Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Contrasting Faces of Chinese Buddhism today

A very powerful article in Chinese showing the 2 completely different sides of Buddhism in China. Dabeisi, the only monastery in China today with no Donation Box. Located in faraway Haicheng of Liaoning province, the Sangha there uphold the Vinaya strictly, eating only one meal a day and do not touch money.
Shaolin temple. Used to be the ancient founding site of Chan Buddhism & Shaolin Kungfu, now it has turned into the main tourist attraction in Henan, China and the pillar of Dengfeng county's economy. Or to put it in a better way, it's the Head Office of the Shaolin Corporation.
Ven Miaoxiang, abbot of Dabeisi.
Yongxin, CEO of the Shaolin Corporation.
The Sangha of Dabeisi on their morning Pindapata alms round.
The Kungfu performers of Shaolin striking a pose for the camera.
Accepting only food from laypeople, begging for no more than 7 households.
CEO Yongxin appearing on a TV show with one of their young performers showing off his acrobatic skills.
Preaching to the devotees during their Dhutanga travels.
Yongxin signing autographs for his fans.
Camping out in the open at night. The monks of Dabeisi are not allowed to stay in laypeople's houses or hotels during their Dhutanga travels.
Shaolin performers taking part in the Miss International Tourism pageant and posing with the 87 contestants.
Travelling around only on foot. Travelling only in the most luxurious European car.
Doing all the chores and building works by themselves.
The Shaolin Corporation employs cleaners and security guards to do the work for them.
One of the Dabeisi monks meditating on the roadside.
A Shaolin employee surfing the net. Notice the webcam. Free joss sticks at Dabeisi. Giant joss sticks on sale in Shaolin. Prices range from 6,000 - 100,000 RMB.
An august Dharma assembly at Dabeisi.
An auction sale of mobile numbers blessed by Shaolin monks. This person won the bid with 82,000 RMB. For the rest you have to read the original article. The Dhammapada says:

"One who wears the stainless robe, who's yet not free from stain,

without restraint and truthfulness, he is unfit for the stainless robe.

But one who is self-cleansed of stain, in moral conduct firmly set,

having restraint and truthfulness, he is fit for the stainless robe."

I have the deepest reverence for the Sangha of Dabeisi. As for the Shaolin Corporation.. you guys can draw your own conclusions. Actually Shaolin does not just represent itself, but the vast majority of commercial Buddhism in modern China. Everything about the religion becomes a way to earn money. But Shaolin has the edge compared to other commercial temples due to its unique army of famous Kungfu performers. Dabeisi monastery represents the small minority of adherents here and there, who remain true to the teachings of Mahayana Buddhism, quietly practicing faraway from the money, the cities and the crowds. These are the real renunciates, Sangha that we look up to. As long as they are around, there is still hope for the religion.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Wayne for posting this in English.

Love your blog.
Keep it up.

Ryan Rusty of e Shangha

Josho Adrian Cirlea said...

thank you very much. I was deeply impressed. I bow with my head touching the ground to Dabeisi monks.

Karl Jacob said...

thanks for posting and translating this, very interesting.

all ur blog is really very impressive.


Kim said...

With utmost respect, may the Venerable Monks in Dabeisi gained Enlightenment swiftly!

Dear Dharma Brother Wayne, may I know which part of China is Dabeisi situated? I wish ask my sister who is now in China, to offer some food to the Venerables on my behalf. Please do let me know.

Thank you very much for sharing this article on Dabeishi. As for the commercialised monks in Shaolin, they can do what they like, since they will reap what they sow eventually. Hopefully, people around the world will have the intelligence to differentiate them from the Buddha's true disciples.


Kim said...

Dear Dharma Brother Wayne,

Could I share this article with my dharma friends on my website, please? I really wish to share with them what the practices of the Venerables at Dabeisi. Please let me know. My email address is

May you be always happy and well!

Yours sincerely,

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post. I think that to criticize one group of monks while praising another group is not a good practice though. It doesn't matter what the Dabeisi monks do or what the Shaolin monks do. What really matters in the end is the quality of an individual's own practice. Besides, some of the Shaolin monks may be enlightened beings manifesting in this world. Who are we to judge? When Buddhists take refuge in the Sangha, I think its important to recognize that all sentient beings can be considered the sangha because all beings have Buddha nature. No matter how terrible the Shaolin monks act or how cultivated the Dabeisi monks are, both groups of people have cultivated the good karma to be able to wear the holy robes of the ordained Sangha. The two aspects of Chinese Buddhism aren't necessarily bad, it shows the versitility of the Dharma. Besides, if it takes Shaolin temple to get people interested in practicing a little Dharma, then I think it is a good thing. So, I think that in the end, its better not to get stuck on appearances because appearances can be deceiving.

