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Wednesday, March 15, 2000, updated at 10:32(GMT+8)


Abbot-Cum-Lawmaker Advocates Rights for Buddhist Temples

Armed with cellular phone, digital camera and notebook computer, Shi Yongxin, abbot of the well-known Shaolin Temple in central China and a National People's Congress (NPC) deputy, is waging a war against profiteers and cults who have infringed upon the rights of Chinese Buddhist temples.

Among the nearly 3,000 deputies of the NPC, in its annual session since March 5, Shi is unique for his Buddhist clothing and vegetarian diet at a Beijing hotel. Frequent meetings have not stopped him from doing religious services regularly, including meditation and sutra readings.

"Buddhists have always kept themselves apace with social progress, and these modern tools are making me well informed of what's going on in my temple and the outside world," said the abbot, who kept counting the beads with his hands, a Buddhist way of meditation, which almost concealed his skillfulness as an expert Internet surfer.

Shaolin Temple was built in 495 by Emperor Xiaowen of the North Wei Dynasty (386-534) for an Indian monk who then founded the Chan, one of the largest sect of the Chinese Buddhism. Every year, Shaolin receives more than one million pilgrims and learners of its Shaolin Kungfu, a most famous school of Chinese martial arts. Shaolin Kungfu has been spread to other parts of the world.

"I'm lucky to be living in an era when China witnesses long- lasting stability and fast-paced economic growth," the monk said.

The development of religions is closely linked with economic and social progress, Shi said, adding "Social stability and economic prosperity are solid guarantees for the development of temples and monasteries in China."

As a deputy to China's top legislature, the abbot has been trying every means to protect the rights and interests of Chinese Buddhists. In 1998, at the First Session of the Ninth NPC, Shi sponsored a bill against those who had used temple names in pursuit of ill profits. At the current session, the monk has put forward a proposal to regulate religious activities and initiate a registration system of religious institutions.

"What I hate most are those who are engaged in illegal activities in the name of religion, like the notorious Falun Gong, " Shi said, blaming the cult organization for cheating the people and hurting the rights and interests of the religious circles.

The Buddhist lawmaker also lashed out at those overseas people who had wantonly accused China of having no religious freedom. " They know nothing about religious matters in China. They should visit China and the Shaolin Temple," he said, noting that China is en route to a nation governed by law and the situation is becoming more favorable for the development of religions.

According to the abbot, the Shaolin Temple, a key cultural heritage protected by the state, is in its prime time and its 100- plus monks are strictly following Buddhist doctrines.

The temple is well linked to the rest parts of the world. In recent years, the abbot has been traveling extensively and meeting religious and charity people, leaving his footprints in over 30 foreign countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan and Canada.

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