Past, Present and Future of Buddha Gate Monastery

jian_shengInterview with the Abbess of Buddha Gate Monastery, Master Jian Sheng

What is the purpose of the monastery? Why is it here and not elsewhere?

The Venerable Master Wei Chueh, founder of our parent monastery, has vowed to help all people understand Buddhism; he was aware that there was not a resource for traditional Buddhist teachings in Western nations. In the year 2000, conditions were ripe when the property in Lafayette, California that was to become Buddha Gate became available. In addition, people in the San Francisco Bay Area were interested in supporting a Chung Tai Chan branch; so, there was a confluence of causes (the Venerable Master Wei Chueh’s great vows to bring Buddha’s teachings to all) and conditions (a suitable property, supportive and interested practitioners). Thus, Buddha Gate became the first Chung Tai Chan international facility in the United States.

The purpose of the monastery is to help people know Buddhism and, above all, help them realize that everyone can truly come to understand and realize their intrinsic pure nature. As the Sixth Patriarch of the Chan School Hui-Neng said, “Although there are northern and southern people, there is no north or south in Buddha nature. A barbarian is physically different from you, but what difference is there in Buddha nature?” Buddhism is about how to develop the mind and the true, pure nature residing in each of us.

In the past ten years, how has Buddha Gate evolved?Abbess

In the past ten years, due to the efforts of many Dharma masters and supporters, there have been many physical changes at Buddha Gate, such as the renovation of the Chan Hall, development of the gardens, and installation of statues. But also, as the first Chung Tai facility in the U.S., Buddha Gate has served as a springboard and support for the development of other U.S. facilities. For example, in 2003, when causes and conditions were right, Master Jian Hu, founding Abbot of Buddha Gate, worked to open the Sunnyvale Zen Center in the South Bay. Buddha Gate, drawing from our diverse East Bay population, where all races and cultures of the world are represented, derives benefits from this diversity. Over the past ten years, hundreds of students have had the opportunity to take classes in Buddhism. Many of them have chosen to take the Three Refuges and identify themselves as Buddhists. Others have gone further and taken the Five Precepts, and advanced practitioners have deepened their practice by taking the Bodhisattva Precepts.

Underlying each of these Buddhist commitments is the altruistic will to help others, so practitioners have chosen to further deepen their practice by “giving”– through volunteering and financial support. Over the years, we have seen a great increase in the number of volunteers, who have found immeasurable joy from working at the monastery. Some help with the meditation and Buddhism classes. Some help with ceremonies and in the Chan Hall as acolytes. Others help with administrative, reception, culinary, or buildings and grounds tasks. Working is meditation too. Everyone’s practice of “selfless giving” is cherished at Buddha Gate.

What do you see in the future of Buddha Gate?

Buddha Gate follows the Buddha’s teaching and the Venerable Master Wei Chueh’s compassionate vows to keep working steadily on this right path. It’s not necessarily easy, but it can be cultivated. We hope that Buddha Gate can go deeper in facilitating the development of each individual’s practice. The monastery wouldn’t be here without the efforts, vows, and support of many people. As Buddha Gate evolves, these same commitments will be called for. The lay disciples and other volunteers continue to give of their time, money, and talents in a very down-to-earth way at Buddha Gate so we can provide the many free classes and open our doors to the community. We provide a living example of a harmonious community that we hope people will emulate in their day-to-day lives outside of the monastery. Under the Venerable Master Wei Chueh’s instructions, we keep working on the right cause. “When the mind is pure, the land is pure.”