Dharamshala — "This claim is completely unsubstantiated. Bliss and Wisdom has never had any ties to any political party in any country. We have never and will never undermine any religious figure. In addition, the other party has extensively exaggerated and made an issue of Bliss and Wisdom's relationships with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism," asserts Ven Shi Ru-wei, Public relations for the Bliss and Wisdom.
TPI journalist recently conducted an interview with Ven Shi Ru-wei, Public relations for the Bliss and Wisdom to ask about the Buddhist organization in Taiwan — where over a thousand monks and nuns, as well as 100,000 followers worldwide live and pray mainly in Taiwan, Mainland China and the overseas Chinese diaspora — recently roiled by controversy.
Allegations include a lack of transparency, sexual abuses, misappropriations of funds, and misuse of power at the organization. Currently the organisation is led by a northeast China born woman Zhen-Ru as the spiritual master. She has been accused of having links with the Chinese Communist Party in order to discredit His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Master Zhen-Ru also has been accused of sexual abuses against several ordained monks while living inside the organisation.
Tibet Post International (TPI): Can you detail us about the current crisis/incidents or anything else you may think is going on? You might think going on?
Bliss & Wisdom (BW): From what we can tell, we believe that there is a group of unknown individuals who has spent a long time devoting their efforts in fracturing and damaging the propagation of the Buddhist faith. They are taking advantage of the recent events that took place in Bliss and Wisdom: a few Buddhist monks who have left the monastery. Efforts in extensive use of social media outlets have been sustained in spreading untrue messages, causing confusion in the media, with the intention to hurt the Bliss and Wisdom community and Master Zhen-Ru. Furthermore, the group used these tactics to encourage followers to leave and join the newly set up groups by them.
The target audience span at least countries in Asia as well as North America, not restricting to Bliss and Wisdom followers. They have also been systematically sending out propaganda, causing much controversy in Buddhist circles in Tibetan, Taiwanese and overseas communities. From the speed in which the group has organized and disseminated their materials, the language used in the writings (Tibetan, Mandarin and English) as well as the use and setup of social media outlets, it appears that the party behind has a well thought out plan and are centrally coordinated.
TPI: To respond to the claims of the current crisis at the Bliss and Wisdom, What are the major problems you are facing right now in your Monastery and Institutions?
BW: This situation requires delicate handling as it involves Buddhist monks who have transgressed vinaya and thus have been asked to leave. Following the principle of not criticizing monastics in order to protect the faith and image of Buddhism, we will still make an effort in not being involved in this dispute. However, the speed and extent of the attacks from the other party have accelerated, taking advantage of the current situation to cause greater damage.
The party carrying out the attacks have made all sorts of accusations, ranging from finances to licentious behavior, without any evidence. The only evidence was a set of stolen recordings of someone else's conversation. The individual involved has already declared its invalidity and asked Venerable Fan-Yin to cease in its use. However, the other party has continued to employ its use without restraint in its defamation efforts.
With compassion as our core value, our current strategy of not partaking in the dissemination of hatred and division has not yet appeared to be effective. The other party has sustained in issuing one wave of attack after another. In the situation where there is no evidence, they continue to fabricate untruths. Our persistence in keeping a level head in dealing with the current situation traces back to our following Buddhist teachings as Buddha's disciples. This is the most effective, as well as the only path, because the truth will only become clearer over time.
However, it currently appears that a group of anonymous individuals operating under the radar is constantly stirring up emotions and agitating the situation. Their tactics are completely beyond rational reasoning. As the Bliss and Wisdom community faces these challenges together, we need to further develop our compassion and wisdom. On the path of benefiting ourselves and others, we hope to strengthen our faith, fortify our resolve, and will never back down.
TPI: In their statements, they have said that Chinese government, particularly the CCP are using Bliss & Wisdom to undermine His Holiness the Dalai Lama. What is your response?
BW: This claim is completely unsubstantiated. Bliss and Wisdom has never had any ties to any political party in any country. We have never and will never undermine any religious figure. For the other party to make this claim is not surprising to us. They have also reported Bliss and Wisdom to the relevant government department in China.
In addition, the other party has extensively exaggerated and made an issue of Bliss and Wisdom's relationships with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism. All this is to achieve their goal of damaging the reputation of Bliss and Wisdom, a Buddhist community that receives the Tibetan lineage in the Chinese culture. Similarly, in Taiwan where Chinese Buddhism is most prevalent, the other party uses the concept of a female spiritual teacher, which is foreign to the Chinese Buddhist culture, to tarnish Bliss and Wisdom's legitimacy, creating much controversy.
