Buddhist Monastic Life in China (Photos)

In 2009 I traveled to China to experience Chinese Buddhist monastic life and learn about the practice, philosophy, and history unique to Chan Buddhism. That trip was organized mostly for graduate students in Buddhism or Chinese culture/religion/history but the program has since grown in size and scope to look a bit like the one that was then run separately at Fo Guang Shan monastery in southern Taiwan.

My experience with the 2009 program was so positive that I applied for and participated in the 2010 Taiwan program as well and wrote about my experience here (and posted additional reflections and photos here). Today the Woodenfish Project, run by Ven. Yifa, is no longer affiliated with Fo Guang Shan, but continues its mission of offering firsthand experience of Chinese Buddhist monastic life.

The program based in Taiwan continues separately under Fo Guang Shan’s leadership and more information about it is available at https://www.fgs.org.tw/events/fgmonasticretreat/. That program is accepting applications now too.

Last year I returned to China once again, this time as teaching faculty. We settled in to Longquan Temple (龙泉寺) in Taiyuan (太原) for two weeks of classes and an intense meditation retreat before heading to Mt. Wutai (五台山) for a cultural tour. For reflections from recent participants, see the website’s testimonials page. I would add that if you go, you will be joining an amazing group of people from all over the world. It’s not everyone who chooses to spend a chunk of their summer vacation in a monastery in China, sharing tight quarters with other participants, waking each day at 5:30am, and practicing monastic discipline. Participants come mainly from Europe and the Americas, but some will be from mainland China itself – and we had two students from India in 2016.

Here are some of my photos from the trip.

IMG_5626
2016 students line up and begin walking meditation.
students lined up with yifa
Ven. Yifa instructing participants.
students prostrating up mountain at wutai shan
Students prostrating on pilgrimage up one of Wutai Shan’s sacred mountains.
evening ceremony in Taiyuan
An evening ceremony, offerings to ancestors
taoist master china
A Daoist Master taking part in one of the large offerings at Wutai Shan (further photos are all from Wutai Shan)

tibetan boy at wutai shan

monks leaving a ceremony at wutai shan

monk with icecream

nun giving me the side-eye

nuns in china praying

nuns in china

tibetan boy monk china

wutai shan monk china

I will be back this year to teach (missing out on the later portions of the program, unfortunately). If you have questions I could assist with as a faculty member, post them in the comments below. All general management questions should be directed to staff (be sure to read the thorough FAQ on the website first). From the site:

Program Duration

Dates: July 1st to July 28th, 2017

Rolling Application Deadline: April 30, 2017 (BUT APPLY SOONER, AS SPACES FILL UP!)

Download Program Event Poster 

We will consider applications on a rolling basis. Please submit your application as soon as possible to increase your chance of acceptance. If you have particular questions, please fully read the detailed information below and refer to our Frequently Asked Questions.

Program Locale

The program will take place in Xinyin Temple, located in Yuyao, 40km from the city of Ningbo (a 2-hour train ride from Shanghai), Zhejiang province, southeast of China. As part of the “Jade center of the world”, which is a famous tourist area, this temple is an ideal location for HBMLP. The grounds of the temple are filled with traditional Chinese painting landscape elements such as pavilions, pagodas, a lake, and island. The most distinguishing feature of the grounds is the ample use of jade as a building material– all of the Buddha statues are made of real jade, and the largest Sakyamuni Buddha statue is 3 meters high and weighs more than 30 tons. Xinying Temple covers Phoenix mountain, 5.73 hectares, and it is also the largest temple with Ming-Qing Dynasty style in the world. All participants will be provided lodging on the temple grounds.

Cultural Tour Location: Mout Putuo 普陀山. Mount Putuo is one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in China, home of Guanyin Bodhisattva, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Mount Putuo is an island outside of the city of Ningbo, which is southeast of Shanghai. Mount Putuo has been a famous pilgrimage site for over one thousand years and is home to more than 30 significant Buddhist temples.

Program Content

Key elements

  • Training in monastic customs and practices such as sitting meditation, ethics, and liturgy.

  • Introductory courses in various aspects of Buddhism (Early Buddhism, Mahayana and Chinese Buddhism), such as history, philosophy, etiquette, rituals, Humanistic Buddhism, etc.

  • Cultural workshops with experienced Chinese artists. In previous years we have offered workshops in Chinese classical music, tea ceremony, kongfu, calligraphy, and other Chinese traditional arts.

  • Communal activities within the monastery and chances to interact with monastics and lay people in the monastery.

  • Daily participation in essential routine activities within a Buddhist monastery.

  • Five to seven days of silent meditation.

  • A cultural tour to Mt. Pu Tuo, a sacred Buddhist mountain in Zhejiang province.

  • All activities will either be conducted in English or English translation will be provided.

The details of the program are due to change to better accommodate the needs of the participants and better fulfill the program objectives. The content described here is based on previous years’ program and not meant as a detailed description of the 2017 program.

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