Master Sheng Yen liked to call himself “an itinerant monk pressing forward in snow and wind.” He was once selected by the magazine Commonwealth as one of the 50 most influential people in Taiwan in the past 400 years. Looking back, his life was full of challenges, tribulations, and turning points.
The Master endured frail health since he was young and became a novice monk in Langshan of Jiangsu, China at the age of 14. Afterwards, he spent years performing deliverance rituals, then serving in the army, before returning to monastic life at the age of 30. Whether it was during the time of his six years of solitary retreat, studies in Japan, spreading the Dharma in the USA, or founding Dharma Drum Mountain (DDM), the Master had always been able to find a way out when there seemed to be none. His compassionate vows glowed clearly through hardships, and his Chan wisdom manifested his perseverance. Life to him was a journey of living the Buddhadharma.
In order to raise the status of Buddhism and the quality of monastics, at age 40 Master Sheng Yen decided to go to Japan for further studies. After receiving a Doctor of Literature degree from Rissho University in Tokyo in 1975, he served as a professor at Chinese Culture University, Soochow University, and other universities and colleges. He also served as the director of the Institute of Buddhist Studies at the China Academy of the College of Chinese Culture, vice president of the Buddhist Association of the United States, director of the Institute of Tripitaka Translation supported by the Buddhist Association of the United States, and founder of the Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies, Sangha University, and Dharma Drum College of Humanities and Social Science In addition, he launched the Chung-Hwa Buddhist Journal and Chung-Hwa Buddhist Studies, served as advising professor for doctoral and master’s students at National Chengchi University, Chinese Culture University, and other higher education institutes, and gave more than 200 lectures or speeches at more than 100 universities or colleges around the world.
In 1989, the master founded Dharma Drum Mountain with a vision to establish it as a world center for Buddhist education dedicated to academic research, Dharma practice and propagation, and social charity. Over time, it has developed into an organization that endeavors in Dharma propagation and popularization, promotion of Chan practice, culture, and education, and social charity in Taiwan and overseas. Currently, branches of DDM Buddhist practice and meditation centers have been set up in Taiwan and other countries in Europe, Asia, America, and Australia. For a long period of time Master Sheng Yen traveled between Taiwan and the United States to spread the Buddhadharma and visited other countries around the globe to offer guidance on Chan practice, and was recognized internationally as a prominent Chan master. With the formal transmission of both the Linji and Caodong lineages of the Chan school, the Master was able to penetrate the Buddhist canon and integrate various Buddhist traditions to offer guidance and teachings suitable for people from different cultural backgrounds in a natural and vivid manner, thereby incorporating and influencing numerous people in both the West and the East.
Master Sheng Yen was devoted to spread the Buddhadharma with a language and perspective accessible to a broad audience in modern time. Despite his hectic schedule, he nonetheless dedicated himself to writing and authored more than 100 books. Other than publications in Chinese, English, and Japanese, many of his books were translated into other languages and published worldwide. Moreover, he won various prestigious honors in Taiwan, including the Sun Yat-sen Art and Literary Award, the Sun Yat-sen Academic Award, the National Culture Award, and the President Cultural Award, and others.
In more recent years, in order to carry out his ideals of promoting culture, education, the Buddhadharma, and spiritual practice, the Master held dialogues with prominent figures in technology, fine arts, and culture, and collaborated with other religions. Thus reflected his greatness of mind and global perspective and won him universal recognition. The Master initiated the concept of Protecting the Spiritual Environment and advocated the ideal of “uplifting the character of humanity and building a pure land on Earth.” With his basis in Chinese Buddhism, the Master made incessant efforts to bring multiple aspects of Buddhism into the modern world, thereby carrying out a sublime mission of inheriting tradition and aspiring to a better future.
Important Events in Master Sheng Yen’s Life
1930 Born in Jiangsu Province, China.
1943 Becomes a novice at age 14 at Guangjiao Monastery, Nantong, Jiangsu province.
1949 Joins the army and arrives in Taiwan from Shanghai by ship during Chinese Civil War.
1959 Ends his 10-year service in the army and is re-ordained under Ven. Master Dongchu.
1961 Begins a six-year solitary retreat at Chaoyuan Monastery in Kaohsiung to deepen his study and practice of Buddhadharma.
1969 Studies at Rissho University in Tokyo, Japan for six years ,where he obtains a doctoral degree in Buddhist Literature
1975 Goes to the U.S.A on invitation to teach and spread Buddhism.
1976 Becomes vice president of the Buddhist Association of the United States and the abbot of Temple of Enlightenment.
1977 Returns to Taiwan, taking over the reins of the Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Culture and Nung Chan Monastery, in accord with Ven. Master Dongchu’s will.