Bliss and Wisdom can only say that the other party's assertions precisely demonstrate their active use of controversial and sensitive issues to incite the emotions of Buddhist followers, creating strife and schisms. The other party intends to undermine the Bliss and Wisdom community's integrity. This negates Bliss and Wisdom's efforts and contribution to the propagation of Buddhism. Regarding these distortions that lead to everyone's misunderstanding, Bliss and Wisdom is deeply unsettled.
TPI: A group of Chinese and Taiwanese met with His Holiness the Dalai Lama recently, His Holiness made some suggestions about on Bliss & Wisdom. What was your organization's reaction on his advise and suggestions?
BW: The direction of the teachings given by His Holiness was completely consistent with Bliss and Wisdom's ethos. As Buddhists, vinaya is the root of our practice. Even more so, it is the core fundamental that every monastic and sangha should rely upon and follow. In the event of an incident that is not in accordance with the teachings or vinaya, Bliss and Wisdom will clearly face and handle it proactively. Furthermore, Bliss and Wisdom supports a transparent and open method, even due legal process to clarify the situation.
Unfortunately, the other party posed the false accusations as questions to confuse the readers. Furthermore, the other party took advantage of the opportunity to ask for teachings from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and borrowed His Holiness' influence in the media to spread rumours. Furthermore, the other party edited His Holiness' clearly conveyed teachings and added in misleading subjects and comments, making His Holiness their tool in spreading rumours to all. This is extremely disrespectful to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
TPI: They have said that your organization has a special relationship/connection to the Chinese government and CCP, Dorjee Shugden groups, including Harwa Rinpoche and Panchen Lama, recognized by the Chinese government. What is your reaction?
BW: Since the time of Late Master Jih-Chang, Bliss and Wisdom monastic and lay disciples are strictly forbidden from practicing Dorje Shugden rituals. Harwa Rinpoche, whose lineage is from Labrang Monastery, is one of the important lineage teachers who Master Zhen-Ru studied with during her pilgrimage. Within the lineage of Labrang Monastery, Dorje Shugden rituals has historically never been practiced.
As a religious community mainly based in Taiwan, Bliss and Wisdom does not maintain ties with any particular political group. For hundreds of years, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and His Holiness the Panchen Lama have always been indispensable figures in the Gelug school, with both lineages mutually relying and benefiting from each other. For the grand aspiration of benefiting more people through Buddhism, Bliss and Wisdom will maintain their objective image with care.
TPI: Their statements are also criticizing you, by saying Taiwanese Buddhist leaders denounce Bliss & Wisdom. What is your reaction? Can you provide us your respond to answer all those who criticized if their claims are accurate?
BW: Bliss and Wisdom still has healthy relationships with the major sanghas within the Taiwan Buddhist communities and has received their heart-warming support. The other party has garnered a few monastics who claim to represent Taiwan's Buddhist community and used the tactic of one-sided accusations with no basis to spread rumours. Bliss and Wisdom strongly objects to this behaviour.
Regarding the irrational, bordering on preposterous, false accusations, Bliss and Wisdom may not have had the opportunity to address each and every concern, leading to the current reservations of the Buddhist community. However, Bliss and Wisdom will continue its longstanding ethos of abiding by the Buddhist teachings, and firmly believes that proof will shed light on the current situation and rebuild confidence. Coupled with people's innate sense of right and wrong, the overall situation will rapidly return to normal.
TPI: Anything you may think or prove their claims/criticisms/demands are wrong and you and your organization is at the right place?
BW: The other party's allegations about Bliss and Wisdom's finances and licentious behaviour which implies transgressions of the vinaya are completely false. Accusations of our connections with political parties and Dorje Shugden are outright lies. On numerous previous occasions, Bliss and Wisdom has clearly accounted for Later Master Jih-Chang's succession by Master Zhen-Ru. There were also core monastic and lay students who witnessed it firsthand. The succession has also passed the scrutiny of close to 800 monastics. However, the other party has continued its relentless stream of questioning, fabricating falsehoods without the ability to show any kind of valid evidence to prove their absurd allegations.
Arguments built on falsehoods are senseless. Unjustified accusations of transgressions of vinaya are not only vulgar but rude as well. One cannot blindly make such harsh accusations toward a regular person, let alone a Buddhist practitioner or a sangha that abides by vinaya. Regarding these narratives that are biased and filled with falsehoods, Bliss and Wisdom has no interest in responding.
Criticism on subjects, such as relying on a female spiritual teacher, and whether a female spiritual teacher shall run into certain issues while mentoring a sangha group – are answered with the following statements. Can the sangha abide by a spiritual teacher who is both a lay person and a female?
