EPISODE #4: Zhenru – Master of Bliss and Wisdom Buddhists
EXPLANATORY NOTE REGARDING LITERARY STYLE
A complaint I often receive is that my articles are too long and complicated. I’ve fixed that problem. This is not a long, difficult article. It’s a tiny book.
You can read it easily in one sitting if you’re a reader. If you’re not a reader – not even a tiny book reader – try tricking yourself by thinking of the chapters as separate articles: go at it periodically and that might help.
But if you want to know more about the Buddhists in PEI – and that mysterious woman in the feature image looking lovingly over the Eastern part of our fair Isle…someone who you’ve never seen before nor heard from who happens to be the person who controls everything “Buddhist” in PEI – a global guru known as Master Zhenru, aka Mary Jin, aka Meng Rong Jin…then you’ll want to keep reading.
Lastly, she is also referred to as the “Golden Girl” by Bliss and Wisdom monks who’ve left the monastery because of what they believe to be fraudulent and scandalous actions by Master Zhenru; monks who are now dedicated to exposing her as a threat to Buddhism.
Regarding the quasi-sidebar travelogue section recounting my hitch-hiking trek across North America to visit five different Orders of contemplative and cloistered Catholic Monasteries back in 1979, I’m pretty sure you’ll be thinking the whole way through… “What in God’s name was he thinking? “
It’s impossible to take such a complex situation and make it completely clear in one article, or even one tiny book. There’s just too many connections to map out and explain. Too many players (with Chinese names Islanders see as blurs impossible to remember so we don’t even bother trying). We see “Arsenault” we look for a first name, the first name of a father or mother to locate which Arsenault family, etc…we see a “Yin” or a “Wei” and we don’t even know if it’s a first or last name and couldn’t connect the person to anyone else, even a husband or wife!
If we were shown the same Chinese name (usually three short word segments) I’d say in about 2 minutes after seeing it – without being told we were being shown the same name – most Islanders wouldn’t realize. This name issue is no small matter, not for land transactions at IRAC, nor for my investigation, especially given that many Buddhists are using multiple names, or sometimes various combinations of their English and Chinese names, effectively creating new names. There’s a good example of that with Master Zhenru that I’ll provide in the next episode.
With so much material, it’s a lot of work to keep all that information and connections together in the mind, and not at all easy to sustain one’s attention as more layers of information and connections are added. I tried to include a little more entertainment in this post to reward readers for the hard work, but please don’t think of this research as entertainment, this is serious stuff and urgent, I just prefer laughing while I work rather than crying. Think of this as homework you do grudgingly but are later pleased as punch with yourself for all you did and for what you learned.
Staying engaged and being able to sustain the many intricate elements and connections in one’s mind until it finally comes together to make sense is hard work. But we obviously can’t garner the insights and understanding that the information and those connections offer unless we put in that work. Knowledge isn’t the same as “information” – knowledge isn’t received like information, it’s “constructed” by the mind, and we’re the builders.
The only other thing I’ll say on the “difficulty factor” with the material is that the more you care, the easier the read. Why? Because of the intrinsic connection between desiring what is good with one’s heart (loving) and seeking what is true with one’s mind (knowing) – loving and knowing together reflect in our being the Imago Dei, the image of God. When these two forces unite, they’re like booster cables on a car battery – the engine starts and we finally get somewhere!
Images, or art or anything entertaining usually, can also help us to sustain our mind’s engagement with dry concepts, facts, interpretations of words, etc., so I’ve put more pictures in this article as well. Narrative is what really grabs our attention and keeps it; a good story takes us into another world and keeps us there. But therein lies the problem for me. It’s imperative that there’s no confusion between what’s being claimed as factually-true and what’s being presented as entertainment with fictional elements (with a meaningful message usually embedded as well).
Too much narrative containing lots of visual details can easily confuse the reader about what is fact or fiction, for obvious reasons. You don’t confuse the reader about what is fact and what is fiction, or what’s serious and what’s entertaining, when you go extreme rather than subtle with the narrative and humour. So I go extreme.
No one’s going to question (let’s hope not) whether Bloyce Thompson was really taking advice (or to be more accurate, “rejecting advice”) from Yoda as they conversed in the swamps of Dagobah, a forgotten planet strong with the Force, where the wizened old Jedi Master lived out his final years in hiding, out of sight of the Imperial forces. Which, come to think of it, seems like a pretty crappy and cowardly way to end a respectable career fighting the evil empire and dark lord – die alone in a swamp. But I digress.
People have warned me that if I keep putting Homer Simpson cartoons in my highly-sensitive research articles (there’s one in this one) I’ll ruin my credibility. Taken under advisement. Hmmm. What’s that saying….it’s right on the tip of my tongue.
It’s a weird but totally-effective and oft-used Island expression….ah… [I hate it when I know something like the back of my hand and draw a blank] I’m pretty sure it has something to do with not having the ability to effect the transfer of something – a “rat’s ass” if I’m not mistaken. It’s the one-liner we blurt out to people who unnecessarily worry for us and believe that the things we like to do that make us happy and who we are and life worth living need to stop. I really appreciate getting advice without first having a conversation – saves time. Forget it…can’t remember the saying. I know it’ll come to me the second I post this mini-book… and I really wanted to use that one too!
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1 – The Objective and Scope of this Monkileaks Investigation
CHAPTER 2 – My Fantastic Monastic Experience & Teaching Buddhism
CHAPTER 3 – The Birth and Evolution of Bliss and Wisdom Corporation Inc.
CHAPTER 4 – Properly Situating Bliss and Wisdom within Buddhism
CHAPTER 5 – Master Zhenru: The Mysterious Leader of Bliss and Wisdom
CHAPTER 6 – Is Bliss and Wisdom a Cult? No, but…
CHAPTER 7 – GWBI’s Presentation to the Committee on Natural Resources
This mini-book has ambitious goals. The main one is to clarify as precisely as possible what my Monklileaks investigation both aims to accomplish and will leave aside for others to investigate.
I want the information in this post to provide the reader with a good sense of what to expect regarding the focus and goals I’ve set for my investigation. Hopefully it will also give you some sense of what the substance of subsequent articles in this Monkileak series will look like. They will be much, much shorter (a few pages each) targeting very specific issues. This is the “big picture” one.
This research is not simply documenting incidents from the past, and offering an interpretation of those past events, although that is part of what my research encompasses. This project is addressing (and trying to help solve to be honest) a very complex, dynamic and problematic situation currently happening in PEI.
Although the current situation is very fluid, even volatile in some respects, as you’re likely aware since you care enough to be reading this, however that fluid appears to be frozen at the moment, or moving at little more than what might be expected from barely frozen sluggish slush. Why? Because, the entire thing is a mystery wrapped in an enigma hidden in a closet under an old blanket….or whatever saying works best for you to grasp that people are simply being kept and left in the dark about a great big mess. Time to call in the experts to make sense of what’s going on I guess.
I’m now happy to turn things over to a couple of my favorites from Sesame Street to help fill us in on the shape of things using their patented and alluring alliteration and witty and wise words about the Buddhist situation in PEI…. brought to you by the letter “M” [loved that segment on Sesame Street as a kid. I can still remember the bits after all these years: “Wanda washed her wirey wig on windy winter wednesdays…ahhh..to be a kid again]. Now, if you could kindly turn your attention to our guests to the left.
Decisions and plans involving and affecting both the Buddhists and residents of Eastern PEI need to be made soon. There’s going to be significant long-term consequences flowing from those decisions and plans one way or another, regardless of what route those decisions and plans take. When those decisions and long-term plans are finally made, and also made public, they will give us a visionary glimpse into the future of what Three Rivers community is likely to look like for the foreseeable future.
Despite what most people would identify as an urgent situation, there appears to be a surprising lull in activity and news. I suspect that’s because there’s too much secrecy and a void in place of accurate and insightful information regarding the Buddhists in PEI.
To my knowledge, there is currently no meaningful process of dialogue happening, no investigation underway, or any planned process for meetings and consultations happening. What’s needed is insightful information to spark dialogue and a meaningful process on a go-forward basis.
My articles will hopefully make at least a modest contribution to providing some new and useful information that might serve as that spark. Gaining insight into key aspects of what has been a secret transmigration from Taiwan to PEI of an international Buddhist Corporation’s global headquarters when most Islanders haven’t even heard the name of that corporation (Bliss and Wisdom Corporation Inc.) is no small challenge for one article…uh….mini-book.
In Search of the Holy Grail: Information and Answers from Gov’t
There are so many unanswered questions about the Buddhists in PEI, after all these years, for two reasons, both having a common characteristic:
(1) The government won’t tell us what it knows. Islanders have been kept in the dark about the Buddhists by the PEI government and it’s early ties to the PNP Investor program, Frank Zhou, Premier Ghiz, then Premier MacLauchlan. We have never been provided any meaningful information, beyond the original narrative about the establishment of two modest monasteries in Eastern PEI, a scenario which has long-since morphed into a far different and out-of-control situation; and
(2) the Buddhist monks and nuns won’t tell us what they know. The monks and nuns have also told us next to nothing about who they really are, their past, and why they left Taiwan to relocate their headquarters in PEI.
The lay members of Bliss and Wisdom have revealed even less. We have never even seen the Buddhist’s Master and leader in the flesh, nor have we ever had an opportunity to hear her, or ask her questions, or have her explain how she sees PEI fitting into her global network of Bliss and Wisdom Buddhist Corporations; or how she initially came to have such confidence in being able to come to PEI to complete such a mega-project stretching over so many years?
Who or what gave her that assurance? Something involving immigration, international affairs, purchase of significant property and assets, being able to bring people through the immigration system in large numbers quickly, etc. would require many legal and legislative guarantees – any single one of which that fell through could potentially thwart the entire project – any single one of which from either the provincial or federal governments. So was (is?) there some kind of an agreement we never heard about? There’s much for us to yet discover.
One would expect that Master Zhenru would have been provided assurance of receiving everything she would need to succeed before embarking on such a massive venture, relocating her global headquarters from Taiwan to PEI. Was she? Was there (is there?) a secret agreement of some kind with the provincial government stretching back to the Ghiz or MacLauchlan days that we’ve never heard about?
Getting answers to some of these key questions is clearly a prerequisite for being able to move forward and engage in honest, meaningful discussions that can, hopefully, then facilitate and move things toward a satisfactory outcome for everyone, especially residents of Eastern PEI. I suspect it’s mostly the lack of information that’s underscoring and causing the present impasse, so the information in this post should help somewhat.
Solutions are still needed, and the sooner the better. However, it appears that both the Buddhists and Three Rivers Council members are waiting for the PEI Government to step up and intervene in the matter. That’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.
The PEI Government (Hon. Bloyce Thompson) was given a full briefing on this explosive situation last November, 2019, and despite Minister Thompson making strong promises that swift and decisive action would be taken, no action has been taken. Pardon me, that’s not exactly true: action has been taken…to worsen and perpetuate the situation (some would characterize it as “aiding and abetting”).
The King Government has indeed not only chosen to remain silent on this pressing issue since last November, 2019, Minister Thompson and Executive Council have also since provided approval to a further 504 acre land-acquisition by Hopetown Corporation Inc., owned by key Buddhists. I’ll provide an insightful update on Hopetown in a subsequent article.
That Executive Council approval of the Hopetown deal was truly a cynical move! It acquiesced and totally accommodated the future Buddhist plans to transform a significant chunk of prime farmland in Eastern PEI into a residential district for Buddhist development. The residents in Eastern PEI who took the time to Brief Minister Thompson and give him a tour of all the empty houses and properties owned by Buddhists in the area must have felt like he was giving them the middle finger with that Hopetown sale.
Following that briefing and tour last November, Minister Thompson was to go to British Columbia with Finance Minister Darlene Compton to learn from the BC Government regarding how BC had recently put the brakes on out-of-control land speculation and purchases of agricultural land for development with newly-enacted legislative changes. That trip was to happen last winter, but hasn’t happened yet; which didn’t go unnoticed by Green MLA and Agriculture and Land Critic Party, Michele Beaton, last Spring during the House sitting.
I posted this same video clip of Ms. Beaton asking Bloyce Thompson to explain why his planned BC trip never happened previously. Beaton had obviously been made aware of that plan to travel to BC to get a draft land protection “solution” to apply to PEI, and she didn’t seem impressed to hear Bloyce admit nothing had been done on the issue.
Beaton, exasperated, was expecting that the BC solution would long-since been adopted and adapted to the PEI situation, and that changes to the Lands Protection Act would have been drafted by then. She pressed Thompson: he blamed Covid-19, a nearly year-long scourge that has ravished the ranks of our relatives….oh wait, wrong script, I meant: …a nearly year-long scourge that has yet to require anyone to go to the hospital.
Minister Thompson said nothing of the real problem that he and Beaton were clearly both thinking about during that intense exchange. He said there wasn’t a problem. My eyebrows went up when I heard that. They went higher with his semi-incoherent utterance about PEI having similar land concerns as BC (good start, that was true, although he didn’t spell out what those concerns were exactly, nor the significant legislative amendments and other measures that BC enacted to address them) but then things went downhill hearing him say his Government was looking at possibly putting an “empty house” tax in place. Wow!
Imagine that, a made-in-PEI solution to the abuse of the Lands Protection Act: a new revenue stream for government! Ingenious. But that certainly wasn’t the type of solution B.C. came up with and enacted to actually protect its farmland and not just discover a new way to tax people, nor would such an approach do anything to actually protect our land.
I’m sure no one watching that somewhat cryptic exchange between Beaton and Thompson had any real idea what was really going on. You can watch it again, or jump over it if you’ve already seen it, but it may look different now that you have some additional background information providing more context and meaning:
Bloyce Thompson on BC Trip, July 3, 2020: Watch on YouTube Here
Minister Thompson’s statement: “We will pick this up as soon as possible, Mr. Speaker, and address this situation” seems to have since been forgotten.
Silence by the Government on the Buddhist situation – especially during the past two months following the Three Rivers Council decision to deny GWBI a building permit – represents, in my opinion, more evidence of a continued cover-up by the PEI government, notwithstanding the now very public and urgent situation facing the Community of Three Rivers.
Three Rivers Council members explained that the principal reason for the decision to deny the building permit was the confusion and unanswered questions over the much bigger, broader issues related to land. The Council explicitly acknowledged that the PEI Government has jurisdiction, and would need to take a leadership role to both investigate and resolve the current conundrum.
