Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE ( © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford Handbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 24 March 2019

A New Chan (Zen) School in Taiwan: Dharma Drum Lineage of Chan Buddhism

Abstract and Keywords

Dharma Drum Mountain (DDM) is one of the largest and most influential Buddhist international organizations in Taiwan. Founded in 1989 by the late master Shengyan Huikong (Sheng Yen), DDM is a combination of monastic and academic institutions known for promoting Buddhist education and Chan (Zen) practice. To preserve and present Chan Buddhism as a form of moral and spiritual education, Sheng Yen established a new Chan lineage, the Dharma Drum Lineage (DDL), in 2006. This article focuses on the history of DDL in the contexts of the religious landscape in postwar Taiwan and Sheng Yen’s thought. It begins by considering the contexts of Sheng Yen’s emphasis on education and critique of his predecessors. It then examines the formation of Sheng Yen’s thought and the formation of DDL in the Taiwanese context. Finally, it highlights the unique features of DDL and compares them to popular and academic conceptions of Zen Buddhism.

Keywords: Dharma Drum Mountain, Taiwan, Shengyan Huikong, Sheng Yen, Buddhist education, Chan Buddhism, Dharma Drum Lineage, Zen Buddhism

Dharma Drum Mountain (Fagu shan 法鼓山; DDM), founded by the late master Shengyan Huikong 聖嚴慧空 (1930–2009, Sheng Yen), is one of Taiwan’s largest and most influential Buddhist international organizations. Taiwanese Buddhism is one representation, and the most vocal and visible form (on a global scale), of Chinese Buddhism as a whole. The Dharma Drum Lineage (Fagu zong 法鼓宗; DDL) is a combination of both monastic and academic institutions. It was founded in 1989 with a 120-acre piece of mountainside land located in Jinshan County in northern Taiwan, about 40 kilometers from Taipei City. Construction of DDM did not begin until the mid-1990s. It was not until 2001 that the main buildings on the mountain site were completed. In Taiwan, DDM is mainly known as a Buddhist organization that promotes Buddhist education, both popular and academic, as well as Chan (Zen) practice. In 2006 Sheng Yen created a new Chan lineage, the DDL, to continue its own brand of Buddhist teachings in order to preserve and present Chan Buddhism as a form of moral and spiritual education. This is an important historical development in Chinese and Taiwanese Buddhism, as it had been a thousand years since the creation of a new school of Chan in Chinese Buddhism. Chan (popularly known as “Zen” in Japanese pronunciation) is arguably one of the most important Buddhist traditions in East Asia. The historical development of Chan in China is an ongoing topic of scholarly discussion. Yet most scholarly literature tends to focus on the formation and flourishing of Chan in premodern periods, based on genealogical records produced by Chan Buddhist clerics themselves. The field of Chan/Zen studies as a whole has not moved to the modern period, much less to the formation of new lineages. This article aims to historicize DDL in the contexts of early Buddhist reforms and thinkers of the twentieth century, the postwar Taiwanese religious landscape, and Sheng Yen’s own life experiences. It also aims to highlight the key features of DDL in contradistinction to popular and academic conceptions of Zen Buddhism.

The Contexts of Sheng Yen’s Focus on Education

What stands out in this newly constructed DDL is a focus on education, an important feature of Chinese Buddhism in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries Taiwan. This focus on education is a distinct outcome of the impact of the Buddhist reforms and thinkers of the Republican period (1912–1949). Sheng Yen’s teaching of modern Chan Buddhism is inextricably linked to his Republican period predecessors, but it also evolved from his response to his personal experience teaching his Western students and the spiritual and cultural climate of Taiwan. His Chan is a reformulation of the Three Studies of precepts, meditation, and wisdom found in the early Āgamas, the collection of early Buddhist scriptures, which returns Chan to its roots in Buddhism, even though the content of the Three Studies are distinctly Chan. At the same time, Sheng Yen’s Chan also absorbed the unification of doctrine and practice as taught in Tiantai and Huayan Buddhism. The aim of his reformulation was to ensure the survival of Chinese Buddhism in the modern age, but the process of this reformulation was complex and gradual. While he drew from his predecessors for inspiration, Sheng Yen’s formulation is unique and unmatched by his contemporaries.

In order to appreciate the thought of Sheng Yen and his creation of DDL, it is necessary to provide a larger historical context of the intellectual trajectory of modern Buddhism, to which Sheng Yen was both an heir and a participant. The dynamism of the Republican period marks a paradigm shift in the history of Buddhism in China. It was then that Buddhist clerics and institutions, in response to internal reforms and external secularizing influences of modernization, collectively sought to redefine the public image of Buddhism in society as a viable and valuable part of the Chinese cultural heritage. The genesis of the “Pure Land in the human world” (renjian jingtu 人間淨土) movement, and all of its attendant efforts to “humanize” (renjian hua 人間化) Buddhism, so prominent in Sheng Yen’s thought and the contemporary Chinese Buddhist discourse, can be traced back to this period.1

The Chinese intellectuals responded to the dire situation of wars, corruption, and the fall of imperial China2 with intellectual creativity and achievement. The creation of a new social order—indeed, of a new direction for humanity—and “new cultural movement” (xin wenhua yundong 新文化運動) was their common goal. They sought to carry “reorganizing the heritage” (zhengli guogu 整理國故) to virtually every field of academic endeavor, from literary criticism and the arts to history, philosophy, and science.3

Buddhist thinkers during this time responded to this challenging and yet innovative period of Chinese history by focusing on monastic reform through education. One of the most important initiators of Buddhist revitalization was Yang Wenhui 楊文會 (1837–1911), also known as Renshan 仁山, who served as an ambassador to Great Britain and was exposed to Western technology, education, and Buddhist studies. As the first Chinese who saw the need to modernize Buddhist education, Yang established his Buddhist academy, “Jetavana Hermitage” (Zhihuan jingshe 祇洹精舍), in 1889. He died just before the Republican revolution in October 1911,4 but his academy produced some of the most brilliant leaders in Chinese Buddhism.

Some of the most outstanding students in the academy were Ouyang Jingwu 歐陽竟無 (1871–1943), who later became the lay Buddhist leader and scholar of Consciousness-Only thought, and master Zhiguang 智光 (1889–1963), who became the abbot of the Dinghui Monastery at Jiao Shan and the teacher of Dongchu 東初 (1908–1977), who was in turn Sheng Yen’s teacher.5 The Buddhist cleric, Taixu 太虛 (1890–1947), one of Yang’s students and arguably the most influential figure with a lasting influence that is still felt today in Chinese Buddhist circles, rose to prominence as a religious reformer. This is not the place to fully explicate the Taixu’s programs for Buddhist reform (fojiao geming 佛教革命), particularly for his rhetoric of building an utopian “pure land in the human world” (jianshe renjian jingtu 建設人間淨土), but suffice it to say that in the eyes of contemporary Chinese Buddhist clerics like Sheng Yen, he stood out as a towering figure in the history of modern Chinese Buddhism.6 However, Sheng Yen also realized Taixu’s shortcomings for not being able to institutionalize his ideas into a concrete organization (jiaotuan 教團) and mobilize Chinese Buddhism as a whole.7

The Formation of DDL in the Taiwanese Context

While Sheng Yen was greatly influenced by his predecessors, such as Taixu, on an ideological level, he also differed in significant ways. One was his institutionalization of DDL, establishing his own understanding and teaching of Chan Buddhism into an organization, and his broad promotion of Buddhist education not only for monastics but to include Buddhist studies as an academic field and to reinterpret the very definition of education to subsume all of Chinese Buddhist practices and rituals. Moreover, from the time he began to write essays on Buddhism, Sheng Yen had always criticized Buddhists who guarded their own sectarian identities. He presented what he considered orthodox Buddhism (zhengxin de fojiao 正信的佛教) as a whole, devoid of sects and schools. Considering these, how can his establishment of a new “school” within Chinese Buddhism to be reconciled? Is DDL a new sect? What were the conditions through which he established DDL? As I maintain here, the apparent shift in his position has much to do with his response to the widespread influence of folk religion on Buddhism and the presence of new forms of Buddhism in Taiwan—all of which are connected to the challenges of modernity posed by Taiwan’s economic boom in the 1980s. Sheng Yen’s incentive may have come from his wish to amend the shortcomings of his intellectual predecessors’ inability to implement their thought into action in an institutional form. It was due to these reasons that he eventually founded a way to combine his orthodox Buddhism thought and implement it in an institutional form of DDL. But this process was slow and was the result of historical circumstances in Taiwan.

