Global Buddhist Village - Wujimen, Russia

Global Buddhist Village - Wujimen, Russia

In 1998 and 2003, Master Sheng Yen visited Saint Petersburg and Moscow respectively to give guidance for local Buddhist practitioners, introducing Chan teachings into Russia. Over the past 19 years, how have his Russian disciples helped spread the seeds of Chan Buddhism and progressed with their practice? This in-depth interview with Sasha and Rinya, leaders of Wujimen Martial Art School and Buddhist organization in Saint Petersburg, will give you a glimpse of how Chan practice already constitutes part of their daily life.

Part I:Encountering with Master ShengYen in Russia

Q: How did you get to know Master Sheng Yen? What are your memories of “Shifu” (Referring to Master Sheng Yen) and how has he affected your life?

Sasha: My disciples brought some Polish magazine to me. This was in 1997. It contained a short article about the Master's activities, but most of all I liked his photograph. An idea emerged to invite him to Saint Petersburg, however it seemed a pure fiction: how would a man like him respond and come to us?... Nevertheless we wrote an invitation letter on behalf of Wujimen, my school of martial arts, and a small local Buddhist organization named ''Dharma''. Sometime later we received a response saying he was ready to visit us.

Everything I had read about Chan, the teachers and patriarchs before meeting Shifu, became alive and embodied in him – in the way he was speaking, moving, looking. It was astounding how softness and power combined in him. He had a very subtle sense of humor and attention to what was going on, down to the smallest detail. Only with time could I appreciate his simplicity: at that time we had no idea whatsoever of how a Master of such level should be received and must have made glaring mistakes, but he in no way hinted at that, nor did he make us feel the awkwardness of the situation at all. After the retreat held by Shifu in Saint Petersburg in 1998, me and my disciples made a small traditional wushu performance for him, Guo Gu Shi and Guo Yuan who accompanied the Master. After that a lunch was arranged at my home, during which Sheng Yen asked me what possibilities I saw for the Chan practice development in Saint Petersburg. I said, in my opinion, one can approach the Chan practice through an interest in martial arts, for example, i.e. through what I was doing myself and what I could teach others. Shifu approved such vision.

After my acquaintance with Shifu a feeling appeared in my practice that there was a Teacher, a living man, not a book. And a hope emerged that meetings with him were a reality and we even agreed on that. In 1999 when I moved to Moscow, the feeling of being connected to the Teacher and the possibility of his support resulted in me holding monthly one-day retreats for my pupils. This was aided by the understanding that if our practice would strengthen through this, he would come again to help us. And this is exactly what happened in 2003.

Rinya: I did not have the opportunity to meet Master Sheng Yen in person: I met Sasha in 2004, while the Teacher's last visit had taken place a year before. When we invited him again in 2009, he was willing to come, but never managed to because of health issues. After meeting Sasha I started practicing meditation. Sometime later we became husband and wife. You can always find a photo of Sheng Yen at our home altar. Earlier I had often sensed that Shifu was giving me a look of reproach. I was feeling there was some barrier between him and me, I could not manage to start perceiving him as a living and close person. This ice started melting away after I read the book “Wisdom of Chan”, translated by Vadim and edited by us the last year, and continued to do so thanks to Jinghou Fashi. At her very first public lecture I had a steady feeling of meeting the Shifu. Having not known him personally, I had a feeling that Fashi was carrying him within herself with great clarity, expressing him through herself. After I have shared these impressions with Sasha he said he had the same feeling. After a living Teacher entered my life I felt connection to a chain of people carrying and passing on the tradition, and that our school is not a secluded and limited little world, but a gate – as indicated by its name, Wujimen. This provides a great incentive, inspiration and support in practice.

Extended Reading

Part II Learning and benefiting from Chan Buddhism
Part III Challenges and opportunities to practice Chan Buddhism in Russia
Part IV Continuation of Chan practices in the family

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