DharmaLib.netEngaged Buddhism & Development

Humanistic buddhism - the practice in Fo Guang Shan

Bhikshuni Chuehmen, Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order

“Humanistic Buddhism is the mainstream of contemporary Buddhism,” comments by Prof., Lai Yung-hai, Head of Department, Research Institute of Japanese Buddhism, and University of Nanjing.

In Taiwan, Master Yin-shun is known for his literary works that promote “human world Buddhism” ( ). In contrast, Master Hsing Yun actualized his ideal by engaging Buddhism with society and spreading it across the globe, just as Master Tai-xu had taught, “It is he people that propagate the Path, not the Path that propagates the people”. I have encountered people asking me, “Why is Fo Guang Shan promoting Humanistic Buddhism? Do you mean Buddhism is not humanistic and that FGS has to promote such?” This is a story, going back to the days in China and Taiwan when Buddhists gradually isolated themselves from society to live in the forest, when monastics maintained their own practices or chanted for the deceased for a living. Over time, it was criticized for being superstitious and backward, and eventually seemed to have lost its connection to society. Subsequently, in the early 20th century, a Chinese monk, Master Tai Xu led a revolt to bring back life into Buddhism. He advocated a “human life Buddhism” ( ). Master Hsing Yun, the founder of Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order, though a young monk then, was very much inspired by Master Tai Xu, the ‘revolutionary,’ so he vowed to help bring Buddhism back into this human world.

In this paper, I would like to give a brief description of the practice of Humanistic Buddhism in Fo Guang Shan and Buddha’s Light International Association, under the guidance of our founder, Venerable Master Hsing Yun.

What is Humanistic Buddhism?

Master Hsing Yun says, “Humanistic Buddhism is a part and parcel of life, not separate from it. The rationale for Humanistic Buddhism derives from the Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, because the Buddha was born, cultivated the path, became enlightened, and strived to enlighten others in this world. For the Buddha, it is this world that should take precedence. He lived among the people, and what he transmitted is Humanistic Buddhism.”

Humanistic Buddhism is the bodhisattva way; to be an energetic, enlightened, and endearing person who strives to help all sentient beings liberate themselves and to transform our world into a Pure Land of peace and bliss. We direct our efforts towards purifying our minds and bodies, right here and now in the present moment. Humanistic Buddhism stresses the purification of life through ethical thought and the elevation of both mind and spirit. If you believe in the law of cause and effect, and practice it in your life, then the law of cause and effect is Humanistic Buddhism. If you believe in compassion, and practice it in your life, then compassion is Humanistic Buddhism.

Master Hsing Yun established the Fo Guang Shan Monastery in the spirit of the four great bodhisattvas [1]. The architectural structure of the shrine building is a traditional design, but the facilities are very modern. It is not just a place for practice or charity, but it combines them with education, the arts and culture in order to attract people from all walks of life.

Guidelines set by Master Hsing Yun

When Master Hsing Yun established Fo Guang Shan Monastery in 1967, he emphasized four objectives, namely:

1. To promote Buddhism through cultural activities,

2. To nurture talents through education,

3. To benefit society through charitable activities, and

4. To purify human minds through Buddhist practice

This has been the guidelines of Fo Guang Shan’s educational, cultural, social and spiritual work across the global. Master teaches the ordained members and lay supporters to base their practice of humanistic Buddhism on emulating the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and on stressing the spirit of humanistic Buddhism, i.e., to:

1. Promote respect and tolerance, and improve harmony in the world

2. Focus on morality and ethics, to encourage practice in everyday life

3. Establish institutions and Buddhist groups

4. Teach humanistic Buddhism, establishing the Buddha’s Light Pure Land

Under the Grand Master’s guidance, FGS has achieved much in all areas since it was established 42 years ago, abiding by the guidelines for the propagation of Humanistic Buddhism. FGS now has more than 200 branch temples [2] around the world and has established over 100 overseas Chinese schools, three universities (University of the West [3], Nanhua [4] and Fo Guang [5] ), and various Buddhist Colleges on five continents. The “Merit Times Daily News” [6] , “Beautiful Life Television” [7] , Fo Guang Publishing, the Devotees Open University, Humanistic Buddhism Reading Association, and many libraries and art galleries have been created with the aim of purifying human minds.

What Master Hsing Yun taught is what the Buddha taught 2500 years ago, and we work to apply it in our daily lives – to be compassionate to all regardless of nationalities, ethnicities, and races. The Buddha taught us to be compassionate, thus we must avoid hurting or killing any living being. The Buddha taught us to have forbearance, thus we must refrain from being hateful or angry. The Buddha taught us to establish positive relationships with others, thus we must not be selfish or uncaring.

