◎The compassionate vow to build the Sangha
Among the Three Jewels, the Buddha is the most honored, the Dharma the most essential, and the Sangha the most valuable, each of them being indispensable. The existence of the Sangha Jewel represents the continuation of the Buddhadharma. Therefore, we can say that the image of Buddhism depends on the image of the monastics.
I have always said Buddhism has no shortage of monastics, but rather lacks monastics that are able to put the Dharma into practice, and monastics that have made great compassionate vows. In order to cultivate monastics with compassionate vows we should start from education. However, if we only rely on education, without building a monastic Sangha, the people we educate will not be able to apply their talent, and will not necessarily have the compassionate vows of monastics.
“Building the Sangha” was Ven. Master Taixu’s wish. After his passing, a couplet, which read “I am determined to build the Sangha system, and conduct myself in line with the Yogacara Bodhisattva Precepts Manual,” was hung in the mourning hall. Having read Ven. Master Taixu’s biography, I felt deeply moved. I said, “ I would like to build the Sangha.” Although I am lacking in virtue and practice, and do not have sufficient ability to inspire people to morality, I cherish the aspiration to build a Sangha large enough to accommodate the number of people taking their monastic vows. If there are ten monastics, then I will build a Sangha of ten people. If there are one hundred or one thousand monastics, then I will build a Sangha of one hundred or one thousand people. The most essential thing is that this will be a monastic Sangha with modern-day monastics living in accordance with the precepts. As contemporary monastics, they serve and give to society and all living beings. That precisely is what a modernized Sangha is, and that is the Sangha DDM is currently building up. Only in this way will Buddhism truly have any bright prospects.
◎The philosophy of Sangha education
The Sangha is a monastic community, where monastics live together to practice the Buddhist path based on the principle of the Six Harmonies. If there is a monastic group that does not observe the code of conduct of the Six Harmonies, can it still be called a monastic Sangha? Suppose there is a monastic group that is already practicing the Six Harmonies in form, but remains indifferent to the troubles and hardship in society, knowing nothing else beyond receiving people’s respect and offerings, while offering no public welfare services or care for people in need. Would such a group gain recognition and esteem of the general public? Therefore “compassion and wisdom” must form the basis for those aspiring to become a monastic, while “harmony and respect” must be the norm for leading the monastic life within a monastic community. Only then will we be able to foster Buddhist monastics worthy of the praise bestowed on them by monastic and lay Buddhists alike. Only then will we be able to foster outstanding Dharma teachers who value both the bodhi mind and the renunciation mind.
So, we use “compassion, wisdom, harmony, and respect” as Dharma Drum Sangha University’s motto in order to cultivate religious teachers with compassionate vows and who practice truly. True religious teachers must have a giving spirit, and devote their life and everything to learning and practicing the Dharma, as well as to upholding and spreading the Dharma. It is vital they understand the concepts and methods of spiritual practice. In addition to practicing in accordance with the Buddhist teachings, they should also be able to guide and inspire other people to accept the wisdom of the Dharma, and use the Dharma to help others and themselves.
◎The founding and development of the DDM Sangha
From 1978 onwards I had a Dharma center in Taiwan. It was an unobtrusive, two-storied farmhouse, spanning 100 Pings (1 Ping = 3.30579 square meters). I used it to conduct seven-day Chan retreats and took in young people who aspired to become monastics. Ven. Master Dongchu, my late master, named it Nung Chan Monastery. Over the past twenty years, the number of monastic disciples has been steadily increasing, so makeshift buildings of corrugated iron were constructed one after another, and a simple and basic monastery came into being. The fact that this could not serve as a permanent practice center, turned out to be the causes and conditions for us to later found Dharma Drum Mountain.
Since we had more and more monastic disciples, building a pure Sangha became unshirkable responsibility. As this Sangha started from nothing, we had to undergo a process of trial-and-error with regard to establishing the schedules of daily rituals and rules and regulations. We would refer to the code of conduct as set down by the Buddha, as well as the regulations of large monasteries in ancient China, but we also had to adapt to the status quo of our current social environment.
On October 24, 1999, we grandly convened the first “Global Assembly of Dharma Drum Mountain’s Sangha” to discuss the direction of DDM’s future development, which resulted in the draft of our Sangha system. I presided over the second Sangha assembly on August 2 of the following year (2000), in which we passed the “Organizational Statutes of Dharma Drum Mountain Monastery” article by article. Therefore, it will not make much difference for the DDM group whether I am around or not. Not only was this an historical landmark for Dharma Drum Mountain, but it also represented a very large and unfaltering step forward taken by our group.
In addition, the Buddhist Seminary of Dharma Drum Sangha University was formally established in September of 2001. It offers a four-year of university undergraduate education, as well as a two-year monastic education program and six-year Chan practice program. In educating Buddhist religious teachers, we place the greatest emphasis on the cultivation of noble religious sentiment, deportment, concepts, and aspiration for the Path. Therefore, in our Buddhist Seminary curriculum design, we not only offer basic courses such as Buddhist history and the outline of Buddhist doctrines, we also particularly stress the courses nurturing a spirit of giving and service in monastic students, and which help them shape a sound character. After graduation, they are assigned to DDM’s various institutional units and monastic divisions, where they continue their studies and also attend intensive courses.
Today the various operational systems and regulations of the DDM Sangha have been perfected, and our monastic population grows by the day. Overall the Sangha is operated quite smoothly, with the monastics and lay followers united by common purpose and interacting harmoniously, filled with a youthful vigor, confidence and vitality.
◎DDM’s community of monastic and lay followers
DDM promotes the Three-fold Education and extends loving care to all, and it is the Sangha that plays the central role in upholding the vision and giving guidance. Surrounding the Sangha are the groups of lay Dharma supporters. They represent a very important part within the DDM organization. Without these groups of Dharma supporters on the periphery, the Sangha would be like an isolated island. In fact, the Sangha exists to give and offer their services to the public, in particular the provision of education, loving care, and courses on the Buddhadharma to lay believers visiting our Dharma centers. While lay Dharma supporters have come to DDM to learn, they may also in turn become the frontrunners in spreading the Dharma.
The lay community of Dharma Drum Mountain currently includes the Association Dharma Supporters, the Dharma Practice Society, the Dharma Affinity Society, the Young Buddhists Society, the Fellowship of Honorary Directors, the Teachers Fellowship, the Meditation Group, the Buddha-Name Chanting Group, the Choir, Volunteers, and End-of-Life Caring Group. These groups give support to one another, while our monastic members also take part in their operations offering counseling and loving care. Since 2005, I have urged the monastic and lay followers to work toward winning over more young people and the internationalization of DDM; I told them that besides fostering young talent, we should also seek integration with global society. In recent years, therefore, DDM has held several international conferences, and selected youth delegates to attend significant international conferences. We also hosted world peace conferences focusing on religions, youth, and women. These were held at our DDM complex or at famous hotels in Taiwan, and also at the Dharma Drum Retreat Center in Upstate New York in the United States, and all were very successful. In addition to these organizations of Dharma supporters, DDM has established eleven foundations to promote cultural, charitable, educational activities as well as humanistic and public welfare initiatives.