Interview with Venerable Wei Wu on the 25th Anniversary of His Renunciation

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He was once a Departmental Manager of Hewlett Packard Malaysia. In 1987 he established his own consultant company in Malaysia. His clientele covered Asia, Europe and the United States, including many multinational companies. But such a successful entrepreneur, at the peak of career, decided to renounce and spend the rest of his life to contribute to Buddhism. Beginning with Than Hsiang Temple, he set up Than Hsiang Foundation, Wan Ching Yuen Centres, Mitra Welfare Centres, Kindergartens, Metta Free Clinic, Than Hsiang Selangor branch, Kedah branch, Perak branch, and Than Hsiang Klintiendharm Foundation in Thailand and the International Buddhist College. All these achievements exhibit Ven. Wei Wu's perseverance and wholeheartedness in promoting Buddhism step by step.

Q: May Shifu share some thoughts on your 25 years' renunciation?
A: Looking back, I regret donning the robe a little late. Although I have tried to do as much as I could during these 25 years, age has become a limiting factor; I was more energetic in my younger days. If I had renounced earlier, I might have been able to contribute more to Buddhism.

Q: Then, what is the most suitable age-group for renunciation according to Shifu’s

A: It is not appropriate to renounce either too young or too old. One should think of renouncing only after one is more matured by going through the ups and downs in life. Contrarily, if one is quite old and used to a certain life style already, one will face difficulty in adjusting to monastic life afterwards. Therefore, a good age-group for renunciation is between 25 to 30 years old.

Q: Shifu once mentioned that you went to New Zealand for further studies when you were young. It was only there and then that you began to really understand Buddhism and learn to become a vegetarian. May Shifu share with us how did you reach out to Dharma in a Western country?
A: During my stay at Cantebury University in New Zealand, there were three Malaysian students who subsequently donned the robe one after another. The first one is Ven. Mahinda from Malacca. The second one is Ven. Dhammajoti from Kuala Lumpur and I am the last. Before renunciation, Ven. Dhammajoti had met an English teacher. He invited me to join their religious activities such as courses, meditation, and chanting. This English teacher had come into contact with different traditions of Buddhism like Theravada, Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism when he was in India.

Therefore, he was more flexible and open in thinking. He was able to develop a method to propagate the Dharma in the West. He became one of my early teachers in Buddhism. My fundamental understanding of the Dharma was built up during that period. Later, local Buddhists in New Zealand influenced me to practice vegetarian diet. To date I have been a vegetarian for more than 40 years.

Q: May Shifu share with us inspiration gained in New Zealand, known as the
‘Pureland of This World’?

A: During my first year in New Zealand, I noticed some local apple farmers placing baskets of apples at their doors with empty bottles on the side. Nobody looked after the baskets of apples. A buyer would simply put money into the empty bottle and take away the basket of apples by himself. This method of trading was built on trust between men; it was really incredible for me then.

Q: What motivated Shifu’s decision to renounce at the peak of your career?
A: When I started Than Hsiang Temple (with the help of other members), I realized that it was not appropriate for a layman to run the Temple. I had been teaching people around me to ‘FOCUS’ in doing our work. Therefore, between career and Buddhism, I chose the latter. As a consultant before leaving Hewlett Packard and other clients, I found a suitable candidate who would continue to serve them. Only after proper arrangement, I sent in my resignations, bid farewell to the worldly lifestyle, and joined the monastic life.

Q: What is the motive of Shifu’s renunciation?
A: To repay the 'four types of gratitude', namely gratitude to parents, all sentient beings, the nation, and the Triple Gem or the Buddha.

Q: Shifu has renounced for 25 years, what is your most remarkable event?
A: The most remarkable event is to have set up the International Buddhist College in Thailand with limited resources. After 4 years of hardship, the first batch of BA and MA students graduated on 20/8/2008. This was a truly special milestone (for IBC)!

Q: How did the name Than Hsiang Temple come about?
A: In 1990, we bought one acre of land from the Penang Development Corporation to build a Buddhist centre. We need to give the centre a temple name.

Coincidentally, Tibetan Gelek Rinpoche was in Penang, so we sought his advice to name the temple. As he had been living in the United States and didn't know much Chinese language, he suggested an appealing name, “Temple of Fragrance of Sandalwood”, translated as “Than Hsiang Temple” in Chinese.

Q: What is the mission of the Than Hsiang Temple?
A: We base on our four convictions to promote Buddhist education, welfare, and cultivation activities. These are “for the young to learn, the strong and healthy to serve, the aged and sick to be cared for, and, the departed to find spiritual destination”.

Q: What were the stages that divided your life for these 25years?
A: The first stage is “Foundation Laying”. When I was a manager cum consultant of multinational companies, I had many staff to help me carry out my work. When I established a Buddhist organization, I had only volunteers. I faced a great change in terms of management style and the process was incredibly tough. The second stage is “Firm Establishment in Penang and Expansion in Malaysia”. We formed branches in Kuala Lumpur, Seremban and Kedah. The third stage is “Firm Establishment in Malaysia and Expansion in ASEAN”. We successfully set up the International
Buddhist College in Thailand in 2005. The fourth stage is “Firm Establishment in ASEAN and Expansion in Asia”. We have planned to set up Than Hsiang kindergarten, Wan Ching Yuen Old Folks Home Centre and International Buddhist College in different cities of Asian countries. These units (either directly run by Than Hsiang or in collaboration with local Buddhist organizations) will undergo
transformation (to localize) and be run by local people.

