As numbers of closed and destroyed Buddhist venues continue to swell, nuns and monks driven away from them find it agonizingly hard to live in the secular world.
by Zhang Feng
The CCP’s increasingly severe crackdown on religions is especially devastating to Buddhists who have lived most of their lives as monks or nuns.
The 84-year-old abbot at the Dongshan Temple in Qianxi county, administered by Tangshan city in the northern province of Hebei, held the position for 19 years. After the temple was shut down in October 2018, he continued living there secretly because he had nowhere else to go. In March 2019, local officials cut off the temple’s water and electricity, attempting to force him to a nursing home.
“I won’t be allowed to practice Buddhism at the nursing home, and the food there is against Buddhist principles,” the elderly abbot said in tears, adding that he would rather die than move to the nursing home.
Many other Buddhists across Tangshan face a similar predicament, as officials continuously inspect the closed temples to check if monks and nuns take refuge there. Four out of nearly a dozen monks in the Quanshui Temple in Yutian county stayed behind after the temple was shut down. They live crowded in a 4-square-meter shed outside the temple.
“We don’t dare to wear Buddhist robes because we will draw attention and will be driven away,” one of the Buddhists said.
After the Xingchan Temple in the county was shut down, officials often returned to question local Buddhists about the whereabouts of its master, who was in hiding to evade the government’s surveillance.
A Buddhist nun from Qingdao city in the eastern province of Shandong let her hair grow for fear that she would be expelled from the temple if her shaved head drew attention. A fellow nun, surnamed Wang, developed a mental disorder from local officials’ repeated harassment and intimidations.
“Nun Wang is sick with fear, and she can barely walk and is unable to be alone; someone has to accompany her at all times,” a local Buddhist explained.
A former temple director from the central province of Hubei, in his 80s, finds it hard to adapt to the secular life after spending 20 years in the temple. He returned to his hometown to live with relatives after someone reported him to the local authorities in June for burning incense in the temple. He managed to hide a Bodhisattva statue and kowtowed before it every day, asking forgives for leaving the temple. The wound from touching the ground with his forehead is still visible.
“My relatives run a tea restaurant that is noisy all day long; it’s not an appropriate place to chant scriptures,” the elderly man explained. “I’m very distressed and yearn for my former peaceful life.”
“I’m a monk, and only wish to practice Buddhism for the rest of my life,” an octogenarian Buddhist who used to run a temple in Hubei’s Huangshi city said. “The government shut down the temple last year and has attempted several times to drive me away, but I won’t leave the temple.”
The temple’s doors and windows have been barricaded, so the nun made a small opening, through which she got in and out every day. Because she had to carry water through this hole, local Buddhists helped her open the blocked door, but local officials discovered this a few days later and drove the nun away.
“She is a true Buddhist who has served in this impoverished temple with just a few worshippers,” a Huangshi resident said. “Officials are so malicious to disregard her way of life. Just like during the Cultural Revolution, the government destroys the ‘four Olds’ – old customs, culture, habits, and ideas.”
In a remote mountain village under the jurisdiction of Hubei’s Xianning city, officials blocked the door of a small temple with wooden boards and ordered its 82-year-old director to leave. The elderly woman stayed but now has to crawl through a 40-centimeter-high space to get in and out of the temple. This is not easy on her because she moves around with the help of a stick.
“All my belongings are in the temple. Where am I supposed to move them and take shelter myself?” the distraught Buddhist asked.
The CCP-imposed restrictions are also heavily affecting the temples that are not closed down permanently.
“The government exerts strict control now,” explained a nun from a state-approved Buddhist temple in the southeastern province of Jiangxi. “Because many official temples have been closed down due to the pandemic, and worshipers stopped coming, elderly monks have a hard time sustaining their livelihoods.”
“Our temple is closed and receives no income,” a lay Buddhist surnamed Zhou from a registered temple in Hubei’s Xiaogan city said. “Two abbots collect alms every day, but often they receive nothing. The temple survives only thanks to the help of other temples. Entertainment and other activities are allowed in cities, but temples are told to stay shut because of the epidemic. These restrictions are implemented to stop people from worshiping Buddha. If this goes on, the temples will collapse.”