Introduction of Founder and Chief Abbot of Buddha Mandala Monastery – Vajra Supreme Master Yuan Fan
Vajra Supreme Master Yuan Fan’s lay name is Yap Hai Guan and his ancestral home is in Fuzhou of Fujian Province. When he was born in Singapore in 1957, there was a raised patch of pink on his right forehead, this birth mark made him look like a little arhat. He was mature by nature and hardly cried or moved; before the age of three, he was often in a quiet state and his feet never touch the ground. After three, he could walk with stability very quickly and he also began to talk.
His Father’s Influence
Vajra Supreme Master (Master for short) represents the second generation of educated Buddhists in Singapore. His father, Yap How Seng (deceased) was among the first generation of Singapore Chinese immigrants who migrated to Singapore during the mid-19th century. At that time, Singaporean Chinese basically believed in a religion that comprised the thinking of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. In his early years, the older Mr Yap was a prayer to many deities as he was influenced by the first generation of Buddhist Venerables like Taixu, Yuanying, Cihang, Fafang, Huiquan and Ruiyu. After middle age, he converted to Buddhism, influenced the people around him to switch from Taoism to Buddhism and founded People’s Buddhism Study Society. Master was very close to his father since young and he became a Buddhist as a result of his influence. At the beginning, he read Master Taixu’s biography for inspiration; when he was studying Engineering at National University of Singapore he meditated almost everyday; as he delved deeper into Buddhism, his thought of renunciation began to develop gradually.
Ordination Procedure Conducted by Three Venerables
June 22 of 1979 was the date when Master took refuge under Venerable Bendao, Abbot of Sam Poh Buddhist Temple in Cameron Highlands – a place where the teachings of Linji School of Chan Buddhism continues; At that time, however, Venerable Bendao was in his retreat, thus three other Venerables from Singapore’s Beeh Low See Buddhist Temple, namely Venerable Hongchuan, Venerable Yanpei and Venerable Zhumo conducted the ordination procedure instead; they became Master’s Preceptor Acarya, Instructor Acarya and Karma Acarya respectively. It was a rare sight in the history of Singapore and Malaysia Buddhism then for an undergraduate to discard worldly thoughts and to choose his lifelong ambition and profession to be a monk, thus Master’s renunciation became a beautiful piece of good news spread among the Buddhist communities.
Learning from Various Masters
Between 1979 and 1981, Master travelled to Taiwan to receive his monk precepts from Venerable Baisheng and to learn from Chan Master Baiyun of Puti Monastery at Guanmiao District in Tainan City. In 1982, he went to Songgwangsa Monastery in Korea to learn Korean Chan (Seon) from Master Kusan Sunim. The harsh and rigorous Chan training received was of great help in his later practice on the Path of Preparation. During this period, Master sought for advice with modesty and respect, and he worked diligently to hone his skills. After Master Kusan Sunim passed away in 1984, he visited the seven famous Korean Chan Masters at that time, asking questions and learning from them during each of his several repeat visits; in the process, he discovered many valuable main points leading toward enlightenment. At that time, there was a very special Chan training method in Korea known as Tanma – it uses quick, sharp and crucial exchanges to provoke and challenge the other party so as to determine the depth at which the other has reached in his practice of Chan. At that time, Songdam Chan Master acknowledged Master’s state of realisation. However, all Chan Masters were not able to give him a full explanation on the states he had experienced in his meditation; they only told him not to get attached to them. This continued until Master met Venerable Steven Bachelor, an English monk of nine years from Gelug tradition at Songgwangsa Monastery; he highly recommended Tibetan Buddhism to Master for his search as Tibetan Buddhism has an exclusive theory on noumenal experiences.
Reclusive Practice on the Island of Pulau Ubin
In the middle of 1985, Master went to Rinzai Sogenji in Kataoka of Japan to learn Japanese Chan (Zen) from Harata Masamichi Sensei, disciple of Yamada Mumon of Lingji School for three months. At the end of the year, he returned to Singapore. He left the mainland to practice reclusively on the quiet and secluded north-eastern Pulau Ubin Island instead. On the island, Master practiced dharma daily; he diligently and tirelessly purified his mind with Chan, spent at least six hours everyday to study the great sutras of Han Buddhism and collected information on Esoteric Buddhism in between times. It was difficult to find Chinese materials on Tibetan Buddhism then and there was also a lack of English translated materials, thus the materials he collected for in-depth study was actually quite limited. Master stayed reclusively on Pulau Ubin Island for a number of years and he gave dharma teachings to fated believers as well; as more people heard about him and came to listen to his dharma talk, he registered the place as Sagaramudra Meditation Centre – an organisation for the propagation of dharma.
