New Tech Promotes an Old Religion

A Spiritual Approach to Secular Concerns

Every day Xuecheng fields questions from readers of his blog. The author recently watched one netizen, by the online name “Heartrending,” write for advice on how to assuage feelings of bitterness. The master responded: “More than trying to forgive others, focus on freeing yourself first.”

Another reader asked how to live righteously in the materialistic world of the present. Xuecheng replied: “We need to have goals in life; we should know where we are headed and should sustain our passion for our work.”

Xuecheng has noticed that brisk economic growth and subsequent improvements in people’s standards of living over the past years have stoked a surging demand for religious conciliation and a richer spiritual life. Xuecheng says he doesn’t regard religious revival as being at odds with the progressive, secular goals of the government; indeed, he is also a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee. “Social progress has changed the landscape of Chinese society. Renewed interest in religion is one facet of that change,” he said.

In the past, the Chinese government discouraged religion in favor of strict adherence to communist doctrines. Today, as the government takes a more relaxed attitude, Chinese people from all walks of life are both discovering and rediscovering faith. This resurgence is not restricted to Buddhism; all faiths found in China, from Taoism to Islam and Christianity, are finding new converts.

A Life Dedicated to Learning

Born into a Buddhist family, Xue- cheng became a monk at Guanghua Temple in Putian, Fujian Province. The year was 1982, and Xuecheng was 16. Seven years later he was promoted to abbot of the temple, the youngest person at the time to hold such a position in the Han Chinese Buddhist instruction. He was also the only abbot nationwide with a master’s degree.

Under Xuecheng’s leadership the temple won acclaim from Zhao Puchu, late chairman of the Buddhist Association of China, as one of the country’s three model monasteries.

In 2004 Xuecheng was made head of the prestigious 1,700-year-old Famen Temple in Fufeng, Shaanxi Province. The next year he was also selected to hold the concurrent position of abbot of Beijing’s Longquan Temple.

In addition to educating the clergy, the Master has been dedicated to bringing together academic and Buddhist circles to ensure his teachings reach a broader swath of the general public. He has invited scholars from different disciplines to his temples to give talks on traditional culture, opened religious observances to anyone with interest, and attracted lay Buddhists to the temples’ live-in study sessions.

Longquan Temple, in the northwestern suburbs of Beijing, runs an online school offering video and audio lessons on Buddhist teachings. On August 8, 2008, to coincide with the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games, the temple launched a website,, dedicated to discussions on traditional Chinese culture as well as interfaith dialogue between Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Its goal is to parse secular issues of wide concern from the perspective of traditional values and give prominence to the universal relevance of Chinese culture.

Despite his tight schedule, Xue- cheng still finds time every day to reply to comments visitors post on the website. now runs in three languages – Chinese, English and Japanese. Page views come from 170 countries and regions worldwide.

“Buddhism is open to all, and one of its fundamental tenets is to establish friendships with as many people as possible. To do so, the ways and means of spreading the religion have to advance with times,” said Xuecheng. Though the doctrines and scriptures of Buddhism have been handed down from ancient times and should be observed, those who are currently practicing them live in the world of the present, he added.

Buddhism has been practiced continually over its 2,000-year history in China. Today, the religion is far from being an “antique” or a “preserved specimen.” Thanks to its ability to blend with local culture, Buddhism remains relevant to the daily lives of the Chinese people.

Enhancing Buddhism’s connection with contemporary culture is in the interests of both Buddhism and society at large. “In an era of globalization when humanity faces multiple challenges ranging from pollution to ecological imbalances and dwindling resources, Chinese Buddhists should take on the social obligation of reviving traditional culture and promoting a wholesome spiritual life,” said Xuecheng.

He regards blogging as a conduit through which the world is able to learn more about China. Buddhism is practiced and respected throughout the world; it represents common ground on which to build consensus and understanding between China and the world.

“As cultural exchange involves at least two parties, it is inevitably a process that involves collisions and contentions. But instances of discord also serve to expose ideas that both sides hold in common.”

A Good Deed Every Day

Master Xuecheng has long held the belief that Buddhist teachings should translate into solid actions and bring substantive good to the real world.

He advocates that monks and nuns should reach out from the monastery and go beyond sermonizing. Together with adherents, they should participate in improving social equality and bettering society through charitable work. With this in mind, Xuecheng co-founded the Ren Ai Charity Foundation in 2006. The foundation is committed to “bringing charity to within the reach of every person.”

Ren Ai carries out an eclectic range of activities. Besides extending material aid to those in need, the foundation also offers physical assistance and psychological counseling. Xuecheng says a successful charity must be flexible; by pursuing a multi-purpose mission, Ren Ai is able to help a large number of people.

In 2008 many natural disasters occured in China. It started off with the worst winter the south of China had seen in half a century; serious storms coinciding with Chinese New Year whipped 20 unprepared provinces, resulting in power outages and over 100 deaths. Three months later the Wenchuan Earthquake was a tragedy on a much lager scale; over 60,000 lives were claimed and hundreds of thousands of people were rendered homeless. In the wake of the Wenchuan earthquake Ren Ai raised RMB 16 million for victims of the two disasters.

After the Yushu Earthquake in 2010 Ren Ai built 3,500 square meters of prefabricated school dormitories, the largest such complex in the region, at a cost of RMB 2 million. Xuecheng personally held several prayer sessions, during which he wished for peace upon the dead and earthly bliss for the living.

These endeavors have given Ren Ai prominence in China’s charity circles. In 2011 it won the annual award of the Capital Philanthropy Federation for its exemplary role. Ren Ai’s secretary general Lin Qitai and his aide Wang Lu were named Beijing’s model philanthropists for that year.

Buddhism is all about cultivating the inner psyche. But the inner psyche is in no way insulated from the outside world. Embracing the changing times while staying committed to the Buddha’s timeless code of ethics has served as a successful model for custodians of Buddhism to ensure the religion stays relevant and meaningful to ordinary people’s lives. Master Xuecheng’s success in adapting his teachings to the Inernet is just the latest example of Buddhism’s ability to adapt.


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