There are at least two discernible developments in the context of twentieth-century Taiwan’s complex religious landscape that bear on the formation of the DDL. The first is an increase in local folk religious rituals that flourished, as I explain below, under a market transaction model. The second is an increase in organized, universalist religions that resemble Western religions with modern sensibilities. These two kinds of religious trends appear to contradict one another—one obscures traditional moral values and the other advocates them. The simultaneous growth of these two religious trends is the result of the Taiwanese government’s policies on religious practice, economic growth, and technological development, as well as greater social mobility and exposure to foreign values and practices. The establishment of the DDL is a response to these challenges in a modernizing society.

Since the ending of Martial Law (jieyan ling 戒嚴令) in 1987, local community-based cultic traditions and temple religions, which are broadly construed here as folk beliefs and practices (minjian xinyang 民間信仰),8 have not only been able to exercise their religious freedom beyond state control, but they have also begun to influence the larger society as well as politics at the national level. The term minjian xinyang is not necessarily a pejorative term as used by modern Buddhist clerics, Taiwanese academics, and government officials. “Folk religion” is an anthropological and sociological category but is not much better and has its own history in Western religious discourses.9 This article employs the term in light of Sheng Yen’s usage. The important point here is that these traditions have stymied the predictions that market modernity would lead to an inevitable secularization.10 On the contrary, Taiwan has witnessed more religious activity than ever before.11 Even previously persecuted religions are thriving and expanding.12 Many local folk temple religions and deity worship traditions operate openly, are well connected in local communities to local elites, and continue to assert themselves as integral to individual, family, and communal life, and even to a national level. The existence of these traditions was not the issue of concern for Sheng Yen; rather, he was concerned about the ambivalent moral values espoused indirectly by some exceptional folk religions that would destabilize society and influence Buddhism.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Taiwan achieved significant monetary wealth for the first time, but it was a wealth that rested on capricious market economies. These economies were reflected in the relationships that people had with the numerous deities and ghosts, who would grant any requests regardless of their moral outlook as long as people provided material gifts to the deities’ host temples. These cultic traditions flourished on an economy of material exchange.13 The ambivalent values indirectly espoused by these cultic traditions and folk religions can be seen in the way that several local folk temples were connected to the criminal world. Robert Weller’s study of the Eighteen Lords (Shiba wang gong 十八王宮) in postwar Taiwan describes how the spirits of seventeen men and their canine companion regularly received offerings of cigarettes and other items from gangsters, gamblers, prostitutes, and people who wished to make a quick profit in an illegal lottery.14 These gods lacked any ascriptive local community and pretense of morality. People believed in the gods’ efficacy, and the offerings to them may be seen as bribes. The desire to win quick profits in gambling and have a successful business, coupled with the inauguration of the Lotto lottery in January 2002, caused a new wave of interest in worshiping Taiwan’s ambivalent gods.15

As many temples and shrines were becoming integrated into the capitalist mainstream, appealing increasingly to individuals rather than kin groups or local communities, and in which temples and ritual specialists competed against each other like firms in a market, popular religion that espoused ambivalent values mushroomed. Traditional community temples used to serve as the base for particular local political factions, whose members would also manage temples. In the 1980s, this tradition began to change as modernity gave way to greater mobility, but community temples’ spheres of influence did not decrease. Instead, this influence grew because the influence of community temples was no longer bound to geographical regions or classes of people who voluntarily worshiped deities without regard for territorial or community affiliations.

Since the late 1980s, there also appears to be an increasing (although it may be just better publicized) social importance of spirit mediums, especially women mediums who exercise their power beyond the limits of folk temple religions. They are able to cater to the needs of their clientele much more effectively than temple gods by personally prognosticating the future, giving advice about deceased relatives, counseling the sick, healing illness or performing exorcisms, and foretelling the future or even the results of presidential elections.16

These mediums are autonomous entrepreneurs.17 Unlike temples, which are usually devoted to worshipping one primary deity, a spirit medium’s private residence or shrine can sometimes house up to forty to fifty images, with each deity having its own specialty. This testifies to the utilitarian function of the gods. Sometimes spirit mediums are hired by Daoist temples to be part of their rituals (jiao 醮); other times they operate out of their own residences or shrines and are hired by private individuals. The nature of the relationship between the mediums and the gods has also changed. Many enter trances for personal profit, during which they “communicate” with gods without losing themselves entirely in them.18

The impact of Taiwanese folk traditions follows Taiwan’s thriving liberal market economy, which ultimately helped push the island to full democracy.19 However, from the perspective of Sheng Yen, they have had a deteriorating impact on traditional values as they affect the social and political stability of Taiwan. For example, he problematized the variety of folk beliefs and cultic practices as sharing a materialist and self-serving ethos (gongli de 功利的; gongyong de 功用的) that needed to be corrected and transformed (jiucheng huadao 糾正化導).20 While he believed that Buddhism is able to peacefully coexist with all religious traditions, those traditions that propose unreasonable beliefs will definitely bring more trouble to an increasingly pluralistic society.21

The ambivalent ethos of folk religion in Taiwan is quite evident in popular forms of Buddhism. An example is the profit-oriented Buddhist ritual specialists, whose temples function in similar ways to the folk religions. Some of these “monks” are not temple-based but work directly for commercial funeral parlors.22 These specialists’ main source of income is the commercialization of ritual performance, which includes everything from small funeral rites to large, week-long water and land rituals involving hundreds and thousands of clients. Every ritual has a price. From Sheng Yen’s perspective, the specialists’ presence represents the pessimism (xiaoji 消極) and escapist attitudes (taobi xianshi 逃避現實) of Buddhism, which not only challenges the sangha’s respected place within society but also presents a grave threat to the very future of Chinese Buddhism.23

Moreover, the growing presence of Tibetan Buddhism, especially of the Kagyu and Nyingma sects, filled this lacuna with something at once exotic and familiar to the Taiwanese. The global networks of Tibetan lamas who devoted much energy to establishing centers around the world also helped in bringing Tibetan Buddhism to Taiwan. Their effort was fruitful as Taiwan’s economic boom provided the conditions for particularly generous donations to the Tibetan communities in Dharmsala, India. This made Taiwan a frequent destination for many Tibetan teachers. In 1997, with the visit of the Dalai Lama, who was perceived as a religious celebrity, Tibetan Buddhism became more of an exotic spirituality. In this vein, the popularity of Tibetan Buddhism dovetailed nicely with existing religious cultic practices in Taiwan and at the same time fascinated the Taiwanese.

Tibetan Buddhism was at once familiar and exotic to the Taiwanese people, who were captivated by its esotericism (mijiao 密教),24 partly because it resembled, in form and function, their own native traditions.25 The mystery surrounding Tibetan Buddhism, demonstrated through the magical efficacy of its rituals and empowerments—which promise better health, longer life, financial success, and marital and family harmony—was cultivated by the lamas and rinpoches themselves. Many were perceived by the Taiwanese as “living buddhas” (huofo 活佛).26 The economy of material exchange and magical power in these rituals served similar functions, as did Taiwan’s folk religions for the wealthy middle class. The deities may be different, but the ritual functions were basically the same. These elements have captured the hearts of Taiwanese, who are hungry for worldly benefits amidst the uncertainty of economic prosperity.27

The Taiwanese were also drawn to the self-conceit of Tibetan Buddhism as having more efficacious rituals and superior doctrinal systems. This appeal has had a history beginning with Taixu and his student Yinshun, in that both of these Chinese masters borrowed the doctrinal infrastructure of the Tibetan Gelukpa tradition in forming their own understanding of Buddhism and their doctrinal classification scheme (panjiao 判教) for promoting education.28 Taixu’s panjiao system rested squarely on Chinese Buddhist scriptures and doctrines. Yinshun’s system centered instead on Indian Buddhist treatises and intellectual historiography. His writings on history,29 especially that of Indian Buddhism, revalorized the earlier Āgama scriptures and Indian Madhyamaka thought over and against Chinese Mahāyāna literature. His impact has led to the general perception among contemporary Chinese Buddhists circles in Taiwan that true Buddhism exists only in early Indian Buddhist texts. Implicit in this claim is an attempt to undermine the authority and authenticity of later Chinese Buddhism,30 which I believe paved the way for the search among Taiwanese Buddhists for an “original form” of Buddhism (yuanshi fojiao 原始佛教).