As far as I’m aware, whatever the PEI Government has been doing on the Buddhist file hasn’t involved a process of dialogue with the Buddhists that includes either the residents or councillors of Three Rivers.
After the Hopetown Corporation Inc. land purchase approval by Executive Council (with Minister Thompson defending that deal publicly), I did some further digging and ended up publishing two articles [Government approves sale of 500 Acres in Eastern PEI to Asian Land Developers; and Why is Government’s Version of the Asian Land Approval Process Different from IRAC’s?].
Each article raised a number of questions which have yet to be answered by Minister Thompson. Those issues relating to that Hopetown land purchase will be addressed in a separate episode in this Monkileaks series.
After publishing those two Hopetown articles, I received a digital “brown paper envelop” of documents. I then decided to make public the information in a series of articles; not because I needed another project on my plate, but only because this is an extremely serious and urgent issue with long-term consequences for PEI, especially the Buddhists themselves and the residents directly impacted in Eastern PEI.
Those consequences will unfold regardless of the outcome, so let’s work to make it a good one for everyone involved, except those who may have broken laws, in which case they should answer for that within our judicial system.
I gave the brown paper envelope documents a quick scan, enough to see the kind of dealings that were going on, but then decided to set them aside. I didn’t want them to influence my research any further. I can see what they can prove….I wanted to see if I could prove the same thing without them. This mini-book is the result of that effort.
The documents I received clearly focused on very specific deals and correspondence…all the “particulars” regarding Master Zhenru’s plans to relocate Bliss and Wisdom’s global headquarters from Taiwan to PEI, mostly records related to land and property purchases.
To properly grasp the significance of the particulars, it seemed necessary to first establish a framework within which a proper understanding of all those particular transactions, correspondences and connections could be understood.
This article is, therefore, an attempt to provide the “big picture” – an organized presentation of relevant, but mostly general, facts and issues related to, and of significant relevance to – being able to understand the Buddhist monks, nuns, and parishioners in PEI.
The rest of this preamble addresses two preliminary matters, each having a corresponding aim:
1) to explain the rationale for the long gap between my last Monkileaks article and this one [2 months – September 11, 2020], spoiler alert, the biggest reason being (you might have guessed) the King Government denying (FOIPP Request) and blocking (Corporate Registry) access to some of the most important information I needed; and
2) to provide a short glossary of key Buddhist terms necessary to understand the Bliss and Wisdom Buddhists in PEI – terms which appear in citations later in the research.
Regarding my first aim: There are four main reasons that I’ve waited this long to publish this mini-book, in addition to the time it took me to actually put it together:
(1) Wait and See Attitude: I wanted to see what would happen naturally, without my interference, after the Three Rivers Council denied the Great Wisdom Buddhist Institute (nuns) a building permit. Knowing that the province has most of the same information that I have, I expected – since it was stated publicly by Three Rivers Council members and the Mayor after that decision, that Three Rivers Council would need to hear from the province given the fact that the main issues and concerns related to the land purchases, which is a provincial jurisdiction falling under the Lands Protection Act.
(2) Waiting for Access Documents: I had submitted an Access to Information Request on September 17, 2020 with wording as follows:
I was waiting for those documents to see what – if anything – the province was doing or saying about the Buddhists since Bloyce was handed that flash-drive full of documents last Fall. I didn’t get much. I received 18 pages in total; lots of them had nothing on them at all except a note like the following:
Section 25(1) is “solicitor-client privilege” by the way – a government favorite. The Government likes to use that one because that one is the only provision within the FOIPP Act that allows the Government to keep the Information and Privacy Commissioner from seeing the actual contents in the documents. She has to take their word that they are indeed solicitor-client privileged!
I currently have a review almost completed by the new Information and Privacy Commissioner, Denise Doiron, based on a challenge I’m making for being denied documents which the Public Body objected to being released on the basis of section 25(1), despite no lawyer ever apparently being involved. That Order from the Privacy Commissioner will not be made public until shortly after Christmas.
(3) Waiting for New Business Registry Search features: I had been eagerly awaiting the installation of new search features and fields of information that would provide access to the names in the PEI Corporate / Business Registry – as well as all the different corporations that a particular person is associated with as a director, officer or shareholder – knowing that it would greatly expedite my research. That was supposed to come on September 1st, but, as far as these Buddhist corporations are concerned at least, that hasn’t happened. I’ll say a bit more about the ongoing denial of access to names in the Business / Corporate Registry in a minute, just to document another broken promise from the King Government for posterity.
(4) GWBI Presentation to Natural Resources and Sustainability: l got wind that GWBI might be called before the legislative committee a few weeks ago, so I decided it would be wise to hold off on publishing to see what questions would be asked, and what answers provided. That was a good decision, as you’ll see from the section on that presentation, I got a lot of insight into the real problem at least, which will also be explained later, thanks to Mr. Cory Deagle’s efforts, being both the Chair of the Standing Committee and MLA for Montague – Kilmuir [not bad for a rookie backbencher with no obvious support (and likely significant resistance) from his Premier and most of his fellow PC MLA Cabinet Ministers!].
It’s All about Interconnected Corporations with the LPA
PEI’s Land Protection Act (LPA) has a very unique and specific built-in legal understanding of the interconnected nature of businesses and corporations when it comes to the purchase of PEI land. The focus isn’t primarily on the technical, legal word-smithing kind of distinctions that appear on paper with separate incorporations and company registrations; what’s really important is the nature of the relationships among and between the people involved.
The definition of corporation spelled out in Section 1(d) of the LPA reads as follows:
(d) “corporation” includes a partnership, cooperative association or body corporate whether formed or incorporated under the law of this province or any other province or of Canada or outside of Canada, and for the purposes of this Act a corporation and other corporations directly or indirectly controlled by the same person, group or organization shall be deemed to be one corporation;
This broad definition was meant to cast a wide net to remove at least some ambiguity from the law…”ambiguity” being the stuff lawyers use to circumvent provisions in the Act. The framers of the LPA were really serious back then about preventing the concentration of land ownership and control in any one “group” or family of companies connected to be essentially the same business entity, either directly or indirectly, like members of a family.
The LPA definition of corporation is very relevant to the Buddhist situation, and represents the principal interest of my research – to show in two ways that all the monks and nuns and parishioners are one family/corporation/international organization (Bliss and Wisdom Corporation Inc., incorporated in Taiwan).
Understanding the origin, development and organizational structure of Bliss and Wisdom Corporation Inc. based in Taiwan will help us make some sense out of the subsequent creation of GEBIS and GWBI as overseas extensions of Bliss and Wisdom. If this is true, then each of the separate Buddhist corporate entities (and there are many) including GEBIS and GWBI, Hopetown Corporation, Moonlight International Academy, Leezen, Grain Essence, etc… don’t get to each own 3,000 acres of PEI.
Bliss and Wisdom has three distinct categories of membership: (1) monks; (2) nuns; and (3) parishioners – as I’ll explain later, this is a distinct difference from Catholic monasticism (i.e., Contemplative Religious Orders of Catholic monks and nuns don’t live off donations).
This distinction is significant in that the parishioners or “laity” constitute an integral part of the entire monastic community – the engine if you will. The parishioners feed the monasteries with their sons and daughters, and utilize their private status in the economy to expand assets and generate revenue which is funnelled or donated to Bliss and Wisdom.
The claim being made by Buddhist spokespeople like Venerable Yvonne Tsai, Finance Officer on the Board of GWBI, is that the laity are private citizens. That may be correct from a strict legal point of view, but with respect to the organizational structure of Bliss and Wisdom and the provisions of the Lands Protection Act , well, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
The Land Protection Act was infused with a spirit set on achieving an objective both inspired and defined by an attempt to catch attempts to use legal loopholes and whatnot to obscure the true nature of intimate organizational connections that may not necessarily show up on paperwork. Unfortunately, governments have turned control of the administration and (to a large extent) the interpretation of the Act to IRAC staff – a Crown Corporation – who have squelched the true Spirit of the LPA years ago, while successive governments have been happy to sit back and let them.
The Bliss and Wisdom Parishioners are indeed private citizens, however, they also represent the most essential layer of membership within Bliss and Wisdom, without which no monasteries would exist. It’s the laity that both generates100% of the source of funding for Bliss and Wisdom monks and nuns living in monasteries, and it is the laity who provide their children to the same Bliss and Wisdom Global Corporation, first as students, then as monks and nuns.
This is quite different from, say, the Trappists monks in Rogersville, N.B., who farm to generate income to sustain the monastery; or the Benedictine Monks in Muenster, Saskatchewan, who run a printing press to bring in finances to sustain their monastery. The monks and nuns may appear to be “independent” on paper; however, they are all completely dependent on the same laity, like the children of the laity they, in fact, are….like I said, a big, big difference from Catholic Western Monasticism.
The integrated nature of these three levels of membership in Bliss and Wisdom makes discovering the names of the individuals behind the MANY incorporated bodies absolutely essential. Getting that information is problematic. Most businesses are incorporated federally, or in other provinces, and are only identified in PEI’s Corporate Registry as “extra-provincial” – with no names of either directors or shareholders.
The implicit, interconnected nature of all these corporate entities is that they are all Bliss and Wisdom members, and/or Bliss and Wisdom member-owned corporations. Showing that will be the central focus of my investigation and the substance of future articles.
Those “transactional documents” will show the interconnected nature of the three levels of Bliss and Wisdom organization with actual and specific land transactions that have already taken place between, and among, Buddhist members belonging to Bliss and Wisdom, as well as the incorporated entities which Bliss and Wisdom Corporation ultimately owns and/or controls. That information has, so far, and unfortunately, been kept completely secret by both the provincial government and the Buddhists.
There hasn’t been any disclosure (to my knowledge) of this critically-important corporate information necessary to understand Bliss and Wisdom’s dealings in PEI, and without which nothing else can make sense. What we have at this juncture is an endless list of questions.
What is the connection (if there is any) between the different groups of monks and nuns each having separate Canadian incorporation, either already established or in the process of establishing in PEI? Do they all come from the same Buddhist schools and traditions? Do they believe the same things? Are they coming to PEI from the same countries? If GEBIS and GWBI and CGI and the other Sanghas are indeed separate and distinct groups of Buddhists, how is it that they are all congregating in Eastern PEI part of one-and-the-same Buddhist development plan, following one and the same leader – Master Zhenru? Hmmm…
A) Setting the Stage for What Comes Next
I’m sure Islanders are aware of at least a number of defining characteristics about the Buddhists in PEI, although I don’t want to assume too much. But let’s also not assume that we know much.
I think we’ve all heard that Buddhists strive to honour and respect all sentient life forms in their daily lives; so much so that they once purchased 600 live lobsters from Sobeys then dropped them back into the Ocean, rubbing salt in the wounds of their cruel lobster-fishing neighbours (who most certainly also eat them) of their wily efforts to ensure their catches would be just a tad smaller:
“Hopefully, we can find a spot where there are no cages waiting for them,” said [Venerable Dan]. “The purpose is to cultivate compassion not just for the lobsters, but for all beings, he said.”
What a lovely sentiment! Cultivate compassion for all beings…unfortunately, that translates into the PEI vernacular as “…all beings except local lobster fishers” who risk their lives on the waves to eke out a living to support their families. Thanks a lot Venerable Dan…very compassionate indeed!
Shortly thereafter (hours in fact) a Buddhist-affiliated restaurant was vandalized, which made the news of course, but there was never evidence found directly linking the two incidents, or identifying culprits, or leading to any prosecution.
The Buddhist’s love for sentient life forms took another unfortunate turn with rats, upsetting some local farmers. A few Buddhists decided catching and releasing rats would be a good idea. That act of compassion went over like a balloon full of gnawing rats. As the Guardian reported:
“Following a complaint to the provincial Department of Environment, staff members were sent down to talk to the monks about what they were doing. While it isn’t illegal to catch and release rats, a spokeswoman with the department says it’s something that tends to bother P.E.I. farmers.“ [Guardian, September 30, 2017]
I would pay good money for an audio transcript of that “complaint to the Department of Environment”.
“Tends to bother farmers” you say? No kidding. I grew up on a potato and grain farm (a couple of rat’s – yum yum – favourites on the menu), and to be honest, I can’t actually recall rats ever being a bother. No. But I do remembering them eating holes in anything and everything otherwise causing a tremendous amount of disgusting-smelling chaos and financial loss, with rat crap pellets strewn all over the place in our warehouses. Unbelievable how fast those nasty breeding machines can wreck havoc on a farm.
So I can fully understand how a neighbouring farmer – or any neighbour for that matter, farmer or not – might consider someone dropping rats off on or near his or her property as an act akin to a white-glove slap across the face in Medieval times. But enough about lobsters and rats.
Sometimes I wonder if the Buddhists secretly view us as a horde of barbarians ruled by our brutish passions. Do they privately feel disgusted by our rat-rage killing rampages and lust for luscious lobsters? Are Buddhists constantly working to repress what they REALLY think about us behind those kindness smiles? I hope not.
Most Islanders would know a few other sundry things about the Buddhists, such as (1) they grow lots of sunflowers; (2) they bake and donate bread rolls to charities; and (3) they buy every piece of property they have an interest in and their eyes on (regardless if they are on the market) and usually get what they want with their unique style of Bliss and Wisdom negotiation (deep pockets).
Most of us likely know a few other mostly superficial things about the Buddhists. Things we got from observation or from reading or hearing local news stories.
But who are the Buddhists really? Why did they decide to come to PEI from Taiwan of all places?
I doubt that many Islanders have a clue about who the Buddhist really are. We’ve been mostly left to wonder and guess. Neither the Buddhists nor the PEI government have ever told us anything substantive about the long-term Buddhist Master Plan and the massive transformational impact on PEI that will happen from that plan if it unfolds as expected, especially impacts on the residents of Eastern PEI.
The Buddhists just showed up one day, won our hearts, and everyone seemed on board with what was said: there was going to be a couple of Buddhist monasteries built in Eastern PEI, creating significant economic development; the Lobster Shanty was also supposed to become a major hotel and resort complex, etc.
What has transpired since then, and the information that has been coming in dribs and drabs, mostly from what locals have been able to glean from observations, conversations, and interactions with the monks and nuns, is minimal and usually unverifiable. They only reveal fuzzy contours of a much larger, longer-term plan and vision that has never been publicly discussed, nor involved meaningful discussions and consultations with local residents.
