Master Sheng Yen was born in 1931 to a poor farming family at the edge of the Yangtze River in Nantong County, Jiangsu province. He became a novice monk in 1943 at Guangjiao Monastery of Langshan, Jiangsu. After World War II ended in 1945, he moved to Dasheng Monastery in Shanghai, where his life was occupied mainly with performing Buddhist funerary rites. He also had an opportunity to study at Jing’an Buddhology Academy, which set the foundation for his Buddhist learning.
Affected by the spread of civil war, he returned to a lay person to join the military, and ultimately arrived in Taiwan. In his lay life, he still regarded himself as a monastic and would often visit senior masters in Taiwan. During one visit to Master Lingyuan in 1958, he had a breakthrough in his quest for realization. In 1960, he fulfilled his wish to become a monastic again, under Master Dongchu. The next year, a solitary retreat in Meinong followed that lasted for six years.
After the solitary retreat, he went to Japan to study and received his doctoral degree from Risshō University in Tokyo’s Shinagawa ward in 1975. Continuing Master Dongchu’s wish, he began to spread the dharma in both the United States and Taiwan. Eventually, causes and conditions led him to travel all over the world to spread dharma, teach Chan meditation in earnest, and fulfill his own wish to form a Pure Land on Earth. He established the Dharma Drum School of Chinese Chan in 2005, and he passed away in 2009 with a final wish: “The Universe may one day perish, but my vows are eternal.”