Abbot defends role in temple promotion

Updated: 2015-04-08 07:02

By An Baijie(China Daily USA)

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Shaolin's leader has often faced criticism over high profile, business activities

When Abbot Shi Yongxin attended a meeting in early March during the annual session of the National People's Congress, a man came to his desk with two envelopes and asked for his signature on them as a souvenir.

The abbot quickly signed his name, gave the envelopes back and continued with the meeting.

"As a lawmaker, I would rather have my proposals heard than be treated like a celebrity," he said.

Shi, 50, abbot of Shaolin Temple, China's most famous Buddhist monastery, is also a deputy to the National People's Congress.

Unlike other monks, who have always led a reclusive life, Shi has kept a high profile since he became abbot of Shaolin Temple in 1999, and he has often courted controversy. He has been criticized for attending a TV show hosted by a female anchor, using an iPhone, and for the temple's commercialization.

"If a monk often appears on the entertainment page of newspapers, he is not a monk, but just a bald man," a netizen said in a micro blog posted on March 11. The post received 2,600 likes within three days.

Shi was also in the spotlight in February after foreign media disclosed plans by Shaolin Temple to spend $326 million building a cultural center, featuring a luxury hotel, in Australia.

Abbot defends role in temple promotion

The investment plan met with fierce criticism from some netizens, and many people said the Shaolin culture had been overly commercialized by the abbot's string of business activities.

"Even though setting up a Shaolin Temple branch abroad is good for cultural exchanges, there is no need to establish a luxury hotel," a netizen commented on China Daily's website. "We seldom hear about Shaolin's contribution in poverty reduction or disaster alleviation."

The abbot replied that the money was jointly accumulated by Shaolin practitioners, and what the Shaolin Temple cares about is not money but the promotion of Buddhism all over the world.

He said that the Shaolin Temple has established more than 40 cultural centers abroad, where more than 100 Shaolin monks have worked to promote the temple's culture and teach Shaolin kung fu.

"All of the Shaolin cultural centers overseas were built at the invitation of local government, social organizations, and Shaolin practitioners," he said, adding that the temple will build more cultural centers abroad "if there are proper places".

As one of the first Chinese monks to gain an MBA, he was labeled as "CEO monk" for developing business operations, including lucrative kung fu shows and merchandise.

"It's not proper to call monks a CEO or general manager," Shi said in one of the three proposals he submitted at the NPC session this year. In the same proposal, the abbot also called on the public to respect religion.

Shi said that he had to keep a low profile to avoid making "unnecessary trouble" while attending this year's NPC session.

"As long as I open my mouth, the newspapers could distort my words and mislead the public," he said, adding that he had refused interview requests from numerous journalists.

"I am not afraid of being interviewed, but I don't want to be misunderstood."

(China Daily USA 04/08/2015 page6)