A day of a Chinese monk
3:40 every morning, every temple on Mount Putuo will sound a series of board knocking, which serves as the wake up call. Monks all get up at that time, and soon after, there will be the ring of the 108 morning bells. Walking the rhythm of the bells, the monks enter the main hall in a line and start worshiping and sutra reciting. This is called “morning lesson”. At this time, visitors are allowed to worship with the monks. Strict orders are followed during these morning lessons. It is before dawn and still dark outside. The halls are lit by dim candle lights and the shadows cast on to the curtains. Only the “ever-lit lamp” shines the golden-colored Buddha statue bright. There can be hundreds of people in the worshiping hall. At times, however, it can be so quiet that pin drops can be heard. When an occasional breeze passes through the door, the hanging decorative metals inside the hall become wind chimes and give the unexpected, but pleasant
breaks of the silence. Then, after sudden drum rolls and bell rings, the Fangzhang (abbot) will lead all the monks and visitors recite the sutras in rhythm, along with orchestrated sound beats from the instruments like bells and Muyus. The incense burn creates the light smoke that spirals up, along with the waving shadows on the curtains, making this a somewhat mysterious, but solemn scene. If you look at the statue of the Buddha at this time, no matter where you look from, you would feel that Buddha is looking back right at you and watching what you are doing.
When the long sutra reciting is over, the Fangzhang will light the incenses and pass them down to everyone. A line is then formed to walk circles around the Buddha. Monks keep on citing the sutras, and visitors will follow with their palms in gassho holding the incense. The incenses carries everyone's wishes, and are the most precious treasure at the moment. When the circling stops, all will kowtow and worship to the Buddha again, and honored guests will be called out for special worshiping. The whole morning lesson will last about one and a half hours, and finishes right at the dawn.
Monks at Mount Putuo are served three meals a day, and the meal times are announced by a special bell. While having the meals, monks still need to keep serious and respectful, and no waste of the food is allowed. After the supper, there is the evening lesson. Evening lessons are similar to the morning lessons, but the sutras cited are different. Morning and evening lessons are held everyday, and the monks cannot be exempted unless one is sick or on a leave. The “lessons” of Chinese Buddhism like this started from Eastern Jin (317-420) time, and has been a common practice since Song Dynasty (960-1279). It is the most important duty of the monks, and is also the most important daily religious activity of the temples.
When the evening drum rolls, it is the time for the monks to rest. Day after day, the same routine has been held for the past one thousand years. In this strict life style, monks have been seeking the true understanding of the Buddhism day after day.
Buddhism disciplines and admonishments
Monk is one of the “three jewels” in Buddhism. Monks are considered live in the “pure land”. A word and a movement from a monk is a reflection of the Buddhism.
Buddhism promotes asceticism. There are many rules and disciplines for Buddhism monks to follow. Mount Putuo has the “Mount Putuo standards of behavior for monks”, which was established at the end of the Qing Dynasty. It contains 66 Do Nots, with admonishments like follow the fundamental teaching, treat parents with filial piety, keep distance from women, ware simple clothing, do not idle around, do not curse or argue, do not pretend, do not provoke or fight, exercise restraint when insulted by others, restrain from teasing and laughing, do not make trouble and do not discuss politics. Violations can result in punishments and sometimes even discharges.
The disciplines have kept the Buddhist community in order and provides a “pure” environment from which one can seek for Buddhism nirvana. The ideas contained in the admonishments probably not only benefited the monks, but also the rest of the societies at large.