Shifu Shengyen was born in 1930 and became a novice at 14 in Jiangsu. During the period of Communist unrest, he fled to Taiwan with the Nationalist Army. At 30 he became a monk again and spent six years in solitary retreat. Later on he studied in Japan and earned a doctorate in Buddhist literature from Rissho University in Tokyo. Afterwards he began to teach in the United States and followed his teacher in guiding the Nongcun Monastery in Taiwan. He also founded Dharma Drum Mountain (DDM). To promote Buddhist Studies and education of the monastics was a main concern of Shifu Shengyen. He established the Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies and Dharma Drum University. In recent years he also engaged in public dialogues with leading figures in the fields of technology, art, and culture, and has collaborated with other religions.
Shifu Shengyen is a lineage holder of both Linji (Rinzai) (as a Dharma heir of Master Lingyuan) and Caodong (Soto) (as a Dharma heir of Master Dongchun). He has both strengthened the essence of Huatou Chan and revived the practice of Silent Illumination (Mozhao) in the Caodong Tradition. Dharma Drum Mountain (Fagushan) is an order of Chinese Humanistic Chan-Buddhism, founded in Indian Buddhism and inspired by Tibetan Buddhism. As in engaged Buddhism in the West, it combines individual practice with social engagement in the world and maintains several relief organisations. Shifu Shengyen passed away on February 3, 2009.
Dharma Drum Mountain, Taiwan
The Venerable Guo-dong Fashi, Abbot-President
Dear Dharma upholders and followers of Dharma Drum Mountain,
Our guiding teacher in life, Master Sheng Yen (Shifu), passed away peacefully on February 3th, 2009 at 4:00pm, in Taiwan. He relinquished his physical body and entered parinirvana amidst the recitation of the Buddha’s name by his monastic disciples led by the Abbot President. With this letter, we are proceeding with Shifu’s instructions to notify you of his passing as soon as it occurred.
Shifu once described the course of his life as being full of illness and difficulty, yet he was always full of gratitude. He said this about himself, “Although I led a very busy life, very seldom was I troubled by matters out of concern for myself.” While advocating “Protecting the Social Environment”, Shifu pointed out that “Death is neither a joyful matter, nor an occasion for grief; rather it’s an occasion for a noble and solemn Buddhist ritual.” He stated in his will in 2004 that, “Though nothing happens, we’ve grown old in our busy lives. We cry and laugh, all in emptiness. There is originally no self, so both life and death can be cast aside.” Shifu viewed matters concerning aging, sickness, birth and death with an open-mindedness, demonstrating the expansive breadth of his mind that transcends the vexations of birth and death. This is Shifu’s most earnest admonition to us, and his spirit serves as an exemplary model for us all to emulate.
Shifu’s tireless lifelong mission of spreading the Dharma and bringing benefit to all sentient beings through his travels and undertakings could not have been realized without your involvement. Shifu was always grateful for all of the support and devotion that you have shown him throughout his life. As Shifu had instructed, we would like to convey to you on his behalf his utmost gratitude, blessings, and bid of farewell.
Under Shifu’s leadership, Dharma Drum Mountain has developed into a well-established organization and it will continue to operate to carry on Shifu’s legacy by way of DDM’s ethos in making contributions to society and to all sentient beings. In addition, DDM’s faithfuls; monastic or lay, are all under Shifu’s orders to never dispute over matters regarding properties, funds, power, and positions. Rather, we are expected to uphold the standards of “Compassion, Wisdom, Harmony and Respect” and to carry out the education based on the Four Kinds of Environmentalism. In accordance with Shifu’s pledge: “Although the universe may one day perish, my vows are eternal. What I am unable to accomplish in this life, I vow to push forward through countless future lives. What I am unable to accomplish personally, I exhort everyone to undertake together,” we will be united in mind and vows and set out to spread the Buddhadharma to benefit all sentient beings. Let us transform our grief into the strength of making vows and repaying kindness by jointly perpetuating Shifu’s vows of great compassion.
We’ve been truly blessed to have been able to study under Shifu. Today, he displayed for us the ease of being “Thus Come, Thus Gone.” We know just like us, you all must also feel the deep sense of sadness in having to part with Shifu. Yet we must remember that although Shifu’s physical body is no longer here with us, his Dharma-body has never left us, as his inexhaustible power of compassionate vows will forever remain in our hearts.
At this time, we sincerely ask that you pass on the information on the following Buddhist rituals to all who are also concerned about Shifu and DDM. Please go to any DDM-affiliated monasteries and branch centers to join our 14-day “Buddha-name recitation Dharma ritual: Repaying the Benevolence of Our Master” to show our gratitude and send our blessings to Shifu. Please stay in close contact with your DDM society and/or group (i.e. Buddha-name Chanting Society, Meditation Society, etc.). For more related news and information, please visit the DDM website at www.dharmadrum.org
With palms joined,
Shi Guo Dong, Abbot President
& the Sangha of Dharma Drum Mountain