What are the Buddhist’s political views? Their philosophical beliefs? How do they see themselves integrating into (or not) and contributing to (or not) Island society in the long-term? The Buddhist’s have a significant need for local businesses and tradespeople at the present time, during the construction phases of their development plan, but what will replace that social and economic activity once the building is complete and there’s no longer a need for local trade services and building materials?
And as far as day-to-day “goods” are concerned – it’s impossible to determine exactly how much retail spending is actually happening in PEI, but it appears the principal supply chain is with Taiwan, Korea, and other Asian countries, not the local corner store.
These pictures were snapped last week. Aside from the striking fall colours, the other significant thing about them is, of course, all these shipping containers spread out on Buddhist-owned property. They signal a recurring activity for the Buddhists.
(1) Multiple shipping containers are offloaded onto a Buddhist-owned property in eastern PEI, then (2) the goods are stored in one of many residential houses purchased by Buddhist monks, nuns or parishioners vacated and sitting empty: a “residential warehousing program” of sorts.
The one thing that never seems to be in short supply with the Buddhists is money…hard, cold, cash.
What is the source of the hundreds of millions of dollars of cash and wire transfers pouring into PEI? Neither the Buddhist monks nor nuns generate any revenue.
When asked by a Three Rivers Councillor about the source of their substantial financial means, the surprising answer was that 100% of GWBI’s funds came as donations from parishioners.
That’s a stunningly vague answer when you consider the vast funds required to build new headquarters for a global corporation moving it’s world headquarters from Taiwan to Prince Edward Island.
The funds are coming from Taiwanese and Chinese Bliss and Wisdom parishioners making donations to Bliss and Wisdom in Taiwan. Are the people who are donating that money in Taiwan and China aware of how the money is being spent in Canada? Much more on that later; but first, let’s get a better understanding of the institutional and organizational structure of the Buddhists in PEI.
Following the recent Three Rivers Council’s decision not to approve the building permit for another GWBI dormitory, much of the discussion and comments on social media in following days referred to GEBIS (Great Enlightenment Buddhist Institute Society): It is inaccurate and confusing to think of the Buddhist situation in PEI in any other way than “Bliss and Wisdom”.
The GEBIS monks weren’t involved with the permit issue. It was exclusively an issue with the GWBI (Great Wisdom Buddhist Institute) nuns. The permit application was submitted by the separately-incorporated GWBI, however, the entire initiative and project (including the funding for the project) was an initiative of Bliss and Wisdom, as decided and directed by Master Zhenru.
Master Zhenru was not, however, at the Three Rivers Council to answer questions about her Master(literally)plan to relocate the global headquarters of Bliss and Wisdom in PEI. No one but Master Zhenru is able to explain the intricacies and details of her long-term plan to bring more Bliss and Wisdom monks and nuns (and also Buddhist monks and nuns from China, Malaysia, etc.) to PEI.
Unless things change with different groups of Buddhists coming to PEI who are not Bliss and Wisdom Buddhists, or are not Chinese Buddhists anxious to exit China and integrate into Bliss and Wisdom in PEI, it is important that the public discussion about the Buddhists in PEI consistently refer to all the Buddhist monks, nuns, and parishioners as members of Bliss and Wisdom. They follow the same authority and leader, and they are all receiving financial support from the same pool of donations contributed by the same Bliss and Wisdom followers and supporters living in Taiwan.
Both the nuns and monks abide by the decisions made by Master Zhenru on how donations are used; decisions that affect each organization uniquely to a degree, but work in tandem to realize her plan to relocate Bliss and Wisdom’s global headquarters in PEI and grow Bliss and Wisdom by attracting and integrating Buddhists from different Buddhist traditions, primarily from China and Malaysia [several hundred Buddhists from China and Malaysia (mostly China) are currently living in PEI, in rented houses and the old Lobster Shanty that never did get developed into a resort].
There was an explicit denial by the Board Director of Finance for the Great Wisdom Buddhist Institute (GWBI), Venerable Yvonne Tsai, that the GWBI nuns are connected to the Great Enlightenment Buddhist Institute Society (GEBIS), the monks. She claimed GWBI has its own fundraising, and operates entirely independently. That key claim and issue will be examined later in this article, uh…mini book, and shown to be absolutely and completely false.
(b) A Short Glossary of Buddhist Terms Used in this Research
The meaning of a number of key terms used to describe and explain Buddhism (some of which are used in a number of quotations which I cite subsequently) contain nuances of meaning specifically related to Buddhism, and are essential to know. There is a long-standing debate as to whether Buddhism is a true religion or philosophical world view, however, there is no debate on the essential meaning of the following terms:
Dharma is a Sanskrit word that translates literally to “right direction,” “rightful duty,” or “righteous living.” But the concept of dharma has a far deeper meaning than its direct translation. Essentially, your dharma means your purpose in life. Your dharma is your true calling – what you were put here to do.
Karma is a Sanskrit word meaning “action.” It refers to a cycle of cause-and-effect that is an important concept in many Eastern Religions, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism. It has nothing to do with “fate,” as is often thought in Western culture, but has to do with the outcomes of the either positive or negative things we decide to do. In its essence, karma refers to both the actions and the consequences of the actions.
Sangha comes from the Sanskrit word “Samgha” meaning “Community.” Sangha (plural Sanghas) refers to the entire Buddhist community of monks, nuns, novices, and laity. In Catholic monasticism, the equivalent term – monastic community – is not understood to include “laity”, although some monastic rules have introduced a “lay order” for individuals seeking to follow a spiritual path of prayer in their secular lives.
Sutra is a Buddhist scripture or foundational writing which Sangha rely on for guidance.
Vinaya is the division of the Buddhist canon or teaching (Tripitaka) containing the rules and procedures that govern the Buddhist monastic community, or sangha. The parallel in Catholic monasticism would be the “monastic rule” (e.g., Trappist rule; Benedictine rule, etc.) usually penned by the founders of the particular Religious Order with the Catholic Church.
Lamrim (Tibetan: “stages of the path”) is a Tibetan Buddhist textual form for presenting the stages in the complete path to enlightenment as taught by Buddha. In Tibetan Buddhist history there have been many different versions of lamrim, presented by different teachers of the Nyingma, Kagyu and Gelug schools.
Samsara: the cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is bound.
Novices, Proficients, Professed: These are stages in the progression from deciding to become a monk or nun, and actually taking ‘final vows’ professing a life-long vow to live as a celibate monk or nun. It is curious that these are the same words used to refer to the stages in becoming a Catholic monk, nun or professed member of a Religious Order. Once professed, both Buddhist monks and nuns are referred to as Venerable.
The Buddhists in PEI have connections and interests that extend into other provinces across Canada, especially British Columbia and Ontario, as well as countries throughout the world, especially Taiwan, China, and the United States. There are many tentacles extending from the Bliss and Wisdom Corporation registered in Taiwan, into PEI, in several other provinces in Canada, the United States, and globally.
There are countless affiliated corporate entities under Bliss and Wisdom’s ownership and/or control, both for-profit and non-profit charitable corporations. Some have been incorporated in other provinces (GEBIS was first incorporated in British Columbia, then PEI, then Ontario), but most have been incorporated federally then subsequently registered in PEI.
Many Bliss and Wisdom-controlled corporations are entirely unknown to Islanders. They are neither registered in PEI nor Canada, but in other countries throughout the world. All these organizations were either founded by Master Zhenru or are organizations over which she has assumed direction, according to information on a website promoting Zhenru’s writings, art, and music:
“So far, the charitable organizations founded or directed by Zhenru are scattered in more than 50 cities around the world. Its main themes include: clean plastic and beach, plant trees and forests, health and conservation, vegetarian and vegetable food, spiritual growth, caring for the elderly, inheritance of traditional Chinese medicine, Free clinics and cultural preservation in rural areas. [??????????????????????https://lotus.zhen-ru.org/author]
Notwithstanding the recent announcement by Hon. Bloyce Thompson that Islanders would get access to the names of shareholders as well as directors of corporations operating in PEI (speaking in his capacity as PEI’s Attorney General), unfortunately, no such information is being provided for most of these Bliss and Wisdom-affiliated corporate entities.
In the Legislative Assembly on June 10, 2020, Green Party MLA and Agriculture Critic, Michele Beaton, challenged Minister Thompson to tell Islanders when the changes to the Corporate Registry would finally be made, giving Islanders the access that the Business Corporation Act amendment that had already been passed November, 2019.
That action would have made the following changes to the registry: (1) restore the same degree of transparency that was in the PEI Corporate/Business online registry before former Liberal Premier Wade MacLauchlan took it away [i.e., the names of Directors], but also; (2) add a name search field allowing a simple search showing all the corporate affiliations a given individual has; and (3) provide access to the names of the beneficial owners of corporations, e.g., the names of Shareholders:
Later in June, 2020, before the House sitting ended, Michele Beaton again pressed Thompson for specifics:
Ms. Beaton: Will people have access to be able to use a search feature through this new corporate registry?
Mr. Thompson: Yes.
Ms. Beaton: When will that new corporate registry go live?
Mr. Thompson: With discussion with the director, Steven Dowling and Curtis Toombs, they hope to have it enacted in August or early September.
Ms. Beaton: Is there a clear date on that? Usually, you’d have a go date, like a launch date. Is there a clear launch date for that?
Mr. Thompson: Early September. I’ll say.
Bloyce says a lot of things!
September 1, 2020 was the special day he later identified when the big launch would happen, the “great reset” catapulting PEI into a whole new era of transparent democracy. We would finally get a window installed on the front side of the insider’s clubhouse enabling us to peer into the secret world of numbered companies and faceless shareholders.
Dennis King’s promise to put a simple, cost-free “name search field” in the Corporate Registry (delivered with great passion, eloquence and enthusiasm before the last election) would finally be that…as he put it…“great first step to achieving government transparency.” Amen to that!
I went to bed that last day of August giddy as a 5-year old on Christmas eve…but it wasn’t sugar plums dancing around in my head, it was streaming lists of corporations I imagined would likely pile up under the names of a few insiders I was going to check out first thing in the morning.
Man, if I had a dollar for every time Denny King crushed my hope in humanity and made a fool out of me with another broken promise….(sad emoji)
As it turns out, not only are Islanders NOT getting a name field to search for all companies that a particular person might be a director, officer or shareholder of, we’re not even getting the names of shareholders as promised, at least not for Island companies choosing to incorporate federally, or in other provinces or territories, which seems to be the new “go-to strategy” for businesses in PEI these days, since it’s a pretty low-cost way ($250.00 incorporation fee) to continue to circumvent disclosure that was supposed to have been fixed by Premier King, simply by bypassing that requirement in the newly-amended Business Act with an extra-provincial incorporation and subsequent registration in PEI.
Worse still, we’re apparently not even going to get the names of the directors of corporate entities in our registry once those extra-provincial corporations register to do business in PEI.
As well, in the old Registry, if you typed in the number for a numbered company (which there seems to be more and more of these days) you got one result – the particular company with that number as a name.
In the new Registry, you get pages and pages of numbered companies that come up randomly, showing no rhyme or reason [no clue why that wouldn’t be immediately flagged as a major glitch needing repair, but it looks like the “new normal” ], with no way to further narrow the search results. It’s now nearly impossible, and very time-consuming, to locate the registry filing for a particular numbered company.
It seems there’s no lengths the government won’t go to in its efforts to obscure information about corporations in PEI. No matter. It did take extra work, but I finally found what I needed to find, so let’s get at it.
Great Enlightenment Buddhist Institute Society (GEBIS) is a Canadian registered charitable organization first incorporated in British Columbia in 2006, then registered in Prince Edward Island in 2008, then registered in Ontario in 2013.
This is the information on GEBIS in the PEI Corporate/Business Registry – no names (thanks Bloyce):
The names of directors and shareholders for Buddhist-owned and/or Buddhist-affiliated corporations registered and operating in PEI (but incorporated elsewhere) – or any other corporation for that matter – should be a requirement for registration to do business or otherwise operate in PEI, in keeping with the stated commitment to make this corporate information public, in the interest of providing a degree of transparency which is the only way it is possible to improve compliance with laws. That’s how democracy is supposed to work.
What’s the point telling Islanders that the shareholders of corporations will be made public if the PEI Government doesn’t also make disclosure of directors, officers and shareholders with the PEI registration of extra-provincial corporations public as well? The changes become useless if that isn’t also required information with all corporate registrations as well as incorporations. Such an easy go-around makes a mockery of the claim that Islanders have been provided meaningful access to the names of corporate directors, officers and shareholders.
The Objectives and Scope of the Monkileaks Investigation
It’s been nearly two months since I last published an article in this series, so I want to start by restating a few of the claims I made in the first of those three articles.
I launched this series prematurely, as a result of a decision I made to go public with some of the “conclusions” before actually doing the work and publishing the research – I felt a moral obligation at the time to bring concerns to the attention of the Three Rivers Council before a vote on the GWBI building permit took place.
In Monkileaks Episode #1 [Three Rivers: The Sun, the Moon and the Truth] I listed claims for which I indicated I would later provide evidence in a series of articles. Those claims are worth restating:
“It was not my intention to publish anything on this investigation for a few weeks. However, given the pending vote by Three Rivers Council – and the unbelievable silence and sheer irresponsibility of the provincial government, which has had all the same information since last November that I have, yet were not willing to share it with Montague councillors – I decided to go public at this time with the claims I intend to prove in subsequent articles:
The feature graphic for this series came from Bliss and Wisdom (the parent organization for GEBIS and GWBI) in Taiwan. It is the long-term plan: to bring between 20,000 and 30,000 laypeople to Eastern PEI. The complex (community of buildings) is estimated to cost roughly $500,000,000.
GEBIS (monks) and GWBI (nuns) present as separate entities, but operate as one entity. A third group (CGI) is also now on PEI, and the plan includes at least 3 more Buddhist groups to locate in Eastern PEI; all presenting as separate corporate entities, however, operating under Bliss and Wisdom.
Nuns and monks are buying property as both non-residents and permanent residents of PEI without having to go through IRAC and Executive Council to obtain approval, often hundreds of acres of farmland which they have no intention to farm. There have also been a huge number of land and home transactions (one resident told me at least 200) where many monks, nuns, laypeople each purchased 5 acres, thereby circumventing IRAC and Executive Council completely. The use of ‘bundling’ non-resident names to purchase is common.
International Students at GEBIS and GWBI are receiving wire transfers from Taiwan and/or China and are then ‘donating’ large sums to the monastery.
Buddhist laypeople are coming into PEI under the federal “temporary foreign worker” program as ‘volunteers’.