Searching for Vajra Master
Between 1987 and 1988, Master went to China and through the assistance of his influential devotee, he met Venerable Jingxu of Guangji Temple in Beijing. The elderly Venerable had gone to Lhasa to learn Esoteric Buddhism from Khangser Rinpoche of Gelug Sect together with Master Nenghai before. During the meeting, Master sincerely requested for the teachings of Esoteric Buddhism but the elderly Venerable declined his request and stated the reason as he (Master Jing Xu) was not a Vajra Master, he gave him a handwritten sutra instead. After that, Master went to Fayuan Temple in Beijing where he saw the sutras that were translated during the Ming-Qing dynasty and prostrated to the Buddha’s tooth relic. After a few months, the thought of learning Esoteric Buddhism continued to tug at Master’s heartstrings till he was unable to sleep, thus he went to Ta Temple at Taihuai Town at Mount Wutai to look for Venerable Jidu who also practiced Esoteric Buddhism. Though the elderly Venerable gave him the same reply that he was not a Vajra Master and refused to give him the esoteric teachings, he directed Master to Zhaojue Temple at Chengdu to look for Master Qingding – disciple of Master Nenghai (Master Qingding and Master Nenghai were both generals of the Nationalist Party before their renunciations).
The Beginning of Esoteric Practice
Master was so determined to learn Esoteric Buddhism that he went to Mount Wutai to make a sincerest vow in front of the stupa of Shakyamuni Buddha and the hair relic stupa of Manjushri Bodhisattva to go deep into its studies; he did received the kind and compassionate blessing from Manjushri Bodhisattva as he not only received the seven days Yamantaka initiation and teachings from Master Qingding successfully at Chengdu, he also received the teachings of the exceptionally supreme Manjushri True Name tantra; these drew a deep starting line for his study and practice of Esoteric Buddhism. When Master returned to Sagaramudra Meditation Centre on Pulau Ubin Island, he gave dharma talks to devotees on weekends on topics like Generation of Bodhicitta, A Guide to Bodisattva’s Way of Life and The Eight Verses for Transforming the Mind. In 1989, in order to understand more about Esoteric Buddhism and its relationship with the Indian culture, Master went to India and Nepal for his pilgrimage cum practice and learning. First, he came into contact with a Red Sect Master and learnt Tibetan Medicine from him; then he met Sakya Master Cuo Ge Te Jin and learnt Sakya’s teachings on The Path and its Fruition from him; when he was in New Delhi of India, he learnt Drikung Kagyud’s Mahamudra. From the trip, he noticed that though Esoteric Buddhism and the ancient Indian culture were similar in some ways, their contents and spiritual essence were not quite the same, there was still much to explore. After some time in collecting the relevant information, around 1990, Master returned to Songgwangsa Monastery as he wanted to further his practice.
Building Monasteries, Helping Sentient Beings
Master returned to Pulau Ubin Island again in 1991 and left the following year to propagate dharma on the mainland as the Singapore government wanted to develop tourism on the island. The monasteries Master built from 1992 to 2009 include Sagaramudra Buddhist Institute (Mainland, Singapore), Sagaramudra Buddhist Association Inc. (Perth, Western Australia), Buddha Mandala Monastery (Perth, Western Australia), Sagaramudra Meditation Centre (Senggarang, Malaysia), Pertubuhan Penganut Agama Buddha Sagaramudra Negeri Johor (Batu Pahat, Malaysia), Persatuan Penganut Agama Buddha Chenresig (Johor Bahru, Malaysia) and Hai Yin Culture and Arts Research Gallery (Mainland, Singapore). In the second half of 2000, to enable the greater spread of Buddhism, Master accepted the invitation by the corporate world to give two talks; the first talk “Thriving in the Digital Age @ the speed of Zen” was given at “Nokia Asia Pacific CEO Summit 2000” held in Hakone, Mount Fuji of Japan; the second talk “Zen Approach to Riding the Waves of Change” was given at global ATM manufacturer, Wincor Nixdorf Asia Pacific Management Forum held in Phuket, Thailand. Master also went to Hong Kong in 1992 to learn Metaphysics from the fifth successor of Qing dynasty’s Master of Metaphysics; the rationale for learning the art was based on “entering the material world to save sentient beings” and it remained the same throughout his learning.
Visits to Thailand, Myanmar and Hong Kong
In the same period, Master went to Thailand and Myanmar for his study tour as well; in Thailand, he learnt forest meditation from Supreme Patriarch Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara and led a simple life with an alms bowl; in Myanmar, he learnt Theravada’s inner meditation from Venerable U Panditabhivamsa, disciple of Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw; he learnt a little about Samatha and Vipassana and used the opportunity to increase his merit for bodhicitta. During this period, Master flew to Hong Kong a few times too. His first visit to Hong Kong was in 1979 when he was just ordained. He was received by well-respected Hong Kong Venerables and was also invited by the two great monks of Jinshan to join them in the international propagation of dharma then. Great Monk Yongxing and Discipline Master Daohai deeply blessed and gave him guidance when he visited them. Master’s other visit to Hong Kong was in 1991 when the Singapore government had other plans for Pulau Ubin Island; when he visited Chan Master Shengyi, his stately and valiant appearance left such a deep impression on Master Shengyi’s disciples that they vividly described his visit as the arrival of a sage – an arhat.
