Dharma Drum Mountain, while based in Taiwan, has retreat centres internationally, each with their monastics and lay teachers who conduct retreats and deliver the Dharma. Annually some of these travel to those countries where DDM retreat centres have not yet been founded in order to bring Ch’an meditation and the Dharma to eager participants. Below is a brief biography of the late Ch’an Master Sheng-yen and of his Dharma heirs who are seen regularly in Europe.
Ch’an Master Sheng Yen 聖嚴法師 (1930–2009), founder of Dharma Drum Mountain, was born in China and was a novice in Shanghai when in order to escape the advance of the Red Army, he joined the Nationalist Army in 1949 which fled the mainland to Taiwan. After serving ten years he became the disciple of Ven. Master Dong Chu who ordained him. His study of Mahayana Buddhism and of Ch’an in combination with his attainment under his Master, convinced him of the need to educate the west in the deep Dharma of Chinese Ch’an. After obtaining his PhD in 1975, he went to the USA where his work then and subsequently to introduce and cultivate the Buddhadharma bore fruit. Due to both his cultivation and his academic attainment he was in high demand such that he travelled almost continually around the world giving instruction in meditation and lecturing in universities. In Taiwan the organisations that he led had outgrown the space allotted and plans for Dharma Drum Mountain (DDM) were prepared which was first realised in 2005. He devoted his time to the development of DDM organisations internationally to promote Ch’an meditation and Mahayana Buddhism which is little understood in the west. Master Sheng Yen embodied the Ch’an Master in that his humility spoke to the degree of his attainment. His grasp of the deep Dharma was such that he could explain difficult concepts simply to audiences of differing understanding. His focus was to enable people to apply the Dharma in everyday life and his vows were to bring make Chinese Mahayana and Ch’an accessible to both Eastern and Western audiences.
Ven. Ji Cheng (继程法师) — Retreat Teacher Ordained by Master Zhu Mo in Penang, Malaysia, Ji Cheng Fashi studied at the Chinese Buddhist College in Taiwan. Following two seven-day retreats with Chan Master Sheng Yen (Shifu) in 1980, a period of fasting at the Institute of Buddhist Culture (Wen Hua Guan) led to a profound experience that he describes as being like ‘a flash of lightning on a dark night’, that gave him a glimpse of the path and destination. “With Shifu’s confirmation, he returned to Malaysia to teach meditation, receiving the Dharma transmission from Chan Master Sheng Yen in 1986. Ji Cheng Fashi is currently the principal of the Malaysian Buddhist Institute, and is one of the most respected meditation teachers in Malaysia and Singapore.
Ji Cheng Fashi’s style of teaching is clear, direct and simple while his approach is modern and relaxed, similar to Master Sheng Yen’s method. His delivery of the Dharma is faithful to the origins of Ch’an, that is, in the Chinese tradition. He currently leads retreats in Southeast Asia and the United States while in Europe he leads retreats in Croatia and Poland which have earned him a high level of esteem. In 2012, by sought-after invitation, his teaching will extend to both Germany and England.
Guo Yuan Fa Shi 果元法师 (Venerable Guo Yuan) (1950- ) was born in Vietnam. He was a senior disciple of renowned Ch’an Master, Venerable Sheng-yen 圣严法师 of Taiwan. In 1983 he first encountered Master Sheng-yen’s teachings while attending a seven-day retreat in New York. He then decided to become a disciple before finally leaving his job in Toronto, Canada, to become a monk in the Ch’an/Chinese Buddhist tradition. He was ordained in 1987 in Taiwan.
He studied Theravada Buddhism for a year in Thailand in 1991. Upon returning from Thailand, he was elected abbot of Dharma Drum Ch’an meditation center in Queens, New York and Dharma Drum Retreat Center in Pine Bush, New York. His responsibilities included attending inter-faith services, teaching meditation, and giving lectures on Buddhism. For over 20 years, he also accompanied and became translator to Master Sheng-yen in various Ch’an meditation retreats in the United States, the Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Russia, and Mexico.
After several years of service in the United States, he is currently the director of the International Ch’an Retreat Center in Dharma Drum Mountain, Taiwan. He is fluent in Mandarin, Vietnamese, and English.
A native New Yorker and current Director of the Dharma Drum Retreat Centre, Chang Wen Fashi is a western monastic disciple of Chan Master Sheng Yen. After his ordination as a novice in 2004, he lived at the Dharma Drum Mountain World Centre for Buddhist Education, Taiwan, and received a monastic education at the Dharma Drum Sangha University. After graduating from the University, he received full ordination in 2006, and then continued to serve as the counsellor for the male students of the Chan Meditation Studies Department. Over this period of training, he attended and assisted with numerous intensive meditation retreats in the Chan Hall and abroad, as well as served as the leader for DDM’s International Meditation Group in Taipei. Chang Wen Fashi holds a Bachelor’s Degree of Science from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. He is fluent in both English and Mandarin and frequently serves as a translator for Ji Chern Fashi.
Guo Gu is one of Master Sheng Yen’s senior and closest disciples, and assisted the master in leading activities at the Chan Meditation Center, Dharma Drum Retreat Center, and Dharma Drum Mountain in Taiwan, and other parts of Europe and Asia.
Guo Gu’s first learned meditation when he was four years old in 1972. He studied with one of the most respected Chinese meditation masters and ascetics living in Taiwan, Master Guangqin (1892-1986). In 1981, due to his family’s relocation, Guo Gu moved to the United States.
In 1982, he began learning meditation from Master Sheng Yen, who was residing in New York at the time. Beginning in 1989, Guo Gu began to attend intensive Chan retreats with him. After the first retreat Master Sheng Yen gave him the Dharma name, Guo Gu, which means, “results from being the valley.” After college, in 1991, Guo Gu was ordained as a monk and became the Sheng Yen’s first personal attendant who traveled with the master wherever he went. In 1995, he received inka (the seal of approval) for his first Chan experience, and was given permission by the master to teach Chan independently. He has subsequently received inka in 1996, 1997, and 2007. He began to represent the master to lead retreats in different parts of the world, such as Sweden and Taiwan. In a chance meeting in June 2007 he also received inka from the Rinzai Zen master, Roshi Noritake Shunan, of the Myoshin-ji lineage.
In 2000, Guo Gu left monasticism and re-entered the world. In 2008, he received his Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from Princeton University and began teaching Buddhism and East Asian religions academically as an Assistant Professor at Florida State University. In 2009, he founded the Tallahassee Chan Group. He is also the guiding teacher for the Western Dharma Teachers at the Chan Meditation Center and the Dharma Drum Lineage. He leads retreats in different parts of the United States and Taiwan.
Chang Sui Fashi — Assistant Teacher Chang Sui Fashi is currently the director of Male Students’ Affairs at Dharma Drum Mountain Sangha University. Earlier, from 2004 till 2008 he studied at this university. Venerable Chang Sui Fashi holds also Civil Engineering B.A. and M.S. Degree from National Chung Hsing University.