When Sheng Yen died of renal failure at the age of 79 in February 2009, Republic of China President Ma Ying-jeou and mainland China Religious Affairs Minister Ye Xiaowen both attended his funeral. Kung fu movie star Jet Li and well-known Taiwanese actress Brigitte Lin issued public statements, while as many as one million followers, mostly ethnic Chinese, mourned around the world. Today, when you ask almost any adult in Taiwan about Sheng Yen, the result is likely to be a story about his good works in areas such as typhoon relief or suicide prevention.
Not that this self-deprecating monk sought fame for its own sake. Beginning in 1976, he spent three out of every six months in the United States, a country where he was not widely known outside his circle of Chinese disciples and a small number of American students. At his small temple in Queens, a borough of New York City, and at a meditation center in upstate New York, he led smaller groups in the same rigorous Zen retreats that attracted hundreds of practitioners in Taiwan.
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