A Brief Biography of Venerable Master Hsing Yun
Venerable Master Hsing Yun was born in 1927 in Jiangdu, Jiangsu Province, China. Having grown up in a poor household with both parents working, Venerable Master Hsing Yun never received formal education and was left in the care of his maternal grandmother. After the Sino-Japanese War broke out, while accompanying his mother to search for his missing father, who had most likely lost his life in the war in 1938, he was tonsured by eminent Master Zhi Kai in Qixia Temple, Nanjing, with Dajue Temple in Yixing, Jiangsu, as his ancestral temple. In 1947, Venerable Master Hsing Yun graduated from Jiaoshan Buddhist College, where he underwent a complete Buddhist education of Ch’an, Vinaya, doctrinal traditions, and later became the principal of Baita Elementary School, editor-in-chief of Raging Billows Monthly and abbot of Huazang Temple in Nanjing.
He arrived in Taiwan in 1949 and became the dean of the Taiwan Buddhist Seminar as well as the editor-in-chief of Human Life Magazine. In 1953, he became the guiding teacher for the Buddhist Chanting Association of Yilan, and subsequently established the Buddhist Cultural Service Centre in Taipei, in 1957. In 1964, he founded Shou Shan Temple and Shou Shan Buddhist College in Kaohsiung; and then founded the Fo Guang Shan (Buddha’s Light Mountain) Buddhist Order in 1967. With the objectives: to propagate the Dharma through culture; to foster talents through education; to benefit society through charity, and to purify people’s minds through spiritual cultivation, he has dedicated his efforts to propagating Humanistic Buddhism. Additionally, he integrated tradition and modernity in establishing the rules and regulations which were drafted and published into the Rules and Regulations of the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order, bringing Buddhism into a new milestone of modernization.
Having been a monastic for over seventy years, Venerable Master has successively established over three hundred temples around the world, among which Hsi Lai Temple in the United States, Nan Tien Temple in Australia, Nan Hua Temple in South Africa, and Zulai Temple in Brazil, each being the largest in the country. He also founded sixteen Buddhist Colleges, twenty-four art galleries, libraries, several publishing companies, bookstores, fifty Cloud and Water Mobile Libraries, fifty Chinese schools, as well as Chih-Kuang Commercial and Industrial Vocational High School, Pu-Men Senior High School, Jiun Tou Elementary and Junior High School, Junyi School for Innovative Learning, and several kindergartens. Other education institutes were also established in the United States, Taiwan, Australia, and Philippines such as Hsi Lai University (now University of the West), Fo Guang University, Nanhua University, Nan Tien Institute, and Guang Ming College respectively. In 2006, University of the West became the first university established by a Chinese organisation to be accredited by WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges).
Beginning in 1970, he successively established a children’s home, the Fo Guang Senior Citizens Home, the Cloud and Water Mobile Clinic, the Fo Guang Clinic, helped the Kaohsiung government establish a senior citizen’s home, and together with the Fu Hui Foundation. In addition, he established multiple Fo Guang middle and elementary schools and hospitals in China. He has also donated wheelchairs and combination houses, provided emergency relief aids, educated the young, provided for the elderly and supported the poor and needy around the world.
In 1976, the Fo Guang Academic Journal was founded. The next year, the Fo Guang Tripitaka Editing Committee was founded to repunctuate and paragraph the canons. The committee compiled the Fo Guang Buddhist Canon (totalled nearly 1,000 volumes), and the Fo Guang Buddhist Dictionary. In 1988, Fo Guang Shan Foundation for Buddhist Culture & Education was founded to hold symposiums and publish collections of dissertations, as well as journals. In 1997, the 132-volume Selected Chinese Buddhist Texts in Modern Language was published and the CD-Rom edition of Fo Guang Buddhist Dictionary was released. In the same year, Venerable Master assisted in establishing M-Radio in Taichung, and the Buddha’s Light Satellite Television Station (now Beautiful Life Television) was established. In 2000, the Merit Times Daily News was founded.
