@
@
@
@
@
@
@
@
@
@
@
@
@
@
@
@
Jian Hu Shifu opened the Chung Tai Zen Center of Sunnyvale in March where he teaches Chinese Zen Buddhism.
Richard Koci Hernandez / Mercury News
Jian Hu Shifu opened the Chung Tai Zen Center of Sunnyvale in March where he teaches Chinese Zen Buddhism.
R E L A T E D    L I N K S
 •  The Zen view on 21st century issues
 •  Dharma names

From Tech to Tranquillity




Originally appeared on May 8, 2004,

San Jose Mercury News

Just a deep breath from tech-hedged Highway 101 and the land of Yahoo, Microsoft and Google, a former aerospace software designer is bringing busy Silicon Valley a different kind of public offering: inner tranquillity.

A one-story office building at the foot of the North Fair Oaks exit houses the South Bay's newest Zen center, where 41-year-old Jian Hu Shifu teaches the principles and practices of Zen Buddhism -- or chan in Chinese. The classes are offered for free.

A Taiwan native whose family moved to Las Vegas when he was 14, the abbot has more than an intellectual empathy for the Silicon Valley lifestyle. A bright student who idolized Einstein and aspired to become a professor or scientist, he earned a doctorate in computer sciences in 1994 at the University of California-San Diego. He worked for two years in the aerospace industry in Los Angeles.

But yearning for a life that was meaningful every day, not just on weekends, he studied philosophy and Christianity. It was not enough. Eventually, he found Zen Buddhism.

``It immediately made a lot of sense to me,'' he said. ``It is actually quite scientific in approach.''

After four years at the Chung Tai Chan Monastery in Taiwan, he returned in 2000 as Jian Hu Shifu, an ordained monk. He opened the Buddha Gate Monastery in Lafayette, the first Bay Area branch of the Chung Tai order. In March, he opened the Chung Tai Zen Center of Sunnyvale.

His understanding of American culture, technology background, fluency in English and Chinese and approachability have made him a popular teacher and speaker.

``I really think Jian Hu is first-rate,'' said Dr. Su Chung, a retired UC-San Diego biochemistry professor who learned he was an alumnus when she attended a retreat at Buddha Gate. Also the wife of a vice-chancellor, she invited him to speak at the school's International Center. ``His message is very strictly chan tradition, but he can explain it in the context of American culture.''

Moira Shek, a retired San Francisco city planner and once a devout Catholic, said she was ``blown away'' when she first heard the abbot speak several years ago. So she introduced herself.

``He had a sense of humor. He was totally approachable, and I found myself chatting away,'' said Shek, who was executive director of community development under former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein.

And he spoke Cantonese -- not the Mandarin of most Bay Area Chinese.

``There are a lot of us from Hong Kong who do not speak Mandarin,'' she said. ``It's hard for us to learn and study.''

Shek, 57, is one of the many longtime Bay Area practitioners of chan Buddhism who have been attending Buddha Gate: 200 to 300 people from the South Bay and 100 or so from San Francisco. Many, including some from the East Bay, have followed Jian Hu Shifu to Sunnyvale.

``In Buddhism, there are a lot of abstract concepts. He is good at explaining astrophysics to a grammar school student,'' said Danville resident Francis Wang, a 65-year-old retired Lawrence Livermore Laboratory chemist. ``He showed me that Buddhism is not just a faith. If you can never prove it, you can only get as far as worldly wisdom can take you.''

Through study, meditation and such practices as Right Effort and Right Mindfulness, followers of Zen seek to transcend the Earthly delusions of happiness and suffering to reach a state of joy and inner peace. Called enlightenment, it is a merging of the human with the universal mind -- or Buddhist truth.

As a student, Jian Hu Shifu was interested in the human mind. In graduate school, he delved into artificial intelligence, studying the function of lobster neurons.

``He was my second-best Ph.D student -- ever,'' said Garrison Cottrell, a UC-San Diego professor of computer science and engineering. ``But as time went on, he became less and less interested in the lobster part of things. He felt it was wrong to kill them.''

The young student also realized he was nowhere near to understanding human intelligence from a scientific viewpoint.

