Buddhist temple opens to all, is overwhelmed with applicants

Ci'en Temple in Zhejiang province has received over 500 applicants to a special programme that welcomes outsiders interested in Buddhism

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 July, 2013, 5:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 July, 2013, 5:35pm

A quiet Buddhist temple decided to offer admission to civilians who wanted to experience a monk’s life, only to be overwhelmed when more than 500 applicants jumped at the chance.

Ci’en Temple in Tiantai mountain, Zhejiang province, posted an online announcement on June 28, giving any who were interested in Buddhism the chance to temporarily live at the temple free of charge. Underestimating the number of people who would sign up, temple staff immediately found themselves facing hundreds of applications – many from young people.

“It is absolutely beyond our expectations,” Zhidu, the temple abbot, said to the Global Times. “We had thought there would only be around 20 people willing to sign up… But now, we have received as many as 500 applications… Over 60 per cent [of our applicants] were born after 1980, suggesting young people are the major participants.”

Zhidu also explained that while the temple welcomed the applicants, realistic concerns about space were now a major problem.

“We have only eight monks in the temple,” he said. “Even though we can separate [the applicants] into batches, we still have too many to handle. Many of them might have to sleep on the floor.”

Experiencing the lifestyle of a monk is becoming increasingly popular amongst China’s current generation, Director Yang Jianhua of the Zhejiang Academy of Social Sciences explained in an interview with China News Service.

“It’s very difficult for people to meditate and reflect in today’s busy workplaces,” Yang said. “I think that [participating in] Ci’en Temple’s programme is a way to stop one’s footsteps and let the heart be tranquil for a short time.”

Online commentators on China’s Sina Weibo generally agreed with Yang.

“This is a very good activity,” one wrote. “The life of a monk is hard. I have a friend who went through monk training for six months and learned a lot… You have to stay up late, get up early, eat only Tibetan barley bread, and apart from chanting the sutras in meditation, you also must do a hundred rounds of abdominal and pectoral exercises every day. But I can feel my friend’s inner happiness. So to all of those that want to [go to Ci’en] - I strongly encourage them.”

This is not the first time that Ci’en Temple has welcomed outsiders, but applicants in previous years were fewer than 10. Men who wish to stay in the temple must follow a rigorous religious doctrine known as the Novices’ Ten Commandments, and women must abide by separate rules known as the Eight Buddhist Precepts. Living in the temple is completely free, but participants must prepare their own food and monk uniforms.

Trainees are allowed some luxuries, however. They are permitted to bring personal computers into the temple – which surprisingly has a free wi-fi service.