When I met Ziguang Shang Shi at the former St. Casimir’s Church in Amsterdam on October 21, he gave me his self-published book, “Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi in U.S.A; Miraculous Stories of Salvation.” I have always had an interest in various religions, and was eager to learn what he had to say.
I didn’t get to read the book until after I came back to St. Casimir’s a second time on October 26, for its re-dedication as the Five Buddhas Temple. But when I opened his book and started to read it, I didn’t know what to make of it.
The book consists almost entirely of 161 personal statements from Chinese-speaking people who came to the healing sessions Ziguang has been conducting in American cities for several years. And the world pictured in the book is a scary place. Ziguang writes that “devils are raging all over the world. The demons of illness rampantly endanger the physical and spiritual healthiness over the world. It causes the decline of human health.”
And according to the book, he is the savior in this world full of devils: “During the Dharma Vanishing Era, Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi descends to this mortal world for rescuing people with his divine power and his great mercy of Buddha.” Zhi Bei saw him control the ocean’s waves and Xiang-rong Ma even says she saw him rise into the air: “This moment I suddenly saw Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi’s body raised in the air and I saw golden light emitted from his body. They shined on all audiences.”
Such visions are not unusual for people who have come to Ziguang’s healing sessions. Lin Fan-Yuan “felt there was an opening at the top of my head. I could feel a spark entering my head. I could feel the door of my wisdom was opened when the Buddha light was entering my head.” Dong Min Mo “smelled a nice scent and saw a violet light on top of my head” and afterwards was happy to lose 12 pounds and reduce her waist size two inches.
But there does seem to be something like exorcism going on for many of these people, particularly when the ailments are of a more serious nature. Ziguang tells Yuan-Zhu Liao: “Don’t worry. You will be fine after the evil spirits in your body were driven away.” He tells Dai-Shi Huang that “Satan has already left your body. Your abdomen wouldn’t be swollen again.”
What really worried me was the story told by Xiaoling Lu, who had been hearing voices telling her to kill herself, but Ziguang told her: “You are not insane. You are haunted by something evil. If nothing is done, you will be in bigger troubles.” What if she avoids psychiatric treatment based on what he told her, and then kills herself?
Although some of the illnesses are relatively minor, people with Parkinson’s disease and cancer also came to be healed by Ziguang. I know that a positive attitude is important to health, but it strikes me as terribly irresponsible if you make somebody feel so positive that they give up life-saving medical treatment.
For example, Qiong-fang Lin had an operation for breast cancer: “I just believed in science, medication and surgical operation to remove tumors. Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi said it did not need injection, medicine and surgery, cancer cells can be controlled. Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi told me not to worry as the esoteric dharma would prevent the spread and transfer of cancer only if I practiced sincerely and did merit wholeheartedly.”
On that first day when I went to St. Casimir’s, there were things that were puzzling, even though I didn’t know anything yet about the group’s belief in miraculous healing. I was made to feel welcome right away and Jenny Wong invited me to join a lecture being given by Ziguang, who was speaking in Chinese to a group of 28 women and five men.
Ziguang soon began talking directly to me and asked me if I had any questions, so I asked him these four: How many people will be coming from China to live in Amsterdam? Will the people from China settle and raise families here like previous immigrants? Is it their goal to become American citizens? And, why is the group buying so many properties so quickly? Ziguang answered none of these questions but simply repeated much of what was quoted in earlier news reports: he has come to bring health to the people of Amsterdam; he will bring prosperity by opening new factories and other businesses.
At one point in that meeting, Ziguang started talking about the burglary at St. Casimir’s in September, and he said he might go to France if people here did not want him. I turned and asked the group if they would stay in that case or if they would follow their master. They cried out in almost one voice that they would follow the master wherever he went. I guess whether they stay or go depends entirely on what he says.
And another odd thing happened after the meeting was over. I asked Jenny Wong how many people had come with Ziguang from China, but she wouldn’t give me a definite number, or even a ballpark range. She said that the people were here on a “voluntary” basis and that the numbers keep changing because people come and go from China.
When I finally finished Ziguang’s book a couple weeks later, I felt that I needed to know more about Buddhism if I was going to be fair. I went to see Monshin Paul Naamon, abbot of the Tendai Buddhist Temple in Canaan, which is affiliated with an ancient Japanese religious institution. “Claiming healing powers like this is not sanctioned by any recognized Buddhist tradition,” Naamon told me. “Buddhism is a search for the nature of reality. If you do something to feed people’s delusions, that is not Buddhism.”
I don’t know much about Buddhism, but I’m inclined to agree with him.