Buildings and land purchased by ‘individuals’ clearly belong to the monasteries – in one instance I took a picture of a building with a sign on the door indicating it is a GWBI residence; however, the purchase was made by 5 laypeople at the direction of GWBI.
There is very strong evidence that suggests money laundering is also happening; however, that part of the investigation is being undertaken by a federal Liberal MP and his staff with whom I’m in close contact. Money laundering is a criminal offence and falls under federal jurisdiction.
Non-profit organizations such as Moonlight International have little or no activity or business, but seemingly have as their chief purpose purchasing land and assets.
Land purchased by parishioners is being used by the monks and nuns as if they owned it, with no lease agreements.
The GEBIS library is on land owned by an individual monk – adjacent to the Monastery. The GEBIS monastery is surrounded by parcels of land that’s part of the grounds of the monastery, but owned by individual monks
When IRAC began an investigation into GEBIS and GWBI in 2015-16, there was a ‘freeze’ on any further land purchases. GWBI purchased a large property in Brudenell during that time with the names of 5 parishioners (laypeople) to avoid IRAC application, which was explicitly stated as the purpose of purchasing that way…to evade IRAC.
The items in blue are all either directly or indirectly related to land and property issues, especially land and property purchases, IRAC applications, etc., as well as correspondence and other documentation related to my claims that all three levels of membership in Bliss and Wisdom (Monks, Nuns, and Parishioners) are buying, selling and transferring land for the same organization, Bliss and Wisdom, and should therefore be compelled to live within the 3,000 acre limit for corporations, as per the understanding of corporation in the Lands Protection Act.
This violation of the Lands Protection Act (there’s about 7,000 acres over the 3,000 limit from what I gather with a cursory review, however I have yet to do an exact calculation, and it will be on the low side since not all transactions can be identified currently).
This concentration of land within Bliss and Wisdom is happening mostly because applications to IRAC, as well as private real estate purchases, are being made in many different names, using many different corporate entities and/or individuals, some nuns, some monks, but most of them are parishioners.
Much of the information that the GWBI nuns recently presented to the members of the Legislative Assembly Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Sustainability, chaired by PC MLA, Cory Deagle, was in response to the claims I had made public in my first Monkileaks article, as well as in person without evidence at the Three Rivers Council meeting when the decision was deferred for 2 weeks.
As you will see later, in a video clip of that Standing Committee session with the nuns, Venerable Yvonne volunteered that she had heard from an Island friend that some people were saying that GWBI had used individual Buddhists to circumvent IRAC (at the time GWBI was under investigation by IRAC and was not supposed to purchase any land until it was completed). She stated emphatically that GWBI would never do that kind of thing.
How she then responded after Mr. Deagle read an email from the Assistant-Abbess, Venerable Janet, indicating that she was doing exactly what Venerable Yvonne had just said GWBI would never do is a priceless video clip coming up later.
I first want to offer a panoramic overview to provide some indication of the complexity of the entire situation. Some of this information warrants dedicated investigations in their own right, however, I’ve only carved out a small part of that for myself.
But first, my crazy summer hitchhiking across the great US of A to Big Sir California on the Pacific coast, up into BC, then back across Canada to PEI.
My Background Experience with Monasticism and Buddhism
I don’t usually get personal in my writing, but it seemed fitting to share a bit of autobiographical information about my past education and experience with both monasticism and Buddhism. I thought it might give some sense of both my long-standing interest in religious studies, spirituality and monasticism, as well as my credentials in these areas, having taught approximately 20 courses at UPEI and McGill University dealing with both eastern and western world religions, including Buddhism.
I hadn’t thought about my monastic experiences for a very long time, so I’ll confess, I got carried away trekking down memory lane. I had such a great time remembering that amazing summer journey hitchhiking across North America and visiting different Catholic Monasteries 41 years ago, especially recalling the faces of the special people I met who I honestly hadn’t thought about for (in some cases) decades, I thought I might as well share a few experiences that were popping into my head while I was writing since they were streaming into [no, I did not get a Tesla neural implant] my mind anyways, and I type really fast.
But to be honest, this section is not essential reading, so I won’t be offended if you skip to the next section. Because I won’t know. Unless you message me to say, “I skipped that section about you,” then I’ll be offended, so don’t do that. But in the spirit of helping you to make a fully-informed choice, yes, you will be able to understand the Buddhists in PEI just fine if you skip ahead to the next section.
However, I will say that you’ll miss out learning about how I spent a night freezing in the cold San Francisco bus station sitting for hours next to a disheveled junkie back; and that early morning encounter with a beaver after waking and emerging from my army-down sleeping bag nestled next to a pristine lake in the middle of nowhere in the wilds of Oregon….you probably want to hear more about that one…and there’s a few more doozies. “What was I thinking?” Indeed!
Let’s back up a step.
After graduating from Kinkora Regional High School (KRHS) in the Spring of 1976, I began a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Studies at UPEI that same September, rooming in Blanchard Hall.
At some point during (or just after) my second year, I met an amazing man while on a prayer retreat at the Trappist Monastery in Rogersville, N.B., named Dr. Anthony Opisso.
They have a wonderful guest house at the Trappists, as do most Catholic monasteries, where family members of the monks or retreatants can stay for different periods of time, depending on their particular circumstances. This may be part of a solution for the Buddhists as well – Guest Houses to accommodate visits from family members, so they don’t have to buy up houses and property, only to leave vacant most of the year, or to be used as residential warehouses for goods shipped from the Far East.
Brother Anthony (as everyone called him) had a lucrative private medical practice in the United States. After contracting a deadly illness, and given just days to live, Anthony promised God that if he healed him and he lived, he’d give the entirety of the rest of his life to God. He lived. What happened next was his journey discovering what “giving everything to God” meant for him.
He first believed that being a doctor and all, a life dedicated to God meant abandoning his upscale medical practice to become a missionary doctor in Africa, which is exactly what he did for a period of time, but then experienced a profound call to live as a religious hermit.
It’s a fascinating story how Anthony first went to the Little Brother of Jesus (a contemplative Catholic Order in France), then to England with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, then to the Oblates in Arnprior and Waupous Island, just north of Ottawa, Ontario, finally to settle at the Trappists in New Brunswick, where he lived out the final 27 years of his life as a third-order Lay Discalced Carmelite hermit and resident doctor for the Trappist monks.
Anthony stayed mainly in his hermitage on the other side of a little lake beside the monastery, but he also had two large rooms in the monastery – [the old brick building in the picture] with about 10,000 books (remember, this was long before the days of the internet).
Anthony spent most of his time working tirelessly on scriptural research and writing. He taught himself Hebrew, Greek and Latin, and was already fluent in written and spoken French and Spanish. He had acquired dozens of original copies of early sacred manuscripts and ancient writings from the British Museum while in England, not to mention thousands of rare books.
Br. Anthony had once given serious consideration to becoming a Carthusian brother – the most cloistered and secluded of monks in the world of Catholic Religious Orders. I had read all about St. Bruno’s life – the founder of the Carthusians – and was fascinated. I set myself to having a monastic experience with the Carthusians, but that took more than a little planning, since the Carthusians are one Monastic Order that doesn’t have a Guest House, nor do they even allow visitors.
Br. Anthony contacted the Prior, who he happened to know personally, Fr. Raphael Diamond, who agreed to allow me to visit the monastery and stay 2 weeks in my own hermit cell the following summer.
I had become increasingly disillusioned with the intellectual pursuit of knowledge about religion. My interest in carrying on with my University degree was being gradually being displaced with a simultaneously-increasing interest in learning more about, and experiencing, spirituality and monasticism.
My plan to spend two weeks at the Carthusian monastery in Arlington, Vermont the following summer left me with time, so I returned to PEI from the Trappists – where I had spent about a month of the summer of 1978 – to put in another year at UPEI, but I didn’t take any courses.
I shared a house with some of my same roommates from the previous two years – buds I had graduated with from KRHS – but when we’d trek up the hill from Burns Avenue to campus every morning, they begrudgingly went to classes complaining about having to sit through boring so-and-so’s class while I excitedly headed off to the Robertson Library to grab and begin a new book I had lined up the day before.
I would get a coffee and then nestle into one of those beanbag seats that were trendy at the time. My goal? Two actually. Read a new book every day and ruin my back with a trendy beanbag seat (I achieved both goals, thank you very much!).
Those books were mostly on the lives of saints, on different monastic orders and their rules, early church fathers and their writings, and all types of books on monastic lifestyles, both cenobitic (communities of monks, nuns or hermits) and eremitical monks and nuns (solitary hermits).
I decided to expand my monastery-experience beyond the Carthusians the following summer and see if I could arrange similar two-week experiences at a number of other contemplative monastic Catholic Orders of monks in the US and Canada. My plan was to hitchhike across the US, up into BC, then across Canada back to the Trappists in northern New Brunswick over the sumer and that’s exactly what I did.
I stayed 2 weeks at 5 of my favourite Catholic Monastic Orders; 3 in the US, and 1 in Saskatchewan, beginning with a 2 week stay at the Trappists visiting with Br. Anthony and preparing for my trip. The Carthusians were next on the list from the Trappists, those dates being fixed nearly a year earlier.
I could write a book of stories from that hitchhiking trip and it wouldn’t be a tiny book! It was a long time ago, so like with most experiences that far in the past, the memories that stick and tend to naturally line up in your mind as first, second, third, etc., are the ones that either: (1) had the most impact on your life, leaving an indelible and formative mark; or (2) were “traumatic” experiences that scare the beGEBIS out of you, and immediately burn a deep imprint into your neural net that remains for life. I’ll share just a few of both types, starting with my experience at the Carthusians.
The third-most powerful spiritual experience I’ve had so far in my life was the moment I first met the Carthusian Prior, Fr. Raphael Diamond.
I arrived at the base of the mountain and called up to the monastery from a landline. since that was a quarter of a century before cell phones. I was picked up in a (appropriately) pickup truck, and the monk just did a U-turn and immediately headed back up a winding narrow dirt road for about a mile to the top of the mountain. I was told “wait here,” then after a few minutes asked to come into a room to meet Fr. Diamond.
I can still recall the experience when I looked into his eyes and he started talking – in an instant, I experienced what I can only describe as complete ‘self-forgetting’. That normal chatter in my brain disappeared so immediately and completely I lost a sense of myself (which I only realized later because, like I said, I lost a sense of myself).
My recollection of that encounter was as if time had stood still for a minute, that in the quiet and peace of that spiritual encounter, the sheer power of that man’s presence transported me from a busy, noisy temporal realm into a different plateau of experience entirely. For an instance, it seemed as if time itself had stood still and suddenly made sense as nothing more than a construct of our feeble minds incapable of seeing beyond the apparent logical impossibility that change can somehow coexist with, and happen within an horizon of permanence.
After a short span of time, I suddenly became aware of myself again, where I was, what I was doing…in other words, ‘self-awareness’ and an internal process of mental chatter returned. Hard to describe experiences like that, but it has never left me and remains vivid in my memory.
Some year’s later – while obtaining a Master’s Degree in Theology at the Department of Religious Studies at Windsor University, one of professors (who happened to be both the head of the RS Department and Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the time, as well as my thesis advisor), had just published a book that helped me better understand that powerful experience meeting Fr. Raphael Diamond, titled, “Personal Presence: It’s Affects on Honesty and Truthfulness.“
That was my “wow” memory from the Carthusians.
My “shock” memory was the day I sauntered down that same mountain path pondering my amazing two-week experience. I suddenly happened across a badger on the edge of the road by the ditch – a critter I had never seen before and knew absolutely nothing about.
Thinking the holy heights had given me the charisms of St. Francis of Assisi, I slowly moved toward him with a blissful smile and some granola in hand talking like a mother talks to a newborn baby, just about to bend down and greet a fellow creature of God, brother badger, when the little bastard lurched at me with snarling fangs and a killer “you ain’t no holy man” look in his eyes. Scared the crap out of me and immediately destroyed all illusions I was entertaining that I was about to levitate or turn into Dr. Doolittle. To this day, I’m grateful PEI doesn’t have badgers.
I then hitch-hiked all the way across the US (mostly highway 80) with lots of stories I’m going to skip over, and eventually landed at the Camoldolese monastery in Big Sir California.
I remember three things from that two-week experience – how there were some die-hard “original” older monks actually living according to the monastic rule, one of whom I spent a good bit of time with (Br. Maria) and with whom I subsequently corresponded for years.
The second thing I remember is that others (both priests and brothers, the much younger crew) were experimenting with “modernizing the rule.”
The post-60’s was having a major transformative impact on culture generally in the US – but no where more than in California – and the impact of those transformative, secularizing influences were very-much evident within the Camoldolese.
The third thing I remember is that each and every morning, the first thing I would see when I looked out my window was a view exactly like the one in the picture. Gazing down the mountainside and out over the pacific ocean I’d see the same cottony-cloud of thick fog sitting on the ocean, thick as molasses, but stopping abruptly a few hundred feet above the water. Stunning!
When I left the Camoldolese Hermits, my hitchhiking came to an abrupt end just outside San Francisco. The third monastery I had arranged to visit was the Discalced Carmelites in Napa Valley, on the North side of San Francisco, so I had to take a bus into the city, then try to get a bus connection to Napa Valley.
That’s when I was successfully (1st stage) “recruited” by the Moonies, aka “Unification Church” that was a cult on the rise back in those days. Here’s how that happened.
I was standing looking at a huge bus schedule high on the wall, lamenting that I had just barely missed a bus to Napa Valley (it actually left early and I would have caught it if it hadn’t, which maddened me). There wasn’t another bus going to Napa Valley until the morning. Great. I had left PEI with about $300, and I honestly can’t remember what was left of that amount by the time I hit San Francisco, but I’m sure renting a hotel wasn’t in the cards. I figured I’d just have to wait it out at the bus depot, which was a pretty scary prospect.
While staring at that huge bus schedule a young woman about my age – very attractive and virgin-Maryish, with an overall peaceful, soft-smiling bearing – started up a conversation asking me where I was going. After explaining my dilemma, she told me I was in luck.
She told me she was part of a small group of Christians running a street mission in the neighbourhood around the bus depot, but that their main location was in Napa Valley, where they ran retreats, etc., “We’re going up to Napa Valley first thing in the morning,” she said, telling me I could get a ride with them. Wow! God does answer prayers.
