On June 14, 1998, I returned to mainland China to visit my parents. I was quite stirred by some of the things I saw and heard, which I shall share here with the hope of bringing about a better understanding of mainland China.
A Young Bhikshu at Western Garden Monastery
The evening I arrived in Shanghai and got off the plane, a friend picked me up and took me to the city of Suzhou. The following day we visited the famous Xiyuan (Western Garden) Monastery. Although it was in the city, it was very tranquil inside. In addition to the Main Hall, there was a large Hall of Arhats, in which there were statues of the Buddha's great Arhat disciples. There was also a garden in the courtyard of the monastery. The atmosphere was peaceful and conducive to cultivation.
Inside the Main Hall, I conversed briefly with a young Bhikshu. He said that the monastery had originally specialized in Chan meditation, but now the emphasis was on the Pure Land Practice. He also told me that Buddhists in China know about the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas and hold the Venerable Master Hua in great esteem. Before saying goodbye, I asked him, "If we cultivate according to the supreme truth, does that mean we should do away with the forms of secondary truth?" He thought it over and then replied, "Both are necessary; they're not mutually exclusive." True indeed! Although the supreme truth says that cultivation is apart from language and appearances, we can still "encounter states, yet not cling to them; dwell within appearances without attachment," thereby incorporating the forms of secondary truth. I very much admired the young monk's insight into the Buddhadharma.
The following day, we visited Lingyanshan--Great Master Yinguang's Way-place. I was impressed by the stern observance of precepts of the Bhikshus there.
The Monastery Where My Mother Practices
After I returned to Hangzhou, my hometown, one day my mother asked me to accompany her to a temple. We went in the morning to Zhongtianzhu (Central India) Monastery. Since the Main Hall was being renovated, Morning Recitation was held in Guanyin Hall. The monks and laypeople did their ceremonies separately. My mother and I joined the Morning Recitation for the laity. There were about fifty people in the hall, mostly women. Everyone wore the black robe, making me feel rather out-of-place in my jeans.
The Morning Recitation there was quite similar to the one at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB), but the melodies carried the lilt of the local opera of Zhejiang Province and Jiangsu Province. Hearing that I was from CTTB, the cantor gave me the honor of offering incense. Usually the laypeople took turns offering incense. Everyone was solemn and sincere. They concentrated on the Pure Land practice, deeply entering that one Dharma door.
As it was nearing noontime, I conversed with the laypeople and found that they were quite knowledgeable in Buddhism. When I was describing my feeling of chanting the Avatamsaka Syllabary at CTTB, one layperson started singing it with exactly the same pronunciation as at the City. The vegetarian lunch was very simple, but the atmosphere was great. Everyone was very amiable. The monastery also had some quarters for laypeople. I was pleased that my mother had such a fine environment to cultivate in.
The New Look of Lingyin Monastery
Lingyin Monastery is a famous temple in south China. I am very familiar with it, for as a child I studied at Lingyin Elementary School across the street. A few days after I came back, I went with friends to pay homage at Lingyin Monastery. I noticed various changes. Standing where a small Tripitaka Tower had been behind the Main Hall was now an impressive Medicine Master Hall. New dormitories had been added on both sides too. Together with the Maitreya Hall, the entire monastery looks adorned but not extravagant, and much more spacious than before. In recent years, there has been noticeable progress in the revival of Buddhism in mainland China. As I was strolling in one of the rooms, I noticed an advertisement saying that the temple's vegetarian cuisine had won the praises of a certain great master. Being weak in samadhi power, I could not resist going in to try the food out. It turned out to be a disappointment. The great master's praise must have been meant to encourage the cooks.
Reunion and the Joy of Dharma
In the last few days of my visit, I went in my father's stead to our hometown in Wuwei County, Anhui Province, to make offerings to and sweep the ancestral graves and visit relatives. I hadn't seen some of them for over twenty years. They had long since known that I had become a Buddhist and was living at a monastery. Hearing that I had come back, they came to see me and ask me why. My cousin was keenly interested in Buddhism. After hearing my mother explain the Dharma, she had gotten rid of her temper. She and her daughter made a special trip from the provincial capital in order to hear me explain the principles. Everyone got together and recounted what they had been doing all these years, and then I spoke to them about the two pillars of Buddhism—great wisdom and great compassion—as well as the relationship between cause and effect. Although not everyone could understand it all, I could see that they were moved by these principles.
It was an unexpected surprise to have the opportunity to explain the Buddhadharma to my relatives and people from my hometown. I was filled with Dharma joy. It seems that the time for Buddhism to revive in mainland China has arrived.
The Propensity of the Chinese People for Mahayana Buddhism
While in China, I noticed that the focus of my countrymen's thoughts as expressed through art is very different from that of other cultures. Overseas works of art primarily express individual sentiments, whereas works from mainland China depict the spirit of communal life. This difference indicated to me the propensity of Chinese people for the Great Vehicle. But I could not understand why there should be such a difference.
On the way from Wuwei County to Hangzhou City, one must drive for nearly two hours on the dike along the Yangtze River. A few years ago during a huge flood, the villagers of Wuwei County broke the dike in order to let the water flow toward their own homes, thereby protecting other, more densely populated towns. As I gazed out from the car that day, as if trying to spot the area where they had broken the dike, a sudden insight flashed through my mind and I seemed to understand.
It was right there, on the Yangtze River, on the dike. This dike of several thousand li (one li is about one-third of an English mile) was not built by a few people or groups of people. Over several thousand years of struggling with floods, Chinese people have learned to help one another and rely upon one another for survival. The Great Yu, in working to prevent floods, was so dedicated that he passed his own home three times without going in. The never-ending floods have produced generations of men of foresight who care for the country, who are the first to be concerned about the people's troubles, and who do not enjoy pleasures until everyone else enjoys them as well. Gradually, righteousness and public spirit have sent down their roots in the hearts of Chinese people. These reflections put me in a melancholy mood.
At the town of Erba, the car was taken across the Yangtze River by a ferry. I got off the car and stood at the ferry's prow, facing the oncoming waves, my mind in turmoil. The several-thousand-year civilization of China suddenly came to my mind. Tears welled up in my eyes. It seemed impossible to repay the Yangtze River and my ancestors for their nurturing care. As the traces of extremism start to vanish from the land, is this not just the time for us to devote ourselves and give all we can to our country? Should we not be like the proverbial silkworm in the spring, which stops spinning silk only upon death?
Postscript: After I finished this essay, I learned that the Yangtze River had flooded again and many lives had been lost. Floods show no mercy, and our karma is even more relentless. How can we fail to heed the signs?