Fo Guang Shan seen through Telescope and Microscope

---- Yao and Gombrich


FGS (“Buddha’s Light Mountain”) is the largest of several Buddhist movements in today’s Taiwan which draw their inspiration from the “Humanistic Buddhism” of the mainland Chinese monk Tài Xū (1890-1947). It was founded in 1967 in southern Taiwan by the Master Hsing Yun (b.1927), also from the mainland, who came to Taiwan as a refugee in 1946. Initially FGS was almost exclusively for monastics, but a lay branch, the Buddhist Light International Association (BLIA), was founded for the laity in 1991 and both organizations have spread across the globe. 

The Master is both charismatic and immensely practical, combining aspects of Chinese cultural conservatism with imaginative flexibility to adapt to modern tastes and requirements.

So active and varied an organization cannot easily be summarised, so we are writing a series of articles on some of its aspects. In this paper we try to combine a view of it as if seen through a telescope, i.e., viewed as a whole, with a close up of detailed features which have built it up over time.

In the telescopic view, we suggest that in many different ways the FGS offers its followers features which prima facie appear to contradict each other. Sometimes this may be a matter of ambivalence, sometimes an astute realisation that a religious or political movement has a better chance of success if it answers disparate requirements.

When we apply our microscope, we hope to enhance understanding by summarising the careers and contributions of ten members of the movement: five nuns, two monks, and three laity. We also offer details of the movement’s organization, which combines a Chinese hierarchic flavour with a somewhat modernised (rationalised) Confucian style bureaucracy. 

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