It was in this context, beginning in the late 1980s, that Taiwan welcomed the arrival of South Asian Buddhism and its practice of vipassana. During this time numerous translations poured into Taiwan, primarily from Theravāda Buddhist teachers’ writings and particularly the works by Ajahn Chah and Buddhadasa Bhikkhu.31 These books prepared Taiwanese students for the visit of the vipassana teacher, S.N. Goenka, to give a series of talks and lead a ten-day vipassana retreat in Taiwan in 1995. Two hundred Taiwanese participated in this retreat. Goenka also had a dialogue with Sheng Yen during his visit.32 In July 1998 he returned and led more retreats. Subsequently, centers devoted to his teachings were established in Taiwan, other meditation teachers from the Theravāda tradition came to Taiwan, and their Taiwanese students established more centers.

With the great influence of Yinshun’s writings, which emphasized early Indian Buddhism, many Chinese monastics in Taiwan converted to vipassana Buddhism and gave up Chinese Buddhist doctrinal outlook and practices, believing that the former was the “truer” or “original” expression of Buddhism.33 The big wave of publications on vipassana in Taiwan also contributed to this phenomenon. Private Buddhist enterprises for translating Buddhist literature for wide dissemination simply did not happen in mainland China; Buddhism there was still very much controlled by the government. Sheng Yen’s concern for the fate of contemporary Buddhism in Taiwan, however, was intimately bound up with these factors. It was an apprehension that people did not appreciate the richness of their own tradition sufficiently to benefit from it. Instead, people turned away from Chinese Buddhism to study other forms of Buddhism.34 He states:

Chinese Buddhism is indeed in a state of crisis (weiji 危機), facing great challenges. The fact that many Chinese Buddhists subscribe to a bleak view of the future of Chinese Buddhism is also something lamentable. Many of them feel that they are better off practicing Tibetan or Theravāda Buddhism. Some are even ordained into the Tibetan or Theravāda traditions. There would not be any future for Chinese Buddhism if all Chinese Buddhists held such attitudes. In the past I have said the different forms of Buddhism are the same, whether it is Theravāda or Tibetan Buddhism. As long as either one of them exists, even if Chinese Buddhism is extinguished, Buddhism will still remain in the world. However, I say those words with great pain.35

In 1998, two events also happened. Sheng Yen engaged in a dialogue with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama at Roseland in New York City on the wisdom traditions of Tibetan and Chinese Buddhism. He also completed a commentary on Chan Master Shenhui’s 神會 (684–760) Record of Illuminating the Principle (Xianzongji 顯宗記), which is a medieval polemical work on the sudden enlightenment tradition of the southern Chan school.36 Sheng Yen’s dialogue with the Dalai Lama centered on the wisdom teachings of the nature of mind. The Dalai Lama mainly drew from the teachings of the Kagyu and Nyingma traditions in his conversation with Sheng Yen; Sheng Yen drew on the sudden enlightenment tradition of Chan Buddhism.

It was precisely during this time, when Taiwan was captivated by Tibetan Buddhism and vipassana Buddhism, that Sheng Yen completed his commentary on the Record of Illuminating the Principle in time for his dialogue with the Dalai Lama and to secure his own position squarely within Chan Buddhism. This shift from taking the foundational Buddhadharma, or Buddhist teachings, as the basis of Chan to using Chan as a lens to interpret Buddhadharma is a subtle but important transition in Sheng Yen’s thinking.

During this process of editing the Record of Illuminating the Principle, he recognized the value of Chan as the best organizing vehicle to comprehensively unify Chinese Buddhism. He states in the preface that “The person who benefits the most is me. Writing this commentary gave me the opportunity to survey the whole of Buddhism from the angle of Chan. I feel as if I wrote a Chan Buddhist compendium on the Buddhadharma.”37 In a separate work published in the same year, Liangqian nian xingjiao 兩千年行腳 (Traveling in 2000), he claims that “only Chan Buddhism as a school retains the spirit of Chinese civilization; only the Chan School can unify and absorb the essential teachings of all the various Mahāyāna Buddhist traditions without ever falling into deterioration.”38

A New Chan (Zen) School in TaiwanDharma Drum Lineage of Chan BuddhismClick to view larger

Figure 1. The last portion of Sheng Yen’s Chan Chart, showing how Chan can doctrinally be organized through the three studies.

A New Chan (Zen) School in TaiwanDharma Drum Lineage of Chan BuddhismClick to view larger

Figure 2. The expedient means of Chan methods of practice, part of the last section of Figure 1.

In 1998, in preparation for his dialog with the Dalai Lama, Sheng Yen also drafted a doctrinal flow chart on how Chan is the amalgamation and consummation (jicheng 集成) of Indian and Chinese Buddhism:

The full chart, which I did not include here, is similar to a doctrinal classification schema (panjiao 判教) in its scope and complexity, including how mainstream Indian Buddhist thought—both Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna—were incorporated into Chinese Tiantai 天台 and Huayan 華嚴 Buddhism. On the last pages of Sheng Yen’s chart, he shows how these were then incorporated into Chan. Due to space limitations, I include here (Figs. 1 and 2) only the last pages of this chart that pertains to Chan, namely how Chan amalgamated and consummated Indian and Chinese Buddhist thought. While the flow of the chart, if carefully followed, is self-explanatory, I briefly highlight several main features below.

In the chart, under “Teaching” (jiaoli 教理) and “Clarification of Doctrine” (mingjiao 明教), we see how key Mahāyāna scriptures are appropriated to constitute Chan’s own main tenets. For example, the importance of Bodhi-mind in Chan comes from the Prajñāpāramitā literature; the importance of buddha-nature thought comes from the Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra; Chan’s position of attaining Buddhahood in a single thought and the notion of intrinsic buddhahood derives from the Saddharma-puṇḍarīka-sūtra; and the doctrinal basis of his own “establishing a pure land in the human world” from the Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa-sūtra. Sheng Yen shows how these main tenets of Chan have a scriptural basis.

In terms of Chan’s clarification of the principle (mingli 明理) of Buddhadharma, the chart shows how Chan is inseparable from the three studies of precepts, meditation, and wisdom found in early Buddhist teachings. As I have explained, Sheng Yen’s own understanding of basic Buddhadharma is indebted to his early studies of the Āgamas. Yet what is distinct in this chart is that Sheng did not interpret precepts, meditation, and wisdom—found so pervasively in the Āgamas—from the perspective of early Buddhism. Instead, he used this framework of the three studies only to inclusively explicate both the gradual path of early and Mahāyāna Buddhism and the sudden position of Chan found in the Platform Scripture. This can be seen in the way in which under each of these three studies, he explicates a twofold hierarchy of each of the three studies. The three studies is a rubric that constitutes the principle of Chan. This rubric shows the flexibility, adaptability, and inclusiveness of Chan.

Under “Expedient Means” of entering the Chan Gate (入門方便), we can see the inclusiveness of how he understands different methods of practice. The highest and most direct level is to separate from or relinquish the workings of mind, thought, and cognition (li xin, yi, shi 離心意識)—in other words, the workings of the deluded, discriminating mind. Doing so is itself the actualization of buddha-nature—in other words, enlightenment. The intermediate level is what he calls “using delusion to transform delusion,” where the methods of mozhao and huatou are introduced. These two methods are the distinct methods taught in the DDL. I have already discussed these methods in some detail. He also introduces a third level, where one can “use the deluded mind to cultivate unobstructed activity” amidst daily life, which is also divided into two parts: conviction or faith in the single present thought (xianqian yinian 前一念心) as replete with the merit of all buddhas and, at the same time, observe and contemplate this thought from moment to moment in a fourfold process of face it, accept it, observe it, and let go of it.

