Access to insight in Beijing

Chanting sutras before dawn, hearing the song of the bell at night, eating three vegetarian meals a day, living in a room with a bed, a mosquito net and little else. When legs get too sore or the mind too restless for meditation, he reads Buddhist sutras.

After five days of bone-tiring work, Song Ming, a 45-year-old sales manager begins his weekend in a Buddhist meditation center in suburban Beijing.

Besides sutras, he reads Confucian and Taoist texts that include dozens of stories about hermits in the hills of ancient China. Song really likes these stories. He could understand someone wanting nothing but to live a simple life. Given a choice, Song said, he prefers to be a hermit.

The desire was seemingly fulfilled in the fall of 2007, when he found the meditation center and traded his life of bustle for his own hermitage at weekends. “It is a relaxed and laid-back refuge from the bustling city. Meditation here leads me to experience the tranquility and concentration of my spirit.”

Beyond the city

Song Ming is not alone, as more and more city folk flee from the grime of the capital to this otherworldly place.

They are teachers, sales managers, civil servants and even graduate or overseas students. In the center, the only thing they do is to sit cross-legged on the cushion to meditate. Hobnobbing with other meditators, studying sutras together and getting teachings from the abbots but are not necessary.

Since Annie Liu has been infatuated with meditation, coming to the meditation center at weekends is part of her life. The quiet girl is often tortured by work-related stress, sleeplessness and on-the-job accidents.

“With nowhere else to turn, a friend suggested meditation. I half believed,” Annie said of her first “encounter” with meditation.

“The abbot of the center guided me to practice meditation to make the mind empty.” Yet initially meditation and doing nothing was not easy to obtain. Her mind wanted to be doing something all the time. She didn’t see the real benefits until failed several times.

“Being relaxed, breathing and focusing on the aware mind… according to the direction of abbot, I learned gradually to cut the conscious mind off and achieve nothingness during meditation.”

Stepping out of the center, Liu attempted to incorporate meditation into her daily habits, “the result is amazing.” Now Liu feels she can manage reactions to stress and recover quickly from disturbing events through short meditation, which was not easily achieved in the multi-tasking world.

Tired, yet also rejuvenated by finally being in the meditation room, Li Jinwen, 23, a graduate student of Beijing Forestry University, can’t wait to ask the abbot the inevitable question: “What’s the goal of meditation?”

“In Buddhism, enlightenment is the main goal. Meditation is the most commonly prescribed practice for enlightenment, in other words, spiritual development.”

Over the next hour, she drank cup after cup of tea and listened to the abbot carefully. Enveloped in a lifestyle of excessive materialism, Li still believed what Socrates said “the unexamined life is not worth living,” so she regards weekend meditation as another philosophy class.

“I come here not to recharge but to see the essential facts of life, explore my inner world and live deliberately.” Intensely personal and passionate conversation with nuns, monks or abbots makes Li feel she has met the happiest and wisest people in Beijing. “They are not rich, but they had a way to awaken my life.”

“Generally, besides the curiosity, mediators are roughly divided into two separate groups – those who recollect themselves and those who reinvent themselves. By means of idea talk or meditation, they eventually live deeply,” concluded Abbot Ming Zang.


As time passed by, Ru Cong became associated with meditation in spiritual life rather than urban life. During workdays, she is a volunteer at the meditation center; at weekends, she is a self-disciplined mediator.

The 40-year-old Buddhism hobbyist resigned her job last year after bumping into the meditation center. “It was a kind of destiny. After a few days satisfying my Buddhism interest, I decided to stay here.”

Resting, praying and meditating, as Ru Cong immerses herself into the life of seclusion, she grows more distant from her family and friends.

“Most of them consider meditation as spiritual opiate or superstition which leads me get sidetracked,” Ru disagreed with such views completely. “Just like if you are provided with a meal, how can you judge it delicious or not without tasting?”

Nevertheless, every time after debating with people, Ru doesn’t fall asleep until late, wondering if her choice was right or not.

“People’s reaction reflects their belief in the crises of our age. With the diminished importance of religion, to find people who truly believe is the biggest problem we have. People willing to reduce their desires or cultivate tranquility in this modern age are very few,” said Abbot Ming Zang.

Recently Ru Cong has taken comfort from the fact her mother tries to understand what she does. “I was once a self-centered person and never cared for others’ feeling. Meditation let me calm down to know or reflect on myself to rebuild my relationships with others. Now I am more tolerant and generous than before.”

Witnessing Ru Cong’s change, her worried mother accepts the power of meditation.

When Rena Coleman traveled all the way from the US to the meditation center, she found the world here is far bigger than the walled world of the city, and cannot agree with outsider’s criticism. “People in here no matter nuns, monks or mediators are detached from the utilitarian values imposed by the consumer society. Their spirit, in my view, commits to the most ancient Chinese values.”


Abbot Ming Zang is a busy man. Walking up and down the stairs, from one meditation room to the other, he cannot slow down. There are meetings, meditation courses and visits. But his job gives him satisfaction because he sees the center grow, sees more and more students trickle in to enjoy the meditation.

His interest in Buddhism began long ago. He read books, researched sutras and visited temples. All of them shaped him. Returning to Buddhism was natural.

Living in the temple, he was finally feeling at home with the infinite. Rather than just Zazen, he set out to create an organization that would spread Buddhism to others.

“Economic development masks people’s inner confusion. People that are willing to reduce their desires or cultivate tranquility in this fast changing age are not few. I have to do something to help them rebuild their belief.”

Following the idea, Abbot Ming Zang swung into the action. It was a challenge to get noticed at the start. “By using the form of a meditation center, I got rid of some formalities of Buddhism such as worshipping Buddha, burning incense… only focused on teaching people to still the mind. Once they can do that, they can do it anywhere, even in a noisy city.”

His first meditation center was launched in Lushan, Jiangxi Province in 2000. To further socialize Buddhism in an accepted and simple way, the Abbot continued establishing the center in other cities.

Though located in Huairou, the Beijing center attracts a lot of people. They double their number of students every year.

Even though some people have questioned the abbot’s motivation, wondering if he just wants to make money and criticizing his simplified Buddhism as blasphemy, he refuses to give in to regret. “It’s a calling. It’s the only thing I am willing to do since I became a monk. ”

Confident he has sown the seeds for the center, the abbot has no big aspirations for its future.

“Buddhism inspires me to do not what I am obligated to do, but what I have an oppor-tunity to do.”

Address: Ganjian meditation center, Ganjianyu Village, Huairou, Beijing

{via Global Times]

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