In 2001, the Universal Gate Magazine, which was in publication for over twenty years, was transformed into the bi-monthly Universal Gate Buddhist Journal. At the same time, the Collection of Contemporary Buddhist Works, a collection of Master’s theses and Ph.D. dissertations on Buddhism from the Cross-Strait was published into a 110-volume Chinese Buddhist Academic Series. In 2013, the 20-volume Encyclopedia of Buddhist Arts was published. And in 2014, the 10-volume Fo Guang Buddhist Dictionary Revised Edition, 365 Days for Travelers: Wisdom from Chinese Literary and Buddhist Classics, and A House Full of Jade and Gold – a teaching material of Humanistic Buddhism – were published.
Venerable Master wrote the Biography of Sakyamuni Buddha, Essential Guides to Buddhism, Fo Guang Textbooks, Hundred Sayings Series, Between Ignorance and Enlightenment, Ten Thousand Affairs in the World, Modern Thoughts, Wise Mentality, A Record of a Discussion on Modern-day Questions, Sayings in Humanistic Buddhism, Collection of Papers on Humanistic Buddhism, Buddhist Affinities Across 100 Years, and Hear Me Out: Messages from a Humble Monk. Totalling more than 20 million words, these works were translated into over twenty languages, such as English, German, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, and Portuguese, and have been circulated to all corners of the world.
With over two thousand disciples from around the world and over a million devotees around the world, Venerable Master has spread the teachings far and wide. His Dharma heirs, numbering more than a hundred, come from provinces across China, as well as Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Australia. These Dharma heirs include Venerable Longxiang (President of Nanjing Buddhist Association), Venerable Zhenguang (President of Baoding Buddhist Association), Venerable Daoji (President of Jinzhou Buddhist Association), and Venerable Daojian (Standing Executive Board Member of the Buddhist Association of China). In 1991, Buddha’s Light International Association (BLIA) was established and he was elected president of the World Headquarters. To this day, over 170 chapters have been established over the five continents, making it the largest Chinese organisation around the world; allowing “the Buddha’s Light shining over three thousand realms, and the Dharma water flowing continuously through the five continents.”
BLIA General Conferences have successively been held in Los Angeles, Toronto, Sydney, Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and other major cities around the world, drawing attendances of over 5,000 delegates each time. In 2003, BLIA was officially granted Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) association status by the United Nations. Throughout the years, the themes include: Joy and Harmony; Oneness and Coexistence; Respect and Tolerance; Peace and Equality; Nature and Life; Wholeness and Freeness; One Truth For All; To Resolve and To Develop; Self-awareness and Practicing the Buddha’s way; Change the World and Benefit Humanity; Bodhisattva and Volunteer; Environmental and Spiritual Preservation; Happiness and Peace; and Future and Hope. All of these advocate the philosophy of “the global citizen,” in order for it to become the direction of modern thinking as well as the value that is universally pursued by all.
Starting in 1978, due to his work in the areas of culture, education, and humanity, Venerable Master has received honorary Ph.D.s from the University of Oriental Studies in the United States, the University of the West, Chulalongkorn Buddhist University in Thailand, the University Santo Tomas in Chile, Dongguk University in Korea, Mahamakut Buddhist University in Thailand, Griffith University in Australia, Fu Jen Catholic University in Taipei, Whittier College in the United States, National Sun Yat-sen University in Kaohsiung, Hong Kong University, Geumgang University in Korea, Macau University, National Chung Cheng University in Chiayi, Uiduk University in Korea, and National Pingtung University. In recent years, Venerable Master has also been awarded honorary professor by universities across China such as: Nanjing University, Beijing University, Xiamen University, Nanchang University, Yangzhou University, Shandong University, Wuhan University, Renmin University of China, Tongji University in Shanghai, Hunan University, Shanghai Normal University, Zhejiang University, and Shanghai Jiao Tong University. He has also received numerous awards from the Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Education. In 2000, President of the Republic of China presented him the “National Civic-Service Award.” In 2002, he was listed as the ten greatest leaders in educational undertakings. In 2005, he also received the President’s Award “Bodhi Award of Culture.” These are all recognitions to Venerable Master’s contributions to the nation, society and Buddhism.