BW: Whether a spiritual teacher is qualified to give teachings and guide the sangha is not determined by the monastic or lay status, nor by the gender. The sangha is made up of renunciates, each of who has the right to decide the spiritual teacher whom they want to follow. They can observe for themselves whether this individual has the full qualifications of a spiritual teacher. If so, they can choose that person as their spiritual teacher. If not, they can choose otherwise. Also, from the overall viewpoint of the sangha, individuals are not required to abide by a specific spiritual teacher. This is each practitioner's personal choice.
To have a lay person guiding the sangha: This is not uncommon! Within Buddhist history, it is not uncommon for lay people to guide and give teachings to the sangha. In India, as mentioned in Master Xuan-Zang's biography: "Master Jayasena, who was a lay person, resided in Zhang-Lin Mountain. He accepted and guided disciples in the study of Buddhism, often giving teachings on sutras. His monastic and lay disciples, often numbering over hundreds, all abided by his instructions and took refuge in him."
Among historical records of monastic communities established by lay people, the most well-known is that of Geshe Drom-don-ba. Although Honorable Je Atisha had many monastic disciples, he instructed only Geshe Drom-don-ba to establish a sangha. At that time, Geshe Drom-don-ba responded with great modesty, "People will challenge the fact that I am a lay practitioner. Thus, I probably do not have the ability to establish a sangha."
Honourable Je Atisha clearly replied, "Yes, you can! Because this is what I have instructed you to do." Before his passing, Honourable Je Atisha also expressed to many of his key monastic disciples his wish for them to follow the teachings of Geshe Drom-don-ba. The first three throne-holders of the Sakya school were also all lay Buddhists. As lay people, they founded the Sakya Monastery and the Sakya school. To this day, the Sakya throne-holder is still a lay person leading the sangha.
In addition, the founder of the Kagyu school, Master Marepa, as well as Master Milarepa were both lay people who led many monastics and lay disciples. Also, Nyima disciples recognize and honour Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, a lay practitioner, as the pinnacle of the present Nyima school. Moreover, within the Gelug school, many lay Buddhist masters led monastic communities, including the 10th Panchen Lama, the 6th Master Jamyang, Khyongla Rato Rinpoche, Dagpo Rinpoche, and more.
Renowned female spiritual teachers who give teachings to communities of monks. Similarly, within Buddhist history, there have been many renowned female Buddhist teachers who gave teachings to communities of monks. Sirivivartavyakarana Sutra states that the female Zhuan-Nu Bodhisattva gave teachings on the different methods of helping others to the monastic assembly.
Furthermore, there have been Buddhas and bodhisattvas in the past who have made aspirations to be reborn as a woman to benefit all beings. For instance, as written in The Origins of Tara's Tantra, Tara first developed the spirit of enlightenment in one of her previous lives as Princess Yeshe Dawa. While making vast offerings, the sangha urged the princess to direct her prayers to be reborn as a man.
Upon hearing this, she said, "In this world, there is no man nor woman. There is no self, no other self, no mind. There is no sense in discerning man from woman. It is purely a delusion created by our worldly mind."
She then made the following vow: "Among all men, there are many who aspire to achieve bodhichitta. However, it is rare to find even one woman with the ability to benefit all. For this reason, I vow to be born as a woman to help all beings until everyone is freed from rebirth." As such, from the moment Tara made this aspiration until she reaches buddhahood, she will use the form of a female to benefit all. She has become a figure both monastic and lay practitioners take refuge in.
Presently, many of the precious lineaged teachings practiced by sanghas are also passed down by female Buddhist teachers. For instance, the Avalokiteshvara Fasting Practice was passed down by Bhikshuni Lakshmi. Chod was passed down by Machig Labdron; and Longevity Dharma was passed down by Maji Zhubei Jiemo. Many sanghas, regardless of their Buddhist schools, abided by these female Buddhist masters who were lineaged teachers.
In recent years, there have also been various female Buddhist teachers who give teachings to monks. Such examples include Ah Yu Kang Zhuo as well as other teachers who live in the Ka Da Ri region. Among the Chinese community, some female teachers include Venerable Master Fa-Zun's lay disciple, Ms. Ji-Ou Hu, and Great Master Xu-Yun's disciple Elder Master Gong Ge.
Even the most conservative Buddhist school of the Theravada lineage has female spiritual teachers. Currently, the one of the larger Theravada monasteries in Thailand is Wat Phra Dhammakaya. It was founded not by a monk but by a female lay Buddhist, Chandra Khonnokyoong (Khun Yay Ajan), who recently passed away. In addition, the current abbess and leader of Larung Ngarig Buddhist Academy, studying Tibetan Buddhism in Sichuan is also female. Her name is Dakini Muntso.
As such, since the beginning of time, Mahayana scriptures as well as historical and contemporary figures support that female laity can become spiritual teachers of Buddhist sanghas.