With Buddhism as the guide, and using current knowledge as the tool, we can combine conditioned genesis with psychological counseling to help people in the understanding of how to respect life and treasure the human body. We can teach people the concept of cause and effect, and assist them in understanding how to treasure their good fortune, and how to befriend all with humility and gratitude. Our goal is to promote unity, co-existence, co-operation, mutual survival, and positive growth.

In Social Action

When Master Hsing Yun established the BLIA [8] lay organization in 1992, it was to work together with the monastic order – Fo Guang Shan, like a person’s arm or the wings of a bird, to spread blissful seeds throughout the world. Master also set the working principles for members of BLIA, namely to give others confidence, joy, and hope and to render service to others. Giving comes from one’s boundless inner treasure and resources. These guidelines support the broadening of our views, opening of our hearts, and making us willing to take on the responsibility of benefiting all sentient beings. In daily life—either after completing the morning and evening services, ritual functions, or beginning of meal times-we put our practice into repeated reminders, that is, the BLIA Verse:

1. May loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity pervade all Dharma realms.

2. May all beings benefit from our blessings and friendship.

3. May our ethical practice of Chan and Pure Land help us to realize equality and patience.

4. May we undertake the Great Vows with humility and gratitude.

The BLIA verses possess four characteristics of the four great bodhisattvas; the verses are standard, embody the highest virtues, are universal, and are in accord with the Dharma. The four bodhisattvas are our role models and the wisdom (prajna) precepts are our teachers. Compassion, wisdom, vows, and practice are our inspiration. Awakening ourselves and awakening others is our goal. And the Grand Master develops a series of

Buddhist actions to aid the BLIA members in purifying of minds, including:

1. Rediscover our Buddha nature

To discover our Buddha-nature by helping people in finding the kindness, compassion, joy, equanimity, humility and gratitude that they already possess. Organizing lecture series to increase social understanding, broadcasting on radio, on TV and interviewing people from all walks of life, producing educational films, cooperating with the media by inviting people to write essays, and encouraging society to take care of our communities and families.

2. Seven admonitions

a. abstaining from smoking and taking intoxicants
b. abstaining from sexual misconduct
c. abstaining from violence
d. abstaining from stealing
e. abstaining from gambling
f. abstaining from alcohol
g. abstaining from the use of harsh words

The purpose is to purify people’s minds, establish a harmonious society, to stop the use of drugs, and to value ethics and morality in order to establish a peaceful and beneficial life. The main activities include assisting with drug rehabilitation programs, and encouraging everyone in the country to abide by these Seven Admonitions. It is a long-term commitment.

2. The Compassion and Love Program

Encourage BLIA members to teach the Dharma in national halls, schools, prisons, factories, on the streets, etc., spreading the seeds of compassion and love on every corner. To re-establish moral conduct and to re-enhance families, our minds need to be purified. We need to search our consciences and be sincere, in order to tame our society and love our country.

4. Practicing the Three Acts of Goodness

Many disorders in society are due to the holding of incorrect values. Punishment can only temporarily stop the chaos. The real cure for this issue is to promote the concept of cause and effect, so Master Hsing Yun teaches everyone to promote the three acts of goodness, which are: to do good deeds, speak good words, and think good thoughts.
Doing good deeds means cultivation of our bodies. This means not killing, not stealing, not committing sexual misconduct, and not harming others. It means doing kind acts to benefit others, performing virtuous acts, beautiful acts, and beneficial acts. This is how we use our bodies to do good things.

Speaking good words means cultivation of our speech. This means not lying, not using double-tongued speech, frivolous speech, or harsh speech. It means speaking compassionately, rationally, wisely, and truthfully. A person who cultivates speech speaks words of goodness and a truthful speaker, a realistic speaker, who tells it like it is, does not say anything fantastic, and is not a liar.

Thinking good thoughts means cultivation of our minds. This means not having suspicious, jealous, greedy, hateful, or ugly thoughts. It means having thoughts that are compassionate, joyful, determined, kind, and devoted. This is how we use our minds to think good thoughts.

Social action includes offering a worldwide Buddhist examination to guide people in earning more about Buddhism; establishing the Buddha’s Light Reading Association, currently /with more than 2000 study groups worldwide from young to old, and organizing annual summer amps for children, young adults and teachers. Yearly, the BLIA young adults’ international conference is held for young people to gather in a monastery to share and learn about goodness and betterment in life. We also emphasize that the way to develop a healthy child is through exposure to the arts, reading groups, parent-child activities, and so forth. Using art programs, we QCUS on a children’s potential, hopefully leading them to develop their confidence and guiding them towards a positive life path of perceptual and creative ability. To elevate morality, we *ach in prisons, transmitting the precepts to the inmates, communicating with those who have omitted serious offences, and assisting with drug rehabilitation. These activities help inmates discover the right path and eventually rejoin society.


