This article presents excerpts from those interviews and question-and-answer sessions. It is hoped that this sampling will allow our readers a chance to glimpse the deep wisdom of Master Yin Shun's thoughts.
Responsibility of Buddhists: Be committed to Buddhism and all living beings
Master Yin Shun's teaching:
I expect Buddhists not to depart from the essence of Buddhism whether they are studying, working, or compassionately helping others. Now that they have been born as human beings, they have to be committed to Buddhism and all living beings. They have to do the best they can and help as many people as they can.
You were the first monk in Taiwan to receive a Ph.D., and you have been named the "Seed-Sower of Humanized Buddhism" and the "Mentor of the Century." You have also received a medal from the government. What is your opinion about all of this recognition?
I'm only an ordinary person, so I do ordinary things. I have never thought about what I should do and what I have to achieve. I just do my best.
I teach, but unlike the Buddha, I do not teach my own knowledge. I simply interpret in modern language what the sutras or commentaries are saying. That deserves no special recognition. No one can influence other people with just a few articles. I just did my best and did as much as I could. I didn't worry about whether other people liked them or not.
You have never been in good health, but you have read and written many books. How did you manage to do this?
I'm ashamed to say that I am not as healthy as most people. My health has been poor since I was a child, and it became even worse after I became a monk. When I came to Taiwan, I felt miserable. [Master Yin Shun grew up in much cooler areas of mainland China.] I couldn't sleep well in the heat of summer, I had no appetite, and even my memory was bad.
I have been sick throughout my life; I even contracted tuberculosis. At that time, there wasn’t any medicine or cure for it. I still don't know how I survived. Sometimes I felt so weak that I couldn't even read a book!
Later on, I suffered a blockage in my small intestine, and I had to have two operations. I really didn't want to have the surgery. I was already so frail that I couldn't do anything useful, not even write any more books. I felt that I wasn't any good to Buddhism and that there was no point in continuing to live on like that. Nevertheless, I had the operations, and I've kept on living for quite a while.
No one can influence very many people just by writing a few articles. I've only tried my hardest to do as much as I could. Whether or not people accept it is another matter.
It wasn't easy for you to build several temples and lecture halls while you were physically ill. Why did you do it?
Temples are very important to Buddhism because they contain the sutras and the monks and nuns. The Buddha, the dharma (the Buddha's teachings), and the sangha (community of monks and nuns) are the Three Treasures of Buddhism. If you want to promote Buddhism and make it accessible to the people, you need temples.
Nurturing talented Buddhists is an important task. You can't depend on laypeople who have only a basic education in Buddhism to promulgate the religion. You have to improve education for monks or nuns and encourage people to do research on Buddhism. Only in this way will Buddhism be able to prosper in the world.
Based on the two Buddhist concepts of doing personal spiritual cultivation inwardly and promoting the Buddha's teachings outwardly, I founded the Fu Yan Abode and Hui Ri Lecture Hall. These two places aren't my personal properties. They're open to anyone who can come to do their spiritual cultivation or promote Buddhism.
I expect monks and nuns to carry out their spiritual cultivation, to always demonstrate the Buddha's compassion, to adjust themselves to changes of time and place, and to give talks on Buddhism. If laypeople have problems, monks or nuns should console them, relieve them of their problems, and guide them to walk on the right path. In this way, everyone can benefit from the Buddha's teachings.
You once wrote in your autobiography, "I'm like a leaf falling onto water, following the current and stopping and circling around from time to time. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by waves and sometimes the water is calm, but I continue flowing forward." Why did you describe your life as a leaf on water?
Everything comes into being and ceases to exist as their elements and conditions come together or separate. I wanted to become a monk so I went to Beijing, but the Buddhist school was closed; then I went to Ningbo and then to Mount Puto [all in China]... Like a leaf, my life flowed from one event to another. Flowing and flowing, that was my life. I couldn't stop it or control it.
I'm not saying that I could ever realize all my dreams. However, my life has been determined by all the past and current karma and conditions which are beyond my control. I can't just decide how my life should be. Instead, I simply have to learn to accept what comes to me.
The first half of your life was in constant turmoil, but you could abide by the Buddha's teachings. The second half was even more chaotic, but you could still advance in Buddhism. Perhaps I can describe your life with this passage from the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings: "The minds [of the bodhisattvas] are calm and clear, and they remain in this state for eons. All of the innumerable teachings have been revealed to them, and having attained great wisdom they comprehend all things."
I haven't reached this level. No way! What a joke!
"Their minds are calm and clear, and they remain in this state for eons," this line refers to how the great bodhisattvas feel in their spiritual cultivation. The second sentence refers to their achievements in their cultivation; it also means, "They use meditation to bring out wisdom."
My life is ordinary. It is very ordinary, and I don't want to become extraordinary.