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Master Yancan: A monk with worldly pursuits

Buddhist Master Yancan

He has over six million followers on his Sina Weibo, almost equal to the population of Israel. And what he does is beyond most people’s imagination of a Buddhist monk’s life.

Speaking with Cangzhou (沧州) accent, the Buddhist Master Yancan (延参法师) frequently appears in China’s top-rated TV entertainment shows as a special guest making his simple but humorous comments, and he has his own talk show program “Yancan Trio” (延参三人行) on’s TV channel. He just concluded his months-long campus tour of China promoting his new books.

“Buddhists come to the world for soy sauce ( 打酱油 )”. “For soy sauce” is actually a Chinese Internet buzzword originally meaning to buy soy sauce, one of the major ingredients in the Chinese kitchen, but the term is being used on the Internet by people in a self-deprecating sense, meaning one is merely a passerby, or what happened or is being commented has nothing to do with oneself.

Because of the various interviews and social activities, his temple, Shuiyue Temple ( 水月寺 , literally water and moon) in Cangzhou ( 沧州 ), about 200 kilometers from Beijing in Hebei province, is more like a place to stop by for him and his deputies.

Yancan was ordained as a monk in the year 1988. He is the abbot of Shuiyue Temple and also the vice chairman of the Hebei Buddhism Association. The role of the association is to help the monks to communicate with the society and protect the interests of the monastery, according to the 50-year-old monk.

In a speech to the Chinese college students at Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU), he said, “Your school is a place which is torturing foreigners with the Chinese language.”

And he later remarked in a more serious tone that “learning foreign languages is actually quite important in the Buddhist temples. The world needs communication and understanding.”

Master Yancan may not be the first monk to render Buddhist teachings via Internet but perhaps the most successful one. The Internet has helped him turn into something like a spiritual mentor for today’s materialist world. Most of his Weibo posts are reposted over 500 times, eliciting over 200 comments. His lectures are always packed with audiences, with many standing outside the lecture halls in corridors. Master Yancan uses everyday language to talk about love and simple truths about life, avoiding difficult and abstract “teachings”.

“Some college students complain to me that their life is hard. I say so you think I do not know anything about what’s going on in the college life? Don’t try to fool me. I have been to over 200 universities and I know a fair bit about what your life is like.”

“When there is national public service examination, the Internet speed in the Internet café becomes fast. Why? Because many young people are busy with the examination. And the speed slows after the exam is over, because they are back to the games.”

The monk also touches upon the much discussed topic of shengnue ( 剩女 ), or the leftover women. “Some young women complain online about why they still haven’t had the chance to get married. I say it has much to do with your mother. If she prepares 6 million yuan worth of bridal gifts and two luxury cars and two apartments for you, I believe you will be a best-selling girl on the (one of China’s major matchmaking websites)”.

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