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From the Buddhist Temple to the Christian Church - Cheng Li-chin

- the Story of a Buddhist Nun

Before believing in Jesus Christ, I was a Buddhist master, having taught Buddhism for 23 years.

It was 25 years ago. I was an English major in college, but I inclined to read books on philosophy. My first choice on the college admission wish-list was the Department of Philosophy at Fu-Ren University. My score was high enough to enter that department, but due to the cap put on the number of girls, I was alternatively admitted to the English Department of Su-Chou University. To fulfill my unfulfilled wish, I chose to immerse myself in philosophy.

The classics we read as English majors - Plate, Socrates, Aristotle, Greek mythology, Homer, Dante, Foster, up to modern masterpieces - all interested me. And I was particularly drawn to the ‘serenity and simplicity’ of Chinese Taoism. However, a sense of emptiness still occupied my heart. I once attempted to join the Christian Fellowship on Campus, but couldn’t really get myself into it. The second year after I graduated from college, I went to Hua-Lian with a bunch of friends and we visited a Buddhist temple there. That night, I was deeply moved by the harmonious chanting; tears poured down and my heart rested with a sense of being home’. I decided to retreat from the world and become a nun. At that time, I was pretty sure this was what I longed for.
A Waste of Life

Life reaches its prime between the ages of 26-49. However, I wasted my prime time in the nunnery. The simplicity and tranquillity I had dreamed of was never real. I was overloaded with all kinds of secular duties that went beyond my mental and physical endurance. My life was full of disguise and hypocrisy - even worse than the outside world.

During the 23 years of being a nun, I worked as a cheap labourer for the first five years. Then I left the place I had received tonsure and served as a general secretary in a Buddhist foundation for another five years. Finally I had a chance to be an instructor and administrator in a Buddhist college. The following 13 years were satisfactory. As an instructor, I could devote more time to reading and digesting Buddhist classics. Although I was still busy, I was not as swamped as before and I earned some respect and dignity.

The biggest impact on my life and the turning point could be traced back to November 1996. I was then the Dean of Academic Affairs at Taichung Charity Buddhist College. Though innocent, I was whirled into a shocking scandal that shook the whole Buddhist arena in Taiwan. I experienced the greatest storm in my life, faced with all the evils in human nature and deeply hurt by the hypocrisy and dishonesty rooted in the society. What’s sad is that I was a part of it. I might not have been the main character to blame, but I played a critical role. It was in complete dismay that I went through those days.

The very thought about my life - an innocent college student longing for the Buddhist paradise, working diligently to move forward, but now ending as a criminal - brought me down to the bottom of hell. My life was marred no matter how hard I tried to avoid it. With a wounded heart, I began to wonder if I had the courage to live on.

Deeply depressed, I consulted a pastor in a church. He pointed me to Romans 7: 18-19. Paul said: "I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing." I found myself in full agreement with this passage and I also understood what was written in Romans 7:21-25: "So I found this law at work: when I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin."

How insightful and enlightening these words are! Paul was a true apostle with God’s wisdom. I was completely ‘freed’ by the passage. Human beings are getting no where relying on themselves. In Buddhist teaching, one should just believe in oneself and make every effort to become a saint. But the result is nothing but frustration. No wonder we have a Chinese saying: "The righteous are one foot tall, the evil are one yard tall" (The evil always outdo the righteous). No one knows when the end is to this kind of struggle. It is commonly stated that all religion is for your good. But the fact is: when you seriously practise it, you end up suffering. Some Buddhist friends had complained a lot to me, and now I experienced the same kind of frustration and fatigue. I, too, was totally lost.

"Someone had warned me: "Isn't it too risky to convert now for you will pay a high price?" Is that so? I indeed had thought about this. I was fairly established in the Buddhist circle, but was that what I wanted for my life? Is it truly safe to stay at the same place? If I stay just for the sake of being safe, I would be just like an ostrich burying its head in the sand. 'Seeking truth' is the only goal in my life and I will continue pursuing it. If I welcome truth, truth will greet me as well. I now learned 'grace and truth both come from Jesus Christ our Saviour.' "

However, there’s an answer in the book of Romans: religions are good, but only in Jesus Christ can one obtain faith, strength, salvation and protection. It is clearly written in Romans 8:1-4: "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit."
The Disappointment

To continue with my story, on Sept. 3, 1997, I went to the US for the first time and I resided in the Flushing Buddhist House in New York. The invitation I received from a senior monk to establish a Buddhist seminary in the US rekindled my hope after leaving my old college. The monk appointed me vice-president and chancellor in charge of all the pre-planning. After several discussions, I felt dismayed and fooled. I was only cheap labour again. Having suffered enough, I was unwilling to go against my conscience and I was unable to take up the burden anymore. I decided to leave the Buddhist circle.

Deeply disappointed with the Buddhists, I was forced to re-examine my belief again. At the time of my tonsure, I simply longed for a simple life with inner peace and calmness. I wishfully thought that endeavouring in this direction, I would eventually become flawless. It is ironic that after so many years of devotion, I only became cynical and withdrawn with the realization that the more I do, the more mistakes I make. That is: no effort, no fault. I was advised to give up and simply chant the names of Buddha.

In the Book of Amitabha is the statement" The more praying to Buddha, the more blessing and understanding". To receive benediction from Amitabha, one has to pray to Buddha day and night, even during sleep. I practised it accordingly and I truly had some auspicious dreams. Nevertheless, my daily life was still full of struggles with frustration, failure and guilt that I was unable to overcome. At long last, my conscience won but I was also forced to retreat from ‘the stage of life’, with a bleeding heart and total exhaustion. I was close to death, finding no courage and strength in myself to go on. Pessimism prevailed and I just felt that being alive was a torture: the longer you live, the more evil you see. There’s simply no way out. It seems that only the apostle Paul understood this kind of misery.

