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July 25, 2010

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Masterful Monk

BLENDING ancient wisdom and modern management, Master Juexing of the Jade Temple is expanding the horizons of charity in China and extending good works to the World Expo in Shanghai. Elise Fu reports.

Accompanied by monks and volunteers from the Jade Temple, 50 orphans from Shanghai Children's Welfare Institute visited the World Expo early this month. Their tour was one of the temple's "One-plus-One Visit to World Expo" charity events. The temple will also fund Expo tours for more than 200 students from Yunnan Province, Qinghai Province and the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Master Juexing, the abbot of the Jade Temple, said the visits reflect his long-held charity ideas for Expo Shanghai.

Master Juexing is also vice chairman of the Buddhist Association of China and chairman of the Buddhist Association of Shanghai.

"In Buddhist theory, people are mutually dependent, each element combined with others. Man should learn how to help others in need, know how to handle the difficult situation with others, know how to give respect and know how to trust people ... The peaceful relationship between different persons is the key point for a harmonious society," the 40-year-old master said.

Built in 1882, the Jade Temple in Shanghai's Putuo District has actively promoted charity events since the resumption of religious activities in 1979. And Master Juexing, who holds a PhD and EMBA (Executive Master of Business Administration), has infused a modern view and vitality into the monastery's charity mission.

Master Juexing was elected the monastery's 11th abbot in 1999 and became one of the youngest abbots in Chinese Buddhist circles. He introduced corporate management to the highly regarded Jade Temple and established a special team of professionals to manage its charitable work.

"Developing Buddhism is a duty while blessing people is a career," the tall, robust master clad in yellow robes said confidently during an interview in the monastery's conference room.

Apart from managing the monastery and welcoming foreign visitors, Master Juexing is also active in community groups as vice chairman of the Shanghai Youth Association, honorary president of the Shanghai Children's Home, and vice director of Shanghai Charity Foundation.

Although he attends numerous meetings and social activities, the master is animated and expansive in explaining his concepts of charity.

Old legend

On January 22 this year, the eighth day of the 12th lunar month (China's traditional Laba Porridge Festival,) people lined up in front of the Jade Temple despite the chilly weather, waiting patiently for their annual free porridge, a tradition in which monks show their reverence and faith in Buddha.

The monastery restored the tradition of providing free Laba rice porridge last year. The Buddhist faithful see the porridge as a holy food and feel warm and merciful when they receive it.

"Mercy has been practiced by Buddhists for thousands of years. In Buddhism, the six paramitas (perfections) are almsgiving, morality, endurance, energetic progress, meditation and wisdom. Above all, almsgiving comes first and includes giving of goods, doctrine and courage, or fearlessness," said Master Juexing.

The tradition of supplying Laba porridge comes from a touching Buddhist legend. Buddhism holds that before the first Buddha and founder of the religion, Sakyamuni, attained enlightenment, he abandoned his crown and practiced six years of strict discipline. One day, he passed out by a riverside in India after days of exhausting walking without food. A shepherdess found him and fed him her lunch-porridge made with beans and rice. With this nourishment Sakyamuni regained his energy. After bathing, he finally realized his dream of full enlightenment on the eighth day of the 12th lunar month under a banyan tree.

Ever since, Chinese monks have chanted sutras and offered porridge to Buddha on the day. Large Buddhist temples offer Laba rice porridge to the poor to show their faith.

"A Buddhist monastery is the place where disciples gather, where faith is conveyed and where public trust can be nurtured. So in the modern charity industry, a monastery should lead its disciples to actively participate in more charity events. Let Buddhist charity become a role model for trustful charity," said the master.

Master Juexing was born in Huludao City, Liaoning Province, and grew up in the northeast area. He became a monk when he was 16 and was admitted to study in the Shanghai Buddhist College where he was regarded as an exceptional student. The vast accumulation of Buddhist sutras and books fascinated him. He went on to receive a PhD in philosophy from Fudan University and an EMBA from Jiao Tong University.

