it is right for someone like that to decide to end his life?

Master HY: Yes. If one knows that nothing lies ahead but the continued physical suffering of a terminal illness, and if one has meditated on the subject for a long time, then it is not wrong to decide to end one's life before one's disease has run its full course. The heart of the matter, once again, is the conscious intention of the individual. It is his life, and he can make that decision for himself.

TG: What if the person is unconscious or unable to do anything for himself?

Master HY: Then the members of his family can make the deci­sion for him. The important thing for them to be sure of is that their motivation springs from love. They must make their decision based on their love for the person who is dying.

TG: What if there are no family members and a doctor must make the decision?

Master HY: He also can make this decision. But he too must make his decision based on love. If his intention springs from love and if his decision has been carefully considered, it would not be wrong to end the life of a person who is suffering from an unen­durable terminal illness. Now let me ask you a question: is capital punishment right or wrong?

TG: It seems wrong to me.

Master HY: Why?

TG: Because it is a form of killing.

Master HY: No. Capital punishment is not necessarily wrong. If the laws of a nation are fair and if they are justly implemented, then the death penalty is not wrong. A person who commits a capital offense in a state like that is simply reaping what he has sowed.

TG: But what about the executioner? Isn't he creating bad karma for himself?

Master HY: No. He is just enacting the laws of the state. Responsibility for what is happening lies with the person who com­mitted the crime. This is why I say that Buddhism must not be put in a cage. The rightness or wrongness of capital punishment is up to the people of the society in question. We cannot make an absolute statement about it. Buddhism is a very broad based religion. It really can accept anything. Do you think a Christian could be a Buddhist?

TG: I am not sure.

Master HY: Yes, definitely. A Christian can be a good Buddhist. If someone who is a Christian also wants to say that he is a Buddhist, Buddhism has no problem with that. As Buddhists we want to make our minds as large as the universe. We do not want to confine our­selves to rigid forms. I doubt that most other religions would want their followers to say that they are Buddhists, but from our point of view, it would be fine for a Buddhist to say that he is also a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Jew. We have no problem with that. We want to make everybody feel welcome. We want everyone to feel hope. If we cannot give hope, why would anyone want to be a Buddhist? If we really have the truth, why should we care about the forms that people use to study it? Our goal is to help people, not to confine them.


Ven YJ: Master, you have discussed three of the six paramitas so far? Agenerosity, restraint, and patience. Can you tell us how the other three paramitas should be understood by Westerners?


Master HY: The other three paramitas are diligence, concentration, and wisdom. In my observation, most Western people are quite diligent. I often see Westerners sit down with a book and not get up again for hours. They are eager to learn. If they apply this same diligence to the teachings of the Buddha, they will learn quickly. Eastern people sometimes think that Westerners are slow in the way that they do things. In China, people always try to do things as quickly as they can, but this often leads them to make mistakes. The Western way is very good for Buddhist practice; if each thing is put in the right place, and understood in the right order, there will be no mistakes. The Dharma is a very. high teaching, but it is also very practical. If each point is studied care­fully, rapid progress can be made.

The paramita of concentration or meditation is important for set­tling the mind and helping it to see the original purity that already lies within it. Meditation teaches us to see the sameness and equality of all sentient beings. I think that Western people already have seen deeply into this point. The pluralism and democracy that character­izes most Western societies arises from a deep understanding of the human mind. What is needed is for people to build on these sensi­bilities. The Dharma includes these truths, but it also goes beyond them. The Dharma can show us how to actually experience our one­ness with all life in the universe.

The paramita of wisdom is placed last on the list of the six paramitas not because it comes last, but because it is the most impor­tant of them all. All of the other paramitas can be understood in terms of wisdom, and only wisdom can teach us how to live in accor­dance with the other paramitas. Unwise morality confines us and limits us. Unwise generosity may bring aid to people with terrible intentions. Unwise diligence can make us harsh and unforgiving. The six paramitas are guides to the bodhisattva way. Properly used and properly understood they will show us how to become enlightened.

Western people have enormous wisdom. They have created sci­ences and fields of study that are now standards all over the world. And yet, they spend too much time bent on material considerations. Consciousness itself is more important than all of the matter in the universe. Spirit is a subject more worthy of investigation than any other field. I do not mean by this that everybody should just drop what they are doing and join a monastery, not at all. What I mean is that Westerners should build on what they have learned in the sci­ences to include the deeper truths of the Dharma. When they begin to apply supreme truths to their studies, there will be a revolution in their consciousness.

This is one of the reasons why it is important for us to direct the dissemination of Buddhism both toward ordinary people and toward scientists and philosophers. When the high culture of the West absorbs the truths of the Dharma, there will be many changes made at all levels of society.

TG: I wonder if we could ask you to return briefly to the subject of morality. Many people nowadays live together without getting married. Do you have anything to say about this?

Master HY: Marriage is an institution that reflects the values of the society that supports it. If the people of a society no longer believe that it is important to be married, then there is no reason why they cannot change the institution of marriage. Marriage is a custom. Customs can always be changed. We can find the same core point in this question as we have in others?athe ultimate truth of the matter is that individuals can and should decide for them­selves what is right. As long as they are not violating others or break­ing the laws of the society in which they are living, then they are free to do what they believe is right. It is not for me or anyone else to tell them that they must get married if they want to live together. That is their choice and their choice alone.

The same analysis can be applied to homosexuality. People often ask me what I think about homosexuality. They wonder, is it right, is it wrong? The answer is, it is neither right nor wrong. It is just something that people do. If people are not harming each other, their private lives are their own business; we should be tolerant of them and not reject them. However, it will still take some time for the world's Buddhist community to fully accept homosexuality All of us must learn to tolerate the behavior of others. Just as we hope to expand our minds to include all of the universe, so we should also seek to expand our minds to include all of the many forms of human behavior. Tolerance is a form of generosity and it is a form of wisdom. There is nothing anywhere in the Dharma that should ever lead anyone to become intolerant. Our goal as Buddhists is to learn to accept all kinds of people and to help all kinds of people discover the wisdom of the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha.



Venerable Yi Jih is a nun in Master Hsing Yun's  Fo Guang Shan order Tom Graham is a translator. He lives in San Diego, California.