Having an excellent teacher or mentor for guidance is critical in any education. This is especially so when learning Buddhism. Understanding Buddhism can be challenging as it is often considered profound and abstruse. Without a good teacher, Buddhism can indeed be like “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” a line used by Winston Churchill to describe Russia during WWII.
However, besides having a good teacher, the teacher must be right for you. Indeed, while there are many good Buddhist teachers worldwide, they often offer doctrines in different schools of Buddhism. So, how do you choose the right one, especially for a beginner?
I am indeed blessed to have found such a teacher in Ven. Dharma Master Jing Kong. Dharma Master Jing Kong was knowledgeable and genuinely devoted to teaching Buddhism enthusiastically, which he did daily and tirelessly for over sixty years. In addition, the Dharma Master had moral fortitude, tenacity, and genuine aspirations to spread the words of Buddha.
After spending all my middle school years studying religious knowledge, I was not moved by religious doctrines. Therefore, I graduated middle school as a religious non-believer. What disturbed me the most was the idea of an anthropomorphic creator. Therefore, as I encountered Buddhism after college, there was one burning question I sought to answer: Is Buddhism a religion and Buddha an anthropomorphic creator? I decided that if the answer turned out to be affirmative, I would again walk away.
In Dharma Master Jing Kong, I got my answer. Shortly after I started listening to him, he instructed clearly and confidently that Buddhism is not a Religion. It is Buddha’s Education, and declared, “Buddha is not a divinity; Buddha is a person….Foremostly, …we (historically in China) consider Shakyamuni Buddha a teacher. A foundational teacher. We call ourselves students. What is the relationship between Shakyamuni Buddha and us? That of teacher and student. In religion, there is no teacher-student relationship.” So I decided to listen more. The more I heard, the more I believed that he was the right teacher for me. Finally, I took his advice: “to have real accomplishment in Buddhism, follow only one teacher,” and decided to learn from him exclusively.
It would turn out to be one of the best decisions in my life. In the Ven. Dharma Master, I found the right teacher for me and from whom I am confident I can learn. He taught me Buddhism, introduced me to the compatibilities between science and Buddhism, and pointed me in a direction that resulted in the writing of this website.
Born dirt poor in a war-torn China in 1927, the Dharma Master did not finish middle school. However, he was an avid reader with a powerful memory. Unfortunately, by college age, he was not only too poor to attend college but also without any credentials to apply for one. Not willing to give up, he wrote a roughly two-thousand-word letter to Dr. Fang Dong Mei, the then-well-known department head of philosophy at China Central University. He asked for permission to audit Dr. Fang’s lectures. The Dharma Master never talked much about what he wrote in the letter, but his essay so moved the professor that he decided to meet with him. After the initial meeting, the professor offered to teach this young man philosophy weekly at his home, free of charge. For three years, Dr. Fang taught his student philosophy and introduced him to the Buddhist philosophy of the Avatamsaka Sutra. He also impressed his student by saying, “studying Buddhism is the highest enjoyment in life. Buddhist philosophy is the peak of philosophy in the world, and Shakyamuni Buddha is a great philosopher in the world.”
The lectures continued until Dr. Fang passed away. His next teacher was Dharma Master Zhang Ja, also known as Tibetan Living Buddha. Like Dr. Fang, Dharma Master Zhang also chose to lecture him privately once a week for free. During their first lecture, Master Zhang taught him a most important lesson that the Dharma Master would often mention throughout his teaching career. Master Zhang Ja said that the principle behind all Buddhist cultivation is “seeing through, letting go,” i. e., see through the true nature of reality to let go of attachments. Dharma Master Zhang also advised his student to leave home and become a monk. Later, the Dharma Master expressed his gratitude for that suggestion in many of his later lectures.
The importance of “seeing through, letting go” can be understood from Buddha’s journey to enlightenment. Buddha had his first meditation as a young prince sitting by a tree. This meditation allowed him to see through the transient nature of all existence. This understanding prompted the prince to let go of his life of luxury, power, and comfort to become a mendicant monk in search of a solution to the existential suffering of humanity.
By the time he sat under the Bodhi Tree and meditated, Buddha had sought the advice of the best gurus of his time and spent six years torturing himself in search of the solution. Eventually, he realized that none of them was helpful. So, he let go of all that he had learned and suffered and discovered that his mind was all he needed to be enlightened.
It is not to suggest that we all must abandon everything and become mendicant monks in search of enlightenment. However, it does mean that even if your goal is not to seek enlightenment, seeing through to the impermanence of everything and that nothing is worthy of craving will at least make your life calmer and enjoyable. You can enjoy what you have but should consider being altruistic as a way of letting go.