Keep in mind that the bus depot was totally open to the street on both sides, with big steel warehouse doors rolled up. There really didn’t seem to be any security, the place was filthy, and fast filling up with homeless people, drug dealers, prostitutes, and LOTS of people who were either suffering from drug hallucinations or serious mental illnesses. Deciding to go with this saintly sister who I thought at the time was a Christian street mission worker was a no-brainer – I had slept outdoors in the middle of nowhere with wild animals, so I figured I was pretty safe with her.
We arrived at a very nice brick building (I remember it had a locked iron gate at the street) just about supper time. I remember a salad that tasted weird, and about 20 people at two long tables side by side in a large upstairs room. It was nice, and the conversation was friendly.
After supper we were asked to move into an adjoining room and take a seat on a cushion on the floor. This guy then went to the front of the room and starting talking about how everyone sees an elephant differently because they are too close and can’t see the whole ELEPHANT and I’m thinking to myself, “o.k., where is this going?” It bothered me that everyone around me had wide eyes and excited little smiles as if they’d just received some revelation about the meaning of the cosmos.
Then I had the strangest sensation: “I know this room!” I knew that I had never been in that room before, but I also knew that I had absolutely seen that very same room before. Then it hit me: “This is the room that was in a fifth estate documentary on the spread of the Moonie cult in California!” Someone had went “undercover” in that expose – in San Francisco – and had secretly filmed the very same session in the same room, pretty much from the very same spot I was sitting .
When the session was over, I immediately tracked down the girl who had done such a great job recruiting me with her lies. I recall saying to her straight up: “You’re the Moonies right?” To which she replied, “We don’t like being called Moonies, we prefer Unification Church.” I asked her why she had lied to me about being a Christian outreach and she went on about how the unification church encompasses all churches and religions…blah…blah…blah…, so I just dropped it and started worrying about how I was going to get to the Discalced Carmelites in Napa Valley.
I didn’t have a sense that I was in any danger from the Moonies, so I asked her, “What time are we leaving for Napa Valley in the morning?” Her reply? “We’re not going to Napa Valley in the morning.” Great.
I left the Loonie Moonie house in the dark, lost, trying to figure out how I could get back to the bus depot which was probably about 10 blocks away, and eventually found it. I sat on a bench inside this windy area open to the streets seriously fearful for my life for most of the night, but survived and got on a bus and to the Carmelites in the morning.
The one image burned in my brain from that night in the San Francisco bus depot was about a 1/2 hour period of time in the middle of the night when this guy came out of nowhere and sat just a few feet away from me on the same bench. He was making me very uncomfortable. He looked insane. He clearly hadn’t washed in over a year, and he just sat there staring straight ahead at a wall of about 35 payphones (remember – 1979 was long before cell phones).
This equally insane-looking woman comes bouncing in from the street wearing panties and a blouse but nothing else. She goes straight to the first phone, picks up the receiver, doesn’t dial, but talks for a while anyways, hangs up, goes to the next phone, doesn’t dial, but talks for a while….and does the same thing with every single phone. When she hung up the receiver on the last phone, she scurried back out into the night.
It was exactly at that moment the man sitting next to me who had yet to look at me or make a sound turned to me and calmly said with a glint in his eye: “Did’y ever see so f**king many freaks in all your life?” In an instant, I was no longer afraid that he might stab me and make off with my down-army sleeping bag and 1/2-lb bag of granola. Something about his presence reassured me he wasn’t a danger, he was just down on his luck – REALLY down on his luck.
The Discalced Carmelites ended up being a bigger disappointment than that fake Christian outreach worker I had supper at in San Francisco. I had studied and admired the great reformers of the Carmelite Order from the bean bag seats at the Robertson Library at UPEI the year before, and was expecting a contemplative monastery of the purest grade. The Carmelites were an ancient, austere, cloistered contemplative order that actually point to Elijah as their original “founder,” but had grown lax and lazy in the 17th century.
St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila reformed the Order, renaming it the “Discalced” Carmelites, writing spiritual classics on the practicalities and psychology of mystical union with God. Works by St. John of the Cross like: The Ascent of Mount Carmel, The Dark Night, The Spiritual Canticle, and The Living Flame of Love; and works by St. Teresa of Avila like: The Interior Castle; and The Way of Perfection.
St Teresa was the person who really initiated the major reform of the Carmelites, then was joined by the younger Spanish Carmelite friar and mystic John of the Cross. It led eventually to the establishment of the Discalced Carmelites (The “discalced” refers to not wearing shoes, signifying a return to a more austere and contemplative life) and a formal papal decree adopting the split from the old order was issued in 1580.
That is not what I found at the discalced Carmelites in Napa valley. They were no longer even a contemplative order, but rather a ‘teaching’ order – high school mostly – living life high off the hog. Brother Anthony was just a LAY Discalced Carmelite and lived a truly ascetic and eremitical religious life.
Fade to a fat monk with slobber on his chin ripping the leg of a pig from the spit with an apple in its mouth, with one hand, while gobbling down a goblet of the best vintage wine from the local Napa Valley vineyard with the other. I couldn’t wait to leave.
I remember I scored a bunch of rare medals from a jar they no longer had any interest in – I remember finding a St. Bruno (founder of the Carthusians) which wasn’t something you’d find at the corner store.
I decided to then hitchhike up through the Red Wood national forest and take a more ‘back roads’ route up through Oregon, Washington and then into British Columbia crossing the border at Chilliwack. I drove through a tree which was kind of cool.
Back in those days it was no problem catching rides with your thumb out, especially in California, where every fifth vehicle was (literally) a psychedelic Volkswagen van with a bunch of hippies wanting to party. I always said I was just going to the next town until I got a sense whether they were safe, but hitchhiking was generally safe back then and they really did just want to party.
I’ll never forget being in the back seat of one such van with this hitchhiker with this creepy vacant look in the eyes about my age turning to me and saying with a weird kind of smiling bravado: “I’ve done a lot of drugs man!” Then added without the smile: “But I’ll never do PCP again….that stuff burned holes in my brain,” turned away, and went back to staring out the window. That memory comes to the surface from time to time and it always evokes the same sense of sadness and tragic loss in me.
Only two things come to mind when I think about my hitchhiking trek from Napa Valley to BC. At one point in Oregon I was taking a very mountainous road, wanting to experience the great outdoors. I’d been walking for quite a while with hardly any traffic on this narrow two-lane mountain road. I remember looking over a guardrail down the side of a sheer cliff into a canyon that seemed to go for a mile, giving that immediate woozy sense from head to toe. About half-way down, there was an eagle slowing gliding around and around in circles with it’s piercing shrill echoing through the canyon. That was a moment impossible to forget.
The other memory – one of those “I didn’t ask for it or necessarily want it, it just got Imprinted on my brain in a moment of terror” memories was getting trapped at night in a pretty austere piece of wilderness in Oregon. I found a little lake off from the road and camped out there. In the morning when I looked out over the lake it was spectacular – not a ripple – the sun was just coming up, not a breath of air, perfect temperature….so I said out loud: “Thankyou God!” And immediately heard the loudest SLAP about 10 ft. from my head. Unbeknownst to me there was a beaver who was clearly surprised by my “Thankyou God!” and proceeded to scare the living….let’s just say I was VERY glad I had done laundry the day before in the previous town.
The last Monastery that I visited and spent time at was St. Peter’s Abbey, a Benedictine Monastery in Muenster, Saskatchewan. The one really interesting thing about that experience was that 13 yrs later I worked with some of the same monks I met when I stayed there – but then it was as the Executive Secretary of the National Farmers Union living in Saskatoon – the Benedictines published the monthly Union Farmer newspaper for the NFU.
Eventually I landed back at the Trappist Monastery. The Abbot (Fr. Alphonse Arsenault, originally from Western PEI, and who has long-since passed away) agreed to a plan that would see me live a similar eremitical (solitary – hermit) life as Brother Anthony for two years. The primary purpose of me doing this was to type and edit a major manuscript for Br. Anthony.
I had two work shifts per day during those two years – like all the monks – of about 3 hrs each, the first beginning at 3:30 in the morning milking about 60 Holstein cows for the Trappists, then as much time as I wanted for the rest of the day working with Anthony.
That was an amazing 2 years. When it was over there was a phenomenal book to show for it – The Book of Understanding – although it wasn’t published for a few years after I left the monastery.
I don’t have a piece of paper to prove it, but I had received an amazing education from my lived monastic experience and daily diet of rare books in the Monastery’s and Brother Anthony’s extensive libraries – books on a broad spectrum of issues.
After that 2 year monastic experience, I returned to UPEI to finish my BA in Religious Studies, then completed a Masters Degree in Theology at the University of Windsor, then an interdisciplinary PhD I obtained from McGill University in 1996, specializing in the study of negative social and psychological dynamics blocking or frustrating the development of moral consciousness, culminating in a dissertation titled “Ethics and Awareness” .
I have taught around 20 different 3-credit courses at UPEI and McGill over the years, many of which were multidisciplinary and cross-listed with other Departments such as Political Science and Canadian Studies. I also taught a popular Introduction to Religious Studies course on four separate occasions over the years at UPEI – and once at McGill University – that covered major world religions, including Buddhism.
I should add that in the course of my studies in religious studies, spirituality, monasticism and theology, my studies of Buddhism were not extensive. I studied and taught Buddhism mainly from the perspective of world religions, and the comparative study of religions. I never acquired languages enabling me to study original Buddhist sacred writings, of which there are a great many.
The Birth and Evolution of Bliss and Wisdom
Bliss and Wisdom was founded in 1992 by a Taiwanese Buddhist monk, Master Jih-Chang. Jih-Chang was a devoted disciple of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and established a community for monks at Fuzhi Meditation Center in Nantou, Taiwan.
Master Jih-Chang’s Fuzhi Center was part of a quite distinct and new expression of Buddhism in Taiwan that saw monks and nuns becoming a lot more socially-engaged.
According to the authors of “Taiwan’s Socially Engaged Buddhist Groups,” Taiwan’s democratisation brought a revival of interest in Buddhism, as monks and nuns left their cloistered lives and became socially-engaged in various ministries within society:
“A new religious phenomenon in Taiwan is the advent of socially engaged Buddhism, Buddhist groups committed to working for the betterment of society and the welfare of the poor and the ill. The growth of these groups has been concomitant with democratisation, membership increasing very rapidly in the 1990s so that self-identification with Buddhism has now reached 13% of the adult population.”
There were six distinct Buddhist groups leading the growth of this movement in Taiwan, each taking on a distinct combination of social charisms, Fu-chih (later becoming Bliss and Wisdom Corporation Inc.) being one of them:
“Fu-chih was founded in 1987 by Venerable Jih Chang. While having a strong base in Han Buddhism and Confucianism, Jih Chang regarded Tibetan Buddhism to be the most advanced and refined form. He teaches from the Putidao dici guanglun (The Extensive and Orderly Treatise on Perfect Wisdom), a text by the Tibetan reformer Tsong-kha-pa, making Fu-chih the Taiwan group with the strongest emphasis on Tibetan Buddhism.”
The final section of this overview article compares the different areas of social engagement for each group, such as poverty relief, environmental and cultural work, education, etc.
Four of the six groups were engaged in education; however, it was only the Fu-chih group (Bliss and Wisdom Corporation Inc.) and Chung Tai Chan Szu with an explicitly religious focus and formative approach to education. As the article explains:
The social engagement of the six socially engaged Buddhist groups involves four areas of activity: culture, education, environment and social services. All six groups claim to be socially engaged, but they differ in both the breadth of their activities and the extent to which these activities are confined to a religious as opposed to a general purpose, or tend to serve an in-group as opposed to society in general. The easiest comparison is between education and cultural activities, in which all groups engage, though the boundaries they draw between culture and education are often ambiguous and porous. Both Tzu Chi and Fo Guang Shan offer full-blown secular education in which religion plays a very minor role….In the pre-tertiary education provided by Chung Tai Chan Szu and Fu-chih, the curriculum and the atmosphere of the schools, while conforming to national regulations, is more avowedly religious.
This is significant. It explains, at least in part, the rapid expansion in numbers with Bliss and Wisdom monks and nuns. This focus on formative education created an incubation process fuelling the objective Master Jih Chang had set with Bliss and Wisdom from the outset to expand and spread throughout the world.
Master Jih Chang’s vision maintained a strong Tibetan association tied to the Dalai Lama. Bliss and Wisdom under Master Zhenru appears to going in a different direction, one much more in lockstep with the Chinese Buddhist tradition and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
You get a good idea of the long-range vision with the initial Bliss and Wisdom model and projects of the founder in the following biography of Jih Chang found on GEBIS-Toronto’s website (separate incorporation, but also connected to GEBIS in PEI):
“Late Venerable Master founded the Bliss and Wisdom Organization (Taiwan) in 1992, and also started a community of Sangha and lay followers who have worked together diligently in spreading the Dharma by using Lamrim as the core teaching, with moral education, health and environmental awareness as additional avenues to help put these teachings into practice.
Late Master observed that the corrupt world has impacted society badly; the only way to turn it over is to cultivate a kind-hearted community as foundation. Therefore, he founded Bliss and Wisdom Education in 1997 to promote moral education, and implement various cultural and educational activities.”
From the time Jih Chang launched Bliss and Wisdom Education in 1997, nearly 800,000 students at all levels, from elementary and secondary to college, have participated in Bliss and Wisdom’s life education program.
With a curricula fully in sync with the philosophy of Bliss and Wisdom Buddhism, Fu-chich’s focus on educating and forming Taiwanese children, using a Buddhist-based religious curricula they developed, has created an amazingly successful incubation process for their organization. It has (according to a monk in Taiwan I’m in communication with) created a situation where there are so many youth wanting to carry on with Bliss and Wisdom as monks and nuns after finishing their school years with them, that Bliss and Wisdom is apparently not able to accept all those wanting to join, due to growth and expansion limitations. This organizational framework and growth model for Bliss and Wisdom in Taiwan is being exactly replicated in PEI.
Moonlight International Academy in PEI is the global extension of Bliss and Wisdom Education Park in Taiwan. I will have more to say about those connections in a subsequent article, as well as the dubious status of Bliss and Wisdom as a Canadian school, on account of the manner in which the Canadian immigration system and Provincial Nomination Programs(PNP) were abused to facilitate the aims and objectives of the Buddhists and the project that was underway to relocate their headquarters to PEI. Both systems were exploited for purposes other than those for which they were intended, and none of us were aware, or for anyone who was, probably didn’t understand the purpose and significance. But that’s for another article.
Also, and not to get too sidetracked, the Canadian for-profit corporation owned by Buddhists and also registered in PEI (but not incorporated) called Leezen foods is also just a global extension of the parent corporation in Taiwan.
