China Embraces Buddhism to Project Power

China is rapidly developing a plan for a ‘Buddhist globalisation’ using its financial, political and marketing clout.

Unsurprisingly, President Xi Jinping is not just asserting territorial claims in the South China Sea and expanding China’s connectivity project through the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, he is also working to make China the world leader in Buddhism. Xi has had this idea for some time now – he started building a partnership between China’s communist party and the religion when he was only 29 years old, serving as a bureaucrat in provinces. The story began when he encountered Shi Youming, a Buddhist monk who was restoring ruined temples of Zhengding County in Hebei Province.

Xi was probably also influenced by his father, Xi Zhongxun, who in 1980 had warned the party in his 11,000-word report ‘Document 19’ against banning religious activity, suggesting that this would alienate too many people. In fact, one of Xi’s father’s signature lines is said to have been, “If the people have faith, the nation has hope and the country has strength.”

Nobody knows whether Xi is a practitioner himself, but he has firmly been putting Chinese Buddhism on the global stage since 2005. At the domestic level, it looks as though Xi is turning to religion not just to bolster his rule, but also to save the party from falling. He certainly sees Buddhism as useful for arresting the flagging moral values in China’s social fabric, and to prevent the angry middle class from crumbling under the weight of a deepening social crisis and economic downturn. Having felt the pains of an ageing society, the country had to abandon the Mao’s one-child policy. More importantly, Xi intends to imbibe moral ethics among party officials – deemed necessary to bring about further economic reforms.

Becoming a guardian of Buddhism is helping Xi successfully promote China as an acceptable world power with a soft image. Buddhist globalisation helps Beijing push its economic projects – religious diplomacy makes it easier for China to win economic and infrastructural projects in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal and elsewhere.

China’s Tech-Savvy, Burned-Out and Spiritually Adrift, Turn to Buddhism

This from today’s New York Times……………………………

By Javier C. Hernandez,

A view of Longquan Monastery, in the hinterlands of Beijing. In success-driven China, many people marvel at the decision of the temple’s monks to leave behind lucrative careers in the tech sector to devote themselves to Buddhist study.

BEIJING — For centuries, Buddhists seeking enlightenment made the journey to Longquan Monastery, a lonesome temple on a hilltop in the hinterlands of northwest Beijing. Under the ginkgo and cypress trees, they meditated, chanted and pored over ancient texts.

Now a new generation has arrived. They wear hoodies, watch television shows like “The Big Bang Theory” and use chat apps to trade mantras. Many, with jobs at some of China’s hottest and most demanding companies, feel burned-out and spiritually adrift, and are looking for change.

“Life in the outside world is chaotic and stressful,” said Sun Shaoxuan, 39, the chief technology officer at an education start-up. “Here, I can be at peace.”

As a spiritual revival sweeps China, Longquan has become a haven for a distinct brand of Buddhism, one that preaches connectivity instead of seclusion and that emphasises practical advice over deep philosophy.

The temple is run by what may be some of the most highly educated monks in the world: nuclear physicists, math prodigies and computer programmers who gave up lives steeped in precision to explore the ambiguities of the spiritual realm.

To build a large following, the monks have put their digital prowess to work. They have pioneered a popular series of cartoons based on Buddhist ideas like suffering and reincarnation. (“Having a bad mood can ruin one’s good luck,” a recent cartoon said.) This past spring, they introduced a two-foot-tall robot named Xian’er to field questions from visitors, the temple’s first foray into artificial intelligence.

Traditionalists worry that Longquan’s flashy high-tech tools may have muddled the teachings of the Buddha, the Dharma. They say its emphasis on practical topics like resolving family conflict and achieving success neglects more important philosophical questions.

But the leader of the monastery, the Venerable Xuecheng, who dispenses bits of wisdom every day to millions of online followers, has defended his approach, saying that Buddhism can stay relevant only by embracing modern tools. In a computer-dominated world, he has said, it is no longer realistic to expect people to attend daily lectures.

