The founder and spiritual head of Dharma Drum Mountain, Master Sheng-yen, passed away today.
As I was heading towards the dinning hall for supper, I ran into people lined up by the path leading to Master Sheng-yen’s residence. They looked damn serious and were standing there with folded hands. I guessed that Master Sheng-yen had passed away. As soon as I got a chance to talk to Weijen, he confirmed my guess.
This week, Weijen left Taiwan for mainland China. He and I were roommates at Dharma Drum for about 3 months and a half. We got along very well. He was intellectually stimulating. He helped me tremendously with my Mandarin and with getting used to life in Taiwan. I couldn’t have asked for a better roommate really.
He’s coming back in January but we are not going to be roommates again because his wife is going to come with him (lucky fella!) so obviously they are going to live together.
Last week has been quite eventful. I owe a debt of gratitude to (in chronological order of people who helped me last week) Adeline, Shu-Fun, Li-Ching, Hui-Hwa, Hsin-Hsing, Mr. Lee, Venerable Chang Lang, Bill, Ken Shu, Hsiu-Lan and Mr. Lin. I should also point out that Hsiu-Lan on multiple occasions previous to this specific event has provided me with tremendous help. I hope I’m not forgetting anyone and that I got all the names right and spelled properly. I’m using the names as I’ve heard people introduce themselves to me. Sometimes I remember a last name better than a first name, sometimes the reverse. No disrespect is intended. Read on for the full story of my misadventure.
Yesterday, Master Sheng Yen gave a public talk. Master Sheng Yen is the founder of Dharma Drum Buddhist College, where I am now conducting research in Abhidharma. During the talk yesterday, he first presided over the presentation of awards to distinguished students. It was a good occasion to take pictures but I had not realized that ahead of time and did not bring my camera.
A few random thoughts about my time at Dharma Drum Mountain…
Once in a while a meal at DDM turns out to be challenge. The only implements I use for eating are one metal bowl and one set of metal chopsticks. Now consider that all the food primarily goes into the bowl and that some food is soft, some hard, some heavy, etc. So sometimes the question which runs through my mind as I see what I have to put in my bowl is “how on earth am I going to organize all the food items to prevent ending up with some unappealing mush?” Then there is the small matter of handling the chopsticks. I can handle chopsticks fine as long as the food in my bowl is relatively thick. Otherwise, I’m having a hard time. So I’ve started using some bigger chunks of food as tools to corral those bits which are too small for handling. And half of the time, I wonder if my way of eating looks barbarous to others.
I am quite impressed with the degree of environmental awareness evident at Dharma Drum Mountain. Signs are displayed to remind people to turn off electric appliances which are not in use, to recycle, to minimize water consumption, etc. I was particularly happy to notice that rooms have independent heating and cooling controls. In this way, it is possible to minimize the use of heating and cooling to use only what is needed. For sure more could be done but it is still much better than what is going on at UVA. Because many of UVA’s buildings are older, there is no way to fine tune the delivery of warm or cold air so a good deal of energy is wasted conditioning rooms while they are not used.
At Dharma Drum Mountain, communal meals are provided by the monastics. So the food is prepared in accordance with monastic rules. It’s two salient features are that it is vegetarian and does not contain ingredients likely to incite passions (like garlic or onions). I have mentioned before that people warned me that the food would be bland. Still, I find it to my liking. One colleague who asked for my opinion about the food looked surprised when I told him I liked it. I’m not sure whether it is because he does not like it or because he did not think someone like me (i.e. a Westerner who has come to Taiwan for the first time) would like that kind of food.
I’ve arrived at Dharma Drum Buddhist College (法鼓佛教學院) in Taipei County in Taiwan on September 2nd in the evening. After three days here I think I’m getting over the jet lag. Yesterday was the worst. I napped three times during the day, went to bed really early and got up really early this morning. But I have not taken a nap today and I should be able to go to bed at a normal hour tonight.
I have to say that everybody here has been really kind and helpful. Especially Youru and Hsiu-Lan. They have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome at Dharma Drum. The place itself is also quite nice. The architecture and landscaping are delightful. People warned me that the food provided to the staff and guests is on the bland side but I find it tasty in its own subtle way.
There is more to say but the jet lag, while mostly gone, is still affecting me so I’m heading for bed now.
(Published some 9 hours after I wrote it. Oops.)