SCC said...

With respect,

The article is comparing two very different and unique monasteries to create a stark contrast, although with flawed support. Not sure of the intentions here, but I see lack of experiential knowledge and familiarity with Buddhism in China.

As it says, Dabeisi is the only temple in China without a donation box. It's monks wear rags and go on alms rounds. It should first be known this is quite rare in China and Chinese Buddhism.

On the other hand, it contrasts this with Shaolinsi- a temple that has been exploited for its world-wide martial arts fame.

The setup is flawed from the start.

A few points;

The "Shaolin performers" pictured in the article are not ordained monks belonging to the temple. They are martial arts performers who dress as monks during their shows to demonstrate Shaolin Wugong culture, and therefore should not be considered "Shaolin Monks" and compared to any ordained Sangha.

If we want to compare the monastic Sangha of these two monasteries, we should limit that to the actual ordained Sangha members.

The security guards are in Shaolinsi obviously to handle and regulate the many tourists who visit. Shaolinsi is possibly the most famous Buddhist Temple in the world, at least in China. It is to be expected. This may not be necessary at other temples.

However, that the monks do not clean, build (repair), and farm on their own is simply wrong.

Furthermore, Henan is the poorest province in China. The one thing going for them however, is that they have a world-famous temple which attracts people from the furthest reaches with its martial arts. Of course the government will cash in on it. That too is to be expected. We must see the situation there with more understanding and compassion.


Chinese monastics are not restricted by any precepts against using modern technology such as laptops, cell-phones, vehicles, etc.. these are facts of the changing world and make communication, study, and propagation of Dharma easier. What is wrong with it? Buddhist monks should not be made out to be Amish in an attempt to discredit them.

Also, the vehicles that Abbot Yongxin travels in are not his purchases. They were gifts. Again though, no precept says he must travel everywhere by foot. That would make Dharma teaching rather limited.

In the original article, it shows pictures of an airplane, car, and laptop on a certain pagoda at Shaolinsi Pagoda Forest. It says those represent things Abbot Yongxin uses (as if it's a sin).

However, that particular pagoda was built for a very highly respected monk (Ven. Shi Suxi) before he passed away. The images represent each era of world history that he lived through. He owned none of them.

At his 80th birthday, and later at his funeral, thousands upon thousands flocked to Shaolinsi to pay their respects- including monastics from temples all over China who revered him for his sacrifices and dedication to the Dharma throughout the Cultural Revolution and other such dark periods in China's recent history. His contributions to the Chinese Buddhist world helped insure its survival throughout those times until today.

Lastly I will just say, Shaolinsi is largely misunderstood because people lack experience there. And people who have gone there lack the relationship to really experience the true monastic tradition behind all the actors and tourists most are unable to get around.

However, there are active lines of Chan transmission in the temple. There are also monks who live as hermits on Songshan, and others who specialize in seated meditation, sleeping only 4 hours each night. Not unlike the strict practice of the Dabeisi Sangha. This is not known or seen by the many tourists.

This lack of experience is clearly demonstrated in this article and it is an unfortunate misrepresentation. Using terms like Head Office, Shaolin Corporation, and Shaolin CEO shows the aim of this article.

As a side note, I have recently started a blog in an attempt to make true Shaolin Culture more understood and available to people in English (the current western view is unfortunate). It is very young but will have more added later, with an emphasis on the Chan and monastic practices there.

For starters, I recommend trying to take a fair look at Shaolinsi by first of all understanding its monasticism and discipleship- which is unique and not widely known, and is also the title of the following article:

I hope this can be a starting point for people to understand true Shaolin culture- which is none other than another Buddhist tradition.

May we come to understand each other more clearly in an honest attempt. May we not use divisive speech, especially between Buddhist traditions as we are all family.


Wayne said...

It's perfecly fine to defend the authentic Shaolin Chan tradition, but pls do not speak as if all the new commericialism is legitimate. These are things that are totally contrary to the Dhamma and the Vinaya.

SCC said...

I don't believe I suggested that.

Shaolinsi is indeed unfairly exploited. The problem is, people only ever look so far.

Behind all the actors and people taking advantage of the place, there are true lines of Chan transmission running full there. And these monks don't support that type of commercialism on their monastery. It should be known that those actors are only performers and NOT part of the ordained Sangha there.

It's unfortunate people never have the experience to know that. It's even more unfortunate when they write up nescient articles intended to defame it- showing how Shaolinsi is not a place of Dharma anymore.

