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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 21, 2003

Jy Din Sakya, Hsu Yun Temple abbot, dead at 85

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

Jy Din Sakya, founder and abbot emeritus of the Hsu Yun Temple in Nu'uanu and a venerated teacher to thousands of Hawai'i's Chinese Buddhists, died March 13 after a long illness. He was 85.

Yellow banners inscribed with couplets of Chinese poetry in his honor have begun arriving from all over the world at the temple on Kawananakoa Place in Nu'uanu.

Chanting of sutras for his safe passage into the Western Paradise began the moment of his death and will continue at the temple pending funeral services Sunday at Borthwick Mortuary.

Sakya was born Nov. 17, 1917, in the river town of Shao Guan in Fujian province, China, to a well-to-do family engaged in building materials and vegetable sales.

His horoscope reading at birth said he would become a high-ranking military officer and die at age 30, but an inspirational meeting with the Zen master Xu Yun led Sakya into a religious life. He survived both the Japanese invasion of China in World War II and the Chinese Communist attacks on religious activities thereafter.

Sakya excelled at a six-year primary school and the Roman Catholic Li Qun secondary school, was admitted to a three-year college at age 17, and — despite the astrologer's warning — planned to enter Chiang Kai-shek's military school, Whampoa Academy, in Canton.

It was then, in 1934, on a holiday visit with other teenagers to Nan Hua Monastery, that Sakya first met Xu Yun.

"Something happened to me when I looked into his face," Sakya wrote later in his book, "Empty Cloud, The Teachings of Xu Yun." "I suddenly dropped to my knees and pressed my forehead to the ground, kowtowing to him. My friends were all astonished. I had never kowtowed to anybody in my life."

Xu Yun encouraged Sakya to become a priest at the temple, where he was ordained in 1937.

Sakya said Xu Yun asked him to carry his teaching to the Territory of Hawai'i, where Chinese immigrants for years had been petitioning for a monk to teach Buddhism and establish a temple.

Sakya moved to Hong Kong in 1949 and began immigration procedures which would bring him, alone and ignorant of English language, to Honolulu in 1956.

The Chun Hoon family made space available for his teachings at a School Street property, and by 1965 — after fund-raising efforts that included using borrowed pots to boil peanuts for sale — the landmark Chinese-style temple was built on Kawananakoa Place.

For Hawai'i's faithful, temple board member Jeanne Lum said, Abbot Sakya "was Buddhism personified.

"His major principle was to accept things, and he never complained, never scolded or got angry at anyone, and always believed that if you would just do kindness to a bad person the person gradually would change," she said.

His stoic acceptance of whatever happened in life was summed up in the Chinese word "ren," meaning fortitude, Lum said. But Sakya also "showed when he was happy. He would kind of laugh, and he had a wonderful smile."

Abbot Sakya retired at age 80 and was succeeded by Abbot Fat Wei, but continued his work at the temple, and was still copying handwritten sutras into Chinese characters on his computer daily until shortly before his death, she said.

There are "tears of sadness" at the temple now, Lum said, "but we are not supposed to show that; we are supposed to let him go."

Traditional Buddhist services will be held at Borthwick Mortuary from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sunday, followed by a funeral drive past the temple and back to the mortuary, where refreshments will be served.

The abbot's remains will be returned to the temple following cremation on Monday.