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Answers to Questions about Fo Guang Shan's Nan Hua Temple in Bronkhorstspruit by Ven. Master Hue Li
Fo Guang Shan's Director for Africa and the Nan Hua Buddhist Temple Project Manager Interview conducted & edited by Ivan Frimmel. Translated from Chinese by Mias Liebenberg & Ching Jung (Laura) Wu. Welcome to the Nan Hua Temple Guest House. I hope you will feel happy and comfortable here and that you will find some benefit in associating yourself with our organization. In life, in every society, people always have many questions and doubts about everything - and the Nan Hua Temple Project is no exception. I shall attempt to answer some of the questions most frequently asked and to remove some of the doubts most frequently expressed about this project. Whose idea was it to build this temple ? My respected superior, the founder of Fo Guang Shan organization (with headquarters in Kaohsiung, Taiwan), Venerable Master Hsing Yun, now nearly 70, who has initiated many similar projects in Taiwan and all over the world, and whom I helped on other projects in the past, asked me about 4 years ago to expand our organization on the African continent and to build this temple. How and why was Bronkhorstspruit chosen? It was an extraordinary set of favorable interdependent circumstances that brought Ven. Master Hsing Yun in contact with the management team of Bronkhorstspruit City Government in 1991, led by their Chief Executive, Dr Hennie Senekal, who was visiting Taiwan at that time on a marketing mission, promoting various Bronkhorstspruit investment opportunities among Taiwanese businessmen there. When Dr Senekal was introduced by mutual friends to Ven. Master Hsing Yun at Kaohsiung and presented him with some ideas about attracting Taiwanese people and investments to Bronkhorstspruit, Ven. Master Hsing Yun shared with him the dream he cherished for a long time about wanting to build a Buddhist temple in Africa - and they both realized that this could be an opportunity to actualize his dream. Bronkhorstspruit city officials presented Ven. Master Hsing Yun with a proposal for mutual cooperation that was going to be beneficial to all parties concerned, and that would benefit many more people, for many generations. Ven. Master Hsing Yun chose this city also because of its natural beauty, plenty of land, industries, labour and potential for industrial and agricultural expansion, excellent infrastructure, many shops and businesses, and because of its proximity to Johannesburg, Pretoria, Witbank, Eastern Transvaal and Jan Smuts Airport. Initially, Bronkhorstspruit Municipality donated approximately 6 ha of land for the temple, laid the roads and provided all necessary services and infrastructures for the new township, including the building of a high school for the children in the area, named Cultura Park, where the temple is situated, and where some Chinese and local families are now slowly building houses and settling down. Later we were given further 9 ha for inclusion in the temple project. We believe that the city and people of Bronkhorstspruit have also benefited by their association with us. How long did it take Fo Guang Shan to start building the temple? From 1991, when the initial meeting between the representatives of Fo Guang Shan and Bronkhorstspruit city took place, it took about one year of further discussions, planning , organizing, preliminary design and fund raising, before the contract was signed by both parties in Taiwan on 8th of March 1992. I was then sent to South Africa in April 1992, to establish a working relationship with the other members of Bronkhorstspruit Municipality, appoint architects and builders, finalize the design... The builders started working on site in October 1993. The architects appointed on this project are Messrs Brandt, Snyman Spruit & Crafford from Pretoria, and the builders are P. Gerolemou Construction Group, also from Pretoria, and we think they have done an excellent job so far.
