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The monk's tale
By Brendan Worrell (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-06-03 09:31

The monk's tale

Virginia Stibbs Anami with monks at a temple in Shandong.

Like the Monk Ennin, who put much emphasis on walking as a spiritual exercise, it was her intermingling with local Chinese people that saw her fall in love with the land and its people.

Anami points out that it was Ennin's vivid accounts of his dealings with local people of the time that is so often absent from official historical compilations. A passionate scholar of Buddhism and the arts, she is also quick to stress the value of Ennin's work to Japan.

"The magnificence of Tang had a strong impact on Japan, with new knowledge and art forms coming on the coattails of Buddhism," she says.

Ennin was a vital link in the transmission of this heritage because anti-Buddhist persecution erupted under Emperor Wuzong during his second year in China.

"Chinese people from high up to lowly people asked him 'Please take Buddhism back to Japan and keep it alive until we can practice it here again". So there was a kind of mutual help in all of this," says Anami.

It is this tolerance for one's fellow man that has led Anami to strive to contribute toward improved development in isolated areas such as Datong in Shanxi province. Here Anami has been active in assisting an orphanage where about 80 families share the burden of caring for more than 200 children.

"I was so impressed I wanted to do something," she says. "I started buying medicines, toys and books. And we were able to get the Japanese government to give some money for a clinic there."

In addition to tracing the work of a 9th century Japanese monk, Anami has also written two books about Beijing's ancient trees and often holds exhibitions and presentations around Japan and China speaking about shared history between the two peoples.

Her story, like Ennin's, provides a working model for all those idealistic souls who strive to tread a peaceful path across time and location.

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