Ripening Conditions for Esoteric Practice
Between 1993 and 1994, Master received many tantric teachings. First, he received a series of Hevajra initiations and the teachings of The Path and its Fruition from the respectable and noble Sakya Throne Holder. One month later, he received the exceptionally supreme Vajra Yogini’s initiation from White Sect Master Cuo Ge Te Jin. Then he learnt the teachings of Karmapa’s Mahamudra from Jiang Yang Kang Chu Dharma Prince at Sam Poh Temple on Cameron Highlands. Meanwhile, he started to deliver teachings on The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment and The Stages of Tantric Buddhism. This was also when he got to know Shangpa Rinpoche and began their deep and long lasting friendship. In 1997 when Lhoga Rinpoche, Nyingmapa’s 84th throne holder came to Singapore, Master made a one month offering of accommodation to him and they had exchanges on dharma. From then on, Master would make offerings to Lhoga Rinpoche whenever he came to Singapore, and the conditions for his esoteric practice began to mature gradually.
Authentication as Reincarnated Vajra Supreme Master who possesses three dharma features
On March 15, 2000 Master accepted the invitation of Lhoga Rinpoche to go to Nepal to receive the two huge Nyingma Dharma Lineage Initiations – Duddul and Longsar. The whole 400 teachings were transmitted to him over 12 hours each day for 22 days. Mocha Dharma King conducted the Lineage Transmission while Lhoga Dharma King conducted the Oral Transmission. After which, Mocha Dharma King invited Master to his room and told him that he has been authenticated as a Reincarnated Vajra Supreme Master who possesses three dharma features and conferred upon him the Certificate of Authentication. Master is a wonderful and rare overseas Han (Chinese) Monk authenticated by Nyingma Kathok Monastery. In 2001 when Nyingmapa Jigme Phuntsok Dharma King came to Singapore, Master got close to him and received the Great Perfection of Manjushri Initiation and teachings from him.
Building Southern Hemisphere’s Monastery
To enable Buddha’s teachings to illuminate brilliantly to benefit sentient beings, Master went to Australia to search for a suitable location to set up a place for practice. First, he set up Sagaramudra Buddhist Association Inc. in the Town of Victoria Park in 2002. Then, in 2004 he bought 55 acres of land at Chittering of Western Australia, 75 km away from Perth, for the set up of Buddha Mandala Monastery – a retreat center. Nestled away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the tranquil environment at Buddha Mandala Monastery provides an excellent practice space for renounced and lay Buddhist disciples who are determined to practice.
First Buddhist Cultural and Art Gallery
In 2009, Master set up Hai Yin Culture and Arts Research Gallery – the first Buddhist Gallery in Singapore. It used thematic exhibitions of historical information combined with arts, to present Buddhist culture and arts to the public; its target audience were the more educated middle and upper class. It played a leading role in the promotion of cultural progress of Buddhism. In the same year, Master was promoted to Abbot of Sam Poh Buddhist Temple of Cameron Highlands in Malaysia.
Pilgrimage to Holy Tantric Places
In 2010, Master went to Maratika (Attainment of Longevity Cave) in Nepal for his pilgrimage. This is the cave where Guru Padmasambhava and his consort, Mandarava attained longevity. Together with him then was Shangpa Rinpoche, his friend of over 20 years. The respectable and noble Shangpa Rinpoche is the Abbot of Singapore Karma Kagyud Buddhist Center – he was being authenticated as the reincarnation of Yogi Practitioner Shangpa Rinpoche by the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa. Master and Shanpa Rinpoche also visited the holy site of Vajrayogini – ancestral home of the Phamtingpa Brothers, and the two caves which Tilopa and Naropa had practiced in. More importantly, through the assistance of Shangpa Rinpoche, Master visited an elderly practitioner at the Pokhara Retreat Centre and he benefited greatly from the in-depth conversation with him.
