Jet Li and Master Sheng Yen on Fame and Wealth

September 22, 2003

The internationally well-known Kungfu Emperor and the contemporary Chan Master Venerable Sheng Yen held a dialogue session: "Anonymous vs. Ignorance" at the Family Theatre in the Taipei City Hall on September 6, 2003. More than 1500 people attended. Jet Li called out for the mass to do good and abstain from all evils. He started the conversation by relating his own experience to the topic for session; the wisdom in Buddhism helped him to break the bonds of fame and wealth. After five years of practicing Buddhism, he feels that he is now able to face failures in his work and the impermanence in life with joy. Venerable Sheng Yen concurs by pointing out that practicing Buddhism does not mean that we should shun fame and wealth altogether; it is important that we be contented with what we have. We should learn to make good use of wealth and fame, at the same time, learn not to be controlled or affected by it.

At an early age of 8, Jet Li began to learn martial arts, and vowed to one day spread the Chinese martial arts to the whole world. However, he gradually realized that while martial arts could strengthen someone physically, it couldn't do so mentally. It can do nothing to help people solve their problems. Though he had received the award as the top all-round martial artist at a very young age, he realized that he wasn't at all "all-round". He started to reflect upon himself, and through studying tai-chi and yin-yang and cross-referencing them with martial arts, he eventually found inner peace. He gathered strength from Buddhism and gained enough wisdom and strength to break the bond of fame that has tied him down for many years.

Venerable Sheng Yen then wished Jet Li to give some advice to the youngsters, many of whom found life too tough for them. Jet Li replied from his personal experience, "The one big problem with human beings is that we blame everybody and everything else for our problems, but never reflect upon ourselves." He emphasized that our greatest enemies are ourselves. Through Buddhism, we could gain wisdom and see our values more clearly. We can learn to see material needs, fame and wealth from different points of view. Venerable Sheng Yen nods in agreement that happiness does not come from fame, wealth nor power; it comes from knowing how to be contented. Contentment is often able to bring happiness. It is also important that we seize the moment and live in the moment. And if we face obstacles, we have to learn to "face it, accept it, solve it and put it behind us."

Five years ago, Jet Li took refuge with the Vajrayana Master Palme Khyentze Rinpoche. He became such a sincere Buddhist that at one time he planned to quit acting and devote all his time to practicing Buddhism. However, the Rinpoche told him, "You have yet to complete your purpose in life." Not long after, he realized that his purpose in life is to use his influence and spread Buddhism through the modern cinematic and share his joy in attaining wisdom through Buddhism. Venerable Sheng Yen praised Jet Li's setting a real life example of a practicing Buddhist. His well-known name could introduce Buddhism to an even greater crowd. That is a way of cultivation, and a way to spread Buddhism too.

Venerable Sheng Yen further stressed that cultivation does not exclusively mean becoming monks or nuns, or do meditation. It is hard to eliminate our own troubles through cultivation; even harder to practice the Bodhisattva way in this human world. "In this world of desires and temptations, we should make sure that we could change the environment instead of the environment changing us." Jet Li confessed that fame has brought him much stress of being on the top. Eventually, he gathered wisdom and strength from Buddhism and was able to face both success and failure with a calm mind. He now seize every moment, make the most of it and regardless of the result. 

Jet Li, who had came to ask for "directions" in cultivation from Venerable Sheng Yen, had a four-hour-long talk with the Master the day before the dialogue session. However, he too reiterated that we must walk the path of cultivation ourselves. 

The dialogue thus ended with overwhelming questions from the audience and wise answers from Jet Li and Venerable Sheng Yen, and all went home brimming with the joy of dharma.


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Dharma Drum Mountain