Q: Before your renouncement, you majored in electrical engineering in university, and later set up a consultant company. How do your experiences in these fields help to influence your work after your renouncement?
A: Buddhist organizations are generally not well managed. The Total Quality Management which I am familiar with is able to propagate Buddhism under more organized and systematic conditions. Contrarily, Dharma is needed in corporate management to create a more 'human focus' working environment. My booklet, “Total Quality Management and Dharma”, has mentioned that the mutual coordination between Total Quality Management and the Dharma will definitely be able to create a more effective and conducive work performance.

Q: Recently, money games have become a hot topic, what is Shifu’s opinion on this

A: Money game is simply a fraud. It makes use of the greed of 'investors' seeking for high returns and cheats them of their hard earned money.

Under the capitalist system, company listing in share market is a good concept. However in some listed companies under the manipulation of some unscrupulous businessmen, it has been turned into a legal fraud. These people could join hands with some politicians. They first spread false news about an expected hike in the share value of their company. Many ordinary ignorant people will be misled into buying the said shares. Initially the big shareholders will create the false impression that the company's profit is increasing steadily. Having 'hooked the small fishes', they will dump their shares to trigger a plunge in the share price, thus gaining huge profits at the expense of heavy losses from small shareholders.

Q: People nowadays would like to get rich quick. From the Buddhist point of view, is there any short cut to get rich?
A: Money games manage to exploit the human weakness of greed. Everybody wants to get rich quick. However, Buddhism believes in 'cause' and 'effect'. Working hard to earn money is the 'cause'. Obtaining the money you have worked for is the 'effect'. So, how can one reap good results without putting in effort?

Q: How does faith influence a person?
A: Religious faith is extremely important to mankind, especially when one has to make an important decision, or when one's life is ending. It can become a kind of spiritual support, helping one to lessen anxiety and fear, and face death calmly.

Q: Please talk about the Buddhist concept of marriage.
A: Buddhism does not require everybody to become a monk or nun. Renouncing needs appropriate conditions. In Than Hsiang Temple, we are concerned with family values, and emphasize on the Buddhist way of family life. We want every family to achieve two objectives. Parents shall lead their children to the good path. Children shall practise filial piety to their elders.

Q: Generally, what are the problems faced by those who seek counseling service from Than Hsiang Mitra Welfare Centre?
A: Most of them face relationship problems, especially young couples. Therefore, before their marriage, we encourage couples to come and join the pre-marriage workshops organizesd by Mitra Welfare Centre. Couples are also advised to receive the blessings of the Triple Gem during marriage ceremony, helping to strengthen and hold their marriage in future.

Q: What do you think our society is lacking?
A: Lacking in good education is the root problem of our society. At home, parents have not instilled right ethical values to their children. In the classroom, studies emphasize on knowledge but neglect moral education. Therefore the younger generation will grow up to be smart people without right values in life. They may use their knowledge to create social problems, causing disharmony in society.

Q: Why are some people unhappy?
A: Buddhism talks about 'cause' and 'effect'. If you do not plant the seed of happiness, how can you reap the fruit of happiness?

Q: Can we change our fate?
A: Buddhism does not advocate belief in fate and does not support the idea that our destiny is pre-determined. Buddhism believes in the theory of 'Cause and Effect in Three Periods of Time’. So whatever you do now will influence your destiny in your present and future lives. Therefore, you control your own destiny.

Q: What is Shifu's thinking on the meaning of life?
A: Firstly one learns to lead a moral life, be one who always avoids evil and does good. With the good moral foundation, we proceed to work on the mind. Only through cultivating insight (wisdom), an ordinary person can transcend greed, hatred and delusion. Then he can become a sage and escape from the six realms of Samsara.

Q: Concerning some practices that turn 'freeing lives' into 'killing lives' , what is Shifu’s opinion?
A: The practice of 'freeing lives', as supported by Buddhism, needs wisdom to implement it. In fact, the best way of 'saving life' starts with practicing vegetarianism. Not taking life is equal to saving lives.

Q: After establishing Than Hsiang Wan Ching Yuen Welfare Centre (Old Folks Home) for many years, what does Shifu think we need to do for the elderly in society?
A: From the treatment to elderly people in a country, society or community, we will know its 'level of civilization'. The elders in a family should be considered as the treasures of the family. The younger generation should practice filial piety to the elders, satisfying their needs both materially and spiritually. It is important to let our elders have religious faiths. That will enable them to face the issue of life and death with greater calm and ease.

Q: In the process of promoting Buddhism, which area of implementation is most important according to Shifu?
A: Over the past years, Than Hsiang Temple has organized many welfare activities, but all these can only serve as short term cures. Education is the only way to get to the roots of the problem. If a religion only invests its resources on buildings and physical hardware, but neglects the basic core of education, it will die out in the course of time.

Q: What is the biggest challenge in promoting Buddhist education?
A: It is a very tough task to engage in educational works. A very long period of time is needed to shape the characters of a person before we can see expected results.

Q: What is Shifu’s plan in promoting Buddhism and welfare services in the near

A: We will continue to improve and proliferate the present Wan Ching Yuen Centre, Mitra Welfare Centre, International Buddhist College, Kindergarten, Metta Free Clinic. We will also expand these institutions to other Asian countries, by encouraging sister organizations to set up similar institutions in their respective regions to promote welfare services extensively.