Nurturing the roots of Chinese Buddhism in Africa – Buddhistdoor Global

I was born Simon Manase Masauko in Malawi on April 23, 1978. I received the name Dharma Ben Xing, which means “awakening” or, more literally, “the original root of awakening”, in 2000 from the famous Buddhist monk Venerable Master Hui Li, the first Mahayana monk from Taiwan to come to Africa and spread humanistic Buddhism.

Fri. Master Hui Li, who had a vision to plant the seeds of Buddhadharma among the youth of Africa, is one of the founding members of the African Buddhist College, which has since trained more than 500 monks from Congo, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, South Africa and Zimbabwe. He is also the founder of Amitofo healthcare centers in Africa and around the world.

I was first inspired to study Dharma after reading the book Mayflower II, On the Buddhist Journey to Liberation by CT Chen, who enlightened me on many aspects of life and the unique approach and philosophy of Buddhism, and in 1999 I became one of six people in Malawi to undertake a three-year monastic training at the African Buddhist College in South Africa. While in college, the first challenge we encountered was adjusting to cultural differences including language and, most importantly, new religious beliefs, as I am originally of Christian descent.

Ben Xing. Image courtesy of the author
Ben Xing, right, with a fellow practitioner.  Image courtesy of the author
Ben Xing, right, with a fellow practitioner. Image courtesy of the author

We have studied and practiced Humanistic Buddhism, which derives from Mahayana Buddhism. We started our day by getting up at 5:30 am for spiritual practices. The first session sang sutras and mantras at 6 a.m. We had breakfast at 7 am, followed by monastic work. Classes started at 8 a.m. Lunch was served at noon and classes resumed at 2:00 p.m. and ended at 3:50 p.m., after which free time was followed by dinner at 5:30 p.m. and self-study at 7:00 p.m. Before ending each day at 10 p.m., we practiced Samatha meditation from 9 p.m. to 9.45 p.m. Later, I encountered the same practices when I continued my studies in 2002 at Tsung-Lin Male University in Taiwan under the monastic order of Fo Guang Shan. We have been asked to abide by the five precepts by which all Buddhists live, refraining from harming living beings, taking what is not given, sexual misconduct, lying and gossip, and consuming intoxicating substances.

Ben Xing, right, with a fellow practitioner.  Image courtesy of the author
Ben Xing, right, with a fellow practitioner. Image courtesy of the author

The main teachings of the Bodhisattva path are practiced for the purpose of Buddhahood and salvation for all sentient beings. In 2003, I continued my studies in Myanmar, practicing Theravada Buddhism at the Theravada International Buddhist Missionary University, where the teachings focused on self-salvation, vigorous meditation, and becoming one. arhat. When I compare and contrast these two Buddhist traditions, I firmly believe that most of the basic concepts are the same, the most notable differences being some aspects of daily life and the routines of monks and nuns. For example, in Mahayana, monks eat food prepared in a communal kitchen, while Theravada monks collect alms door to door.

From my point of view, there are a number of difficulties and obstacles to the dissemination of the Buddha’s teachings in Africa, although the Dharma itself is very applicable, complete and perfect. This is because Buddhism, unlike other religions, does not actively seek to preach or convert people to follow its teachings. Compared to other major religions in Malawi, such as Christianity and Islam, which actively proselytize, I consider Buddhism to be relatively isolated and believe the teachings will remain unpopular among Africans for some time to come. Additionally, many of the Buddhists I have met over the past 15 years have unfortunately been quite self-centered and individualistic and it sometimes seems that Buddhism has lost some of its humanistic qualities, even though it teaches the supreme wisdom of compassion. . , ethical responsibility and prajna (wisdom), which can uplift human beings towards liberation and enlightenment.

