Healing Experiences of Vipassanā Practitioners in Contemporary China, Case study 2

Elsa Ngar-sze Lau 劉雅詩

Ngar-sze Lau is a PhD candidate at the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion at Lancaster University. Her thesis examines the emergence of Theravāda meditation communities in contemporary China.

This is a case study that is part of a series of linked posts:
Introduction, case 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Case 2: Wu Jianhong

After the experience of curing sub-arachnoid hemorrhage, a life-threatening condition in 2013, Wu Jianhong, a 50-year-old civil servant, has changed his lifestyle rigorously. He was still impressed about the shocking moment: “I visited a medical doctor after having a long-term serious headache. After the assessment, I was shocked that when he asked me: ‘Do you have any religious belief? You’d better have one as you cannot do much either office or labour work in future.’ I said I didn’t know that as I have never explored any religions. The doctor said he became a Christian after studying abroad in France and the United States. I said that I was not interested in Christianity. I think that I may be interested in Buddhism.”

Wu then reflected on his previous lifestyle: “I remember that I used to experience mental stress from my office work. And I was quite frustrated about my unsatisfied achievement, such as my financial situation and social status. Then I was pessimistic about many things in my life. And I started some unhealthy habits. For example, I addicted to gambling and drinking. [However,] when I was sick, I thought it was time to understand my life again. I started thinking: why do human beings live with suffering?”

“What are the origins of suffering? … I had never thought about that. I spent most of my time on work, entertainment and drinking. From the book, I remember a quote. ‘The source of suffering is an attachment to self.’ ……When we compare with others [about our achievement], we experience mental stress and suffering…… I finally understand that the cause of suffering is ‘the self’.” Wu Jianhong received a few books about Buddhism before the operation. After returning home from the hospital, he read Heart Sutra and Human Wisdom, a book written by Venerable Jiqun, the abbot of the Xiyuan Monastery in Suzhou. As he knew the great variety in Buddhist practices, he had an idea of exploring a way of practice. From reading The Diamond Sutra[i] and the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, he found that meditation was suitable for him. When his body was recovering, Lu visited Xiyuan Monastery to attend his first one day meditation retreat with Mahasī’s vipassanā method. “I remember that when I registered for the activity, I kept a very pious mind. It was so fortunate that I was selected to join the meditation retreat. ……Since then, I have learned to practice mindfulness at the present moment.”

As Jianxi Province is more close to his home, Wu then visited Yunshan Monastery in Jianxi for about three times every year to join seven-day or ten-day vipassanā meditation retreats.(See Fig. 1 and Fig. 2) For example, he first attended seven-day retreat led by Sayadaw U Indaka, a Burmese vipassanā teacher who practices with Chanmyay Sayadaw’s method.[ii] He also explored some books on vipassanā meditation. ‘Venerable Juexing gave me two books: Don’t Look Down on the Defilements and Dhamma Everywhere.[iii] After reading them, I felt that [the practice] is the same as that of Platform Sutra. I have already found my way of practice. I do not need to explore anywhere. I can understand my life.” To him, the practices of the Northern School and the Southern School are the same. “I am willing to learn whatever is beneficial to me…….I will check that whether the practice is about the Fourth Noble Truth, the Eightfold Path and the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination.” He does include the practice of reciting the Buddha’s name of the Pure Land tradition. When he is agitated, he practice meditation. “I calm down myself, and practice observing the breath. There are many ways of practices, for example, bringing awareness to some parts of the body.”

Wu Jianhong has cut off all his habits of gambling, smoking and drinking. Instead of spending time on entertainment, he enjoys practicing Buddhism and meditation. “In daily life I think, if Buddhist practice cannot be brought into daily life, it is difficult for us to survive in this society.” However, most of his family members, including his father, siblings and his wife, misunderstand his big change. “They even slander [me]. Yet I continuously insist [my practice]. Why? It has been greatly beneficial to me, including my body recovery. It support the recovery of my body and mind. I can see the changes. I used to have bad temper. Now I rarely lose my temper.” Despite the existing misunderstanding of Buddhism in the society, Wu does not intend to argue with those people. “I try to do my best about what I need to do. I think it shows how I have changed with Buddhist practice.”

[i] Ch. Jingangjing; Skt. Vajracchedikā-prajñāpāramitā-sūtra

[ii] Sayadaw U Indaka is the disciple of Chanmyay Sayadaw following the lineage of Mahāsi Sayadaw.

[iii] See U Tejaniya 2014.

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