Master Jianshu, Abbess
The Abbess, Master Jianshu, majored in math and engineering before she met Grand Master Wei Chueh. Soon after completing her first seven-day retreat, she already vowed to lead a more meaningful life dedicated to helping all sentient beings realize their inherent Buddha Nature. After leaving home life, Jianshu Shifu taught for many years in Chung Tai Buddhist Institute for Nuns; and then went on to earn a Doctorate in Religion from Columbia University in New York. Coming to the Philippines in late 2011, Abbess adapted immediately to our humid weather. And to the delight of our Filipino students, she quickly learned how to make simple greetings in the native language. The soft-spoken Abbess is also people-oriented and welcomes interactions with the students. She handles all meditation classes, both in Chinese and English, where she would challenge our minds by asking simple yet profound questions. She would then patiently listen to all answers, no matter how inane they might be. In addition to teaching 10 classes a week and presiding over all Dharma ceremonies, Shifu still finds time for many one-on-one Zen sessions and tea-times with lay people who like to consult with her. She has also set up many open forums for outsiders and academic scholars who are curious and mystified by Buddhist theories and practice. These discussions can last many hours; in the end, all participants walk away with a new understanding about Buddha’s teachings and are greatly impressed with the wisdom of the Sangha of Chung Tai. Master Jianshu said: “I have only been in the Philippines for half a year, but the students of Ocean Sky have already struck me with their diligence in wanting to understand Buddha’s teachings. They go out of their way to sincerely seek the Dharma, attending multiple classes each week, and having discussions and consultations before and after classes. I honestly feel that Ocean Sky is truly the Pure Land of the Philippines.” Like all true cultivators of the Buddha way, Master Jianshu has vowed: “I do not seek my own comfort and pleasure; I only wish that all sentient beings be free from sufferings. (但願眾生得離苦，不為自己求安樂。) When asked about her vision for the monastery, she said: “I hope to see a bigger Ocean Sky in the near future, so that more people can be accommodated when they come to seek the Truth in Buddhism, and attain true transformation. When more people apply Buddhist teachings in their lives, they can surely contribute greatly to the improvement of the Philippine society.”
Master Jianren, Executive Director
Before she came to the Philippines, Master Jianren had once served as Assistant Executive Director in the Center for Culture and Education in Chung Tai Chan Monastery (中台禪寺文教中心 副主任), which maintained the website of the monastery and produced its monthly magazines (中台山月刊) and other Dharma publications.
Master Jianren saw suffering up close when she, as a lay person, worked for a foundation helping to care for blind people and burn victims. At that time, she had just started studying Buddhism, and right away knew that these unfortunate people were getting their retribution from previous karma. Master Jianren wanted to lighten their suffering by helping them to understand the causes of suffering, to accept their retributions, and to maintain a pure mind. Realizing that she can help more needy people through Buddha’s teachings, Shifu did not hesitate to leave home life to become a nun, even though she had just studied Buddhism for barely a year.
Master Jianren said: “My parents were deceased then. I wanted to repay their love and care by offering this body that they gave me in the service of the needy. I vow to serve tirelessly for all sentient beings; I also vow to do it with a mind that I can master”
“I always remember Grand Master Wei Chueh’s emphasis on compassion towards all sentient beings. When we see sentient beings in suffering, we should let them know about Buddha’s teachings, so that they can realize the Truth and get out of their suffering. When I see a person behaving badly (angry, irritated, greedy, etc.), I try to look at the condition behind the bad behavior; there, I would only see pain and suffering. When I see pain and suffering, then I definitely won’t quarrel with him; I will only feel compassion, and will help him.”
Master Jianren added: “Furthermore, success in all endeavors is not ours alone. It should be shared with everybody. We should always be thankful to all the people who had helped us in our work.”
Lay people in Ocean Sky are happy that Master Jianren is at home with the local Fujian dialect. Shifu shares what she finds in the Philippines: “One thing that impresses me about the students and volunteers in Ocean Sky is their eagerness to study Buddhism, coming to meditation class week after week despite the language limitation. They are simple and pure-hearted, willing to give up their time and resources for the monastery.”
Shifu hopes that lay people can bring more friends and relatives to attend meditation classes. “When you have a good thing, you have to let more people know about it. Do not be shy or discouraged. Make a vow to share the beneficial lessons that you learned in Ocean Sky. Your vow will lead the way. (以願導行)”