“People facing death don’t think about what degrees they have earned, what positions they have held, or how much wealth they have accumulated. At the end, what really matters is who you loved and who loved you. That circle of love is everything, and is a great measure of a past life.” Bernadine Healy
Again, this lasted until Master Zhang passed away. The Dharma Master’s third teacher was a well-known lay Buddhist teacher in Taiwan, Mr. Lee Bing Nang. He taught his students to learn Buddhist sutras and how to lecture on them. During his time with Mr. Lee, he decided to make teaching Buddhism his future career. Taking Master Zhang’s advice, he also left home during that time.
The Dharma Master’s decision to make teaching Buddhism his career was simple; he wanted to emulate Buddha. After his enlightenment, Buddha focused his entire life on teaching what he realized. Indeed, what can be better than imitating Buddha to be true to Buddhism? Indeed, the Dharma Master kept his pledge and taught almost daily for over sixty years until a few months before he passed away. In my opinion, this alone deserves our utmost respect.
However, Dharma Master’s budding career teaching Buddhism almost came to a screeching halt before it started. At the time, Buddhist monasteries all over Taipei did not wish to welcome a monk whose stated aspiration was to be a teacher of Buddhism. Most Buddhist followers went to monasteries to attend blessing rituals instead of learning what Buddha had to say. The vast portion of the income that monasteries received came from these worshipers, not followers desiring to learn the doctrines of Buddhism. Significantly fewer people were interested in deep Dharma talks; therefore, giving Dharma talks was not revenue-generating.
In the end, even after his followers searched all over Taipei intensively for a monastery that would accept him, they failed to find one. The Dharma Master was close to deciding to secularize when, luckily, a benefactor, Ms. Han Ying, came forth just in time and supported him for thirty years.
In this video, the Dharma Master almost secularized, the Ven. Dharma Master Jing Kong talked about this pretty rough period just as he began his teaching career.
However, during those thirty years, the Dharma Master sharpened his skill in teaching Buddhist sutras. Starting with few listeners, he eventually reached millions of followers worldwide by incorporating modern technologies into his teaching. Master Jing Kong kept updating them as the technologies advanced. From cassettes to DVDs, he would finally own satellites to broadcast his lectures to his students worldwide. During those thirty years, the Dharma Master could focus on teaching while enjoying what he jokingly called the three-nos, “no management of people, no management of matters, and no management of money,” as Ms. Han took care of them all.
Also, true to his original intention, the Dharma Master focused on his teaching and never actively participated in Buddhist ceremonial rituals. When he did attend one, it was to give Dharma talks on the foundational principles behind the ceremonial rituals. After the Dharma talk, he would leave before the ceremonies began.
During his youth, Buddhist sutras were privileged possessions of monasteries. At that time, he had to travel to the monasteries and copy sutras by hand so he could learn from them later. Yet, during his teaching career, Dharma Master Jing Kong published Buddhist sutras by the millions and distributed them freely worldwide to his followers and non-followers alike. By the end of his teaching career, the Dharma Master had single-handedly changed both situations. Today, the number of Buddhist monks giving Dharma talks has exploded, and Buddhist sutras are widely distributed around the world.
When traveling to give lectures, the Dharma Master only asked his audience to cover his travel costs, lodging, and meals. He would return any excess donations to the sponsoring organizations or re-donate them to other charities, such as hospitals and schools. During his career, the Dharma Master must have donated millions of US dollars to other charities.
The Dharma Master actively promoted interfaith harmony and cooperation among the world’s religions, especially during his time in Singapore and Australia. For his support of interreligious harmony and cooperation work, the Dharma Master received many honorific titles, including the Honorary Doctor of University, Honorary Professor from Griffin University, and Honorary Doctor of University and Adjunct Professor from the University of Queensland. Since 2005, the Dharma Master has attended numerous events and conferences at UNESCO, promoting world peace and interfaith harmony, celebrating Buddha’s birth, etc. Furthermore, according to the International Federation for Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue, “in July 2017, in order to support the educational ideas of “advance religious cohesion, revive religious education, promote culture and traditions” advocated by the Master and promote and communicate them within UNESCO, the ambassadors initiated the motion of establishing an interfaith office for the Master, so that his ideas will be spread and practiced in more places around the world. It is reviewed and authorized by UNESCO and is named as “Association of Master Jing Kong’s Friends at UNESCO.” It is indeed an immense honor in the recognition of the Dharma Master for his tireless work toward interfaith harmony and cooperation.
Sadly, the Dharma Master passed away peacefully on July 26, 2022, at the age of 95.
I owe Dharma Master Jing Kong all I know about Buddhism, for which I will forever be grateful. Furthermore, I want to dedicate this website to his memory and honor and to support his instructions that Buddhism is not a religion but an education from our historical Buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha. Without question, studying Buddhism and science together confirms the Dharma Master’s idea that Buddhism is Buddha’s education that is “perfect and complete.” It is not an exaggeration. The term “perfect and complete” represents a clearly defined knowledge level in Buddhism.