Leezen (a trade name actually) is wholly-owned by Grain Essence Garden Inc., which is another extra-provincial corporation registered in PEI that is a global extension of its parent counterpart in Taiwan, which actually owns the trademark “Leezen”. Again, there are no names at all.. no directors, no officers, no shareholders in the PEI corporate registry:
Leezen stems back to another key initiative of Bliss and Wisdom that Master Jih Chang incorporated into his model of Buddhist Sangha and development – a core money-generating, volunteering-opportunity, mechanism built into the Bliss and Wisdom organizational structure and business plan like a machine producing free money:
“In addition, Late Master established the Tse-Xin Organic Agriculture Development Foundation in 1997 to help care for people’s health and protect the ecological environment. Our goal is to reduce the killing of more sentient life and create clean living space, while also leaving a pure land for future generations.
That the Buddhist Bliss and Wisdom Foundation (which is a charitable organization) works in tandem with another for-profit Buddhist company owned by lay members of Bliss and Wisdom is not unusual…it’s how the model works, as explained in an official Bliss and Wisdom Statement:
“In slightly over a decade, the Bliss and Wisdom monastic community has grown to be of scale; Bliss and Wisdom Foundation of Culture and Education, working together with Bliss and Wisdom Educational Park are actively promoting moral education and Confucian ethics; Tse-Xin Organic Agriculture Foundation cooperating with Leezen Company are strongly advocating the development of organic farming and food safety in Taiwan.” [See: “Bliss and Wisdom Official Statement, Pravarana, 2017“].
Leezen in PEI was described in a CBC article as a “franchise” of Leezen Taiwan, but Grain Essence Garden Inc., which runs Leezen in PEI, is simply Bliss and Wisdom’s global extension of Tse-Xin Organic Agriculture Foundation – commonly referred to by its acronym (TOAF). Remember that name – you’ll be hearing more about it in the not-to-distant future since TOAF apparently has some PEI-land and farming related interests we also haven’t heard anything about that should be discussed. Oh, and the same three people directing the Leezen franchise in PEI are also the directors and managers of PEI Grain Essence Garden Inc.
I found a comment about Leezen on GEBIS-Toronto’s website that rang true with something I’ve been hearing repeatedly about Buddhists working for GEBIS in PEI – those workers (even doing highly skilled work like driving heavy equipment on construction sites) are not trained workers or certified tradespeople getting paid in an employer-employee relationship, they are Taiwanese Bliss and Wisdom lay followers who come to PEI on student visas to then work full-time as volunteers, receiving no remuneration beyond food and shelter and, of course, whatever other benefits might accrue in the cycle of birth and rebirth from their charity, as they traverse the path to Nirvana.
Volunteering with for-profit corporations is a very dubious practice, one often associated with cults, demanding rigorous oversight and built in checks and balances, but that’s a very touchy subject in this instance, as will be discussed in a later section:
“Leezen organic stores, with ‘Mutual trust and co-operation’ are replacing their traditional business competition, who currently operate the largest Direct organic chains in Taiwan, and are introducing volunteers to create a social enterprise model.
A “social enterprise model” indeed! And a darn lucrative one at that.
When people work for nothing for global corporations bringing in tons of money, and they do so for reasons other than having to earn a living wage, it is always prudent to ask who controls the money, how it gets spent, by whom, for whom…those kind of questions.
The problem, however, is that children don’t demand accountability from their parents, nor do monks and nuns demand accountability from their abbots and abbesses, and especially not from Master Zhenru. More on this later.
Properly Situating Bliss and Wisdom Within Buddhism
In a previous Monkileaks episode, I drew attention to the danger of assuming every person in PEI of Asian descent is a Buddhist somehow associated with the Buddhists in Eastern PEI. Similarly, it is imperative we not make the same mistake thinking that a Buddhist is a Buddhist is a Buddhist.
As you can see from the preceding short section, Bliss and Wisdom is quite distinct in it’s mode of operation (socially-engaged) from pretty much every previous school and tradition within Buddhism. There are fundamental distinctions between those schools and traditions which also need to be understood, at least to some degree, if we are to properly situate Bliss and Wisdom within the much broader geo-political and historical context of Buddhism in the far East, and I’m not talking about Souris when I say far East.
As a philosophical worldview, belief system, or religion [again, not all scholars agree Buddhism meets the core criteria required to be called a religion] there are various classifications regarding how many traditions or schools there are; some say 6, others 4; however, for our purposes, it’s more insightful to talk about the two main branches of Buddhism.
The following synopsis from Wikipedia actually offers a tidy summary of the origin and evolution of the two broad traditions within Buddhism, within which there are, of course, many “mini-traditions” or schools, each with different cultural practices and preferences with respect to their thinking, practice and how Buddhist history and sacred writings are viewed and interpreted. I’ve left the footnote links for anyone who might like to dig a little deeper:
Buddhism encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and spiritual practices largely based on original teachings attributed to the Buddha and resulting interpreted philosophies. It originated in ancient India as a Sramana tradition sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE, spreading through much of Asia. Two major extant branches of Buddhism are generally recognized by scholars: Therav?da (Pali: “The School of the Elders”) and Mah?y?na(Sanskrit: “The Great Vehicle”).
It is enough for our purposes to know what the core difference is between these two branches of Buddhism to accurately situate the Buddhists in PEI within the correct Buddhist worldview.
See if you can guess which of the following two divisions of Buddhism the Bliss and Wisdom Buddhists belong to, based on the following explanation of the main distinctions between them:
There are two main divisions in Buddhism: Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism.
Theravada Buddhism is older and the more conservative of the two main divisions of Buddhism and is often referred to as the ‘traditions of the elders’. Many Theravada Buddhists follow the teachings of the Buddha exactly, and many of them are monks or nuns.
Theravada Buddhists strive to be arhats. Arhats are perfected people who have gained true insight into the nature of reality. This means they have followed the Noble Eightfold Path to ‘blow out’ the three fires of greed, hatred and ignorance and have become enlightened. In Buddhism, enlightenment leads to nibbana (or nirvana), which means freedom from the cycle of rebirth (samsara). Consequently, they will no longer be reborn through samsara.
Mahayana Buddhists believe they can achieve enlightenment through following the teachings of the Buddha. The goal of a Mahayana Buddhist may be to become a Bodhisattva and this is achieved through the Six Perfections. Compassion is very important in Mahayana Buddhism. Therefore, Bodhisattvas choose to stay in the cycle of samsara to help others to achieve enlightenment as well as themselves.
This is a key difference between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhists. Whereas Theravada Buddhists strive to become Arhats and gain freedom from the cycle of samsara, Mahayana Buddhists may choose to stay in the cycle of samsara out of compassion for others.“
That’s a pretty big difference: either staying in the cycle of samsara out of compassion for other sentient beings, or striving to escape the cycle and achieve nirvana. Choosing to “lay down your life” in a way seems a more noble and loving approach, based on a belief that’s hard not to like that says such a choice brings good and spreads kindness, compassion and peace in the world which helps to heal others on their own path to nirvana, as well as the entire world. They call it striving for Pure Land. Did you guess Mahayana? Yep!
GEBIS offers classes on Buddhism in Charlottetown and Summerside (suspended since COVID-19) and says the following about the approach to Buddhism taken on its website:
“Classes discuss The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Tib. Lam rim chen mo) one of the brightest jewels in the world’s treasury of sacred literature. The author, Tsong-kha-pa, completed the book in 1402, and it soon became one of the most renowned works of spiritual practice and philosophy in the world of Tibetan Buddhism. Because it condenses all the exoteric s?tra (Buddha’s scriptures) into a meditation manual that is easy to understand, scholars and practitioners rely on its authoritative presentation as a gateway that leads to a full understanding of the Buddha’s teachings.”
There is one more thing to note to better situate Bliss and Wisdom Buddhists:
Bliss and Wisdom emerged and grew in Taiwan as a result of the democratization in the late 1980’s, which gave rise to public forms of Buddhist organization and expression beyond the CCP-controlled Buddhism that had prevailed in Taiwan from the mid-1940’s to the late 1980s.
There had been a significant outflow of Chinese Buddhists to Taiwan as a result of that democratization, and it was apparently those Buddhists who had been living under a repressive regime for far too long who were the real impetus for socially-engaged Buddhism:
“Following the end of World War II and the establishment of the Republic of China on the island, many monks from mainland China moved to Taiwan, including Yin Shun (??) who is generally considered to be the key figure who brought Humanistic Buddhism to Taiwan. They gave significant contribution to the development of Chinese Buddhism on the island. [See: “Religion in Taiwan“].
The Buddhist Association of the Republic of China remained the dominant Buddhist force in Taiwan only until restrictions on religious activity ended in the 1980’s.
I mention this because of the importance of the blending of Buddhist traditions (Tibetan and Chinese) apparently happening in Bliss and Wisdom – in the “Fu-chich Group” – and how that merging was born out of the social and political historical reality in Taiwan and China over the past three decades. I don’t see the move away from Tibetan Buddhism and affiliation with the Dalai Lama and will have more to say about that later.
To understand the Buddhist corporations operating in PEI it is only necessary to see them as extensions of the same Bliss and Wisdom Corporation model that exists in Taiwan, pursuing the same organization goals, drawing from the same pool of donations, and following the same teachings and the same leader: Master Zhenru.
Master Zhenru: The Mysterious Leader of Bliss and Wisdom
The woman looking over the architectural overlay of the envisioned new global headquarters for the Bliss and Wisdom Buddhists in the feature graphic goes by three different names.
Master Zhenru (sometimes Zhen-ru or Zhen-Ru) was born and raised in China’s Hei-Long Jiang province and given the name Meng Rong Yin. You won’t find that name anywhere but on official documents such as her birth certificate, passport and PEI land transactions. We’ll be seeing that version in my next episode, which focuses on Master Zhenru and her family member’s property holdings in PEI.
At some point, Master Zhenru ditched the “Meng Rong” part of her birth name and is known simply as Mary Jin (sometimes Mary-Jin) by those not revering her as a leader; but followers refer to her exclusively as Master Zhenru.
Meng Rong Jin was said to have been given the name “Zhenru” by Jih (sometimes Ri) Chang, who was the founder and first Master of Bliss and Wisdom. He apparently chose her as his official successor and gave her the name when she assumed her role as the new Master of Bliss and Wisdom in 2004.
When Hon. Darlene Compton asked a question about “Mary Jin” at the Standing Committee – as you’ll hear later, in an important video clip I’ve embedded – Venerable Yvonne quickly interjected that she was to be referred to as Master Zhenru.
I couldn’t help but wonder if Master Zhenru’s apparent personal aim to blend Chinese and non-Chinese traditions within Bliss and Wisdom Buddhism, coupled with her ambitions to grow and expand Bliss and Wisdom globally was behind the name that was apparently given to her by Jih Chang.
Zhenru Temple is one the most famous and oldest remaining Buddhist Temples in China, a Chan Buddhist temple located n Yongxiu County, Jiangxi. Zhenru Chan Temple is the cradle of Caodong school in Chinese Buddhism.
This unique blend of Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism in Bliss and Wisdom is clearly being attributed to the “careful guidance of the teacher [Master Zhenru]” by her followers:
“…under the careful guidance of the teacher, the Fuzhi Sangha has grown stronger day by day. “This is an epoch-making initiative to integrate the essence and tradition of Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism, and to establish a Buddhist study system…” [See: Bliss and Wisdom Foundation of America].
Has the Chinese Communist Party Infiltrated Bliss and Wisdom?
Zhen-Ru is apparently not only providing a new global headquarters in PEI for hundreds of Bliss and Wisdom monks and nuns currently in Taiwan, but expected to eventually transfer to PEI, she is also welcoming other groups of Buddhist monks and nuns from China, Malaysa, etc., inviting them to become part of Bliss and Wisdom.
This “joining” or merging of Buddhist Monks from distinct countries and traditions under Bliss and Wisdom seems entirely in keeping with what some Buddhists believe will be an imminent revival of Buddhism in China, with Zhen-Ru eventually becoming the head of the official religion of China:
Bliss and Wisdom now has 100,000 followers worldwide, with around 60,000 in Taiwan, 30,000 in Mainland China, and the rest in other countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and the US. According to BW monks, the Buddha prophesized that after the dharma flourishes for 500 years in Tibet, it will gravitate to China and flourish for another 500 years. Because BW’s bhikshu sangha is already the largest in Taiwan, with 800-1000 monks, BW monks are very confident that BW will hegemonize Buddhism’s rise in China, cementing their guru Mary Jin as China’s spiritual leader. BW hopes their megatemple will become a center of Buddhist learning, and play a pivotal role in their mission to propagate Mary Jin’s teachings worldwide.”
That was written by a Bliss and Wisdom monk sometime after he left Bliss and Wisdom, having left as a result of his unpleasant personal experiences and things he claims he discovered and/or witnessed. You’ll notice he has reverted to using Master Zhenru’s non-guru name – Mary Jin.
Is Bliss and Wisdom a Cult? No, but…
I’ve heard a number of people refer to the Buddhists [and by “Buddhists ” I’m thinking they mean the robe-wearing GEBIS monks and GWBI nuns] as being completely “brainwashed,” members of a cult. Are they? No. Absolutely not. And hopefully I can explain why, but first a caveat.
Despite not being a bona fide “cult” by definition, it is nonetheless entirely possible that the vast majority of monks and nuns, and even parishioners, are being deceived and manipulated by a select group of people holding power and control over their day-to-day lives. And not just their daily lives, their yearly lives, and indeed, their entire lives and their very destiny.
Why would Zhenru and a select group of people at the top of the Bliss and Wisdom deceive and manipulate their loyal followers? Money could be a reason – easy access and total control over tons of funds coming in as donations without any real oversight could be a temptation leading to some less than moral choices on how that money is spent.
Engaging in illicit dealings would be easy to rationalize given how important Master Zhenru’s long-term vision and work is to the world….“end justifies the means” kind of stuff. There is definitely something rotten in Denmark with Bliss and Wisdom, but I’m not going to explore all the separate claims made against Master Zhenru (and there are many).
Semantics and labels should be set aside entirely when discussing things like “brainwashing” (a completely useless word). What we want to get at are the complex social and psychological dynamics happening within an organization that fail to adhere to the built-in “checks and balances” in bylaws and rules to guard against such aberrations.
