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A Holy One for All: A Tribute to the Most Venerable Sheng Yi

Today on the 3rd of August, the Most Venerable Sheng Yi (?t?@?ѩM?|) passed away peacefully at 2:46am, aged 88 (according to the Western calendar. Tradition adds three years, including the additional year according to the Chinese calendar, putting his age at 92). The Most Venerable was a representative of the Buddha who was dear to the hearts of many. A short tribute such as this cannot hope to cover all the complex facets of the Most Venerable’s life, but perhaps it can be said that such an extraordinary life was primarily that of a witness to the Buddhist tradition and the Buddhist spirit.

Sheng Yi was born on the 13th of November 1922 in Guangdong. He exhibited great compassion during childhood: he would used his pocket money to buy the crickets and birds that were caught or made to fight by his peers, and wept when his family slaughtered chickens during festivities. When he was 16 years old an employee gave him a Buddhist book at his father’s rice shop, and the next day he began to eat only vegetables and invoked the Buddha’s Name constantly. 

At 19 he became a monk with his parents’ permission. He was transmitted the Three-Platform Complete Precepts by the Most Highly Respectful Venerable Xu Yun. In 1958, Venerable Xu Yun passed the bowl and robe to Sheng Yi, and the latter became the 9th Patriarch of the Weiyang House of Ch’an. His Master instructed him to stay in Hong Kong for the spreading of Dharma.

The Most Venerable has seen not only the brutality of the Second World War and the postmodern uncertainty of the 20th Century, but also the consolidation of a cosmopolitan Buddhism in Hong Kong. He was a central figure in the rebuilding of Chinese Buddhism, particularly at Putuo Mountain, various monasteries and temples. Such monasteries include Zhenru Monastery in Yunju Mountain, Wolong Monastery in Xi’an, Zhaojue Monastery in Chengdu, and Pushou Monastery on Wutai Mountain. In 1961, he became the Abbot of Po Lam Monastery on Lantau Island, focusing on revitalizing Ch’an. He renovated it in 1980 (he would also be elected as the Abbot of Po Lin Monastery in 1983, during which he would oversee the construction of the Big Buddha. He resigned in 1990 to return to Po Lam).

Sheng Yi was also the Dharma Master of Sik Hin Hung (?l?Ūk?v), who is himself a beloved teacher in Hong Kong and part of the “new” Buddhist resurgence.

Sheng Yi’s legacy continues through Venerable Hin Hung himself as well as his other students. His life was governed by Dharma and his propagation of the Buddha’s compassionate teachings was, in itself his witness to hope.

Today is a sad day for many, but for the infinitely compassionate Sheng Yi, how he wished his disciples to mourn him would have been neither for too long nor in despair. On his behalf, Buddhistdoor will be providing an online “guestbook of gratitude” for everyone who would like to share in this holy man’s commemoration. Many have been touched by the Buddhist priest’s loving teachings of Dharma and his profound character. The guestbook’s link is here.

Buddhistdoor has also collected his Dharma talks in the format of videos and audio files for anyone who would wish to experience his kind teachings of wisdom. Let us cherish his memory fondly and respectfully.

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