Additionally, he has also received countless awards internationally, which include:
- 1995: the Buddha Ratna Award from the members of All India Buddhist Conference
- 2000: During the 21st World Fellowship of Buddhists Conference, the Buddhist Great Contribution Award was conferred by the Prime Minister of Thailand, Chuan Leekpai to commend Venerable Master for his efforts towards Buddhism worldwide
- 2006: “Peace in Body and Mind Award” by Phoenix Satellite Television and Lifetime Achievement from Chinese Writers’ Association and Award for Outstanding Achievement from the United States Republican Party’s Asian Committee (in representation of President George W. Bush)
- 2007: the Contribution Award conferred by the Bayswater city government
- 2010: Lifetime Achievement Award of China’s first People of Chinese Culture
- 2013: Lifetime Achievement Award of Most Influential Chinese People, The Light of Chunghwa –
Annual Mass Media Person of the Year Award, and Lifetime Achievement Award for Chinese Business Leaders.
Venerable Master’s great and deep compassionate vow has created countless Buddhist events. In November of 1988, Hsi Lai Temple, which is the largest North American Buddhist temple, was inaugurated, and an International Triple Platform Full Ordination Ceremony was held, becoming the first time for the transmission of full monastic ordination in a western country. At the same time, the Sixteenth World Fellowship of Buddhists Conference was held, marking the first time that cross-strait representatives attended a conference at the same time; it also marked Buddhism’s first exchange between cross-straits. In 1989, under the invitation of the Buddhist Association of China, the Dharma Propagation and Homecoming Tour Group visited China and met with the Chinese President Yang Shangkun and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) Chairman Li Xiannian at the People’s Congress Hall.
In February of 1998, he presided over the International Triple Platform Full Ordination Ceremony held at Bodhgaya and multiple Five and Bodhisattva Precepts ceremonies for lay Buddhists; helping to revive the bhiksuni precepts of Southern Buddhism, which had been lost for over a thousand years. In April of the same year, Venerable Master led a group to escort the Buddha’s tooth relic to Taiwan from India through Thailand. In November 2004, he presided over the International Full Ordination Ceremony at Nan Tien Temple in Australia, which was also the first to be held in Australia and marked a milestone in local Buddhist history.
Due to Venerable Master’s lifetime efforts, Buddha’s Birthday was declared a national holiday to be held every lunar April 8th by the Legislative Yuan of Republic of China in 1999. In 2000, the first Buddha’s Birthday was celebrated nationally in conjunction with the celebration of the 2,000th anniversary of Buddhism’s spread into China. In October of 2001, he personally visited Ground Zero of the September 11th attack to pray for the victims. In December of the same year, he was invited to deliver a speech titled “The Direction to Work On in the Future” at the president’s office. In January 2002, he reached an agreement with China on the basic principles for the Buddha’s finger relic Taiwan tour: “Hsing Yun to make the initiation; united effort in the escort; enshrinement and worship as one; safety as top priority.” He founded Taiwan’s Buddhist Organizing Committee for the Buddha’s Finger Relic Tour, which went to Famen Temple in Xi’an to escort the finger relic to Taiwan for a tour of thirty-seven days. An estimated five million people paid respect to the relic during the tour.
In July of 2003, Venerable Master was invited to participate in the Cross-strait Eradication of SARS—A Blessing for Wellness and World Peace Dharma Service in Nanputuo Temple of Xiamen; in November of the same year, he was invited to take part in the 1250th Anniversary Celebration of the Success of Master Jian Zhen’s Journey to the East; later, at the invitation of the Religious Art Research Center of the Chinese National Academy of Arts, he led the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Hymn Choir to Beijing and Shanghai to perform; in February of 2004, Buddhists of the cross-straits came together to form the Chinese Buddhist Music Performing Group, which undertook a tour of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia, the United States and Canada.
