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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2647

Taiwan: The Future of “Relevant Buddhism”

Dr. Stephen Long - Los Angeles, California

I recently completed a three-week visit to Taiwan, a beautiful, sophisticated country full of compassionate, friendly, and very kind people.

With Dr. Barbara Wright, the co-author of my latest book, “Dharma and the Metta Map,” we conducted six one and two-day workshops at a variety of Buddhist venues for approximately 450 participants.

The new book had been translated into Mandarin Chinese, and just published in Taiwan. Dr. Wright’s first book, “The Metta System: The Map, The Formula, and The Equations,” was also translated and made its appearance in Taiwan bookstores last year. “Metta” is the Pali word for “loving kindness” or “universal benevolence.”

The six workshops were based on the two books, the centerpiece of which is Dr. Wright’s Metta Map, a three-dimensional cueing device for individuals and groups, designed to recognize and resolve conflict, reduce stress, and achieve clarity of intention – both intra and inter-personally. She has been using the Map with private clients in her clinical psychology practice in Laguna Beach, California, for the past ten years, and also with a variety of specific populations, including legal, family practice, inner-city gangs, corporations, and several others. The Metta Map, which is essentially secular, is based on Buddhist principles, and contains within its structure and content the entirety of the Buddha Dhamma. The Buddhists we presented it to in Taiwan were quick to grasp the Map’s significance in regards to its being a tremendous tool for learning and practicing the Dhamma – and for teaching it to others.

Our trip was organized by our Chinese translator, Prof. Jen-Hui Tsai, former director of the Student Counseling Center of National Taipei University of Technology. She and Barbara had met three years ago at the Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women’s annual conference in Bangkok. Jen translated Barbara’s presentation article, “The Metta Map and its Application for Victims of Trauma,” and offered to translate the first book; later she suggested a second book, and Barbara asked me to team up with her to write “Dharma and the Metta Map,” the Buddhist application. When the Mandarin version of this book was about to be published, Jen-Hui and her group, Caring Life Line, an all-volunteer subsidiary of Dharma Drum Mountain Humanities and Social Improvement Foundation, presided over by attorney Henry Lee, raised the funds to bring us to Taiwan for this very full visit. A radiant Buddhist nun, Ven. Hon-Shian, who is the personification of Metta, assisted Jen-Hui and her colleagues by arranging an apartment for us to stay in for the duration, which was located in one of Taipei’s most beautiful neighborhoods. (Our street, by the way, was flanked on both sides by ten Bodhi trees!) Jen-Hui, affectionately nicknamed “General” by Barbara and me, made sure our schedule was packed with activity; all three of us are grateful to have survived the arduous pace she set for us.

Sakyadhita, the organization through which Barbara and Jen-Hui met, has chapters in ten countries, and over the years has done much to bring Buddhist women together and address issues that affect them all. Its International and Taiwanese Chapter president, Christie Yu-Ling Chang, was involved in almost every aspect of our recent visit, and along with her husband Frank Tien, and friend Rudy Lai, provided us with warm hospitality, stirring Buddhist musical performances at the beginning of most of the workshops, and an unforgettable day up on “Tea Mountain,” in the lush green village of Maokong.

The first workshop was sponsored by our Taiwanese publisher, Mr. Chung-Ming Liang, CEO of Darchen Publishing, and the Taipei Lung-Shan Buddhist temple. It was held in the auditorium of a downtown Taiwan office building owned by Lung-Shan, and 125 people attended. The Vice President of Lung-Shan Temple, Dr. Steven Huang, later invited us to tour the 250-year-old historical temple, where we had the occasion to encounter a 101-year-old female devotee who had been worshiping at the temple every day for the past forty years. I’ll never forget the brilliance in her eyes.

Two days later we went up to the northern tip of the island to Dharma Drum Mountain University for an incredible four-day experience. DDM is the realized vision of its founder, Ch’an Master Sheng Yen, the enlightened author of over 100 books, two of which I’ve read this past week. Ch’an is the precursor of Japanese Zen, which I studied for nine years with a Roshi in Honolulu long ago. Master Sheng Yen was unfamiliar to me before this trip, but he has since become one of my most important Buddhist teachers – especially after living in his elegant mountainside creation, which is as aesthetically pleasing to the senses as it is harmonious to the spirit. It saddens me that I didn’t get to meet him in person - he passed away in 2009 after completing the building of DDM, a 20-year project, his legacy in what Barbara and I are now calling “Relevant Buddhism,” perhaps the title of our next book project together.