These three types of practice are not hierarchical and mutually inclusive. As stated above, when he first taught mozhao in the 1970s, he introduced it as a sudden method of no-method, where one should simply leave behind and put down all deluded thinking and not abide anywhere. This he interprets as “silent” (mo 默) part of silent illumination. At the same time, one does not fall asleep but allows the mind’s natural clarity to shine forth. This he interpreted as “illumination” (zhao 照). In addition, as seen in the chart, the ultimate goal of mozhao and huatou is to also to leave behind the workings of the deluded, discriminating mind. The third practice actually stems from Tiantai’s notion of the perfect and sudden cessation and contemplation (yuandun zhiguan 圓頓止觀), found in Zhiyi’s 智顗 (538–597) (Mohe zhiguan 摩訶止觀) where the notion of a trichiliocosm in a single thought (yinian sanqian 一念三千) is explained.39 In Tiantai thought, this single moment of thought (yinian xin 一念心) embodies the ten dharma realms (shi fajie 十法界), which Sheng Yen thought of as the intersection of Tiantai and Huayan thought.40

In Zhiyi’s own words:

One thought contains the ten dharma realms. Each dharma realm also contains the ten dharma realms [so there are] one hundred dharma realms. Each dharma realm contains thirty worlds; so one hundred dharma realms contain three thousand worlds. These three thousand worlds are contained in one single thought (yinian xin 一念心).41

The idea here is the interpenetration and mutual inclusivity of delusion and enlightenment, such that a single moment of thought contains all of reality, which is the foundational thought of Zhiyi. The ten realms or destinies refer to ten states of experiences: hell, hungry spirit, animal, human, fighting gods, gods, śrāvaka, pratyekabuddha, bodhisattva, and buddha. According to Zhiyi, these are not separate distinct worlds but are experiences in one single reality. In other words, buddhas and human beings are inseparable and mutually inclusive. This is none other than the position of Chan, which espouses that each person is able to realize buddhahood in an instant by “illuminating the mind and see one’s nature” (mingxin jianxing 明心見性). If the true nature of one’s mind is realized, one is identical to the buddhas, which had been doctrinally worked out by Zhiyi. For this reason, as seen in the chart, Sheng Yen sees Chan as having inherited the heart of Tiantai, which also intersects with Huayan thought of interpenetration of all dharma realms (fajie wu’ai 法界無礙).42

These are just some of the highlights of this segment of Sheng Yen’s doctrinal classification from the perspective of Chan. The important point is that Sheng Yen in 1998 shifted his previous nonsectarian position to squarely identify Chan as the pinnacle of Buddhadharma. I believe that in 1998 Sheng Yen finally shifted his self-identity from someone who promoted Buddhadharma in general to a Chan master because of the convergence of a multiplicity of conditions: writing the commentary on Shenhui’s Record of Illuminating the Principle, clarifying his own thought and position in Chan before having a dialog with the Dalai Lama, and, at the same time, facing the challenges of the widespread influence of folk or popular religion and competing forms of non-Chinese Buddhism in Taiwan. I believe this shift was the seed that later germinated into his establishment of a new lineage of DDL in 2006. These conditions opened new doors of interpretive opportunities, allowing him to reformulate a form of Chinese Buddhism by institutionalizing a new Chan lineage that promoted values that accorded with the riches of all Chinese Buddhism that could be oriented toward modern education and appeal to contemporary society.

Unique Features of the DDL of Chan

Sheng Yen’s DDL is in a way inseparable from his person and life experiences. His Chan lineage is not the Chan School of premodern times, defined by the “five houses and seven lineages” or “patriarchal Chan.” Rather, it is a reformulation of the whole of Chinese Buddhism—as represented by Tiantai and Huayan—through the lens of classic Chan principles. These principles are the inseparability of samādhi (ding 定) and prajñā (hui 慧) found in the Platform Scripture, which is articulated most clearly by Shenhui. This form of Chan is also consistent with master Ouyi’s teaching of the unity of doctrine (jiao 教) and practice (guan 觀), which Sheng Yen had studied in Japan. Sheng Yen’s emphasis in the union of these principles in DDL reflects his own learning and life experience. He vigorously advocated the systematic integration of traditional and orthodox Buddhist doctrines and practices into a unified but variegated and doctrinally profound Chan. As seen in Figures 1 and 2, the principle structure of his Chan is the three studies founded on the Āgamas, but the methods of practice are thoroughly “sudden” (dun 頓), in the fashion of Chinese Chan and the highest form of Tiantai and Huayan. This advocacy is in accordance with the Chan position and can be found in such axioms as “the unification of Chan and the teachings” (chan jiao heyi), “from Chan stems doctrine” (cong chan chujiao 從禪出教), and “use the doctrine to awaken to the principle” (jiejiao wuzong 藉教悟宗).43 This emphasis also sets him apart from how Chan-Zen is presented both in popular and academic writings and from what he witnessed in Japan and America.

The doctrinal position of Platform Scripture is the foundation of Chan. Yet popular representation of Chan through the lens of Zen pays little attention to it and instead highlights the form of Chan, characterized by shouts and extemporaneous and iconoclastic behaviors, free from ritual and doctrine that developed in later periods of China. Popular representation of Chan and Zen also emphasize the kōan as a curriculum of study. Conceived of in this manner, Shenhui would not fit the image of Chan. Recent scholarship, however, has revealed that this image of Chan in the West is shaped largely by how Buddhism was transmitted from Japan. The reality is that in China most influential Chan masters were extremely conversant with Buddhist doctrine, despite Chan’s claim to be “a special transmission separate from doctrine, which does not establish or depend on words and language.”44 Sheng Yen’s singling out of Shenhui as an exemplar of someone who placed equal weight on doctrine and practice is not out of the ordinary—it accords with how Chan has been practiced in China for centuries—but his stress on the inseparability of these two aspects is a corrective to what he witnessed in the attitude of American and Japanese Zen.

One of the reasons the antinomian and iconoclastic dimension of Zen is so popular in the West is because many earlier scholarly and popular writings on Buddhism and Zen were influenced by late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Zen sectarianism (shūgaku 宗学), which divorces doctrine and practice.45 The false sense of division between doctrinal learning and Chan practice is largely a modern construct. Western conceptions of Chan and Zen are indebted to the writings of the Zen proselytizer, Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki 鈴木大拙 (1870–1966), who elevated the “Zen experience” to its heights, divorcing it from Buddhism all together, and advanced the notion that Zen eschews all doctrine, all ritual, and all institutions. In the final analysis, what he seems to be promoting is not a religion at all but pure experience. But the genesis of this is complex, beyond the scope of this article. However, evidence can be found in many post-Meiji Zen writings. For example in the works of Yamamoto Genpō 山本玄峰 (1866–1961), who is often considered by Rinzai Zen to be the second coming of the famous master, Hakuin Ekaku 白隠慧鶴 (1685–1768), it is stated that for a Zen monk the most important requirement is the mind for the way (dōshin 道心), and that engaging in “learning” (gakumon 学問) is unnecessary.46 In other words, practice and doctrinal learning are incompatible or at least unrelated to one another. This form of Zen was in fact what Sheng Yen witnessed in Japan during his Ph.D. years in Japan and what he saw in American since 1976.

In one of the earliest teachings given in America, Sheng Yen introduces several Chan masters’ works to his American students. He states, “My purpose … is to show that they [i.e., Chan masters] were not only highly accomplished practitioners, they were also well-versed in literature, history, and Buddhist scholarship. In their poems we can discern references to Chinese philosophical, religious, and literary history, as well as to the roots and theories of Indian Buddhism.”47 Here, Sheng Yen highlights the fact that most Chan masters were well versed in not only Buddhist doctrine but also secular learning. This image of the Chan master is, of course, very different than the received image of Chan masters eschewing words and language or maintaining that learning is unnecessary. The aim of Sheng Yen’s teaching to his American students is clear: Chan is not as antinomian and iconoclastic as we have been led to believe. Countering the skewed notions of Chan, Sheng Yen states, “There are no anthologies of Chan poetry in Chinese, Japanese, or English which describe in detail the methods of practice and the experiences of Chan masters. … On the other hand, there are numerous books in English that relate episodes of the gong’ans. The prevailing view that comes from reading these stories is that the practice of Chan is methodless, and since there is no way to describe the experience of Chan, it is suggested that we just go ahead and [ritually] practice by studying the gong’ans.” Sheng Yen continues, “The purpose of these poems is different in that they specifically show you how to practice, what attitudes to cultivate and what pitfalls to beware of. Finally, they attempt to describe the ineffable experience of Chan itself.”48

In these passages, we see that Sheng Yen’s agenda is to balance out the lopsided presentation of Chan in America, a presentation that is largely filtered through Japanese Zen, which lacks stages of practice or any doctrinal theory relating to Buddhism. But if one takes the Platform Scripture as the main representative Chan text, one sees that it explicitly and implicitly cites numerous Buddhist scriptures to establish its legitimacy.49 The main message of the text is also the ability “to penetrate preaching and to penetrate the mind” (shuotong ji xintong 說通及心通)—that is, to be fully conversant with doctrine and at the same time to have deep realizations into the nature of reality. Sheng Yen’s emphasis on this text thus places Chan in its Chinese and Buddhist contexts, revealing that at the core of the Chan tradition is not only full of doctrinal and theoretical issues but also fully anchored in learning as a form of education.