1978 Becomes director of the Institute of Buddhist Studies at the China Academy of the College of Chinese Culture.
1979 Establishes a monastery in New York, named the Chan Meditation Center.
1985 Establishes the Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies in Beitou, Taipei.
1989 Establishes Dharma Drum Mountain (DDM) with the mission of “uplifting the character of humanity and building a pure land on earth.”
1990 Convenes the first Chung-Hwa International Conference on Buddhism.
1992 Proposes Protecting the Spiritual Environment as the core DDM vision.
1993 Holds the Bodhisattva Precepts ceremony in Taiwan for the first time. Receives a Leadership Award for Social Peace Movement.
1994 Proposes Protecting the Social Environment and promotes joint funerals, birthday celebrations for the elderly, and weddings in Buddhist spirit.
1997 Sets up the Dharma Drum Retreat Center in Pine Bush, New York.
Attends the 11th International Meeting “Peoples and Religions” in Padua, Italy and meets with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.
1998 Selected by Commonwealth Magazine as one of the 50 most influential people in Taiwan in the past 400 years.
1999 Proposes the Fivefold Spiritual Renaissance Campaign: A lifestyle for the 21st century.
Establishes the Dharma Drum Research Grants of the Humanities and Social Sciences Foundation.
2000 Attends and makes a keynote speech at the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders held at the UN headquarters in New York, representing Chinese Buddhism.
Receives a cultural award from Taiwan’s Executive Yuan for his lifetime contributions to cultural education work.
2001 Presides over the founding and opening ceremony for the Buddhist Seminary of Dharma Drum Sangha University at the DDM World Center for Buddhist Education.
Invited to make a speech at the Symposium on Religion, World Peace, and Protecting the Spiritual Environment held in Taipei.
Invited to attend and make a speech at the Consulting Committee of the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders held in New York.
2002 Attends the World Economic Forum annual meeting in New York as the only invited Buddhist leader.
Attends the World Council of Religious Leaders (WCRL) in Bangkok.
Donates and escorts the Akshobhya Buddha head statue, stolen in 1997, back to Four Gate Pagoda in Shandong province, China.
Receives the Sun Yat-sen Academic Award for his book, Tiantai Keys to the Mind: A Vernacular Translation of and Commentary on Ouyi’s “Jiaoguan gangzong.”
2003 Directs the Dharma Drum Foundation for Humanities and Social Science Research Grants to establish the Dharma Drum Lecture Series in Humanities in cooperation with Peking University.
Attends the 1st preparatory meeting for the World Youth Peace Summit held in Kyoto, Japan at the invitation of WCRL.
Wins the Bodhi Prize of the 2nd Presidential Cultural Award.
2004 Directs the Dharma Drum Foundation for Humanities and Social Science Research Grants to establish the Dharma Drum Lecture Series in Humanities in cooperation with National Taiwan University and Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Presides over the ground-breaking ceremony for Dharma Drum Humanities and Social Sciences College.
Attends the World Youth Peace Summit Asia-Pacific hosted by WCRL in Bangkok, Thailand.
Attends the WCRL held in Jordan.
Hosts the World Youth Peace Summit in Taipei Conference.
2005 Attends Leaders’ Meeting on Faith and Development organized by the World Bank in Dublin, Ireland.
Directs the Dharma Drum Foundation for Humanities and Social Science Research Grants to establish the Dharma Drum Lecture Series in Humanities in cooperation with National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan and Nanjing University.
Delivers speeches at Peking University, Tsinghua University, Nanjing University, and Sun Yat-sen University, while on an academic tour in China.
Receives honorary doctorate degree from Mahachulalongkorn-rajavidyalaya Buddhist University, Thailand.
Inauguration ceremony for the DDM World Center for Buddhist Education, founded by the Master, takes place.
2006 Hands over the position of Abbot President, at the Inaugural Ceremony of the 2nd Abbot President, to successor Ven. Guo Dong, at the Grand Buddha Hall of the DDM World Center for Buddhist Education.
Leads a delegation of 15 DDM youth leaders to attend the UN Global Youth Leadership Summit at the UN headquarters in New York.
2007 Establishes Dharma Drum Buddhist College, the first mono-religious educational institute in Taiwan to be accredited by the Ministry of Education (The name was changed to Dharma Drum Buddhist College in August, 2008).
The Sheng Yen Professorship in Chinese Buddhism is formally signed and established at Columbia University, New York.
Initiates the Six Ethics of the Mind campaign.
The Taipei County Jinshan Eco-friendly Memorial Garden, which DDM established at the DDM complex in collaboration with the Taipei County Government, finally starts operation after years of promoting eco-friendly burial sites.
Promotes activities for suicide prevention, establishing the “International Caring for Life Awards”.
2008 Receives the “K. T. Li Award for Outstanding Design of Economical/Social Systems” from the Society for Design and Process Science.
Receives the Cultural Contribution Award, an honorary arts and literature medal, from the Chinese Writers’ and Artists’ Association.
2009 Passes away on February 3rd.