Under the direction of founder, Honourable Elder Master Jih-Chang, the Bliss and Wisdom sanghas have been abiding by Master Zhen-Ru as their spiritual teacher for over a decade. During this period of time, not only has the number of monastics continued to increase, the disposition toward study and practice of Buddhism has also flourished. Although it is not widely seen for a sangha to follow a female lay Buddhist teacher, but as stated by Honourable Harwa Jamyang Lodro Rinpoche and Geshe Tenzin Yign Yen, Honourable Elder Master Jih-Chang's decision has a very unique purpose. Bliss and Wisdom sanghas have a strong rapport with Master Zhen-Ru. It is precisely because they follow Honourable Elder Master Jih-Chang's guidance and abide by the teachings of Master Zhen-Ru, that the sanghas are able to accomplish their current achievements.
Regardless of whether it is from notable historical records, the fact that the Bliss and Wisdom monastics willingly choose to abide by Master Zhen-Ru, or the major contributions in Buddhism by Master Zhen-Ru, one can see that a fully qualified lay person can be abided by the sangha.
TPI: What is the difference between a lay person leading the sangha, compared to a monastic leading the sangha? Master Zhen-Ru is female. When she interacts with the community of monks, is it difficult to uphold vinaya?
BW: In 2017, when His Holiness the Dalai Lama responded to the topic "Can a lay person lead a sangha?", he clearly stated that, "The Sakya Trizin is a lay person, who can still give teachings to both monastics and laity, but he will not attend pratimoksa recitations and other monastic matters."
Within a sangha, there are many affairs that can only be carried out by monastics: pratimoksa recitations, karmans, entering varsa, pravarana, ordination, etc. Laity cannot be involved with these matters. Master Zhen-Ru's teacher-student interaction is completely in abidance with vinaya. While guiding her students, she has never intervened with sanghakarmans.
Master Zhen-Ru interacts with the sangha, instructing monastics on their practice. She strictly abides by Vinaya Master Dao-Xuan's Guidelines for Practicing Vinaya, which cites Sanghika-vinaya, for what behaviour is allowed and prohibited; as well as the fundamental explanation of vinaya in Sabuoduo Abhidharma from Tibetan Buddhism's Sarvastivada vinaya. Both Nanshan Vinaya of Chinese Buddhism and Sarvastivada vinaya of Tibetan Buddhism reach the same conclusion: "If there are walls and different entrances, then there is no transgression of vows." This means that within the same building, if there are walls, an independent space, as well as an independent entrance, then it is in abidance with vinaya. There is no trangression of precepts.
TPI: Current one side claims are definitely hurting the mentioned relationship between your organization and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as well as your relationship with other Buddhist organizations all over the world. What is your reaction and how you explain the current relationship between Bliss & Wisdom and His Holiness the Dalai Lama?
BW: Bliss and Wisdom has not experienced any obvious change to the relationship. With time, the truth of these false accusations will come to light. The other party's questionable behaviour and organized actions to cause harm has indeed brought about a few inconveniences regarding communications, but has not caused any lasting damage.
TPI: They have raised several corruption cases, seemed trying to make first biggest corruption case against a Buddhist institution. What are your reactions to these charges?
BW: The other party has indeed made all encompassing accusations. If the other party's accusations were indeed true and further had brought forward supporting evidence, then as a community, we would absolutely exert all efforts in improving the areas where we are lacking. Just as His Holiness the Dalai Lama pointed out, everything can be referred back to the vinaya and laws. Notwithstanding, freely making false accusations is not an action that a moral citizen would engage in, let alone by a Buddhist practitioner. If the other party continues to make accusations of corruption but is completely unable to bring forward any evidence, with time, their own reputation will be severely brought into question.
Bliss and Wisdom feels personally responsible for defending and upholding the reputation of the Buddhist faith. This is a lesson that the Bliss and Wisdom community can grow from. Through this incident, Bliss and Wisdom hopes that it can further cultivate its compassion and wisdom. May everyone have peace and happiness, and attain ultimate enlightenment.
TPI: Finally, please feel free if you have any other important that we may forgetting and any special message to your supporters around the world?
BW: Bliss and Wisdom wishes to extend its best wishes to the monks who have left the sangha. Bliss and Wisdom also respects the decision of any laity who wishes to join them. To the monks that used inappropriate methods and defamed their spiritual teachers and sangha that once nurtured them, the Bliss and Wisdom community is deeply pained. Bliss and Wisdom feels it is highly dishonourable for a Buddhist practitioner to use such base tactics to attack one's peers and teachers. It is especially deplorable if the purpose is to attack Bliss and Wisdom with no regard for repercussions, destroying people's faith in Buddhism within Chinese culture and the rest of the world.
The views expressed in this interview are personal and may not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Tibet Post International (TPI).