Visitors prepared to enter the meditation area at Longquan Monastery.

“Buddhism is old and traditional, but it’s also modern,” he said in an interview in March with the state-run news agency Xinhua. “We should use modern methods to spread the wisdom of Buddhism.”

On a recent Sunday morning, I stood outside Longquan’s gates, watching as hundreds of volunteers and tourists ascended to the temple. They bowed to one another and took turns sweeping cracked walkways. Some wandered through the organic vegetable garden, stopping to prop up unruly tomato plants.

The modernity of the temple was inescapable. While it was first built in 957, many of its original structures were demolished by war and, more recently, by the Cultural Revolution, when Chinese Buddhists were persecuted. Only at the turn of the century was the temple salvaged and rebuilt by a Buddhist businesswoman, Cai Qun. It reopened in 2005, and it is now equipped with fingerprint scanners, webcams and iPads for studying sutras, or Buddhist texts.

The state-run news media speaks of the temple in almost mythical terms. In success-driven China, many people marvel at the decision of the temple’s monks to leave behind lucrative careers in the tech sector to devote themselves to Buddhist study, rising at 3:55 a.m. each day for morning prayers.

“Life in the outside world is chaotic and stressful,” said Sun Shaoxuan, 39, the chief technology officer at an education start-up. “Here, I can be at peace”.

Longquan has become a favourite showpiece for the ruling Communist Party, which officially promotes atheism but has led a push in recent years to revive ancient cultural traditions. In addition to leading Longquan, the Venerable Xuecheng is the president of the Buddhist Association of China, a party-controlled supervisory organ. The temple displays the writings of President Xi Jinping, and long-term residents must submit information about their patriotism and political views.

In a kind of soft-power spiritual push, the Venerable Xuecheng has sought to turn the teachings of the monastery into a global export, translating his writings into more than a dozen languages. In July, he helped open a temple in Botswana for Chinese expatriates.

Longquan’s proximity to several of Beijing’s top universities and the city’s main science and technology hubs has made it popular among young people. Many of them are searching for deeper meaning in a society rife with materialism. Others seek an escape from gruelling schedules, and tips on relaxation.

The temple is renowned in start-up circles, in part because of a widely circulated rumour involving Zhang Xiaolong, one of the inventors of WeChat, a popular messaging app. News articles have claimed that Mr. Zhang, having hit a stumbling block, attended a retreat at the temple, after which he gained inspiration for WeChat. (Mr. Zhang, through a spokesman, denied the reports.)

A volunteer tending to the vegetable garden at the Longquan Monastery in northwest Beijing. The temple reopened in 2005 and is now equipped with fingerprint scanners, webcams and iPads for studying sutras, or Buddhist texts.

Today, young entrepreneurs make the pilgrimage to Longquan in hopes of creative epiphanies. They work at some of China’s most prominent technology companies, including JD.com, an e-commerce giant, and Xiaomi, a smartphone maker.

“Some of the people who come here may not actually be incredibly interested or believe in Buddhism,” said Rax Xie, a software developer. “But they will have a certain connection and receptiveness to the thought and culture behind Buddhism.”

On Sunday mornings, Mr. Sun, the technology entrepreneur, makes his way from his suburban apartment to Longquan. He slips on a maroon robe and begins to chant.

Mr. Sun was once a sceptic of religion. But after a spiritual awakening last year, he said he came to embrace Buddhism, eschewing meat and alcohol and persuading his wife to join him on his spiritual journey.

I met Mr. Sun at a chanting ceremony one Sunday at Longquan. The meditation hall was covered in pillows decorated with lotus flowers; a large, gleaming Buddha statue rose from the front.

A wiry man with soft, dark eyes, he sat in the first row of worshippers, a bell in his hand, and wore a golden sash reading, “Thanks to those who taught me salvation.”

After the ceremony, he told me about his transformation. As he saw it, he was once self-centred and angry, prone to barking orders at his family and co-workers. While his mother was a Buddhist, he saw the religion as “just a story.”