Comparing it to a very strict and indeed rare monastery in China is only an attempt to exaggerate that point, which is based on completely false or flawed evidence. (hence the weak comparison)

I would suggest more research before carelessly posting such an article on a Dharma blog.

Great Compassion Bodhi Association said...

An Angle from Outside the BoxI've read your article and comments and found that all this has nothing to do with true Buddha Dharma. The true question here is do we know what our purpose is in learning Buddhism. If we are not clear on this and only emphasize on the appearances then we are still clouded and confused in the worldly ways of laypeople. And by this 'appearance,' I refer to the contrasted temples and monastics mentioned here equally.

Secondly, in the path of learning Buddhism, one must raise correct view. Without correct view, one is misled into incorrect, heterdox, even demonic views. This will hinder one from learning true Buddha Dharma and attaining liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

If one is willing to learn true Buddha Dharma, raise correct view, and applying the teachings of the Buddha into our day-to-day lives, I suggest an indispensable reading titled "H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III: A Treasury of True Buddha-Dharma."

If you are interested in acquiring this book, please contact me at

Wayne said...

Certainly it has nothing to do with the true Dharma. As you said the Dharma has nothing to do with words and appearances. Why don't you show us the true Dharma, instead of directing us to more words and appearances?

Professor Chui said...

same thing in Hong Kong. Many monks started to use Buddhism to raise money and increase their personal "brand name" sect.

hoangkybactien said...

Although this post dated January 2008 which is almost three years to date, but its validity still remain vividly in these decadent days.

Question: "Who are we to judge?" _said anonymous.

Does the poster acknowledges that by choosing buddhism, read it, learn it, and practice it, he or she already made an act of judgement?

Does the poster acknowledges that, in essence, words (speech)-whether it is made by verbal speech or written languages - represent judgement(s) themselves?

Does the poster acknowledges that, in essence, a statement -any statement- in itself is a judgement?

By saying "yes" or "no", one already make a judgement. By saying "I am a buddhist" or "I am a Hindu" or "I am an Asian" one already make a judgement.

The Buddha declared the Four Nobles Truths. Aren't they themselves judgement?

The five basic precepts: No killing, no lying, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no intoxication. Aren't these themselves judgements? And to practice them, one needs to make judment as well. Otherwise, how else can one practice them? Only trees, stones, sand, inanimate things do not make judgement in the absolute sense.

Right after having attained enlightenment, the Buddha realized that the path to attain it would be so difficult for ordinary human beings. Therefore, the Buddha decided to remain in silence.

But it was the two Devas who knew that among the mass of men, there would be some capable of understanding it, who thus appeared before the Buddha and begged Him to turn the wheel.

After having listened to the Devas, only then the Buddha used his buddha eyes to examine the world to verify before accepting the Devas' request to turn the wheel. In this historical record, the two Devas did make judgements in good intention. The Buddha used his supernatural power to verify that judgement before agreeing to turn the wheel. By this action, the Buddha, too, already make a judgement, but with a good intention.

Even when one pretends to be nice and refrains from making no more verbal speeches, is one freed from making judgement? The answer is "No"! because a judgement arises in the mind of the speaker first before it is manifested into
vocal speech or written words!

If one wishes to be freed from making judgement, all one needs to do is keep his her mind as calm as the water in a cup. No thoughts arising, no perception arising. To be precise, one gotta enter Parinirvana and one will be absolutely freed from making any judgement.

Didn't Mother Teresa and her staffs make judgements in deciding the poorest ones should be help first? And how did they know which ones are the poorests? Did they ever make mistake? And how can one know if Mother Teresa and her staffs make mistake, if any, without forming a judgement in his or her head first?

The Sixth Patriarch Hui-Neng decided to discontinue the passing down the Mona Robe and Bowl to avoid future disputes among future dharmar disciples. Didn't he make a judgement in this deed, too?

It is exactly by good judgements that help keep dharmar practitioners from being astray from the path. A judgement is good if the intention is for
the welfare of others, not just for oneself.

If one do not make judgement, how can one avoid making troubles to other in a society, and try living harmoniously in it?

Therefore, a speech (a statement), of any kind, in itself is a judgement!

The bottom line is: It is the INTENTION of a judgement that will create karma, and have positive or negative impact to others.

It is exactly by INTENTION that make one become Buddha or Mara.

It is exactly Lord Buddha's intention that He took rebirth into this world to help sentient beings.

So, one should worry about one own INTENTION, rather judgement.

Lastly, sincerity, moderation and humbleness is the way for those who wish to practice Lord Buddha's teaching.