Buddhism emphasizes culture at the spiritual level and can entirely explain the truth of the universe and life itself. Through practical cultivation, the noumenal substance of the nature of dharmas can be verified. The Buddhanature and the opportunity to attain Buddhahood which everyone is equally endowed with are innate and not obtained from outside. Many philosophers of ancient and modern day, both Asian and Westerns, have studied Buddhism. Although the fate of the Dharma has its own course of rise and decline, in truth, when living beings’ good roots are mature, then they can hear and accept the Dharma and the Proper Dharma abides in the world. Towards the end of the Qing dynasty, because the intelligencia had faith and actually practiced, Buddhism flourished for nearly a century. Among the “Six gentlemen,” Tan Citung, Kang Youwei, and Liang Qichau, all understood Buddhism. Liang Qichau wrote many books to propagate Buddhism. Later when layman Yang Renshan established Jin Ling Sutra-printing company and Chinese Buddhist Academy in Nanqing,
Buddhism flourished greatly. The mighty elders of the Chan School, Elder Master Hsuyun, Dharma Master Yuexia, and Master Laiguo were all contemporaries at that time. The mighty elders of the Vinaya School, Vinaya Master Cizhou and Great Master Hongyi taught in the south and north respectively. Both Vinaya Masters upheld and propagated the Avatamsaka Sutra. Vinaya Master Cizhou often lectured on the Avatamsaka Sutra. His three foremost disciples, Dharma Master Jingyan, Dharma Master Mingxin, and the greatly virtuous Bhikshuni Tongyuan all could lecture on the Avatamsaka Sutra. Great Master Hongyi wrote out many passages from the Avatamsaka Sutra which were compiled into a book called “Collection of Three hundred matching Couplets from the Avatamsaka Sutra.” In the Pure Land School, Great Master Yinguang, the thirteenth patriarch of the Lotus School, established a Way-place at Lingyen Shan Monastery and set up a Dharma-propagation Society that printed and distributed Sutra texts on a large scale, spreading the Lotus in particular and the Dharmain general. Great Master Taixu extensively propagated the study of Consciousness Only in the Dharma Marks School. He founded a Buddhist Academy at Wuchang, advocating a Pure Land among people, Buddhism in human life. Great Master Dixian transmitted the Tiantai teachings and contemplations in Siming at Guanzung (Contemplative School) Lecture Monastery and his lecture series drew unprecedented crowds including many important personages. He founded the Dharma-propagation Society in order to train lecturers so as to further the patriarchal line of the Tiantai School. His disciples included Great Master Tanxu, who set up large monastic complexes in many locations, who together with Dharma Master Baojing, brought the Tiantai teachings and contemplations to Hong Kong.
The Buddhist dignitaries who were propagating Buddhism in Shanghai, such as Wong Iting, Guan Jiongzhi, Jian Jaonan, Huang Hanzhi, Ohyang Shizhi (who founded the Forest of Merit and Virtue Vegetarial bookstore, published Buddhist Sutras and texts and promoted vegetarianism for health), Nie Yuntai, and so forth, have all made great contributions to Buddhism.
In Zhejiang in Haiyan county Layman Jiang Weinong, a top scholar who was well-versed in the teaching principles, was an imposing man of great virtue who certainly had some accomplishment in his cultivation! Toward the end of his life he lived in Shanghai during the period when Yuan Shikai usurped the throne. He was invited to be Secretary of State, a high office carrying with it all the amenities, but he flatly refused. During the “December eighth” incident, before the Japanese burned Shanghai, Elder Jiang assembled the laypeople and at Tsehoubei district at the Xingxin Lotus Society. They bowed the Great Compassion Repentance for a month in order to dispel the karmic obstructions. He told everyone that the people of Shanghai were about to meet their karmic retribution and that near Dashijye and in the Tsabei district there will be piles of corpses. That is why, he explained, they should be extremely sincere in bowing the repentance so that the karma could be eradicated and difficulties avoided. He had a student named Laywoman He Qingren who was ill and Elder Jiang told her, “Your karmic obstructions were very heavy. You definitely must attend the repentance. Honoring her teacher’s directive, Laywoman He attended despite her illness. One day after the repentance bowing was over, she was extremely uncomfortable; the palms of her hands and soles of her feet were perspiring profusely. She felt so sick that it was very difficult to finish the bowing session. After the bowing session was over Elder Jiang said to her: “Do you know on that day when you felt so bad it was because in fact you were supposed to die on that day! But you got through it. Congratulations!” At that time Laywoman He was only thirty-six years old; she lived to be over ninety. It was due to her intense sincerity in cultivation and the aid she received from the Triple Jewel that this happened! Afterward, Elder Jiang’s prediction turned out to be true. The areas of Dashijye and Tsabei were bombed, leaving vast numbers dead and injured. The World Buddhist Lay Forest at Tsabei was destroyed at that time. Laywoman He Qingren, wishing to repay her teacher’s kindness, attended upon the Elder Jiang until he passed away [to the Western Land]. The books Elder Jiang wrote and the Sutras he collected still remain with the Ho family.
