Master Sheng Yen:
The Vows of a Monk

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In this lesson we offer some insight on Master Sheng Yen—the person—as well as present his vow to "bring Buddhism to others."

At the age of 13, Master Sheng Yen became a Buddhist monk at a monastery near Shanghai. Recalling his early years as a monk, he says:

The local monastery I entered, like most others in China, was called a Chan temple. But, in fact the theory and practice of Chan was almost never discussed there. As young monks, most of us did not have any clear idea of what Chan practice really was. Our training simply consisted of the rigorous discipline prescribed for monks everyday activities such as washing clothes, working in the fields, cooking and performing daily services. We also studied major sutras such as the Amitabha, the Lotus, and the Diamond sutras. Daily chores, however, were not a problem for me; the worst thing was memorizing sutras. There were so many to master, and I felt very stupid. My master told me, "Your karmic obstructions are very heavy. You should make a strong effort to atone for them. Go prostrate to Guanyin Bodhisattva (Avalokiteshvara).

There was little time for practice during the day, so I prostrated to Guanyin five hundred times at night, and again in the morning before the other monks woke up. After doing this for three months, I was overcome one day with a very refreshing and comfortable feeling. It seemed as if the whole world had changed. My mind became very clear and very bright. Memorization was no longer a problem, and I began to learn very quickly. To this day I believe Guanyin gave me assistance. Most important, there arose in me a deep sense of responsibility towards the Dharma.

I was thirteen years old and knew nothing about the history of Buddhism, yet I felt that Buddhism was on the way to extinction. Most Chinese had little understanding of the Dharma. Teachers were very rare, and what I knew came only from memorizing the scriptures. Chinese Buddhism did not provide a systematic education for monks. A monk's training was usually completed gradually and imperceptibly through the experience of everyday life. There simply was no planned education. I felt sympathy for those who had never heard the Dharma, and realized the importance of reviving Buddhism. I vowed to learn more about the Buddha Dharma so that one day I might bring it to others.