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I just came across this article in the online version of the People’s Daily, the Chinese government newspaper. It reports on a visit by Master Xing Yun, the leader of Fo Guang Shan, to a city in his native Jiang Su Province in southern China. The local cadre who greeted him said (my translation):
…Master Xing Yun’s “Do Good Deeds, Think Good Thoughts, Speak Good Words” [the “Three Goods”] and his other views all share a common origin with the socialist core value system, they can assist people to establish a proper view of life and of values, and it is very worthwhile to study and honour them.
Fo Guang Shan was founded by Master Xing Yun in the 1960s in Taiwan. Having started as a single temple complex in Gao Xiong, from the early 1990s it developed into an international movement with hundreds of temples, thousands of monastics and millions of lay devotees.
I have been interested in Fo Guang Shan for several years, primarily because of their very thoughtful and explicit approach to the practical application of ideas about Buddhist virtue in everyday life. I worked with a team of volunteers on a pilot project using participatory research methods in the London Fo Guang Shan Temple, and I spent some time as a guest of the organisation in Taiwan.
Although the organisation has temples all over the world Fo Guang Shan has not been able to establish a single temple on the Chinese mainland. This is because in the PRC, all public or organised religious activity must take place under the auspices of a organisation registered with the State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA). One thing SARA officials are particularly sensitive about is foreign religious influence. The official view is that a great deal of damage was done to China in the 19th and early 20th centuries by imperialists operating under the guise of missionaries.
Churches, temples and mosques cannot be affiliated with foreign religious organisations. Instead they must submit to the authority of one of five ‘patriotic religious associations’. Each of these associations is led by members of the appropriate religion, lay and ordained, and they are all under the ultimate authority of the ‘United Front Work Department’, led by the Chinese Communist Party.
The bar on foreign affiliation is not particularly onerous for Buddhist monasteries in Inner Mongolia, where I conduct research, because historically they have always been quite autonomous and decentralised, with strong links to local political authorities. But it is particularly problematic for Catholics, because the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association does not recognise the authority of the Vatican, and appoints its own bishops, which the Vatican in turn does not recognise.
Taiwanese religious organisations present a potential anomaly in this scheme, because their Taiwan headquarters are not under the authority of the mainland’s agencies, but they are not exactly considered foreign either. To date, as far as I know, Fo Guang Shan and other Taiwanese Buddhist organisations have only been allowed to conduct limited activities on the mainland when those activities are not primarily religious—for example, Fo Guang Shan has run humanitarian activities, libraries and art exhibitions—but it is clear that the organisation hopes to be allowed to establish temples or branches of its lay association on the mainland in the future.
Master Xing Yun is not uncritical of the CCP, and in fact for most of the 1990s he was apparently barred from travelling there in retaliation for Fo Guang Shan’s support for refugees from the 1989 democracy movement . However, in recent years, he has cultivated warm relationships with mainland leaders, emphasising the fact that Fo Guang Shan’s “Humanistic Buddhism” seeks to contribute to establishing a harmonious society in which authority is respected, which certainly echoes current CCP rhetoric.
I have seen warm remarks about Xing Yun in news items on the State Administration of Religious Affairs website before, but this is the first time I have seen such an explicit acknowledgement that Humanistic Buddhism shares values with current CCP policy. This quotation is taken from the party secretary of a municipal committee of a relatively small city, but it is quoted approvingly in People’s Daily, so this may be an indication that Fo Guang Shan has taken another small step towards its goal of being allowed to set up properly on the mainland.
The full story is below (rough and ready translation, please let me know if you spot any errors):
Founder and leader of Taiwanese Fo Guang Shan, Master Xing Yun comes to Jiang Yin with his delegation on an inspection tour
18 April 2012
People’s Daily Online
Yesterday morning, the founder and leader of Taiwanese Fo Guang Shan, Master Xing Yun came with his delegation to conduct an inspection. The inspection tour was accompanied by Wuxi Municipal Council Standing Committee member and Jiang Yin Municipal Committee Secretary Jian Hong Liang, Municipal Committee Deputy Secretary Gao Pei, and Vice-Chairman of the Municipal Political Consultative Committee and Section Chief of the Municipal United Work Front Chen Xing Chu.
Master Xing Yun is the energetic founding preacher of today’s “Humanistic Buddhism” theory, initiator of the World Buddhist Forum, whose scholarly cultivation is profound and whose writings are of the same rank. He has dedicated his life to setting Buddhism on the path to becoming humanistic, living, related to society, of the masses, to turning Buddhism into a window onto Chinese culture for the world, and to making great contributions to the promotion of cross-Straits relations.
Jiang Hong Liang, meeting Master Xing Yun at the government headquarters, said that Master Xing Yun is famous on both sides of the Straits and throughout the world as a Buddhist teacher, he is the most important disseminator and practitioner of “Humanistic Buddhism” of the contemporary age, and he has a majestic status and influence in the world of Buddhism. He went on to say that Master Xing Yun’s “Do Good Deeds, Think Good Thoughts, Speak Good Words” [the “Three Goods”] and his other views all share a common origin with the socialist core value system, they can assist people to establish a proper view of life and of values, and it is very worthwhile to study and honour them. He hoped that Master Xing Yun will continue to play an important role in cross-Straits relations, expanding cross-Straits exchange, promoting cultural exchange and other aspects of cooperation between Jiang Yin and Taiwan.
Master Xing Yun said that Buddhism precisely demands the promotion of the harmony of the whole society, which is to say we need to accomplish the harmonious joy of our own minds, harmonious respect between self and other, harmonious co-existence of the family, societal harmony, and world peace. He continued by saying that because Jiang Yin’s economy was developed, its surroundings were beautiful, its cultural tradition was deep, and especially because it had produced Ju Zan, it left him with a deep impression. He said that from now on he would use his role to full advantage to widely publicise and promote Jiang Yin, and to make energetic contributions to Jiang Yin’s development.
Afterwards, Master Xing Yun and his delegation toured and praised Zan Yuan [I think: a park to commemorate Ju Zan?].