The most famous commentary the Elder Jiang wrote is the Commentary on the Vajra Sutra. Layman Fan Gunong praised it as being unprecedented! When we printed that commentary, it was Layman Qingren who provided the manuscript.. Discussion of the Great Vehicle Stopping and Contemplating is another excellent writing by Elder Jiang.
When I was fifteen and had just begun to believe in Buddhism, I regularly studied with Layman Nie Yuntai. He was an entrepreneur who apprenticed in America and then set up a textile factory when he returned to China. As the first President of the Shanghai Commerce Association, he put through the eight-hour work day reform act. (At that time the work hours in factories were long and living conditions and wages were terrible). Elder Nie began to study Buddhism when he was middle-aged and faithfully put the teachings into practice. He was exceptionally energetic in enacting the principles of cultivating his own character, of educating within the family, of regulating the country and of bringing peace to the universe; it wasn’t just idle theory. He founded a Nie Family Beneficent Society and published a Nie Family Newsletter three times a month. He joined the principles of Confucianism and Buddhism in his own person and stood so firm that he was instrumental in changing the social trend of being extravagant and decadent and was able to improve public morals! He was highly praised by Great Master Yinguang. It was Great Master Yinguang’s Propagating and Transforming Society that published Elder Nie’s articles “Direction of Life.” “Chapters on Studying Buddhism,” “Discourse on Saving the Nation Through Incorruptibility and Frugality” and so forth. In fact Great Master Yinguang stayed in the home of Elder Nie while he lectured at a week-long Dharma Assembly for Protecting the Country and Dispelling Disasters. As to the article “Discourse on Saving the Nation Through Incorruptibility and Frugality,” it was printed in its entirety in a newspaper. Not only did that article have a curative effect on the world at that time, it is still entirely appropriate to the situation today. Now there is a movement in our country to prevent corruption and promote incorruptibility and so the policy of incorruptibility is certainly a necessary step in paving the way to developing the economy.
The two slogans of “Frugality fosters incorruptibility” and “An incorruptible Official is Influential” have deep and far-reaching meanings; it behooves us to reflect on their value. Incorruptibility must be supported by frugality. If you lead a very luxurious life with many desires and are fond of vanity, then how can you yourself be incorruptible. Only if you are incorruptible will you be able to be public-spirited and unselfish. Then, in handling public matters, one will not be afraid and people will naturally respect one as a trustworthy eminent individual! Elder Nie used Buddhism to enhance the culture of our country in applying the Confucian principles of cultivating oneself, educating the family, rectifying the nation, and bringing peace to the universe, as well as cultivaing and maintaining pure karma and returning to the Pure Land. This is identical to what the Thirteenth Patriarch of the Lotus Society, Great Master Yinguang, did. Elder Nie was truly a “perfect person who had transcended the world.” He is a good teacher whom I wholeheartedly admire. This elder, who passed away in l954, is a model whom all laypeople can follow.
The lay Way-place called “Garden of Enlightenment” in Shanghai, donated by Layman Jian Jaonan, a Chinese national from Southeast Asia, was located on the corner of Changde and Beijing Road. It was his own private garden named Southern Garden, about the size of Hatong Garden. He donated the entire southern garden to Buddhism and it became the lay Way-place. In the southeast section of this garden was a big piece of land which he subdivided and put up for sale, hoping that Buddhists would buy the lots and build houses. At that time we were still using silver dollars and the sale of the lots brought in 150 ounces of silver. He used this money to build the three large halls as well as a Fragrant Light Hall, towers and pavillions, lotus pond, a winding bridge, and so forth along Changde Road. This tranquil and adorned Buddhist Lay Way-place is called “Garden of Enlightenment.” At that time there were two Bodhi trees there as well. After the liberation in Shanghai there were eight lay organizations including the Buddhist Youth Society. In the l960’s these eight groups combined to form the Shanghai Buddhist Lay Forest located at the “Garden of Enlightenment.” The “Garden of Enlightenment” was occupied during the Cultural Revolution by the 21st Radio Factory of Shanghai. The entire garden was destroyed. It was not until l987 that portions of the complex started to be repossessed. In the near future the three large halls will be entirely repossessed and the Heavenly Kings Hall, the Jeweled Palace, and the Hall of Merit and Virtue will be restored to their original form. Following Jao Puchu’s suggestion, permanent memorial plaques for Laymen Jien Jaonan, Wong Iting, Guan Jiongzhi, Huang Hanzhi, Ju Zichiao (who contributed generously to the Buddhist-sponsored projects during times of disaster), Nie yuntai, and Fang Zifan will be placed in that hall. “Garden of Enlightenment” Lay Way-place will assume major responsibility in maintaining the renovated complex. This marks a new page in the history in the development of Buddhism in Shanghai.