Category Archives: Pilgrimage 2005

Dharma Relatives Explained

John, you ask me what Dharma Relatives are and I realize there may be others who do not know completely what that term means. In the context of this journey to Asia my ‘relatives’ are monks and nuns who share the same religious ancestors. For example, Seck Lee Seng, of Cheng Hoon Teng, where I am at the moment, is my Dharma Aunt by virtue of being the monastic disciple of Seck Kim Seng who also ordained Rev. Jiyu-Kennett into the priesthood back in 1962. They both have the same Master, Seck Kim Seng, who is referred to as my Grand Master and his Master as my Great Grand Master.

After ordination within the Chinese Tradition here in Melaka Rev. Master Jiyu then went on to Japan to be received into the Soto Zen Church to study with and eventually receive Dharma Transmission by Koho Zenji at Sojiji. I thus have two sets of Dharma relatives making my family a very very large one. An interesting part of having this duel Chinese/Japanese background are the different robes used within each tradition.

A note on robes: At present I am wearing the robes used in the Chinese tradition, they are cooler and also I pose fewer questions when I encounter people in temples or on the street. The small kesa for example is worn by Japanese monks but not here in Malaysia, or Taiwan. Explaining the kesa in English takes time and care so explaining it for translation takes even more care, and time. So I decided to wear what everybody else wears here to make life simple and make it easier for people to approach me, I may be a westerner but at least I look like a nun. (I was given Japanese monastic clothing not currently used by us in the Order while in Japan). Each time I receive a new item it is carefully explained to me how to wear it, fold it, put it on take it off etc. etc. and everybody wants me to get it right! What is more there is etiquette about what can be worn ‘outside’ and what is OK within the temple, under certain conditions. Lots to learn. There is even more to say on what I see lay devotees wearing here within the Chinese Tradition however that will have to come in a latter Blogger posting.

We talk about the teachings of Buddhism being ‘transmitted’ from Master to disciple, and the unbroken line of master/disciple connections as the ‘Ancestral Line’. In our tradition particularly, Soto Zen, we emphasis the importance of this line of ancestors. We regard it of paramount importance that what is passed on through the centuries is kept true to the source i.e. we point directly to what Shakyamuni pointed to and encourage others to know what Shakyamuni knew/knows. Well, that may have confused a few of you, hopefully not too much, and maybe also given you a glimpse into how the monastic Sangha is organized. I guess it is obvious that the seniority of monks is based on ordination date and that the basis of keeping harmony in the Sangha is mutual respect, mutual bowing.

So, coming full circle, this journey has been an opportunity to pay my respects to those who have gone before me and to those who travel the path of Buddhism in this Dharma Family now. It has included sites in Japan, Malaysia and China, and living relatives in a number of the countries I have been to. During temple visits as my poor brain staggers to catch up with me I realize, once again, that I am in the presence of yet more Dharma Relative.

Writing all of this makes what I was shown this afternoon in the Seck Kim Seng Memorial Library and Archive all the more interesting. After six hours out in the heat on tour in Melaka with Shih Fu I stumbled into the library on my way to take a short break. To cut a long afternoon of adventure short I believe I have just been shown certificates passed on from Master to Disciple at the time of ordination and transmission dating back to the time my Great Grand Master was authorized to teach by his Master way back in China at a temple called Fu Ching on Kui Shang (Turtle Mountain) in Hokkien Province. I know Iain will be noting down this information and diving for a map! I have come to appreciate maps too Iain!

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On the road with Shih Fu – Malaysia

On the road with Shih Fu. This wonderful monk traveled with us for over 24 hours. At 85 years he was an inspiration. Any English he knows was taught him by Rev. Master Jiyu…more on that when I get a chance to talk about that three day journey to Penang…

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Venerable Seck Lee Seng – Melaka

Seck Lee Seng with one of her five sisters at the bus station.

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The Venerable Chung Zern of Chen Yen Szu, Taiwan.

Back to Taiwan, how many days was that ago! A small group of us went to this temple towards the end of my stay in Taiwan. There was a bit of a problem as we approached the temple. I’d quite forgotten to take off my slippers when leaving the city temple and a solution had to be found which involved me in switching shoes with the lay woman with us. The car load could not be convinced that the same problem then existed for the lay woman, i.e. the wrong shoes.

This was rather a brief visit. We looked round the new temple which had been completed about two years ago. It was really very nice looking however, it was explained to us, not very practical in design. One example of this was a big water feature running through the temple buildings which they could not use. Problem being that frogs had started to breed and kept everybody awake at night. Also there was fears of killing the frogs during cleaning…so they have a permanently dry water feature!

We had lunch with the disciples of the Abbess in the kitchen and the rest of the visiting nuns and lay devotees had theirs in a large room off the kitchen. It was all open to the outdoors and very very hot. As we talked about the temple and the multiple problems they had with its design, building and maintenance it emerged that they actually all still lived in the old temple. They preferred it over the new one as it was more comfortable and familiar to them. I was really touched by this small band of nuns training together up a mountain. They were very pressing in wanting me to stay longer or to come back to stay longer in the future. I must confess I did entertain the idea for a few moments however it is unlikely I’d be able to do that. What a beautiful setting and, as it happened, just across the valley from the mountain temple of my host for the weeks stay in Taiwan.

In this mountain area of Taiwan there are many temples small and large, the area is called Puli.

Rev. Chung Zern with her disciple walk in the new temple. Rev. Chung Zern is a disciple of Rev. Kim Seng and my Dharma Aunt. She is one of only three female disciples of Rev. Kim Seng. The other three being Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett (the first one) and Rev. Seck Lee Seng of Cheng Hoon Teng, Melaka.

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Part of this journey involves finding a fast Internet connection to ‘upload’ photographs. I am starting to think the one I have at the moment comes at too high a price! I am not sure what the word is to describe what is simply a very ‘interesting’ situation at this very moment.

Cheng Hoon Teng is ‘historic’, many tourist visit it each day and when they step through the temple gate and enter the main shrine room it is like stepping back in time. Here is ancient China and Buddhism (as well as a couple of other religions too it would seem) kept alive by the faithful in this town. There is a minor city road at the front of the property and a very major one running along the back. So much traffic on a narrow road. Thankfully the road is only about one and half car widths, + a few motor bikes, wide so crossing it to get to this Internet Cafe was not completely death defying! However now here and connected, embraced as I am by surround sounds, I question the wisdom of slipping out of the back door of the temple in search of fast connectivity.

Let’s see now, the cars, tour buses, motorbike, bicycles, lorries and people on foot pass on two sides within feet of where I sit typing this. The cafe, having walls on only two sides the rest only closed by wooden shutters at night is hot and humid. Just to my left is a water feature, blessed water pouring from a bamboo pipe into a circular stone then cascading into a large pottery bowl. The loud Mexican music from the speaker just above my head is the real test! I see that the temperature is a mere 32c. What I thought was steam pouring from the building I now realize is water being sprayed onto the outside tables which are on the pavement. This, yes this is to keep the customers cool, wonderful!

So there you have it, a block away an ancient temple opens it’s doors to all comers to make their bows and say their prayers, offer joss sticks, light candles and offer oil to keep the eternal light burning. Then here, a couple of hundreds yards through the temple complex, a wireless internet connection. They are called ‘hotspots’ by the way!

The fact that this journey can be shared through the medium of the Internet adds a dimension, of offering I guess, that simply seems ‘good’ to do. It does take working at and I am only so glad and grateful that I am able to continue to type…and remain on my feet! Not both at the same time of course.

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