Taipei, April 9 (CNA) Wei Chueh (惟覺), the Buddhist monk who founded Chung Tai Chan Monastery (中台禪寺) in the town of Puli in central Taiwan, has passed away, the monastery announced early Saturday. He was 88.
The grand master passed away at 10:31 p.m. Friday, the monastery said. His death was due to a regression of marrow regeneration, which resulted in complications.
The monastery was closed Saturday, shutting out buses carrying mainland Chinese tourists.
It plans to have a scripture reciting assembly (頌經報恩法會) from April 11-17 in remembrance of the grand master.
Born in Sichuan, China in 1928, Wei Chueh was one of the most important religious figures in Taiwan in recent decades, with more than 1,000 monk disciples and hundreds of thousands of followers in Taiwan and around the world.
He was credited with preaching Zen Buddhism and reviving Chinese Zen Buddhism.
He became a monk in 1963, following Zen master Lin Yuan (靈源) in Keelung's Shifang Dajue Chan Temple (十方大覺禪寺).
Because of his big vows, he woke at 2 a.m. every day when other monks were still asleep to clean up the temple and salute Buddha at main hall when other monks were taking naps at noon.
He later conducted a retreat in temples in Yilan, Hsinchu and Hong Kong before settling in a cottage in Wanli, New Taipei City.
Firm in belief and living an extremely simple life, he answered the public call to preach and built Lin Chuan Temple (靈泉寺) beside his cottage in 1987.
His way of preaching was said to be lively and flexible and had no fixed mode.
He used the chan-7 -- seven day Zen retreat (禪七) -- and dharma assembly (法會) as a way to disseminate Zen teachings, and was said to have contributed to a clean society campaign.
But due to his ballooning number of followers, he began to plan the Chung Tai Chan Monastery in Puli, which was inaugurated in 2001.
To nurture the young generation, he also set up an elementary school in 2004, a junior high school in 2006 and a senior high school in 2009.
In addition, he constructed the Chung Tai World Museum to present Buddhist artifacts and rubbings from inscriptions on stone tablets donated by the Forest of Stone Steles Museum in Xian, China.
Ling Jiou Mountain (靈鷲山), another Zen Buddhist society, extended condolences over Wei Chueh's death Saturday, saying that the Chung Tai Chan Monastery has contributed to religious exchanges between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, and helped mainland Chinese to access and learn Buddhism.
But Wei Chueh was not without critics.
The reasons can be traced to the land development controversy surrounding the construction of the Chung Tai Chan Monastery in a rural area.
What also raised eyebrows occurred in 1996, when scores of female college students shaved their heads to become nuns after attending a Buddhism camp there, resulting in shock on the part of their parents, with some parents later filing a complaint with the Nantou Prosecutors Office againt Wei Chueh.
But what was perhaps most controversial about him was his political stance. In contrast with the public perception that a religious figure should keep a proper distance from politics, he was a staunch supporter of the Kuomintang and openly endorsed Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) during the 2012 presidential election.
In recent months, Wei Chueh was in frail health and his last public appearance was on Jan. 17.