Becoming a Buddhist does not mean merely believing in the Buddha, prostrating oneself to le Buddha, offering flowers or fruit, lighting candles, chanting daily or requesting bliss and blessings upon oneself and one’s family. Becoming a Buddhist is to base one’s whole life upon le development and proper use of an awakened mind. It means we must apply Buddhist teachings in our everyday living. Only then will we possess the entire universe, and be happy and at peace in all that we do. This is true practice of Humanistic Buddhism.

“Master Hsing Yun’s foremost contribution has been in humanizing and popularizing Buddhism, which has brought Buddhism and daily life together. In this way, the promotion of humanistic Buddhism has spread to every part of the world.” This was a comment by Ma Ying-IU, then Mayor of Taipei, now President-elect of Taiwan, during a press conference in August, 003 presided over Wu Po-hsiung (BLIA World HQ Deputy President, current Chair of Taiwan LMT party) to commemorate Master Hsing Yun’s 50 years of teaching the Dharma [9].


[1] Manjushri Bodhisattva, was the embodiment of great wisdom to overcome ignorance. Samantabhadra, Bodhisattva of great deeds, made ten great vows by which he became a role model for the practice of the Bodhisattva Path. Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva made vows to overcome the sufferings and pain of all living beings, and thus manifests countless transformation bodies to heed the cries of this world and liberate all. Kristigarba Bodhisattva embodied the great vow to save all sentient beings in hell from suffering before he attains Buddha-hood

[2] All FGS branch temples, local and overseas, serve as a centre of Buddhist Learning. Besides Buddhist studies, worldly skills are organized for young and old devotees, supporters and BLIA members.

[3] Hsi Lai University in Los Angeles, later renamed University of the West. The Local Educational Board gave its approval in 1991 to take in students. In September, 2002, approval was also granted to issue graduate degrees and organize continuing education. In September, 2001, the University became eligible to offer undergraduate degrees. The University has been granted Candidacy Status in the accreditation process by WASC (the Western Association of Schools and Colleges) by Los Angeles County, California effective July 1, 2002.

[4] Nanhua University – The Ministry of Education gave approval on March 21, 1996 for the Nanhua University to accept applications, and a new semester began on the 29th of the same year (website: www.nhu.edu.tw)

[5] Fo Guang University – This campus is situated at the Chiao-hsi Township in the Ilan County. The foundation stone-laying ceremony was conducted on October 17, 1993, and in September, 2000 and 2001, approval was given to accept graduate and undergraduate students respectively. In 2006, the Ministry of Education accredited the College of Buddhist Studies

[6] Merit Times Daily – launched on April 1st, 2000. It is the first daily newspaper ever established by a Buddhist organization in Taiwan. This paper emphasizes the bright side of human nature, moral ethics and warmth with an enriching content of culture, art, education and new information for readers.

[7] Beautiful Life Television – inaugurated on December 14th, 1996. It is an unpolluted and pure television channel on social-educational programs, without commercials, to promote a moral society and to increase public potential.

[8] Buddha’s Light International Association, world headquarters established in L.A., USA on May 16, 1993.

[9] Fo Guang Shan has created a series of presentations titled “Cloud and Water” which include a Photo-biography exhibition and a Buddhist music performance to illustrate Venerable Master’s efforts and contributions. A 50-year anniversary Photobiography consisting of 2000 pictures selected from over 50,000 photos has been published.


Understanding the Buddha’s Light Philosophy, by Venerable Master Hsing Yun,

Humanistic Buddhism – A Blueprint for Life, by Venerable Master Hsing Yun

Respect and Tolerance, Keynote Speech by Master Hsing Yun 1995 BLIA General Conference,

Peace and Equality, Keynote Speech by Master Hsing Yun 1996 BLIA General Conference,

Self-awareness and Practicing the Buddha’s Way, Keynote Speech by Master Hsing Yun 2004 BLIA General Conference.

Bhiksuni Chuehmen

Theravada Buddhism and South Asia Coordinator
Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order
Corresponding Address:
55/18 Udumulla Road, Battaramulla, Sri Lanka
Phone: 94(11)2868-540
Cell: 94-779-714-709
Email: chuehmen@yahoo.com; blia-asia@fgs.org.tw