How did the unique architectural design of the Guest House building come about? The design evolved during many discussions between the architects and myself. 1
Most people make comments about how beautiful and impressive the building is, both inside and outside. Are you, as the project manager, satisfied with the results? The construction has progressed very well so far, without any big problems or serious accidents, only plenty of hard work. The Guest House opening is as scheduled - and as you can see, we have already started preparing the foundations for the main temple building nearby. As every architect, project manager, builder, craftsman and artist can tell you, absolute perfection is an ideal impossible to achieve: in every building you can always find things that are not absolutely perfect, only more or less close to perfection - and so it might be here. I think we have come very close to perfection here so far, but we are still busy with some finishing touches, correcting some minor imperfections and further beautifying the building and its surroundings. Where do some of the beautiful and unconventional construction materials and ornaments come from? 95% of the construction materials come from local sources in South Africa, including the Chinese style concrete castings of the first floor balcony handrail, which were made in Pretoria. The red wooden furniture, glazed clay roof tiles and ornaments were imported from Taiwan. The granite stone, red clay and bronze ornaments, including the large bronze bell, came from China. The wall paintings are still being executed on site by Taiwanese artists. For what purpose will it be used, under what conditions shall you admit the public and what shall the cost per room be? There will be accommodation, vegetarian food and many other facilities available for the comfort of our guests. We shall be able to accommodate over 150 people in the 70 bedrooms we have in the Guest House, and feed many more. Apart from our own resident and visiting monks and nuns, and our VIP guests, later we shall be able to provide accommodation, food and some other facilities to anyone, who is interested in coming here for a quiet spiritual retreat and learn about Buddhism, or to help with some charity work around here... There will be separate accommodation for male and female guests and all guests will be expected to refrain from smoking inside the building, drinking alcoholic drinks, meat eating, visiting the opposite sex in their rooms. As much as I would like to offer these facilities to everyone for free, I think we shall have to charge our paying guests from the general public a nominal fee of approximately R 120 - 150 per person per night, including food. Prior booking will be required. What has been built here already, how much money has been spent on this project so far and what are your future plans? Since October 1993, when the building work started, we erected a temporary office and temple building, which served this purpose until now, we built a Buddhist College with classroom and accommodation facilities for about 20 students (soon to be expanded to about 150), and now we completed the Guest House, including adjacent garages, parking lots and lawns. The total expenditure so far is about R 30-million, i.e. approximately R 1-million per month, and that does not include the many beautiful items that were donated to us. By 2002 we intend to complete a Buddhist Chapel, the Main Temple and other structures, at approximate further cost around R 200-million. Where do all the money come from and what are your financial goals? During the first couple of years, most financial resources are and will be coming from Taiwan, from the generous donations of many Buddhist devotees there. I travel to Taiwan every month for a couple of weeks at a time to collect these donations and to organize the transfers of the money collected each month to South African banks. We have no outstanding debts; we always pay our bills in full and on time. It must be obvious to anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of economics that this is not a project designed for its high commercial returns. Apart from obtaining the necessary finance from Taiwan, our main financial goal is to "stand on our own feet" and become completely financially self-sufficient by the year 2000. What are you doing to become financially self-sufficient? Nan Hua Temple has recently purchased a 420 ha farm near the temple, where we intend to grow fresh produce (fruit, vegetables, maize...), for our own consumption and for sale to the public. In future we intend to locate our Buddhist College on the farm, so that some of our students, novices and monks can do their spiritual practice there, as well as help with the farming and other home industries, which we intend to establish. There will be many sport and cultural activities in this temple, such as Kung Fu Classes, for which we intend to 2
charge a nominal fee. As I said, the Guest House will be open shortly to the general public and also generating some revenue for the accommodation, food, books, tapes, art and religious objects and other goods that will be for sale there... We also have many volunteer workers, local and from Taiwan, who are willing to donate some of their time to help with the many tasks around here, which will also help. As our ranks expand, we also expect an increase in monetary and time donations from our local Buddhist devotees to the temple... What is your main purpose for building this temple in South Africa? To us it seems as if the spreading of Dharma (Buddhist teaching) in the world is nowadays left only to Chinese and Japanese people, and those of a handful of enthusiastic westerners. In line with Ven. Master Hsing Yun's vision, Nan Hua Temple in Bronkhorspspruit is part of a gradually