The problems start when those checks and balances are not being used to detect that the followers are being deceived and manipulated, and because of that relationship of obedience and trust, information that is being withheld creates a situation very much ‘akin’ to the same dynamics more explicit and identifiable by “non-followers” in bona fide “cults”.
Such negative dynamics can infest and corrupt the relationships between the governors and governed in any number of otherwise legitimate organizations and institutions, including the relationship between provincial governments and the electorate.
Examining the various elements in the relationship between Master Zhenru and Bliss and Wisdom monks, nuns and parishioners suggests that there are indeed significant problems at play. Again, I’m not going down those roads except to point to a website [ladakh2017blog.wordpress.com] with 35 well-written, very critical articles alleging many things about how a Chinese-born person with long hair somehow managed to succeed Master Jih Chang as leader of Bliss and Wisdom in a manner not in accordance with the Rules.
This is why I say Bliss and Wisdom is not a cult – they have rules that are supposed to be the same rules as the Tibetan monks and nuns following the Dalai Lama, but they are apparently not being followed.
In a subsequent article – perhaps the next one – I will show a video clip or two from a Taiwanese TV News program (I’m getting them translated so I can insert English subtitles) from protests that happened in 2017 when Master Zhenru returned briefly to Taiwan. That website and those articles appeared at that time, but there haven’t been any new articles since.
There does appear to be strong evidence that the authentic and original teaching that Master Jih Chang entrusted to Zhenru is being gradually replaced with a more “Chinese” and less “Tibetan” flavour. There is apparently no communication between Master Zhenru and the Dalai Lama, and when disenchanted monks went to visit him, he apparently told them to expose her for failing to follow the Sangha rules.
The allegation that the strong ties and roots with Tibetan Buddhism bequeathed to Master Zhenru by Master Jih Chang are being replaced with a far-more Chinese-friendly version is one being made by a significant number of people – especially back in Taiwan. When I checked the stats on my last Monkileaks article early the following morning, there were 78 views from Taiwan, more views than in Canada at that time.
Monks from Taiwan have contacted me and provided me with additional information and documentation. Of course I need to independently verify what I receive, but so far things are checking out, and it is clear that these are not simply old-fashioned monks unwilling to accept a woman leader, they’re people who claim to have detected the dynamics of deceit, manipulation being perpetuated by the ignorance resulting from blind obedience bestowed on Master Zhenru by tens of thousands of followers.
There are actually a number of different websites and Facebook pages dedicated to “exposing” people believed to be wayward Buddhist teachers in general, and Master Zhenru in particular.
Whenever a person allows the will of another person to decide what they should think, believe or do without question – when they suspend their critical thinking and follow “blindly” as we say – then that person has essentially adopted the same mindset that we all associate with members of cults we call “brainwashed”.
We tend to assume that the beliefs with cults are so “out there” that anyone in their right mind would immediately realize that there is no evidence or good reason to believe what the members of those cults believe, so we say they are brainwashed because they can’t seem to see the obvious, or what seems obvious to us.
That state of mind found in such “out there” cults is really not that different from that in any family or other organization where there are leaders and followers, people in charge with a duty of care on one side, and everyone else in the family or organization on the other.
The hope is that leaders are good and that they will have the best interest of those for whom they have a duty of care at heart, and that the followers can trust the intentions of their leaders as moral and their decisions to be well-intentioned and motivated only by a sense of love and service to those for whom they have charge.
A lot of peace and comfort comes from accepting to be led without questioning…which is a heightened risk for people who made ‘finding comfort’ their main goal in life. Deference to those we perceive to be “legitimate authorities” resulting in us foregoing doubts, suspicions, and critical questioning which becomes habitual and a part of daily life routines. Take the current situation with the pandemic for example.
Some people say, “I don’t care what the science says about masks, if Dr. Morrison says we should wear them, then we should wear them”. This view betrays the very same non-critical, unquestioning mindset that is closed to even considering anything to be good and true other than what the trusted leader says, and is really not that different from life in a cult.
Trust the experts! With the highly-specialized and compartmentalized division of labour within today’s society, and all the jargon associated with those professional, and expensive fields of expertise, be it legal, medical, accounting, etc., most of the time we really don’t have any choice but to trust the experts, although it often doesn’t end well when we do.
People living life with a “trust the experts” mindset won’t even look at the evidence, as if doing so would betray a lack of trust that might unravel faith in the legitimate authority and destroy the comfort that trust provides.
Such interpersonal relationships are based on an abuse of power -where one party has all of it and the other party has none, but the person with no power or real say nonetheless believes he or she is the beneficiary of all the good that comes from the powerful party in the interpersonal relationship, as they bestow and share some of the benefits of that power and wealth with the loyal subjects – the phrase ‘benevolent dictator” comes to mind.
This type of interpersonal relationship based on such an imbalance of power intensifies exponentially when the “blind obedience” encompasses not only an opinion on some particular intellectual issue or material matter, but one’s very soul, one’s way of life, one’s very destiny as a human being…and such is the situation with the Buddhist monks and nuns, which is a dangerous situation.
To silence and prevent criticism or questioning, corrupt leaders often use techniques to instill a sense of guilt or shame in people who dare to allow negative ideas to enter their minds. There is evidence a very rigorous culture within Bliss and Wisdom tends to quash any suspicions about or questioning of Master Zhenru. Teachings on avoiding the creation of negative karma can be especially effective:
Enough about that – although I may have more to say about these themes in subsequent articles.
GWBI’s Appearance at the Committee on Natural Resources and Sustainability
The appearance of three Buddhist nuns before the Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Sustainability on October 15, 2020 was entirely the doings of the Committee Chair, Cory Deagle, PC MLA for District 3, Montague-Kilmuir. They are also three of the Board members of Great Wisdom Buddhist Institute (GWBI).
These same three (and one other nun) were featured in a CBC article titled, “‘He was like, what?’: Why 4 women left their ‘normal’ lives to become Buddhist nuns,” [CBC, Dec 09, 2019 – the right-side of the above picture is from that article].
Deagle had an email from the Assistant Abbess of GWBI, Venerable Janet, which he read aloud at one point. It revealed a significant problem with the entire presentation by the nuns. How so?
Venerable Yvonne had stated unequivocally that GWBI never used, nor would ever use, laypeople to buy property for GWBI to circumvent IRAC. When Cory read that letter from Assistant-Abbess Janet, giving evidence that what Venerable Yvonne had just said was not true, thinks got uncomfortable.
Did Venerable Yvonne know about what was in that email and tell a lie, unaware that she was about to be caught in that lie?
Or did Venerable Yvonne really not know what was in that email – despite being the Director of Finance on GWBI’s Board?
Either way, it’s a big problem.
Bliss and Wisdom Buddhist monks and nuns are trained to never communicate anything but kindness and compassion. No matter what the situation or circumstances, the proper Buddhist response to any accusation is to accept responsibility, if necessary, but if the accusation is false, don’t blame others, rather, turn inward and look for a solution that doesn’t involve blaming others, especially fellow Buddhists for wrongdoing, but project compassion and kindness.
When Cory read the part in yellow at the top, Venerable Yvonne didn’t know what to say. After a pause, she asked him to read it again. She was again left with nothing to say, having just stated that GWBI does not use nuns, monks or laypeople to circumvent IRAC by exploiting the 5 acre exception clause and hearing about how in that particular case that’s exactly what they did. Awkward!
Venerable Yvonne looked genuinely baffled and unsure of herself, as she sat motionless, eyes darting all over the place, trying to do one of two things (I’m not sure which): (1) reconcile what she just heard Cory read from an email Venerable Janet wrote which created an immediate and significant cognizant dissonance, that is, if she truly believed Venerable Janet would never intentionally do anything wrong, that would be if she was telling the truth and really didn’t know; or perhaps she was (2) trying to think of what to say to get out of some really hot water sitting live, on official record, in front of a live-streaming camera putting everything she was about to say on the record, with significant, potential consequences, if, in fact, she was being called out on a lie. If it is indeed the latter, venerable Yvonne should be in Hollywood, not PEI, she totally sold it!
Either way, that loooong delay showed the extent to which Venerable Yvonne was caught off-guard, and in an instant became Vulnerable Yvonne.
She finally ended up simply saying (relax, the clip’s coming up in a minute) that she had no information about the transaction and would need to get a response from Venerable Janet, which she promised to email to the Committee.
There was still the need to clear Venerable Janet from any wrong-doing either because V. Yvonne: (1) is actually colluding with her celibate colleagues covering-up corruption; or (2) she was attempting to solve her personal Karmic crisis of finding a solution projecting only positive “non-blaming” comments about venerable Janet, as a show of positive trust and confidence in her character.
So what did Venerable Yvonne do? She threw our local realtors under the bus instead, suggesting that they exploited the ignorance of the unsuspecting nuns from another culture giving bad advice (why in the world would they do that?). She apologized profusely for being too trusting and naïve, for making “mistakes” (accidental mistakes) and then pleaded for help and guidance to do better in the future. That performance gave Gord McNeilly goosebumps…but it was a spontaneous public “performance” nonetheless, not reality.
To start with, these three women are university-educated, Yvonne having grown up in New Zealand obtaining a Masters degree in business, as well as experience in the international corporate world. The other two nuns received higher education in California.
Yvonne assured the Committee members that there was never any bad intent on the part of GWBI, just ignorance that was exploited by the locals. So much for not blaming people in an attempt to excuse oneself for not knowing local rules and cultural ways of doing things, apparently including business ways of doing things. Total hogwash!
I’m not sure how many of the MLAs bought that pretense of being naïve and ignorant, besides MLA Gord McNeilly, who lapped it up like a thirsty kitten with a saucer of milk – clearly having done NO research before attending the meeting, being incapable of commenting beyond his distracting virtue-signalling, which was both inappropriate, unhelpful, and totally unrelated to the reason why the nuns were called before the committee.
Neither McNeilly nor Hal Perry had a clue between them that there were very serious and totally legitimate issues that needed to be addressed. The only problem in McNeilly’s mind was our dismal lack of appreciation for them and all they represent and do for us and the world.
By the way, neither Liberal MLA sitting on the Special said a single word during the last Special Committee on Record Retention! They’re starting to look like a couple of lost souls standing on the bus station platform after arriving just a bit too late, missing the bus, watching the bus kick up dust as it leaves town, wondering it’s worth putting any effort into things anymore – it appears clear to me what answer they came up with.
Are the Buddhist nuns really that naïve about business dealings in our strange Western culture and were taken advantage of as a result of that ignorance? NO!
Venerable Janet – the person who wrote the email Cory read – owned a Real Estate company in the United States with her husband before shaving off her hair and becoming a Bliss and Wisdom Buddhist nun, then the Assistant-Abbess of GWBI in PEI.
I may not be able to provide uncontested evidence of bad motives with Janet’s real estate doings; however, I will be able to provide evidence of competence in her understanding of what she was doing – often AGAINST the advice of both local realtors and lawyers who were increasingly concerned about the decisions and direction the monks and nuns were both asking them to assist them with and/or willing to take on their own initiative.
I point this out not to in anyway let the lawyers and real estate agents off the hook regarding possible complicity and support for some pretty shady dealings. In my opinion, complaints should have been filed with the PEI Law Society by any number of lawyers who had at one time or another worked with GEBIS or GWBI as their legal council. I’ll deal with specific examples in future articles.
In some cases lawyers refused to do certain things that had been requested by the nuns and/or monks – regarding money transfers mostly; in other cases, lawyers were provided what I would call “red flag” information that should have been turned over to the proper legal authorities.
The idea that the monks and nuns paid high prices because they didn’t know what they were doing, or didn’t understand the intricacies of real estate deals (both those that are legal and those that are not-so-legal) is ridiculous, and easily countered by the documentary evidence.
There was an ambitious effort by the nuns and monks to buy as much land as possible as fast as possible from the very first day they landed in PEI, and they strategically sought out people and properties that were not on the market, knowing their “negotiating power” was in their deep pockets. Locals were bewitched with offers made to them that were “too good to refuse” (wasn’t that a famous line in a famous movie about quasi-coercive deal offers?) which ensured that the Bliss and Wisdom land acquisition process would get underway immediately.
As time passed, and more and more acquisitions were made, those remaining or unwilling to sell had fewer and fewer neighbours in their neighborhoods, so it wasn’t necessary to acquire remaining properties paying huge prices, in some cases at least, because the residents who were still living in those areas no longer wanted to live on streets with empty houses in dying communities.
Trying to reconcile (1) the fact that Venerable Janet had obviously been keeping her in the dark about financial matters despite her being the Director of Finance on the GWBI Board with, (2) the fact that venerable Janet was willing to put her in a very compromised position, having to try to answer for her actions to the Committee, was undoubtedly the cause of the unusually-long delay. She said she was trying to search her memories. She couldn’t find any.
I was really impressed with how Cory rode out the silent tension to get a response:
The presentation revealed that there is an obvious “divide” within GWBI – at least when it comes to information sharing between the Assistant Abbess and the members of the Board.
Knowing what I know about the entire situation (which you’ll know soon as well if you read subsequent articles) it appears to me that we are likely dealing with a divide along the following lines: (1) Sincere, down-to-earth, innocent and well-meaning nuns and monks who from the time they could talk were trained by the Bliss and Wisdom Buddhists in Taiwan to do what Buddhist monks and nuns in Taiwan within the various “groups” of socially-engaged Buddhists have been doing since the revival of Buddhism in Taiwan beginning in the late 1980s. This is the infamous 99% kept in the dark, and; (2) a far more seedy element at the top of Bliss and Wisdom’s global network of non-profit corporations, monasteries, schools, and for-profit businesses taking advantage of the power and wealth they have at their disposable in the absence of proper anti-fraud controls and measures being followed within the organization.
More about the origins of the style of Buddhism in a minute, but first another example of an exchange revealing a divide within the organization. I’ll set it up for you.
The Fu-chich group – Bliss and Wisdom Corporation – although not one of the more prominent of the main groups of Buddhists in Taiwan formerly, actually identified as one of the smaller groups, at least until recently, appears to now be positioning itself to be the principal organization of Buddhists in the world, with an aggressive campaign of both diaspora with mostly Taiwanese and Chinese Buddhist monks and nuns, and rapid growth through attraction and the assimilation of Sanghas not formally associated with Bliss and Wisdom as well.
We have a highly unusual situation with a powerful young woman leading this global franchise who has somehow decided – and is so far succeeding – to transfer massive amounts of wealth from Taiwan to PEI to establish Bliss and Wisdom’s global headquarters in PEI – without the local community back in Taiwan apparently knowing anything much about the questionable activities, controversies within Bliss and Wisdom Corporation, and dissentions within the monastic community of monks and nuns.