"Buddhism focuses on life and daily activities. The teachings of Buddha include an essential part that emphasizes the development of Buddhism and channels it in accordance with the development of society."

Buddhist monasteries and temples have been significant charity forces since ancient times in China. The world's first and largest religious charity organization, Beitian Court, was created by famed Chinese monk Jianzhen in Daming Temple in the Northern Wei Dynasty (AD 386-534).

According to statistics, the Jade Temple has donated more than 30 million yuan (US$4.4 million) to good causes in the decade that Master Juexing has been abbot. Every year 250,000 yuan is donated to support the education of children from poor families from primary through high school.

Master Juexing believes monasteries and temples should shoulder more responsibilities to promote modern charitable activities and build public trust.

"When Sakyamuni founded the religion, he advocated leniency and wanted to deliver all people from torment. That generally means to help needy people out of their suffering and that is what charity does," Master Juexing said.

When Yunnan Province was suffering drought this year, the monastery conducted a donation campaign and collected more than 500,000 yuan in one day. The monastery also sent monks to the disaster region to help victims.

"Buddhism can bind people from all walks of life through charity events," Master Juexing said, "but the charity events must be done through formal and funded institutions or organizations of a certain scale."

He founded the Juequn Charity Foundation at the temple in 2008 and it now has thousands of members. Each pays 365 yuan for a year's membership, or a donation of 1 yuan a day. The foundation not only undertakes traditional charity work with the poor and the disabled, but also tries to find new ways of helping more people in need.

In cooperation with Shanghai Charity Foundation and other organizations, Juequn Charity Foundation set up a special program for undergraduate students, allocating 10 million yuan to help them build their own businesses, find jobs and at the same time ease the social pressure.

"We now channel 10 percent of our total money to charity. After the Wenchuan (Sichuan Province) earthquake in 2008, we donated over 10 million yuan. This year, we contributed 1 million yuan to the earthquake-striken Yushu (Qinghai Province) area."

Developing a Buddhist hospital and the monastery's own nursing home for the aged are in his future plans. He said his dream is to make the Jade Temple the most prestigious and professional charity organization on the Chinese mainland.

The monastery is now fully self-sufficient and uses its surplus for charity.

"This is an Internet era when people will comment, no matter what you have done. Our old masters taught us not to care too much about critics. Their teaching is still relevant: a modern monk should make achievements in Buddhism and perform great works in society; a modern monastery should interact more with society, serve society and make contributions to it. Through these works it can better promote Buddhist values in a modern world."

About the Jade Temple

As its name indicates, the Jade Temple is known for its jade Buddhas. In the reign of Emperor Guangxu of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the old Master Huigen from Zhejiang Province's Putuo Mountain brought home five jade Buddhas of varying sizes from Myanmar (then Burma) following a world journey to famous mountains and monasteries. On the way home he passed through Shanghai and left two for worshippers in a monastery in the city's Jiangwan area, which was later destroyed by fire. From 1918 to 1928, the monastery was rebuilt on its current site on Anyuan Road in Shanghai's Putuo District.

Covering 12,933 square meters, the 120-year-old monastery has 120 monks. As one of the 10 top tourist destinations in Shanghai, the temple is famous for its jade Buddhas as well as other precious Buddhist relics. There are two Sleeping Buddhas. The big one, 4 meters long and carved from a whole piece of jade, was transported from Singapore by Master Zhenchan, the 10th abbot. The smaller one carved of green jade, and the seated statue were both brought from Myanmar by Huigen.

The monastery is one of China's most visited attractions, noted for hosting a large number of visitors from home and aboard, especially foreign leaders. More than 1,000 people from overseas visit every day. Since China's reform and opening-up started in 1978, the temple has welcomed more than 250 delegations from foreign governments, including leaders and personalities such as US First Lady Nancy Reagan and Britain's Princess Margaret.


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