In order to promote Chinese Buddhism, Sheng Yen combined his long-term goal of promoting Buddhist education with his identification with the Chan tradition. He attributed his work in education to his master, Dongchu. He states: “The reason we now have a mountain site called Dharma Drum Mountain is primarily because of my teacher, the late Master Dongchu. In his will, he had expressed hope that I would locate a hillside in nature to establish an institute for Buddhist education. The details of this will are in my Chinese article ‘The Difficulty in Repaying One’s Gratitude to the Master.’… I share Master Dongchu’s vision that Buddhism has no future without Buddhist education.”50 However, his interpretation of Chan practice as a form of spiritual education cannot be found in his predecessors’ teachings.

Sheng Yen aimed to put to practice and institutionalize what his predecessors could not. For this reason, Sheng Yen strove to make his socially engaged educational vision into formal, teachable programs. He established DDL to integrate the observations and methods of his predecessors as well as those of other Buddhist traditions. He stated: “I studied these two thinkers’ (i.e., Taixu and Yinshun) systematization from the perspective of someone within the Chan tradition living in the modern world. I hope to show that Indian Buddhism, as the wellspring of all later developments of Buddhism, later developed into the Northern and Southern transmissions.”51 Sheng Yen strongly noted that he was driven by what he saw as a deep crisis in the affairs of Chinese Buddhism.52 Many Chinese practiced other forms of Buddhism—from Tibet or South Asia—rather than Chinese Buddhism. Sheng Yen believed that Chan was the core of the Buddha’s message, so it was imperative to establish a new school of Chan to bring this message to world.

Sheng Yen articulated a three-fold educational program of (i) extensive university education (da xueyuan jiaoyu大學院教育); (ii) extensive universal education (da puhua jiaoyu大普化教育); and (iii) and extensive caring education (da guanhuai jiaoyu大關懷教育). The first refers to education in the general sense of providing schooling for Buddhists to acquiring knowledge and professional skills. The second refers to the formal spiritual practice of Buddhadharma, specifically Chan practice, for all people. The establishment of DDL is meant to implement his vision of universal education. The third refers to enriching society with values stemming from the spiritually transformed vision of Chan awakening, which takes the shape of social activities, ritual services, and disaster relief work.53 These three fields of education represent a total process of social transformation of the individual. Sheng Yen regarded these educational programs as practical applications of Chan Buddhism. They gave equal emphasis to understanding and practice, the heart of Buddhadharma, and the cure for Chinese Buddhism in the world.

While Sheng Yen’s aim to make Chinese Buddhism more relevant for modern time stems from his exposure to his predecessors and his own experience, as I have discussed, the process of integrating education and doctrine in Chan, culminating in the establishment of the DDL, evolved slowly. Already as early as 1986, we can find evidence of Sheng Yen’s interpretation of Chan as a form of moral education. He states: “Chan practice is a continual process of mending [our actions of body, speech, and mind]; it is a form of education.”54 Chan as education can be seen as a way to move Chan from the retreat setting out into the world. This was partly prompted by his increasing involvement with the building of DDM. He tirelessly worked to represent DDM as an educational complex for the study and actualization of Buddhist wisdom. This task took center stage at the expense of focusing exclusively on Chan retreats. In 1992 he began asking his students to interview retreatants on his behalf, at least for the first interview.55 His health began to decline as his influence in Taiwan became strong. He spent more and more time giving lectures on socially engaged Buddhism inspired by Chan principles to tens of thousands of people in Taiwan. He promoted the vision of Buddhist moral and spiritual education by using Buddhadharma to purify people’s minds.

After the purchase of DDM in 1989, all aspects of Sheng Yen’s teachings began to be interpreted as expressions of “Buddhist education,” including Chan practice and his interest in precepts.56 They were subsumed under the banner of “uplifting the character of humanity” (tisheng ren de pingzhi 提升人的品質) and “establishing a pure land in the human world” (jianshe renjian jingtu 建設人間淨土). While his teachings evolved into a more socially engaged form of Buddhist moral and spiritual education, the principle of Chan was the axis around which all of these activities revolved. For example, in 1993 and 1994, he lectured six times at the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall (Guofu jinian guan 國父紀念館) on “Vimalakirtī Sūtra and Daily Life” in order to promote the vision of building a pure land in the human world.57 The Vimalakirtī Sūtra, of course, favored by Chan practitioners in the past, promotes the idea that pure lands of buddhas are created by recognizing the intrinsic purity of one’s own mind, not a specific location outside of one’s nature.58 Sheng Yen has stated explicitly that his notion of “establishing a Pure Land” is based on this scripture.59

Sheng Yen also promoted many programs in his vision of building a pure land in the human world, one of which is known as the “Four Fields of Cultivating Peace” (sian 四安), which involves peaceful mind, peaceful body, peaceful family, and peaceful activity. The basis of all of these is a peaceful mind, which centers on the transformative effects of Chan practice. This was another way for Sheng Yen to promote Chan as an education for the masses in accord with his vision for “extensive caring education.”60 Likewise, in Sheng Yen’s promotion of environmental promotion, he states that the activities of protecting the environment “must accord with the spirit, methods, and principles of Chan … these programs that we’re engaged in are a form of ‘Chan in action.’”61 This formulation of education is markedly different from other contemporary Buddhist organizations such as Foguang shan. For example, its founder Xingyun’s 星雲 (1927–) also promotes education and building a pure land in the human world, but his pedagogical formulation of education is oriented more toward a generalized Buddhist etiquette and ritual conduct, not tied to any deep meditation experience, much less on Chan.62


Sheng Yen’s construction of Chan Buddhism evolved as a reformulation of his predecessors’ thought gradually and naturally in response to the contemporary world. The DDL is firmly established in the dual emphasis of doctrine and practice, especially the teaching embodied in early Buddhist and key Mahāyāna thought. The Chan of DDL challenges popular conceptions and scholarly representations of Chan as a renunciation of Buddhist learning, abrogating doctrine and study. But in fact, DDL presents a side of Chan that is often overlooked, especially when we venture beyond later Japanese reconstruction of Chan history, as the conscientious promoter of a commodious Buddhist orthodoxy, as the reverent guardian of learned tradition, and as the generous sponsor of ever more expansive and accommodating formulations of the path. Sheng Yen encouraged Chan adepts not to feel alienated from their Buddhist heritage but rather to fully avail themselves of it, for what is genuinely distinctive about Chan is not its simple rejection of traditional Buddhist texts, doctrine, and path but its intensification, enhancement, and experiential fulfillment of the orthodoxy conveyed therein. DDL also does away with a simplistic understanding of Chan as centered on genealogy that are found in later Chan histories embodied in such works as the Record of the Transmission of the Flame in the Jingde Era (Jingde chuandeng lu 景德傳燈錄). Texts like this conceal the rich diversity, historical contingency, and adaptability of this tradition.

Sheng Yen’s formation of DDL evolved in reaction to historical changes in the religious landscapes of Taiwan and the West and was shaped by his own life choices and thought in reaction to the crisis that he perceived in Chinese Buddhism. For him, DDL is a vehicle for the preservation, reformulation, and institutionalization of what he thought of as the most useful, inclusive, and adaptive aspects of Chinese Buddhism.


Reference to the Taishō Shinshū Daizōkyō 大正新修大藏經 (1924–1934), or the Buddhist Taishō Canon, is abbreviated as T, followed by the text number.

References to Sheng Yen’s Chinese writings are mostly from his Collected Works, Fagu quanji 法鼓全集, 2005 digital version. All publications listed there are under the original publication date. Those works cited outside of the Collected Works include his English books, Chinese booklets, a small number of Chinese books not included in the Collected Works, or those works published by a different publisher. They are listed separately in the bibliography, after the Collected Works as a separate entry.