There are strict rules regarding celibacy for Buddhist monks and nuns, just like in Catholic monasteries, and the idea that a woman would become the leader of a male religious order of monks making a religious vow of celibacy seems incredulous. Many monks question the legitimacy of the transfer of power from Master Jih Chang to Master Zhenru, and it appears there may be some substance to those allegations.
GWBI and GEBIS California Connection with Bliss and Wisdom
Venerable Yvonne was adamant in her statements to the Standing Committee that GWBI is an independent corporate entity not connected with other Buddhist organizations or corporations such as GEBIS. That is not accurate.
There is indeed a Board of Directors for GWBI with officers holding official responsibilities, and the names of those individuals are available. Charitable organizations must file annual returns with the federal government which are public documents. I reviewed those returns for GWBI for each year filed. Although GWBI was incorporated in 2013, the first annual filing was in 2015.
One of the questions in that Charitable filing asks whether there is any affiliation with any other entity or corporation, and another asks about activity outside Canada. I thought I’d check to see how honest GWBI was in disclosing that it is entirely a global extension of the motherhouse monastery of Bliss and Wisdom nuns in Taiwan (both monasteries have the same Abbess – Venerable Rong).
With respect to the first question, consider the following response with the most recent available return (2018):
Same answer for the initial return in 2015.
It is important to note the VERY broad definition of “linked in a subordinate way” clarified in the guide with instructions on what information is expected and what the terms mean precisely:
You can’t get broader than saying that all that’s required to have to answer “yes” is that there is a relationship with an international organization that (despite having paperwork showing corporate autonomy within Canada) “… is, at least in some respects, in a subordinate position to a head body.” In at least some respects? More like “ALL respects!” GWBI is Bliss and Wisdom.
The CRA question about activities outside Canada requires completion of a separate schedule. GWBI – presumably the finance officer on the Board, Venerable Yvonne – indicated that it wasn’t applicable:
GWBI first came into being as a corporation in Canada in 2013. To my knowledge at least, there was no GWBI prior to that incorporation. I’ll explore connections with board members (they change from year to year) since 2013 for GWBI in a subsequent article, but for now it’s worth noting that despite being a newly formed corporation in Canada with charitable status, no significant activity nor public presence, no apparent source of revenue, other than donations, GWBI somehow had a significant cushion from the get-go.
GWBI was incorporated federally in Canada in 2013, but didn’t file until 2015. In that filing it said it wasn’t in any respect subordinate to an international organization and had no activity outside Canada:
Of the three GWBI nuns making the presentation to the Legislative Committee, two of them identified as having come to PEI from California. I wondered if GWBI was an organization that first registered in California and then Canada, so I checked the incorporation document database with the State Department. Sure enough, GWBI showed up, but surprisingly, it was incorporated in California AFTER it was incorporated in Canada, not before.
GWBI was incorporated in California on March 12, 2015 with the following address: 3209 PRODUCER WAY POMONA California, which I immediately plugged into Google Maps.
The Google Map picture has a sign out front for GWBI alright; however, the building looked just like the other factories surrounding it in an Industrial Park, huge pharmaceutical manufacturing plants actually, so I wondered whether it was just an “office” or an actual Buddhist establishment.
I thought a close-up of the roof would confirm whether the same factory air conditioners were on that building as the other buildings in the neighbourhood. I jumped from Google Maps to Google Earth to get a clearer “bird’s-eye view” of the neighbourhood and roof on the Buddhist building, and to also see how Google Earth identified the building, which was “Buddhist temple”.
The building at 3209 Producer Way, Pomona, US does indeed appear to have lots of skylight windows on the roof, so it looks like a legitimate Buddhist complex of some kind to me. Was this GWBI’s doing?
I wondered if GWBI had bought and/or renovated that building, so I went hunting in the city archives. Nope, the building is not owned by GWBI, but by another Buddhist organization affiliated with Bliss and Wisdom:
I then checked on the origins of this Buddhist organization and discovered that it was incorporated way back in 1982, long before Bliss and Wisdom Corporation Inc. in Taiwan.
How GWBI – a global extension of Bliss and Wisdom – came to reside in the same building as the Great Enlightenment Lotus Society Inc. (GELS) was my next question, but that was taking me a little further down that particular rabbit hole than I wanted to go, so I dropped that line of inquiry and headed back up to the surface to try another rabbit hole (there’s so many with this Buddhist research).
I checked to see if maybe Bliss and Wisdom was also registered in California. Lo and behold… they are not only registered, they too are listed as residing at the same address as GELS and GWBI. Bliss and Wisdom was incorporated about two years after GWBI, on March 20, 2017, using the same 3209 Pomona address.
Bliss and Wisdom is still listed as an “Active” charitable organization – registered in California at that same address; however, GWBI’s incorporated status in California has since been dissolved.
Why did GWBI dissolve it’s incorporation in California earlier this year? Why did GWBI register in California in 2015 in the first place – never declaring any activity outside the country in its annual federal returns – then dissolve in 2020? This situation gives rise to a host of questions, but that’s another rabbit hole I’ll leave for someone else.
But wait! There’s more.
I then wondered: “If GWBI is the global extension of Bliss and Wisdom corporation inc. in PEI, and GEBIS is the global extension of Bliss and Wisdom corporation in PEI, and GWBI are in PEI in 2013 and then for some strange reason register in California in 2015….is there any possibility that GEBIS may also be registered in California? For some strange reason?” I figured I might as well check.
Go figure! The same address too.
GEBIS registered in California on May 27, 2016, a year after GWBI and almost a year before Bliss and Wisdom. So for at least a year, GWBI, GEBIS and Bliss and Wisdom were all sharing the same building in Pomona, California with the same mailing address.
So let’s recap: 3209 Producer Way, Pomona, California was (1) first the home of GWL up to 2015; then (2) the home of GWL + GWBI as of 2015; then (3) the home of GWL + GWBI + GEBIS as of 2016; then (4) GWL + GWBI + GEBIS + Bliss and Wisdom in 2017; (5) then GWL + GEBIS + Bliss and Wisdom as of February, 2020.
GEBIS was already incorporated federally in Canada when it registered in California in 2016, and like GWBI, made no mention of its activity in California in subsequent filings with the federal government.
As you can see – GEBIS remains “Active” in California:
With respect to the answer to the question concerning GEBIS not being in a subordinate position to an international organization in the same 2018 GEBIS return, I’m thinking that the wrong key was accidentally hit on the keyboard, and the error wasn’t detected before filing. Why? Because the minimum amount of due diligence would show that what GEBIS is telling the Canadian government is exactly the opposite of what it told the PEI Government when it registered in 2016:
When GEBIS registered in PEI in 2016, it was explicitly noted on the registration form filed with Government (the last sentence on the above form) that: “It [GEBIS] is an overseas operation of Bliss and Wisdom Monastery Corporation (BWMC) in Taiwan.”
And GWBI is also the overseas operation of Bliss and Wisdom Monastery Corporation (BWMC) in Taiwan – the Abbess of the Taiwan Bliss and Wisdom monastery of nuns is ALSO the Abbess of GWBI in PEI – Venerable Janet is only the Assistant Abbott standing in for Abbess Rong when she is in Taiwan at the Motherhouse – e.g., she apparently spends approximately 6 months of each year in PEI and 6 months in Taiwan [Master Zhenru spends 6 months in PEI as well, however, the other 6 months of her year is apparently spent in Bermuda].
GWBI and GEBIS each present as completely separate corporate entities, cooperating on some things, but completely unrelated to one another – as Venerable Yvonne emphasized to the Committee on Natural Resources and Sustainability members. That needs correcting.
GWBI and GEBIS not only have the same leader – Master Zhenru – they also shared the very same address as Bliss and Wisdom in California, although GWBI has since dissolved its incorporation in California for some reason, but Bliss and Wisdom and GEBIS are still both active in the US but neither report that activity to the federal government.
But here’s the real kicker: both GWBI and GEBIS were apparently incorporated in California by the same person A FULL YEAR APART from one another. How could that possibly happen if these two “overseas extensions” of Bliss and Wisdom Corporation Inc. are unrelated?
The following chart that I put together compares the page information submitted to the State of California as an attachment with the registration form first by (1) GWBI in 2015, and (2) by GEBIS a year later in 2016. See any similarities? They’re exactly the same, word for word:
Even the font and punctuation are identical in both filings. Whoever filed GWBI’s California incorporation in 2015 apparently also filed for GEBIS a year later, obviously using the same computer and software program, and the same lined paper.
Whether it is the nuns on the Island now: Great Wisdom Buddhist Institute (GWBI) and Compassion and Grace Institute (CGI); or the monks, Great Enlightenment Buddhist Institute Society (GEBIS); or Chinese monks and nuns arriving here from China and coming under the umbrella of Bliss and Wisdom (Guan Yin Monastery and Compassion and Grace Institute), or any number of other Buddhist monasteries that are likely to be welcomed by Master Zhenru in the future, they are all members of the same Bliss and Wisdom family.
As members of the same Bliss and Wisdom corporation and family – notwithstanding the separate corporate entities here in Canada and PEI – the 3,000 acre limit stipulated within the Lands Protection Act should be strictly adhered to in this case. The Buddhists have far exceeded the allowable limit, and a planned divestiture of much of that land is the only acceptable legal remedy on a go-forward basis.
Does the Province have a “Secret” Agreement with Bliss and Wisdom?
The FOIPP documents on the Buddhists that I recently received from Bloyce Thompson had entire pages withheld, which I expected, but I also knew that I’d at least learn the names of some of the key players within government working on the Hopetown Corporation and Buddhist (GEBIS and GWBI) files.
I had a couple of questions in mind when I submitted that request for documents, namely:
- Who is really deciding what the Buddhist development plan will entail and what the Three Rivers Community will look like in 20 years?
- Is it the PEI Government?
- Or are those decisions yet to happen by the residents of Three Rivers and the Three Rivers Council, within the scope of the current development plan being crafted?
One document I did receive in that FOIPP raises questions about whether there is a negotiation and deal-making process secretly underway between the PEI Government and Bliss and Wisdom Corporation via its “overseas extension” (GEBIS).
If I was a councillor in Three Rivers I’d be asking for an explanation on this GEBIS Agreement and a copy to peruse!
If you’ve made it this far your head is probably swimming with questions. I’ve carved out what I will be doing in the days ahead and what I will leave for others. As I mentioned in the first episode, I’ll be working with a federal investigation also currently underway.
Every investigation is based on certain theories or hunches or suspicions – that’s what an investigation is, an exploration based on specific questions which are in turn based on very precise interests. Those interests are of course inspired by the personal desires and actions of people – they happen with motive, and proving that is no easy task.
Although I can’t yet prove it – or perhaps never will be able to, or perhaps will not even bother trying – I suspect that what is driving and fueling the relocation of Bliss and Wisdom’s Global Headquarters from Taiwan to PEI has to do with Master Zhenru taking Bliss and Wisdom in a new direction completely separate from other long-standing Buddhists traditions and groups, even loyalty with the Dalai Lama.
Some of these positions are also those of former Bliss and Wisdom monks in Taiwan which I’ve adopted based on the evidence they have provided in dozens of well-researched articles (although I have not independently verified every claim) and some have also been reported in the mainstream media in Taiwan, Tibet and beyond, so are certainly not just internet rumours, slander and fake news.
Master Zhenru did not appear to become the Master of Bliss and Wisdom in a completely legitimate manner; this seems evident from her complete lack of interest in establishing and nurturing a relationship with the Dalai Lama. It is a fact (reported in the Tibet Post) that a group of Bliss and Wisdom monks travelled to meet with the Dalai Lama with a list of specific concerns about Master Zhenru. The Tibet Post is not a rumour mill from what I can see, but again, not going down that rabbit hole, here at least:
“The Tibet Post, a tri-lingual newspaper, has an online readership of nearly 10 million per year from 2017, and maintains a general readership of between 500 and 10,000 online guests at any given time. The initiative of an independent non-profit organisation, Tibet Post focuses on Tibet-related issues, closely following the developments inside Tibet as well as reporting on the activities and workings of the exile community’s democratic institutions.”
That these monks felt that they needed to travel to meet privately with the Dalai Lama to get his guidance on whether they should follow their hearts and consciences regarding the rule violations, and other irregular and allegedly scandalous behaviours of Master Zhenru, fearful that to do so might be a violation of their obedience to their Spiritual Guide shows the extent to which grown, intelligent, and I’m assuming otherwise entirely capable men, were emotionally, psychologically, and ultimately mentally-confused about what to believe by the constant cognitive dissonance they were experiencing and trying to reconcile within themselves. That kind of state is not self-induced, but is borne entirely from the poison environment in which they were living, of that I’m certain.
So no, Bliss and Wisdom is not a cult. It is a well-intentioned, socially-engaged legitimate global religious organization with (I suspect) almost all of the monks and nuns are the most sincere, kind, compassionate and peaceful people you’d ever meet. No, they love PEI and want to stay here, and I want them to stay here as well. Why would anyone doubt the pure sincerity of Venerable Yvonne’s words, unscripted and put on the official record of the PEI Legislature?
Venerable Yvonne can be entirely forgiven for coming to the defense of venerable Janet, but venerable Janet will ultimately have to speak for her own actions.
Venerable Yvonne indicated – without even being prompted – that all the problems associated with Zhenru since her becoming the successor of Master Jih Chang in 2004 stem from the fact that there are “old fashioned” monks who won’t catch up with the times and accept a woman as their Master – a lay woman not herself having went through the formal process of learning and discipline required to become a Buddhist nun, nor willing to shave off her hair as a show of humility and solidarity with the Buddhist nuns who revere her as a leader and model to imitate.
Concerns about Master Zhenru were all dismissed as vindictive and scurrilous slander on the internet, with no basis in fact, inspired by bad intentions of male chauvinist monks with intention to do harm to Master Zhenru and Bliss and Wisdom. It’s a lot more than that, and if that’s what all the nuns and monks are convinced is the truth, then they are indeed in a very vulnerable psychological predicament.
A final word to Venerable Yvonne:
“If you receive an email from Master Zhenru asking you to deny yourself access to the internet as a discipline for personal growth you might want to disregard that guidance. There will no doubt be further revelations about things that should have been in front of your eyes as the Director of Finance for GWBI which I suspect you’ll be learning about for the first time.”