``I thought there must be some other way to understand the reality of the world,'' he said. ``We still know very little about human intelligence. There are always lots of movies about how computers are going take over; it's not going to happen any time soon.''

Today, at 41, he has found the meaning that had eluded him. Yet his ability to absorb and communicate the complexities of Zen transcends his age -- and perhaps his present lifetime, Shek said.

``When I went to graduate school, he was just a little kid,'' she said. ``But you don't feel like you're talking to a younger man. There's only one answer: the Bodhi seed that he planted in his previous life. Just like Mozart or Beethoven; how were they so talented at so young an age?''

But this young abbot's best instructional tool may be his simplest one: his smile.

``Traditionally Chinese dharma masters don't smile that much. Chinese teachers can be the same,'' said Shek. ``But a little thing like that makes a big difference.''

Like the Buddha's use of a flower one day to convey the inexpressibility of the supreme teaching.


@

The Venerable Jian Hu on the Buddhist practice, and issues in 21st-century America:

Work: There's a way to look at your job as way to help people, to serve others. Instead of competing with other companies, compete to bring out a better product. Without co-workers the job would not be done. You have your job because of your boss. For a boss, it's an opportunity to serve your staff -- because they are working for you. When you look at it that way, work is not a drag; it is your practice. Intention is very important.

President Bush and Iraq: The world is not black and white. Two sides arguing doesn't mean one is right and the other wrong. Both could both be right, but seeing things from a different angle. For example, to a conservative Muslim society, causal sex is morally wrong; it's corrupting. From that point of view, you can say that's an evil influence. Americans treasure freedom of speech and expression. But freedom is not to do whatever your heart desires. In Buddhism, you need to be a master of your senses in order to be free.

Computer games: No one seems to think it's wrong to keep developing more violent games, games that bombard the senses. (Chinese philosopher) Lao-tzu said color makes you blind: the nature of sensory stimulation is that you can never get enough. What I'm seeing is that many young people become so bored with life; what can the latest toy bring them? And yet what they are trying to find is what we are trying to find -- some happiness, some satisfaction. That's not found in sensory stimulation but peace of mind.

Abortion: In Buddhism there are two truths: conventional and absolute. In the latter, there is no death. Happiness and suffering are delusions. But both exist according to conventional truth because we are unenlightened, still deluded. When you kill, that hurts people, and we don't want to do that to others. Even a fetus will feel pain. Bad dreams may not be real, but they scare you. In a way, human suffering is a bad dream, and we don't want to inflict that on other people.

Gay marriage: We do not perform weddings. Our true nature is beyond gender. From the absolute view, even heterosexuality is a delusion. You may be male or female, but your awareness, the essence of your mind -- is it male or is it female, is it Chinese or American? There's no way to characterize that essence. Fundamentally we're equal. From the conventional point of view, I would say -- since I grew up in America -- that what is important is that you do not violate someone's trust. Do not indulge.

[Back]


Buddhist monks and nuns often take new names when ordained. All those associated with the Chung Tai Chan Monastery in Taiwan have three parts to their names, one of which is an honorific. For example, the Venerable Jian Hu, or Jian Hu Shifu:

"Jian Hu" is the name bestowed on the abbot by the Venerable Grand Master Wei Chueh, the monastery's founder: "Jian" means to perceive or understand, as in the Chinese jian xin, translated as "seeing into one's nature" or enlightenment. It is part of the first name given to all of Wei Chueh's disciples. One of the four monks who work with the Venerable Jian Hu is called Jian Gong Shifu. "Gong" is literally "work" but it also means diligence -- appropriate perhaps for the center's office manager.

"Hu" means to protect, support or guard (as in guarding one's thoughts). The middle characters in the ``generation'' names are taken in sequence from a Zen poem by one of the ancestors of the sangha (order).

"Venerable" is like reverend or father. ``Shifu'' is the verbal form in Chinese for Dharma Master, or teacher-father. Only one of these honorifics is needed.

[Back]


Contact Robin Evans at revans@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5508.

The article was original posted at "San Jose Mercury News", May 08, 2004.  Chung Tai Zen Center of Sunnyvale has received permission to post the article.

  Contact Us | Home | Chung Tai Chan Monastery Oversea Centers


CopyrightChung Tai Zen Center of Sunnyvale All Rights Reserved