expanding international network of Fo Guang Shan's Buddhist temples and branches that are being established all over the world, for the purpose of promoting the ideas and ideals of Pure Land Buddhism on all continents, to people of all nations: for example, North America has a large Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, California, Australia has Nan Tien Temple in Priestdale, Queensland - and South Africa will now have Nan Hua Temple in Bronkhorstspruit. In the USA there are several million Chinese people and in Australia over one million; is it really necessary to build such an enormous temple in South Africa, considering that the Chinese population in this country is much smaller - and not all of them are Buddhists? Although Nan Hua Temple is built in South Africa, which has a Chinese population of only about 50 000 people, not all of whom are Buddhists (and further, not all Buddhists are believers in Pure Land Buddhism, and followers of Fo Guang Shan's Ven. Master Hsing Yun), we must remember that this is a long term project and that this temple will serve as the missionary and organizational center for the propagation of Buddhism not only in this country, but also all over the African continent, for many centuries to come. We expect a gradual increase in the number of Buddhists on this continent, through immigration from other countries and through conversion of people to Buddhism. That's why we need such a large facility here. How do you intend to go about spreading Buddhism in Africa? Right now, we already have 5 Taiwanese monks at Nan Hua Temple (and few nuns in our other South African branches), who were sent from Fo Guang Shan to serve the current needs here; at Nan Hua Temple we are now training the second contingent of some 20 black male missionaries from Congo; from this temple we are also guiding the activities of a few more Fo Guang Shan's monks and nuns, who are operating in our other branches all over South Africa (Benoni, Pretoria, Newcastle, Bloemfontein, Durban, Cape Town)... In the future, we are planning to open more branches in other cities of South Africa and in other African countries, and people from all African countries, who have the interest and ability to enhance and glorify Buddhism, will be sent here, to Nan Hua Temple, for their initial training. We believe that before the end of this century we shall probably have to send to South Africa about 50-60 monks and nuns from Taiwan, who will in turn train more than 2000 Buddhist missionaries for Africa here, at Nan Hua Temple, perhaps send them for further training in Taiwan, before they are sent back to their home countries to teach Buddhism - and thus bring Buddhism to many thousands of people in Africa. Most of Africa is still a dark continent, why is it important to bring Buddhism here? Precisely because it is still a dark continent, with a lot of violence, poverty and religious intolerance going on here, we believe that we can improve the situation in Africa by spreading not only the Buddhist ideas of universal brotherhood, kindness, tolerance, compassion and generosity, but also by expressing these ideas in everyday practice, through everyday examples. This is in line with the vision our Master, Ven. Master Hsing Yun has for spreading the Buddha Light to all continents. Long time ago Buddhism went from India to Mainland China, and later it spread from China to Japan and to other Far East countries, including Taiwan. At that time nobody expected that Buddhism would decline in India and China. Now, Buddhism is very prominent in Japan and Taiwan; Japan is re-introducing Buddhism to China, and Taiwan is introducing it on an unprecedented scale to South Africa. Why do you have to bring Congolese students here for training, when they cannot speak English or Chinese, only their native language and French, while we have so many of our own people right here, of all races, who might also be interested in learning about Buddhism from you? As our teachers, teaching materials (books, tapes, magazines, video cassettes...), songs, chants, prayers, scriptures... are all in Chinese, we intend to teach Buddhism to our students in Chinese - and in this process to teach them our language as well; we have some good translators for translating Chinese to English and French. That's why it does not make much difference if our students speak English or French. We had to start 3
somewhere, and we started with students from Congo, because we have some useful contact people there, who can speak both French and Chinese. The students we recruited in Congo are all well educated, healthy, unspoilt by the trappings of the material world, open-minded towards other religions, keen to take the Buddhist vows, shave their heads, become renunciates, learn Buddhism from our teachers and to go through our rigorous training program, without getting paid. Very soon we shall start looking for candidates with the same qualities in South Africa. Because the investment of time and money that goes into training each student is enormous, we are not in a hurry to accept anyone, unless we are satisfied that the applicant has the proper attitude, qualities and qualifications we require. What are the attitudes, qualities and qualifications you are looking for in each applicant and what is he going to be expected to do in order to become a fully-fledged monk, or a teacher of Buddhism? Since the Buddhist College is situated in South Africa, our future students must have a permanent residence or long-term visa in this country, because visa for periods longer than 6 months are now difficult to obtain. They have to be healthy, open-minded, interested, intelligent, well-educated (at least matric), moral beings, willing to take and able to keep the prescribed Buddhist vows (celibacy, no smoking, no drinking