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Taiwan’s Fo Guang Shan Shares Light of Engaged Buddhism During the Pandemic

Rev. Miao Bo, head monastic at the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple in Perth, Australia. From
Rev. Miao Bo, head monastic at the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple in Perth, Australia. From

With many countries, communities, and medical systems becoming quickly overwhelmed by efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, the Taiwan-headquartered international Buddhist organization and monastic order Fo Guang Shan has been actively leveraging its extensive global network of socially engaged Buddhist monastics and laypeople in order to offer relief, guidance, and refuge to affected individuals, communities, and frontline caregivers. Although the true scope of its efforts cannot be detailed here, we offer these few selected examples of its skillful works and initiatives.

While many nations were still scrambling to assess and respond to the emerging novel coronavirus, Buddhist nuns at the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple in Perth, Australia, took early action against the rapid spread—weeks ahead of the Australian authorities—based on their knowledge of preventive measures from their experiences with the 2003 SARS epidemic. 

The temple halted regular services in February (more than a month before the government banned public gatherings), and began disinfecting surfaces daily, providing hand sanitizers, and implementing temperature checks for all visitors. In addition, the resident nuns began streaming religious services live over Facebook, and sharing lectures and sutras via WhatsApp. Such pre-emptive actions may have been particularly significant as religious gatherings have since become recognized as a common hotspot for the contagion.

“Our devotees can stay at home but continue to have Dharma services,” Rev. Miao Bo, the temple’s head monastic, was quoted as saying. “We think this is important for them because during this outbreak there is a lot of panic. The Dharma service can provide them calmness.” (SBS News)

Distributing face masks in Malaysia. From
Distributing face masks in Malaysia. From

Fo Guang Shan is a Buddhist monastic order founded in Taiwan in 1967 by the renowned monk and teacher Master Hsing Yun, and now has an international network of Buddhist temples and communities. By promoting the philosophy of Humanistic Buddhism, which focuses on integrating engaged Buddhist practices into everyday life, Fo Guang Shan has been recognized for its efforts to modernize Chinese Mahayana Buddhism and for operating one of the largest charity organizations in Taiwan, which carries out charitable and humanitarian work across the world. Master Hsing Yun has previously stated that he views Fo Guang Shan as an “amalgam of all Eight Schools of Chinese Buddhism.”

During the early days of the outbreak in Malaysia, Fo Guang Shan sponsored a nationwide initiative to distribute 100,000 protective face masks. Such was the demand, with masks in the local market already sold out due to panic-buying, that people were reported to have queued for as long as two hours. Each member of the public received seven masks from Fo Guang Shan—a week’s supply.

Over the month of April, the Buddha’s Light International Association – New Jersey Chapter (BLIA-NJ), distributed thousands of disposable and reusable protective face masks to healthcare workers and caregivers in the US. In April alone, two shipments of disposable masks—one of 100,000 masks and second of 500,000—were delivered to the United States and distributed among North American BLIA chapters, including 20,000 distributed throughout New Jersey by the BLIA-NJ.

“The complete donation effort was organized by the Buddha Light International Association World Head Quarter in Los Angeles. All the medical masks were donated by the Master Hsing Yun Cultural and Educational Foundation. . . . ,” said Paul Tong, president of the Fo Guang Shan temple in New Jersey. “During this COVID-19 pandemic, it is a very difficult time for everybody, particularly the frontline medical workers. We wanted to offer masks to help medical workers protect themselves and also want to help people . . . avoid any possible chances of contagion. Being a Humanistic Buddhist, giving people hope, giving people joy, giving people convenience, and giving people confidence are always our behavior guidelines, given by Master Hsing Yun.” (TAP into Hillsborough)

Established by Master Hsing Yun in 1992, the BLIA is an international NGO of monastics and lay Buddhists dedicated to enacting engaged Humanistic Buddhism, with a commitment to equality, respect for others, and social progress, and encouraging collective action that scales solutions to benefit the environment and future generations.

Medical workers with donations from Fo Guang Buddhist Temple Boston. From
Medical workers with donations from Fo Guang Buddhist Temple Boston. From

The Center for Buddhist Studies at the University of Arizona in April expressed gratitude to Fo Guang Shan’s Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, California, for donating personal protective equipment for faculty and students: “We would like to thank Fo Guang Shan Hsi Lai Temple once again for this compassionate act as we stand together to overcome the unprecedented obstacles. We look forward to getting through soon. Our hearts knit as one. Stay calm and healthy.” (Center for Buddhist Studies, University of Arizona)

Also in April, Fo Guang Buddhist Temple Boston in Massachusetts sent 11,000 medical items, including 10,000 surgical masks, to Mount Auburn Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, city of Cambridge, Cambridge Police Department, Cambridge Fire Department and Professional Ambulance Service. Later that same month, the temple received another 20,000 items of medical supplies, and donated 15,000 masks and 2,000 pairs of gloves to Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Mount Auburn Hospital.

On 30 April, the temple donated 2,500 surgical masks to Sancta Maria Nursing Facility, Neville Place Assisted Living and Compass Memory Support, Neville Center at Fresh Pond for Nursing and Rehab, and Chinese South Cove Manor at Quincy Point Rehabilitation Center. The temple also donated 2,000 N95 masks and 2,000 surgical masks to the city of Cambridge.

As New Zealand moved to gradually ease lockdown restrictions in May, Fo Guang Shan New Zealand donated hundreds of protective face masks to schools to support moves to reopen. Monastics from Fo Guang Shan’s New Zealand temple pledged to uphold the “giving” spirit of Humanistic Buddhism and to help the local community to fight the pandemic through acts of kindness.

Hospital workers in Toronto have received medical equipment from Fo Guang Shan. From
Hospital workers in Toronto have received medical equipment from Fo Guang Shan. From

On 31 May, Fo Guang Shan Temple of Toronto reported that its “COVID-19 Emergency Fund,” set up in April, had donated a ventilator valued at C$53,000 (US$39,000) to the Scarborough Health Network, as well as C$25,000 (US$18,500) to Trillium Health Partners Foundation to be used to provide urgently needed protective equipment and other medical items for frontline workers. The donations were made with support from the International BLIA Headquarter and funding from the “Buddha’s Light International Association Emergency Relief Fund.”  

At the time of writing on 3 June, global confirmed COVID-19 infections were reported to have reached 6.4 million, with 380,318 deaths so far recorded and 2.7 million recovered.* The World Health Organization in March estimated the mortality rate from the virus at 3–4 per cent, based on incomplete and preliminary data, with the elderly and people with underlying health conditions considered most at risk. More recent data suggests that the mortality rate may be significantly lower, however studies are inconclusive due to variations in COVID-19 testing procedures in different countries, and differing methodologies for classifying and reporting COVID-19 as a cause of death.

Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU)

See more

Fo Guang Shan Monastery
Buddha’s Light International Association
Thousands of Face Masks Donated by Budda’s Light Association (TAP into Hillsborough)
Announcement: Distribution of Protective Masks Donated by Fo Guang Shan Hsi Lai Temple (Center for Buddhist Studies, University of Arizona)
Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Tempe NZ donated Facemasks to Schools Supporting the community for opening (Fo Guang Shan New Zealand)
These Buddhist nuns in Perth saw coronavirus coming – and took action (SBS News)
Sin Chew Daily distributes 100,000 face masks sponsored by Fo Guang Shan as market is short of masks (ANN)
Buddhist Temple Boston donates medical supplies to residents (Wicked Local)
Support Hospitals in Fight Against COVID-19 (Fo Guang Shan Temple of Toronto)

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