But God is good. In October 1997, I resumed contact with one of my best college friends. She took me to church. The first sermon I heard in Hsin-Cheng church was about sin. The pastor exposed himself honestly to the audience and used himself as an example to illustrate our sinful nature. His self- disclosure and honesty impacted me greatly, which was totally different from the self-worship and authoritarian way of teaching I used to hear from Buddhist masters. The following Bible study introduced the principle ‘justification by faith’, which touched me deeply and brought light and hope to my dejected heart. In addition, the work of the Holy Spirit was also something new and revealing.
The Struggle

I then began to struggle with the choice of beliefs. I was afraid that I would betray my Buddhist religion. 1 even went to a brother’s house and told him clearly and firmly: "It is utterly impossible for me to convert. I have devoted myself to Buddhism these past 23 years." Two or three days later, with my words still vivid, I went down to the front during Sunday worship in Hsin-cheng church and shared my testimony. I told everyone: "the Bible says: if I accept Jesus in public, our Father in heaven will also accept me." I vaguely remembered the verses, but had no idea which book they came from. What is amazing is that once I said the above, I made up my mind to receive Jesus Christ as my Saviour. And I couldn’t wait to be baptized and believe in God.

How joyful it is to know the real God and to be saved and reborn in Him. Half way through my worldly life, I finally found the truth and gained a new meaning to life. Nothing is more delightful than this!

Someone had warned me: "Isn’t it too risky to convert now for you will pay a high price?" Is that so? I indeed had thought about this. I was fairly established in the Buddhist circle, but was that what I wanted for my life? Is it truly safe to stay at the same place? If I stay just for the sake of being safe, I would be just like an ostrich burying its head in the sand. ‘Seeking truth’ is the only goal in my life and I will continue pursuing it. If I welcome truth, truth will greet me as well. I now learned ‘grace and truth both come from Jesus Christ our Saviour.'
The Hot Truth

Having been immersed in Buddhism for such a long time, I became hard-hearted and indifferent, always trying to keep a distance from the common believers to maintain my authority and uniqueness. After becoming a Christian, I felt sad about my coldness. I was so different from the caring, loving, and cheerful brothers and sisters around me. I wept quietly at night, upset about the fact that I had no love to give. I cried to God: "Lord, you know I am not happy. You love me and the brothers and sisters all love me, but I have no love to return. I simply don’t have it and I cannot fake it out." At that very moment, I had a vision: water springing out from a dry well, springing until it overflowed. I was totally overwhelmed, and unspeakable joy instantly filled my heart. I understood it: God Himself is the source of love. He made my love flow. He loves me first and I would then be able to love him and others. The reason why I was lacking love was that I had suppressed love for the past 23 years and 1 had dried myself up like a scorched and cracked field.

Only through God’s love can my love overflow. "Oh my Lord, I thank you, I love you. I want to be able to love as well. With God, my life is full of energy and hope."

Through the arrangement by the pastors of Jo-ko church in New Jersey and the support of Hsin-Cheng church in New York, I was admitted to the Christ’s Servants Seminary in California. After one semester of training, I learned to submit myself more and developed a stronger faith, which was firmly grounded in God’s word. Our God is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the past, the present, the future, and the almighty. I remembered that at first 1 felt kind of scared and embarrassed when thinking that I would have to face the Buddhist believers in Taiwan. I was just like Jeremiah, pleading to God: "I do not know how to speak; I am only a child." But now, I am strong and brave, for "in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8: 37-39).

Christians believe that God is the beginning; He created the universe and everything in it. Buddhism teaches that everything originates in the human mind itself. Things exist only because you see them. Life is in a samsara, without a beginning or an end. These are two completely different views about life. I have spelt my past 23 years cultivating my mind in vain. If God hadn’t enlightened me, I would still be caught in the ‘net of the universe’ as described in the Book of Hua-Yen.

It is true that suffering is inevitable in life. Buddha taught his disciples to be aware of "misery, emptiness, impermanence, and selfishness". Some of them got so far into it that they hated this world and committed suicide.

The Bible describes the essence of life in the book of Ecclesiastes: "Meaningless! meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." "I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men."

Yes, "meaningless" is an universal experience shared by all mankind. The difference is: how you deal with it. The Bible instructs us: "So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no man knows whether love or hate awaits him." "However many years a man may live, let him enjoy them all. But let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. Everything to come is meaningless." "So then, banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body, for youth and vigour are meaningless." "Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgement, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil."

My Buddhist friends expressed their pity for me, tried to persuade me to change my mind and be their teacher, even if I didn’t want to be a ‘master’.

It was simply impossible! I rejoiced in Jesus Christ with the true peace and joy He provided. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." (Psalm 23).

The Buddhist practice is meant to free one from either life or death. Only through ‘detesting the world’ can one leave suffering and reach happiness. This kind of practice only fosters a pessimistic view of life. In contrast, Jesus Christ brings hope to life, because "if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead wL11 also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you." (Romans 8: 10-11).

Praise the Lord! Thank the Lord! I am willing to give my whole person to God - my body, my mind and my spirit - all in His hand. I enjoy whole-heartedly sharing my experience and testifying to the goodness of the gospel - "I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings." (I Corinthians 9:23)

Praise the Lord, Amen.

By Ms. Cheng Li-chin

(Translated from Chinese by Professor Liu Mei-chun, National Chiao-tung University)