Primary Sources

Chang Ahan jing 長阿含經 (Skt. Dīrghâgama). T 1.Find this resource:

Heze dashi Xianzong ji 荷澤大師顯宗記 (Great Master Hezhe’s Record of Illuminating the Principle). Heze Shenhui 荷澤神會 (684–760). T 2076.Find this resource:

Jingde chuandeng lu 景德傳燈錄 (Record of the Transmission of the Flame in the Jingde Era). T 2076.Find this resource:

Zh Ahan jing 雜阿含經 (Skt. Sa ṃ yuktâgama). T 99.Find this resource:

Zengyi Ahan jing 增壹阿含經 (Skt. Ekôttarâgama). T 2.Find this resource:

Zhong Ahan jing 中阿含經 (Skt. Mādhyamâgama). T 26.Find this resource:

Secondary Sources

Association of Religion Archive. Assessed on April 2, 2012.

Bell, Catherine. “Religion and Chinese Culture: Toward and Assessment of ‘Popular Religion.’” History of Religions 29, no. 1 (1989): 35–57.Find this resource:

Bingenheimer, Marcus. “Writing History of Buddhist Thought in the Twentieth Century: Yinshun (1906–2005) in the Context of Chinese Buddhist Historiography.” Journal of Global Buddhism, 10 (2009): 255–290.Find this resource:

Broughton, Jeffrey Lyle. Zongmi on Chan. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Bosco, Joseph. “Yiguang Dao: ‘Heterodoxy’ and Popular Religion in Taiwan.” In The Other Taiwan: 1945 to the Present, edited by Murray A. Rubinstein. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1994.Find this resource:

Chan, Wing-tsit. Religious Trends in Modern China. New York: Columbia University Press, 1953.Find this resource:

Chan, Yuk Wah. “Packaging Tradition: Chinese Death management in urban Hong Kong.” Asian Anthropology 2 (2003): 139–160.Find this resource:

Chandler, Stuart. Establishing a Pure Land on Earth. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004.Find this resource:

Ch’en, Kenneth. Buddhism in China. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1972.Find this resource:

Cheng, Wei-yi. “Luminary Buddhist Nuns in Contemporary Taiwan: A Quiet Feminist Movement.” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 10 (2003): 39–56.Find this resource:

Cheng, Yu-jiao. “Taiwan de Xizang fojiao 台湾的西藏佛教 (Tibetan Buddhism in Taiwan).” In Vol. 3 of Xizang fojiao lunwen ji 西藏研究論文集 (A Collection of Essays in Tibetan Studies), edited by Xizang yanjiu weiyuan hui 西藏硏究委員會 (Committee of Tibetan Studies). Taipei: Committee on Tibetan Studies, Chengchi University, 1990.Find this resource:

Chow, Tse-tsung. The May Fourth Movement: Intellectual Revolution in Modern China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960.Find this resource:

Dongchu 東初. Minzhu shiji de fojiao 民主世紀的佛教 (Buddhism in a Democratic Era). Taiwan: Dongchu Publishing, 1964.Find this resource:

Fava, Patrice, et al. “Revenge of Hanxin: A Daoist Mystery.” DVD. Paris: CNRS Images, 2005.Find this resource:

Gregory, Peter N. Tsung-mi and the Sinification of Buddhism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.Find this resource:

Hsü, Immanuel C.Y. “Late Ch’ing Foreign Relations, 1866–1905.” In The Cambridge History of China, Late Ch’ing, 1899–1911, Vol. 11, Late Ch’ing, 1800–1911, Part 2, ed. John Fairbank and Kwang-ching Liu, 70–141. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1980.Find this resource:

Hu, Shih. The Chinese Renaissance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1934.Find this resource:

Hurvitz, Leon. Chih-I (538–597): An Introduction to the Life and Ideas of a Chinese Buddhist Monk. Mélanges chinois et bouddhiques 12. Brussels: l’Institute Belge des Hautes Etudes Chinoises, 1962.Find this resource:

Jones, Charles. “Religion in Taiwan at the End of the Japanese Colonial Period.” In Religion in Modern Taiwan, edited by Philip Clart and Charles Jones. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Jordan, David. “Changes in Postwar Taiwan and their Impact on Popular Practice of Religion.” In Cultural Change in Postwar Taiwan, edited by Stevan Harrell and Huang Chün-chieh. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994.Find this resource:

Katz, Paul R. “Religion and the State in Post-War Taiwan.” The China Quarterly, 174 (2003): 395–412.Find this resource:

Kuhn, Philip A. Rebellion and Its Enemies in late Imperial China: Militarization and Social Structure, 1796–1864. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970.Find this resource:

Liang, Ch’i-ch’ao 梁啟超. Intellectual Trends in the Ch’ing Period (Ch’ing-tai hsüeh-shu kai-lun), trans. with introduction and notes by Immanuel C.Y. Hsü. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959.Find this resource:

Lin, Qixian. Sheng Yen fashi qishi nianpu 聖嚴法師七十年譜 (A Chronological Biography of Master Sheng Yen). 3 vols. Taibei: Fagu wenhua, 2000.Find this resource:

Lu, Yunfeng. The Transformation of the Yiguan Dao in Taiwan. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008.Find this resource:

Madsen, Richard. Democracy’s Dharma: Religious Renaissance and Political Development in Taiwan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.Find this resource:

McRae, John R. “Shen-hui and the Teaching of Sudden Enlightenment in Early Ch’an Buddhism.” In Sudden and Gradual: Approaches to Enlightenment in Chinese Thought, edited by Peter N. Gregory. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1987.Find this resource:

Michael, Franz H., and Chung-li Chang. The Taiping Rebellion: History and Documents, 3 vols. Seattle: University of Washington, 1966.Find this resource:

National Science Council and Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica. “Taiwan Social Change Survey of 1985.” For 2004, see

Neiguan chanxiu wang 内觀禪修網 (Insight Meditation Website). March 20, 2004. “Jinri Taiwan neiguan famen shi ruhe chuanru de?” 今日台灣的內觀法門是如何傳入的? (How did the transmission of today’s insight meditation enter Taiwan?):

Perry, Elizabeth. Rebel and Revolutionaries in North China, 1845–1945. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1980.Find this resource:

Pittman, Don Alvin. Toward a Modern Chinese Buddhism: Taixu’s Reforms. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Sheng Yen 聖嚴. “The Tiantai Thought of A Trichiliocosm in a Single Thought 天臺思想的一念三千.” In Xueshu lunkao 學術論考 (Scholarly Studies and Treatises). 1972a.Find this resource:

________. Cong Fojiao de guandian tan kexue 從佛教的觀點談科學 (Science from the Perspective of Buddhism). In Xueshu lunkao 學術論考 (Scholarly Studies and Treatises). 1978a.Find this resource:

________. Chan de tiyan chan de kaishi 禪的體驗‧禪的開示 (The Experience of Chan and Chan Discourses). 1980a.Find this resource:

________. Chanmen xiuzheng zhiyao 禪門修證指要 (Essential Pointers to Practice and Realization in the Chan Gate). 1980b.Find this resource:

________. Nianhua weixiao 拈花微笑 (Holding a Flower and Smile). 1986.Find this resource:

________. Poetry of Enlightenment. New York: Dharma Drum Publications. 1987.Find this resource:

________. Jiaoyu, wenhua, wenxue 教育‧文化‧文學 (Education, Culture, and Literary Studies). 1988a.Find this resource:

________. “Taiwan de zongjiao wenti 台湾的宗教問题 (Religious Questions in Taiwan).” In Mingri de fojiao 明日的佛教 (Buddhism of Tomorrow). 2005. Original essay, Humanity Magazine, December 15, 1988b.Find this resource:

________. Chan yu wu 禪與悟 (Chan and Enlightenment). 1991.Find this resource:

________. Fagu shan de fangxian 法鼓山的方向 (The Direction of Dharma Drum Mountain). 1993a.Find this resource:

________. Sheng Yen fashi xuesi lichen 聖嚴法師學思歷程 (The Intellectual History of Dharma Master Sheng Yen). Taibei: Zhongzheng shuju, 1993b.Find this resource:

________. Weimo jing liujiang 維摩經六講 (Six Lectures on the Vimalakirtī Sūtra). 1995b.Find this resource:

________. Dafagu 大法鼓 (Great Dharma Drum). 1997.Find this resource:

________. Liangqian nian xingjiao 兩千年行腳 (Traveling in 2000). 1998a.Find this resource:

________. Shenhui chanshi de wujing 神會禪師的悟境 (The Enlightenment of Chan Master Shenhui). 1998b.Find this resource:

________. “Ershiyi shiji hanchuan fojiao xin qiji 二十一世紀漢傳佛教新契機” (New Opportunities for Chinese Buddhism in the 21st Century). Unpublished interview of Sheng Yen by Shi Dirong 釋諦融, 1999b.Find this resource:

________. Sheng Yen fashi yuzongjiao duehua 聖嚴法師與宗教對話 (Venerable Sheng Yen’s Interfaith Dialogues). Taipei: Fagu wenhua, 2001.Find this resource:

________. Fagu jiafeng 法鼓家風 (The Family Style of Dharma Drum). 2004.Find this resource:

________. Fagu shan de fangxian, vol. 2 法鼓山的方向 II (The Direction of Dharma Drum Mountain). 2005b.Find this resource:

________. Fagushan de chuancheng: chengxian qihou de zhonghua Chan Fagu zong 法鼓山的傳承:承先啓後的中華禪法鼓宗 (The Transmission of Dharma Drum Mountain: The Dharma Drum Lineage of Chinese Chan that Inherits the Past and Inspires the Future). New York: Dharma Drum Publishing, 2006.Find this resource:

Song, Guangyu 宋光宇. “Zongjiao yu lisu 宗教與禮俗.” In Taiwan jindaishi wenhuapian 臺灣近代史—文化篇 (Modern History of Taiwan: Culture), edited by Li Guoqi 李國祁. Nantou: Taiwansheng wenxian weiyuanhu, 1997.Find this resource:

Taixu 太虛. Taixu dashi quanshu 太虛大師全書 (Complete Works of Venerable Master Taixu). 65 vol. Xianggang: Taixudashi quanshu chuban weiyuanhui, 1956.Find this resource:

Wakeman, Frederick Jr. The Fall of Imperial China. New York: The Free Press, 1975.Find this resource:

Watson, Burton. The Vimalakirti Sūtra. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Weller, Robert. Alternate Civilities: Democracy and Culture in China and Taiwan. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999a.Find this resource:

Welter, Robert. The Linji lu and the Creation of Chan orthodoxy. Oxford: Oxford University, 2008.Find this resource:

________. Monks, Rulers, and Literati: The Political Ascendency of Chan Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford University, 2006.Find this resource:

Yü Chün-fang. Passing the Light: The Incense Light Community and Contemporary Buddhist Nuns in Taiwan. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Zablocki, Abraham. “The Taiwanese Connection: Politics, Piety, and Patronage in Transnational Tibetan Buddhism.” In Buddhism between Tibet and China, edited by Matthew T. Kapstein. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2009.Find this resource:


(1) Discussions of “pure land in the human world” discourse can be found in Chandler 2004 and Madsen 2007.

(2) China’s military defeat by Great Britain in the Opium War (1839–1842) and the subsequent infusion of Western personnel and ideas into the country created a piercing awareness of a fundamental imbalance between civilizations. The defeat undermined the Qing dynasty’s sovereignty and crushed the previously self-perception of the Chinese people. At the same time, the dynasty experienced internal threats. The Taiping (1851–1864), Nian (1851–1868), and Moslem (1855–1873) rebellions were suppressed only with tremendous bloodshed and loss of life, which led to the Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) and the Boxer Rebellion (1899–1900); see Perry 1980 and Michael and Chang 1966. There were governmental corruption, decentralization, and antiforeign paroxysms; see Kuhn 1970, 189–225; Wakeman 1975, 163–72; Hsu 1980, 70–141.

(3) See for example, the writings of Liang Qichao 梁啟超 (1873–1929), who began publishing a periodical titled New People’s Periodical (Xinmin congbao 新民叢報), which revealed the nature of the debate between the radical revolutionaries and the somewhat more conservative reformers like Liang; see Liang 1959, 102. Hu Shi notes that Liang often signed his articles in the magazine, “One of the Renovated People of China.” See Hu 1934, 37, and Chow 1960, 46.

(4) See Yinshun 1950, 38; Ch’en 1972, 448; and Chan 1953, 59–60.

(5) Sheng Yen gave a talk on this topic, discussing the genesis of modern Chinese Buddhism and its key founders (Sheng Yen 1988b); see Jiaoyu, wenhua, wenxue 教育‧文化‧文學 (Education, Culture, and Literary Studies), 152–153. This work is an anthology of individual talks; some date to the 1980s while others to the 1990s.

(6) See Pittman 2001, 39; Sheng Yen also notes Taixu’s article, “Jianshe renjian jingtu lun 建設人間淨土論 (A Theory of Establishing a Pure Land on Earth)” in Fagu shan de fangxian 法鼓山的方向 (The Direction of Dharma Drum Mountain), 496. This booklet was originally published as a booklet in early 1990s.

(7) Taixu wrote an essay about his own failure, “Wo de fojiao geming shibai shi 我的佛教革命失敗史” (The History of my Failed Buddhist Revolution); see Taixu 1956, 19.57.8: 62–63. For Sheng Yen’s critique of Taixu, seeing him as not a “genuine talent” in Buddhism due to his failure to put to practice his ideas, see Sheng Yen’s unpublished interview by Shi Dirong 釋諦融 titled, “Ershiyi shiji hanchuan fojiao xin qiji 二十一世紀漢傳佛教新契機” (New Opportunities for Chinese Buddhism in the 21st Century) in 1999b.

(8) This is the general term used by Sheng Yen to include a whole array of popular cultic organizations and practices. Many of these folk beliefs and practices, known as Zhaijiao 齋教 or “vegetarian sect,” have roots in sixteenth-century mainland China. Scholars have shown the extent of mingling and practical dependence between these vegetarian sects in Taiwan and Buddhism in Taiwan prior to 1945 during Japan’s colonization; see Jones 2003, 16–19; Cheng 2003, 10: 39–56.

(9) See Bell 1989, 29, 1: 35–57.

(10) See Katz 2003, 174: 395–412; Jordan 1994, 137–160.

(11) Based on the Taiwan Social Change Survey of 1985, funded by the National Science Council & Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica, the percentage of self-identified Buddhist in Taiwan was 43.7 percent (questionnaire 21); in 2004, the number of Buddhists had decreased to 24.8 percent (questionnaire 28). In 1985, the number of self-identified folk religious and Daoist followers was 34.5 percent; in 2004, it had increased to 46.9 percent. These statistical data are also complicated by the fact that, in 1985, even though most people professed their affiliation with Buddhism (questionnaire 21), 86.1 percent of people reported that the kind of worship they usually engage in is actually worshipping of Mazhu, Guangong, the local deities, and other deities (questionnaire 28). For 1985, see:, also see:

(12) See Lu 2008, 63; Bosco 1994, 423–44.

(13) See Weller 1999a, 90; Song Guangyu 宋光宇 1997, 141–275. Song, for example, has shown a direct correlation between economic growth and new temple constructions in Taiwan in the 1970s and 1980s.

(14) See Weller 1999a, 352–356.

(15) For connections between local religions and the lottery in Taiwan, a Google search for “shenming pai” 神明牌 will turn up many results. The 2004 Taiwan Social Change Survey also shows that despite people’s claims about their belief in the efficacy of self-cultivation as a reason for their religious belief (questionnaire 76; 21.6 percent), 54.9 percent of people actually said that they choose their belief just to follow the faith of their parents (questionnaire 91). Also, one of the main reasons people go to shrines/temples is because they want to have a successful career. The statistic also shows that people generally have a high belief in the efficacy of fortune telling (questionnaires 116–148). See Association of Religion Archive:

(16) For case studies and the kinds of services that a spirit medium provides for his/her clientele and an autobiography of a spirit medium, see Suofeiya 索菲亞 2009. Suofeiya (Sophia), for example, was counseling Chen Shui-bian before his presidential election. Lingjie de yizhe also discusses the economics and entrepreneurial aspects of being a spirit medium.

(17) Some spirit mediums can also be self-mortifiers (jiajiang 家將); see Sutton (2003, 265–289).

