Noted monk spreads Buddhist tradition

Budai, a monk with a laughing face and big belly, has been an important deity in China since ancient times. Behind his high status in Chinese Buddhism is the sustained effort made by Fenghua in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, to let more people become aware of his charm.

Named after the cloth sack that he carried, Budai was an incarnation of Maitreya, or the “future Buddha”. He was born in Fenghua at the end of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907-960), spent his life performing sermons and spreading teachings and died there.

This eminent monk, whose real name was Qici, was sophisticated and good-humored. Once when he was asked to explain the true meaning of Buddhism, he flung his cloth sack onto the ground. This demonstrated his belief that by laying down burdens can one get close to Buddha’s wisdom.

Budai has many good qualities including tolerance, optimism, compassion and broad mindedness. He was a symbol of contentment that is worth study and deserves global attention, local officials said.

Wei Daoru, a researcher at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, has been paying attention to the integration of culture of Maitreya Buddha and psychology. He said that the teachings of Maitreya Buddha help improve people’s quality of life and answer contradictions between individuals and society.

“People often think that life is not good enough so they become depressed. But in fact wealth does not generate happiness. For those wanting to let go of burdens and open their hearts, the culture of Maitreya Buddha can lend them a helping hand,” said Zheng Zhenhuang, a Buddhism expert.

Considering this, Fenghua, in the past decade, has been promoting the culture of Budai. In 2011, the legend of Budai was listed in the third batch of national intangible cultural heritage items. In 2015, Fenghua was awarded the title Hometown of Culture of Maitreya Buddha in China.

Xuedou Temple, where Budai took his residence, has so far had conversations and exchanges centered on the culture of Maitreya Buddha with more than 50 countries and regions in Asia, Europe and America.

In 2014, a Maitreya Buddha statue in Xuedou Mountain, where the temple is located, arrived at a temple in Lumbini, Nepal.

In 2015, a monk in Xuedou temple had a trip to Antarctica, during which the jovial image of Maitreya Buddha was well-received by people that the monk met along his way.

In October 2016, the opening ceremony of a Buddhist conference among China, South Korea and Japan was held in Xuedou Mountain. The delegations from the three countries indicated that they would enhance the bond among them, and make contributions to regional stability and harmony, a local official said.

In 2017, a documentary themed on the culture of Maitreya Buddha was aired in more than 10,000 Chinese restaurants in Europe, America and Asia.

That year witnessed the completion of Zhejiang Buddhist College, which stands at the foot of Xuedou Mountain. It has a strong faculty and a number of eminent monks with rich experiences in teaching.

According to local officials, the college has close relations with Renmin University of China, Zhejiang Academy of Social Sciences, Zhejiang University and Nanjing University, as well as Fo Guang University in Taiwan.

On Aug 22, 2018, Fenghua sent a Maitreya Buddha statue to Cambodia as part of a cultural exchange.

Moreover, Fenghua has established a research association on the culture of Maitreya Buddha and published relevant academic journals and books. Buddhist classics were translated into pieces that are easily understood by the public and an annual gathering for vegetarians was also popular.

Riding on the technological waves, Fenghua has made good use of the instant messaging platform WeChat and the microblogging platform Weibo to promote the culture of Maitreya Buddha.

“Maitreya Buddha has a protruding stomach that is regarded as a symbol of great tolerance. I hope more young people can understand that, serve themselves truthfully, and know how to love themselves, thus treating all people well with a pure heart,” said Chi-sung Hung, who teaches Zen Buddhist practices.

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