alcoholic drinks, no eating meat, no lying or gossip...), shave their heads and undergo a rigorous physical, mental, academic and spiritual training in South Africa, and perhaps also in Taiwan. Within 5 years the student must be able to read, write and comprehend Chinese language and understand some most important basic Buddhist teachings; within 10 years they should properly assimilate most of the Fo Guang Shan's Buddhist teachings and methods - and as soon as they are able and willing to do so, perhaps only after 10-15 years, they can translate some Buddhist scriptures and other materials from Chinese into their own language, and teach Buddhism in their countries, in their own language. As monks, we don’t have any private wealth. Do you intend to accept female students in the future? Yes, most definitely. We shall start accepting female students as soon as we have suitable teachers and separate accommodation facilities ready, which may take a while. The same rules shall apply to female students, as for male students. In Buddhism we don't believe in any discrimination based on race, colour or sex. What ages would you consider as suitable for your training? a) At Sramanera Academy we shall accept part-time students between ages 6 and 20. They can study at normal school during the day, and after school they will return to the temple to live as renunciates; they will be given ample time to do their studying, homework and playing, as well as some guided spiritual studying and practice. This will not adversely affect their current or future school studies, vocation, or marriage. This lifestyle will continue up to 20 years of age, after which they can either remain at Fo Guang Shan, or enter any career or lifestyle they choose, as a lay people. This is similar to the Christian convent school system. b) Student Monks / Novices: persons over 18, when they finish their education at any school, can enter as student monks or novices at Fo Guang Shan and specify the number of years they would like to stay in training, as renunciates. When this training period is completed, they can return to laity, or remain with us as monks. c) Missionary Monks: persons older than 18 years, who finished all their secular or religious schooling, can join Fo Guang Shan as missionary monks and permanent renunciates, and remain in the monastic order for an indefinite period of time, during which they will receive an on-going spiritual training and be allocated some work tasks and duties, as required. d) Serving Monks: persons older than 45 years cannot become short term renunciates; they must undertake to become permanent renunciates. Due to their age, their activities will be more service and less study oriented. All abovementioned types of renunciates will be required to shave their heads and wear the same type robes and in order to distinguish the different types of monks from each other, they will be wearing badges sewn onto their robes. Master Hue Lee, where were you born, how old are you & how long have you been with Fo Guang Shan? I am 41 years old: I was born on May 6, 1955, in Taiwan. I have been with Fo Guang Shan for 22 years. What is the key belief in Pure Land Buddhism, which Fo Guang Shan is propagating ? We believe that by the repetition of Buddha's name, Amitabha (or Amitofo, in Chinese) and by leading a decent and moral life, one shall be reborn in Buddha's Pure Land. We also believe that we can create a Pure Land 4
here, on earth, by cultivating pure mind and pure heart, i.e. by cultivating and practicing wisdom, kindness and compassion towards all beings, and by following the teaching and example of Buddha. Fo Guang Shan and The Buddha Light Association have been in South Africa for about four years. Why has the number of believers / devotees not increased much during this period? We already have hundreds of Buddhist devotees, and followers of the Fo Guang Shan teachings, in South Africa - and their numbers are steadily increasing. Right now we are still busy getting all branches organized and running smoothly and also getting all necessary manpower, facilities and materials ready, and training as many missionaries as our current facilities and teachers can handle. We are not prepared to drop our standards in selecting and training students and monks, and sacrifice quality for the sake of increased numbers. After these slow initial stages, as soon as we have more missionaries, we expect a much more rapid growth. Considering that even Nan Hua Temple does not have sufficient number of monks and nuns to do all the work there, and from time to time is also experiencing a temporary shortage of funds for the many educational, building and charity projects in progress, then why do we need temples in other South African cities, most of whom require an on-going financial support from Nan Hua Temple? All cities where we have branches (Johannsburg/Benoni, Pretoria, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Durban, Newcastle, Ladybrand) have more or less active Chinese communities. We would like to help these local communities to have a convenient place for Buddhist worship, for learning more about Buddhism and for social gatherings. We all follow the same ideal and therefore we must help each other, even if we have to sacrifice some of our own comforts for the sake of helping our brothers and sisters in these other towns. Who knows, in future, once they became self-sufficient, they may be in a position to help us, too. Right now we regret that we are not able to do more, but one day we may look - with a smile - at all the hardships we endured, and be proud of the great and beautiful things we accomplished together.
Nan Hua Temple
P.O.Box 741 Bronkhorstspruit, 1020 South Africa Tel: (013) 931-0009 Fax: (013) 931-0013
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