(18) See Marshall 2003, 31: 81–99.

(19) See Katz 2003, 40.

(20) See Sheng Yen 1988a, 191.

(21) See Sheng Yen 1988a, 192.

(22) In 2011, I spoke with one such monk, in his twenties, who worked for the Number One Funeral Parlor (Diyi bingyiguan 第一殯儀館), one of the largest in Taipei. This commercial funeral parlor is multistoried and had multiple rooms in different sizes to accommodate many families who would like to hold funerals there. The parlor offers multiple packages of services that supply all required objects, including the coffin, undertaking offerings, ritual specialists like monks, and so on. When the monk conducts a funeral, he wears the yellow Buddhist robe, but when the ceremony is over, he takes it off and leaves the place in lay clothes. I am not aware of any studies on this phenomenon in Taiwan, only in Hong Kong; see Chan Yuk Wah 2003, 2: 139–160.

(23) See Sheng Yen 2004, 103.

(24) See Cheng Yu-jiao 1990, 105–117.

(25) The resemblance of Tibetan Buddhism to native Taiwanese rituals can be seen in Daoist and temple ritual accoutrements and exorcistic functions; see Fava’s documentary film in 2005, “The Revenge of Hanxin.”

(26) See Sheng Yen’s comments about this in his video, no. 346, Dafagu 大法鼓 (Great Dharma Drum): The video dates back to approximately 1997.

(27) See Zablocki 2009, 393.

(29) See Bingenheimer 2009, 10: 255–290.

(30) Most of Yinshun’s academic writings are on pre-Mahāyāna or early-Mahāyāna Indian Buddhism, except one: A History of Chinese Chan (Zhongguo chanzong shi中國禪宗史).

(31) According to Lin Chong’an 林崇安, a professor at National Central University who first introduced vipassana Buddhism to Taiwan, the earliest translation of a contemporary Theravāda Buddhist teacher’s writing is of Ajahn Chah (Ajiang Cha阿姜查), for example, his Taste of Freedom, which in Chinese is 我們真正的歸宿, and A Gift of Dhamma or 以法為贈禮. See Neiguan chanxiu wang 内觀禪修網 (Insight Meditation Website), dated March 20, 2004, under “Jinri Taiwan neiguan famen shi ruhe chuanru de? 今日台灣的內觀法門是如何傳入的? (How Did the Transmission of Today’s Insight Meditation Enter Taiwan?)”: Buddhadasa Bhikkhu’s (Foshi biqiu 佛使比丘) books were translated and published in the early to late 1990s, including his Handbook for Mankind 人類手冊 (1994); other translations for the same book are titled 人生錦囊, Buddha-Dhamma for Students 一問一智慧 (1996) and another, 學佛釋疑, The Prison of Life: The Danger of I 生命之囚 (1997), plus a compilation that has no corresponding English title: Bingzhong shengqi de guanghui: chaoyue binku de fojiao zhihui 病中生起的光輝: 超越病苦的佛教智慧 (1996). There is also Ajahn Maha Boowa’s 摩訶布瓦 Biography of Achan Mun尊者阿迦曼傳 published in 1992. S.N. Goenka’s book, The Art of Living, was translated and published in 1999 as Shenhuo de yishu 生活的藝術.

(32) The dialogue is published; see Sheng Yen 2001, 107–118.

(33) An example is Xiangguang nunnery 香光寺, which became a leading promoter and publisher of vipassana Buddhism in Taiwan. Yü Chün-fang has written a book on this organization titled Passing the Light: The Incense Light Community and Contemporary Buddhist Nuns in Taiwan (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2013).

(34) See Sheng Yen 2006, 5.

(35) See Sheng Yen 2006, 25.

(36) For a study of Shenhui, see McRae 1987, 227–278. The full title of the work is Heze dashi Xianzong ji 荷澤大師顯宗記 (Great Master Hezhe’s Record of Illuminating the Principle), which can be found in T 2076, 51: 458c25-459b6.

(37) See Sheng Yen 1998b, 5–6.

(38) See Sheng Yen 1998a, 1.

(39) Already in 1972 Sheng Yen had written an essay on this subject of trichiliocosm in a single thought (yinian sanqian 一念三千) during his Ph.D. studies in Japan, which later was published in the Buddhist journal, Neiming 內明, vol. 3–4. The article is titled “The Tiantai Thought of a Trichiliocosm in a Single Thought 天臺思想的一念三千.” I have not been able to track down this journal, but this essay is reprinted in the book Xueshu lunkao 學術論考 (Scholarly Studies and Treatises), 7–23. This book is an anthology of his academic articles included in his Complete Collection (Fagu quanji 法鼓全集).

(40) See Sheng Yen. 1972a, 20.

(41) See T. 1911, 46:54a5-9. This translation is from Hurvitz 1962, 271.

(42) For a discussion of Huayan thought of four types of mutual interpenetration, see Gregory 1991, 154–170.

(43) See Sheng Yen 2006, 48.

(44) This is not the place to elaborate on this point. Suffice it to say that nearly all of the hagiographies on Chan masters in premodern China show that they were educated in traditional Buddhist canonical understanding prior to their conversion to Chan and had close connections to the educated elite. A few examples should suffice. See Robert Welter 2006, 2008; Jeffrey Broughton 2009.

(45) For a discussion of the effects of sectarian in scholarship, see my “Revisiting the Notion of Zong: Contextualizing the Dharma Drum Lineage of Modern Chan Buddhism,” in Chung-Hwa Buddhist Journal 26 (2013): 116–122.

(46) See “Famous Statements by Yamamoto Genpō” at His exact words are: “学問はいくらでもせい。しかし学問を鼻にかけちゃいかんせ、坊主で何より肝腎なのは、道心じゃ。これに学問があれば鬼に金棒さ.”

(47) The edited transcript of this talk can be found in Sheng Yen 1987, 2–3.

(49) See “Liuzu tanjing li suo jian qita jingdian de sixiang《六祖壇經》裡所見其他經典的思想” (The Various Doctrines Cited in the Platform Scripture) in Sheng Yen 1991, 310–318.

(50) See Sheng Yen 2006, 13; “Shi’en nanbao 師恩難報” was originally published as an article in Zhongguo fojiao 中國佛教; it is now included in the anthology titled, Diaonian, youhua 悼念‧遊化 (Eulogies and Travel Logs) 2007, 9–36.

(51) See Shengyan 2006, 46.

(52) Shengyan 2006, 23–26.

(53) The first time Sheng Yen discoursed on these three fields of education is 1994; later the talk appeared in a small booklet, Fagu shan chuan fayin 法鼓傳法音 (The Sound of Dharma at Dharma Drum Mountain), published in 1994. The booklet is now incorporated in the Complete Collection of Dharma Drum, see Sheng Yen 1993a, 79–80; 130–136.

(54) See Sheng Yen 1986, 236.

(55) Although during this time Sheng Yen did conduct group interviews, sometimes with up to five or six retreatants in the same interview room to resolve their questions or difficulties from practice. He began this in New York. Later he also let his Taiwan disciples at Nongchan Monastery conduct interviews. For the dating of allowing his disciples interview, see Lin Qixian 2000, 683.

(56) In 1991, he held the first transmission of the bodhisattva precepts at Chan Meditation Center in New York. The precepts he transmitted were a modified form of traditional bodhisattva precepts. In its stead, the bodhisattva precepts he transmitted were based on the five precepts, ten virtues, and the four great vows. These are subsumed under the “three collective precepts” (sanju jing jie 三聚淨戒) of a bodhisattva: To practice all virtues; to deliver all sentient beings; and to cultivate all precepts; for his Chinese work on bodhisattva precepts, see 1995a, 4. In 1990 and 1992, he hosted two international scholarly conferences on Buddhist ethics for the modern time. These efforts were ways for him to integrate precepts into his larger reconstruction of Chinese Buddhism for the modern age.

(57) Sheng Yen gave a series of six lectures for an audience of 2000 to 3000 Taiwanese people; see Sheng Yen 1995b, 10–11.

(58) See chapter 1 in the Vimalakirtī Sūtra. For an English translation, see Watson 1997, 17–31.

(59) See Sheng Yen 1995b, 9–10.

(60) See Sheng Yen 2004, 12.

(61) See Sheng Yen 2005b, 110.

(62) See Pittman 2004, 120–121.