What we mean by “Relevant Buddhism” is Buddha Dharma for the current century and beyond, untainted by any culture, ethnic interpretation, tangential ritual embellishments, or anchored to a time in the distant past. It is our experience that the Buddha Dharma is universal, timeless, and eternally relevant. This is also the teaching of Ch’an Master Sheng Yen, and everything about DDM reflects this expanded, enlightened point of view. We got to know the Abbot, Ven. Guo Don; the President, Ven. Huimin Bhikshu; the Vice-Abbot, Ven. Guohuie Shi; the Vice-Dean, Ven. Chang-Kuan; Professor Aming Tu; and several other officials, monks and nuns of DDM, many of whom attended our two-day workshop. Our overall impression was that the DDM individuals were brilliant, dedicated, open-minded, and practice-oriented. At the end of the workshop the President, Ven. Huimin Bhikshu, asked us if he could have the English version of the floor Metta Map; he was leaving a couple of weeks later for an inter-religious conference in Rome, and he wanted to demonstrate it to the new Pope. We are both eagerly awaiting his reaction and comments. Barbara and I were asked to return to Dharma Drum Mountain one day to teach, and we both look forward to that happening.

Our next event was a one-day workshop for the Taipei (Women) Awakening Association, an engaged non-Buddhist women’s civic group, which is presided over by gracious Hui-Luang Ma. When Barbara gets people on the Metta Map, one never knows what will come up, and some interesting, inspirational occurrences took place that day with some of the participants. One talented member of the group, Steven Huang, was particularly impressed with the Map; his experience on it suddenly eliminated his confusion and illuminated his future path. He is already organizing a study group in Taipei to share it with others; I saw his posting on Facebook yesterday.

We next took the bullet train down to Kaohsiung for a three-day stay at Fo Gwang Shan, a massive monastery, museum, and temple complex complete with its new Buddhist Memorial Park, which was completed in 2010. We were told by our Australian guide and new friend, Dale Longmore, that 10 million visitors a year make pilgrimages to Fo Gwang Shan – mostly from Mainland China. Fo Guang Shan has dozens of branches, temples, and humanitarian chapters scattered throughout the world; their membership numbers in the tens of thousands – if not more.

From Fo Guang Shan we went next to HuaFan University, which is located on a mountaintop just outside of Taipei. We conducted a one-day retreat there – completely surrounded by misty clouds. Our host, the Chairperson of the HuaFan Cultural and Educational Foundation, Ven. Jen-Hua Shih, is one of the most senior nuns in her order, and was extremely gracious to us during our stay. She had attended one of Barbara’s previous workshops at Sakyadhita, and had immediately grasped the efficacy of the Metta Map and its System for many applications; hence the invitation to teach it to her students and faculty at HuaFan.

The end of our tour saw us present two, two-day workshops based on both books, back to back. The first was for the Caring Life Line group, the DDM Humanities and Social Improvement subsidiary. Many of the participants were volunteers on the organization’s phone lines, which are “hotlines” for individuals in trauma and in need of immediate guidance and a compassionate voice. They receive calls from people with all sorts of problems, from minor to life-threatening, and they provide counseling using their backgrounds in the Buddha Dharma and Buddhist psychology. They totally embraced the Metta Map, and each of the participants will be using their new Metta skills in their daily lives – as well as on the phones.

Our final workshop was for a large group at the Chinese Young Buddhist Association, which is presided over by Ven. Shih Ming-Yu, a socially engaged Buddhist nun of the first caliber who is also the president of the World Outstanding Buddhist Women Award. About a quarter of the workshop participants were monastics – both nuns and monks – and all of them were most interested in how to apply the Metta Map to their Dharma teaching skills. At the end of the workshop Jen-Hui and our publisher, Mr. Liang, made the surprise announcement that they had committed themselves to translating and publishing in Taiwan my book with co-author Ven. Walpola Piyananda, “Thus We Heard: Recollections of the Life of the Buddha.” Because of the size of the project (it’s 565 pages), they estimate that it will take two years; knowing them as I now do, I have no doubt that publication will become a reality.

It is my overall impression, after having visited nearly all of the “Buddhist” countries in Asia (I’ve still not been to Myanmar and Cambodia), is that Taiwan is the country best-suited to take the leadership role in bringing Buddhism forward into this century and beyond. It has the financial resources, which is a very important element, and it also has the commitment of thousands of engaged Buddhist practitioners, both monastics and lay persons, who do their best to live the teachings of the Buddha Dharma, and unselfishly seek to bring relief to many who suffer by making the Dharma so accessible. Barbara and I are extremely grateful to Jen-Hui, our publisher, the many organizations and individuals who hosted us, and the kind people of Taiwan for making our visit so memorable. We look forward to working more with the Buddhists in Taiwan as we expand our mission of promoting “Relevant Buddhism.”

- Asian Tribune -

(In the Photograph - From Left to Right): Dr. Stephen Long,  Dr. Barbara Wright, Translator Jen-Hui Tsai, Abbot of Dharma Drum Mountain, Ven. Guo Don, and the Vice-Dean, Ven. Chang-Kuan Bhikshu - and two volunteers, Alan and Mary.
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