Name: Mr. Yuan Zhihong
Chinese zodiac sign: Goat
Education: I only had a High School degree before becoming an abbot. I got my Master’s degree in Religious Studies through self-study.
Profession: Abbot of the DongYue temple. I work in the fields of religion and philosophy
When you are at home, what is your favorite activity? What do you enjoy the most?
I especially like reading and I think I’m a diligent person. I’ve already written 3 books. Last year alone, I published 24 articles. I often go to seminars and submit papers of 8,000 to 20,000 words every time.
Reading and thinking are two of my favorite activities, because they can help me to improve myself.
Name three of your daily routine activities:
My work is mainly about temple affairs. I’ll burn joss sticks to worship the gods every first and fifteenth day of the lunar month and during religious festivals (including the birthdays of major gods). There may be occasional disputes between tourists and Taoists in the temple and I need to settle those problems properly. Sometimes, my work also involves dealing with the government. We receive large numbers of visitors, including political, academic and Taoist figures from all over China.
Every morning we must have a shower to wash the dirt from our body and soul. After the shower, I’ll eat a vegetarian breakfast. Taoism has two principles about food. First, never eat meat from animals that were especially killed for you. If someone kills a chicken in order to treat me, I can’t eat it. Second, never eat meat right before entering the temple hall. It’s the Taoists’ respect for the gods as well as for the visitors.
Sometimes after supper, I’ll gather my disciples and talk about Taoism. This is called “Kai Shi”.
What is your favorite food?
I like vegetables and food of light taste and flavor.
How much money does your family spend on food per day?
For us, working in the temple, it used to be 20 RMB per person a day. Now the standard has been lowered to 15 to 18 RMB. Apart from the expenses for food, there are also some allowances which vary from 1,100 to 2,500 RMB per month.
Where is your hometown? (if not Beijing: do you miss your hometown? if so, what do you miss most?)
My hometown is in Jiangsu province. I don’t feel very homesick. Thanks to the convenient and fast transportation, it’s easy to go back. Young Taoists return to their hometown every year.
Jiangsu develops very fast. People are able to live in a house with an area of 100 or even 200 square meters. Young people manage to buy a 100 square meter house, like my nephew who just got married.
I miss my parents most. I used to be a Taoist in Maoshan Mountain and I’ve been living in Beijing for 22 years now.
What is your most precious childhood memory?
Even though life was quite hard when I was young, I seldom felt worried. My parents worked very hard and took good care of me.
In 1982 at the age of 28, I became a Taoist. Before that, I was a worker for 6 or 7 years, mainly dealing with administrative work. I used to be a “literary youth”; writing stories, organizing the poets’ club, studying in the night school and watching a lot of movies. Through writing and reading, I strongly felt the power of traditional Chinese culture and I was deeply influenced by that. Unlike today where people can become a Taoist by choice, those days a candidate had to go through examinations about his political background and physical condition.
What are the three most important things in life for you?
Parents come first. Though I’m a Taoist, family is still the most important in my life. Next comes the cause of Taoism.
What are, according to you, the values that one needs to live up to in life?
As a Taoist, I believe we should observe the principles of Taoism and live up to the virtues of respect, gratitude and courteousness. “All for one and one for all” is what we should keep in mind. These principles help us deal with the relationships between superiors and subordinates. We should not only respect the authorities, but also respect the subordinates, just as I do to the young Taoists.
Religion should serve the society. Dongyue Temple often voluntarily helps poor residents and disadvantaged groups in the surrounding communities. Among Taoists, we also help each other if needed.
I think people shouldn’t be too self-centered, which is often the case with young people nowadays. We should try to strengthen social values by contributing to the society.
Would you say you are a) happy b) somewhat happy c) somewhat unhappy d) unhappy
What do you expect will the future bring for you?
I’ll keep working hard for Taoism, for the temple, for my Taoist partners and for the society. If one day the young Taoists get mature and can manage temple affairs by themselves, I’ll make place for them. At that time, I’ll seclude myself in cultivating my character and nourishing my nature.
What is your religion?
Taoism, Zhengyi Dao. I can sense the gods. When I face big issues, I go to the temple and communicate with spirits and the major gods. I can feel their existence and they lead me to answers. Although many people are atheists nowadays, I sincerely believe that gods do exist.
Video of the 360 degree panoramic photo
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the below video is on Vimeo; banned in China