Then, in the fall, he attended a three-day retreat at Longquan intended for information technology workers. He was forced to give up his cellphone and passed the time by meditating, listening to lectures and working in the garden. Almost immediately, he said, his mind felt cleaner and lighter.

Mr. Sun and his wife now attend services nearly every week. In the afternoons, he performs maintenance on Longquan’s websites and helps organise workshops on back-end programming.

He said he had come to see the temple as a “small utopia, free of conflict,” in a society that could sometimes feel riddled with deception.

“When you go to the mountain, you don’t need to think: ‘Who will trick me? Who will harass me? Who will think badly of me?’” he said. “Once you have a sense of security and trust, then you will want to open up, help others and explore your beliefs.”

A Poem that I Like

“Hearing the Gibbons Call in Pa Gorge” by Wen Chao translated by Paul Hansen

As I lean
On my oar, gazing
At the cloud-line, purity
Emerges, deep and lonely,
From the Gorge.

When the mind
Doesn’t have anything
On it, there’s no sorrow
Inherent in repeated calls. They bear
The dew where every peak is distant,
Dangle in space where a slice
Of Moon shines
Bright.

Whoever
Hears it like this
Can finish a poem
By dawn.

Our Hero for 2015

I want to end the year with an uplifting story and it’s hard to find a better one than that of Yang Xiaoyun.

You may remember our story from June about the horrors of the annual Yulin dog-eating festival in China.

Well one 66 year old woman has spent over £45,000 to purchase these helpless creatures from their ruthless dealers at Yulin and bring them to her safe house at Tianjin. Last year, Mrs Yang rescued 360 dogs from the festival and to date has saved over 800.

Xiaoyun is a devout Buddhist who believes, “All lives are equal, no matter what happens, I will never give up on them.”

Her determination to save animals started when she rescued a cat that had been thrown into a ditch in Tianjin in 1995, followed by an abandoned disabled Pekingese dog. In 2002 she opened a makeshift dog shelter in the city.

Being a Chinese literature teacher and having a husband who had worked for the government, she was comfortably off. But after her husband died she sold her family’s two houses to help fund her dog-saving endeavours.

Xian’er the Robot Monk

I can give up and go home, Robo Monk is here……………………..

Longquan (Dragon Spring) Temple in Beijing has a new Buddhist monk called Xian’er. He’s a robot that stands about 50cm and is dressed in a yellow robe. The AI-enabled robot is able to sense his surroundings and engage in basic Q&A – based discussions about Buddhism.

The temple publishes its own cartoon series called Trouble, You Seek for Yourself that dispenses little nuggets of Buddhist wisdom in a way that laypeople can easily understand and the well fed-looking robot is modelled on its chief protagonist.

He even has his own account on Sina Weibo, the leading microblogging service in China.

Master Xuecheng, the abbot of Longquan Temple has founded a website in Chinese, English and Japanese, a personal blog, a personal microblog, a blog and microblog for the temple and a charity foundation blog as well as maintaining a personal Twitter account in English and instant messaging groups and microblogs on sina.com and QQ.com in eight different languages.

You Can Stop the Yulin Dog-Eating Festival!

You may remember our recent post about the annual Yulin dog-eating festival in China. Well now’s your chance to do something about it.

The Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) hosts the annual World Dog Show — which has been called the “world’s most important dog show” — in a different country each year. 2019’s show is scheduled for China.

It’s unthinkable that the same government that allows the dog-eating festival to occur each year would be rewarded with the World Dog Show. Yulin’s festival means children’s pets are kidnapped to be sold and eaten, and are often even skinned and boiled alive.

The festival is still going on even though the authorities in Yulin have officially banned it after previous bad publicity.

If enough people protest the Federation may have to seriously reconsider China as the venue and this can only mean that the Central People’s Government is more likely to effectively enforce the ban over the head of the Yulin local Government.

So, please sign the PETITION against China hosting the World Dog Show in 2019 if the Yulin festival is not stopped.