Chan as the Principal Part and Esotericism as the Use
Thereafter, Master started to guide his renounced disciples in their retreats and delivered weekly dharma teachings to all his disciples who live in Singapore, Malaysia and Australia. “Chan as the Principal Part and Esotericism as the Use” is Master’s teaching fundamentals; Exoteric Teachings is first used to cut into and build the Foundation for Preliminary Practice, this when complemented with Chan’s Direct Method leads to the Generation Stage followed by the Perfection Stage; The practice objective is to perfect Buddha’s three bodies, namely Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya (that is Anuyoga of Esoteric Buddhism). On Esoteric Buddhism, Master delivered teachings of the following commentaries: The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, Explanation on Lamp to the Path of Enlightenment, Ratnagotravibhaga, Madhyantavibhaga, Dharmadharmatavibhanga, Abhisamayalamkara, Mahayanasutralamkara, Abhidharma Kosa and Madhyamakalamkara. On Chan Buddhism, the books written by him in mandarin and published from 1998 to 2005 were 《水月禅音》, 《水月禅意》, 《水月禅修》and《简单幸福的生活》, the first two books were translated into English and their respective titles are The Sound of Zen and The Conception of Zen. The audio CDs released during the same period include 《拉回眼前》,《生与死》,《以禅法解决生活中的问题》,《以禅法提升人的素质与能力》, Stress Relief in E-era through Zen,《显密之分》,《密教的教育次第》,《以禅法面对死亡的过程》,《三皈依》,《以禅法突破自我的局限》,《修心八颂》,《佛法与人际关系》and《禅与生活》. Moreover, in 2011 and 2013, Master was invited to a Gelug Monastery in Spain to deliver teachings on Chan Buddhism. After hearing Master’s talk on Chan Buddhism for the first time, the tantric practitioners at that time and place were so deeply impressed that they used Spanish to write out the content of the teachings and made it into a book. Towards the end of November, 2012 Master adopted the best of both Chan and Esoteric Buddhism and developed a very useful “Practice Booklet” system which provides a dharma practice model for practitioners.
Pilgrimage to Ancestral Kathok Monastery
When the hardware of Buddha Mandala Monastery of Chittering in Western Australia was almost completed, an official opening ceremony was held on May 11, 2014. Many distinguished guests graced the occasion and they included the Religious Advisor of Singapore Buddhist Library, Venerable Dr Bellanwila Dhammaratana Nayaka Thera; 84th Throne Holder of Nyingma Kathok Main Monastery, Lhoga Rinpoche; Religious Advisor of Singapore Nalanda Society, Venerable Gueshe Tenzing Tamding; Abbot of Singapore Karma Kagyud Buddhist Center, Venerable Shangpa Rinpoche; Spiritual Director of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia, Ajahn Brahm; Western Australia Minister for Energy; Finance; Citizenship and Multicultural Interests, Dr Mike Nahan Mla and President of Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Mr Thomas Chua Kee Seng. After the official opening of Buddha Mandala Monastery, Master officially announced that he would start his retreat in September, 2014. Before that, towards the end of July, as a result of exceptionally supreme causes and conditions, Master flew to Gyalrong Chamo Monastery in Ma’erkang County and received the full transmission of The Great Treasury of Precious Termas – about 700 teachings were transmitted to him over 12 hours each day for 25 days. Following that, Master attended the Consecration Ceremony of Kathok Monastery’s Great Main Hall – “Shaking the Three Realms with its Prestige”. On his way back, Master visited Sertar Larung Gar Buddhist Institute, Yarchen Monastery and Changliesi. While Master was in Singapore, he was invited by business people from the small and medium enterprises (who knew that he was going to practice in seclusion) to give a talk during a two-day Chan Practice Seminar, the focus was on the ways to incorporate Buddhism into enterprises.
Master is relentless in his pursuit of dharma all the time, though he was seriously ill in 2002, he continued to excel courageously, he never allow himself to stop learning, and he never take a break from delivering Buddha’s teachings systematically, to save the masses; just like what he said, “To rest is just to do a different thing”, his spirit alone is enough to touch and call on the masses, he is truly admirable!
Books Published from 1998 to 2005:
《水月禅音》The Sound of Zen (English Title Available)
《水月禅意》The Conception of Zen (English Title Available)
《水月禅修》The Practice of Zen (Chan)
《简单幸福的生活》A Simple and Happy Life
CDs Released from 1998 to 2005:
《拉回眼前》Coming back to the Immediate Moment
《禅与生活》Zen and Living
《以禅法提升人的素质与能力》Use of Zen to Improve the Quality and Ability of Human Beings
《以禅法突破自我的局限》Use of Zen to Breakthrough Self-limitation
《以禅法解决生活中的问题》Use of Zen to Resolve Daily Issues
《以禅法面对死亡的过程》Use of Zen to Face The Process Of Death
《生与死》Living and Dying
《修心八颂》The Eight Verses for Transforming the Mind
《佛法与人际关系》Buddhism and Human Relationships
《显密之分》The Difference between Exoteric and Esoteric Buddhism
《密教的教育次第》The Stages of Education in Esoteric Buddhism