In March of 2006, he was invited by the reputed “learning academy with a history of a thousand years” — Yuelu Academy of Changsha, Hunan to speak. In April of the same year, he was invited to the First World Buddhist Forum in Hangzhou, China, where he gave a speech on the theme of the conference. In 2009, the Buddha’s Light International Association, the Buddhist Association of China, China Religious Culture Communication Association, and the Hong Kong Buddhist Association jointly organized the Second World Buddhist Forum, which opened in Wuxi and closed in Taipei, writing a new page in the history of religious exchange between Taiwan, mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.
In September 2012, Venerable Master was invited to give a speech about “The Value of Faith” at the 6th Summer Davos World Economic Forum, becoming the first Buddhist leader to give a keynote speech since its establishment. Since 2010, Venerable Master Hsing Yun’s One-Stroke Calligraphy Exhibition has been toured the National Art Museum of China and the National Museum of China in Beijing upon invitation, also the first Buddhist monastic to have exhibited calligraphy in these museums. The exhibition subsequently toured various art galleries and museums around Mainland China including in Hainan, Tianjin, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi’s Taiyuan, Guangdong, Yunnan, Xiamen, Zhenjiang, Shanghai, Dalian, Shandong, Zhejiang, and Guangxi.
In December 2011, under Venerable Master’s guidance, the Buddha Memorial Center officially opened to the public and received the National Golden Award For Architecture: Golden Lion Award for Culture and Education) the following year. In 2014, three years after its opening, the Buddha Memorial Center has been recognised as a member of ICOM (International Council of Museums), becoming the museum to acquire membership in the shortest time since opening. In the same year, the Buddha Memorial Center was awarded the 2014 Travelers’ Choice and a Certificate of Excellence by the world’s largest travelling website, TripAdvisor, gaining international recognition for having hosted various art exhibitions, promoting education and Cross-Strait cultural exchange, collecting artifacts from different eras for its underground palace, and continuously contributing to the society.
To promote world peace, over the years, Venerable Master has met with leaders of different countries including King Bhumibol of Thailand, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, President Diosdado Macapagal of the Philippines, President of Dominica Sir Clarence Seignoret, Vice President of the United States Al Gore and three Prime Ministers of Malaysia Mahathir, Abdullah Badawi and Najib. Besides, Venerable Master has also had religious dialogues with other religious leaders such as President of the World Fellowship of Buddhists HSH Princess Poon Pismai Diskul, Roman Catholic Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
In 2004, he accepted the position of chairperson of the religious organisations association in the National Cultural Association. Together with religious leaders of Christianity, Catholicism, Yi-Guan-Dao, Daoism, and Islam, he attended the Praying for Love and Peace Concert, which promoted communication between religions and implicated the use of religion to help purify the minds of people in society. Venerable Master has also held cultural exchange forums with Swedish Academy Nobel Committee member Professor Goran Malmqvist, Swedish Sinologist Professor Torbjorn Loden, Harvard University’s Professor Ezra Vogel, and Winner of Nobel Prize in Literature Mo Yan. In 2013, his meeting with three successive Presidents of Mainland China, Xi Jinping, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin has written a new page in the Buddhism history.
In recent years, Venerable Master has returned to China to rebuild Da Jue Temple and also to donate to the construction of the Chinese Academy Museum, Jianzhen Library in Yangzhou, Nanjing University’s Fo Guang Building as well as to establish the Yangzhou Forum and the Venerable Master Hsing Yun Public Education Trust Fund, all with hopes of promoting Cross-strait harmony and bringing world peace.
Throughout his lifetime of propagating Humanistic Buddhism, Venerable Master Hsing Yun has indeed contributed tremendously to the systematisation, modernization, humanization, and internationalisation of Buddhism development!