In the minds of the majority of Africans, the spiritual life focuses primarily on the belief in supernatural powers, and evil is believed to come from the influence of Satan. Due to this mindset, it is very difficult for ordinary Africans to understand and accept the role of cause and condition, effects and consequences, hence karma and karmic retribution. These subtly deep fundamental concepts are difficult for most people to grasp, yet I firmly believe that intellectuals with the capacity to understand could provide a platform for imparting Buddhist teachings.

Master Hsing Yun and Master Hui Li with African Buddhist disciples.  Image courtesy of the author
Master Hsing Yun and Master Hui Li with African Buddhist disciples. Image courtesy of the author

Because of its willingness to assimilate traditional cultural practices, Buddhism has been accepted with relative ease in many societies. For example, in Sri Lanka he assimilated Sri Lankan culture, in China he assimilated Chinese culture, in Nepal he assimilated Nepalese culture, etc. Nonetheless, I believe it is difficult for Africans to fully understand and accept a religion which adopts their cultural values ​​but lacks the concept of a supernatural God. I believe that the teachings should be decentralized and encompass many African traditions and cultures, while adopting and borrowing some concepts from Christianity and Islam, in order to be fully accepted and appreciated by Africans. Additionally, people who seek to spread Buddhism in Africa speak Chinese and perform sermons, chants, and other Buddhist activities in Chinese. In my opinion, this language barrier is another key obstacle to the dissemination of the Buddha’s teachings in Africa, Malawi being no exception.

If Buddhism could adopt some of the methods and methodologies that the Catholic Church applied in Malawi, I have no doubt that many people would embrace the religion and its deep teachings. In my opinion, the Catholic practice system has similarities to Buddhism in that there are both male and female monastic communities that practice celibacy and adhere to a monastic code of conduct. Catholicism prevailed and flourished in Africa because it accepted African traditions and empowered a certain group of locals as representatives, while their missionaries adopted local customs, eat local food and speak local languages. The Catholic Church has benefited and still benefits the locals nationally, as I take Buddhism to be conservative in its presentation and think it will be a few decades before it embraces Africans as family members.

Through Dharma, I learned the basics and principles of the Four Noble Truths, dependent origin, equanimity, karma, and karmic retribution – i.e. the law of cause and effect, the love, gratitude, compassion, benevolent love, the art of transferring merits to society, constantly performing positive actions and, above all, the art of calming the mind through Samatha and Vippasana meditation. The Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path are the most fundamental teachings that can rejuvenate body and mind to overcome stress, depression, foster good health, sharpen our mental faculties, and enable us to achieve insight and to apply wisdom in daily life.

Ben Xing, right, with a fellow practitioner.  Image courtesy of the author
Ben Xing, right, with a fellow practitioner. Image courtesy of the author

When practicing seated meditation, mindfulness and concentration are fundamental practices that calm the body and mind. Since most people’s lives are busy, the essence of mindfulness can be practiced in many ways: while driving, one should be aware of all driving procedures and each road user; while eating, one must be attentive to the food and the process of consumption; when speaking, one must be attentive to the speaking process and the words spoken; when we bathe we need to be mindful of the bathing process. To sum up, mindfulness can be practiced through any basic activity. Nevertheless, we should also strive to find time to practice sitting meditation in order to establish a foundation of Samatha which will help us later in cultivating Vipassana observation.

In a nutshell, I am truly grateful to Venerable Hui Li and everyone who positively contributed to the spread of Buddhism in Africa as it not only gave me the opportunity to study and practice the deep teachings of the Buddha, but also made it possible for many students from all over Africa to study Dharma. Buddhism still needs more support in terms of local pioneers who understand the teachings and its concepts on a deeper level and who can pass them on to others. We need resources such as books on Buddhism in English, which can be distributed to all national and private libraries, primary and secondary schools and universities. We must also form local Buddhist associations that can present Buddhist ideas by calling upon graduates of the African Buddhist College to be the torchbearers of Buddhadharma.

Return to Tradition and innovation: Chinese Buddhism beyond Asia Special issue 2016