Oral Histories

Interview of Miao-Hsi Shih

Immigrant from Hong Kong and Buddhist nun of Chinese Chan lineage. Senior nun at the Fo Guang Shan Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple in Hacienda Heights, California.
Many Branches, One Root: Buddhist Traditions in the Los Angeles Area
Asian American History
Biographical Note:
Immigrant from Hong Kong and Buddhist nun of Chinese Chan lineage. Senior nun at the Fo Guang Shan Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple in Hacienda Heights, California.
Cline, Alex
Shih, Miao-Hsi
Persons Present:
Shih and Cline.
Place Conducted:
Fo Guang Shan Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Alex Cline, series coordinator, UCLA Library Center for Oral History Research; musician; member, Order of Interbeing, Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism, ordained 2009 by Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh.
Processing of Interview:
The interviewer prepared a timed log of the audio recording of the interview. Shih was given the opportunity to review the log in order to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the content. The corrections made were then entered into the text.
4.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The Many Branches, One Root series traces the histories and practices of a range of Buddhist traditions and communities in the greater Los Angeles area. Beginning in the early twentieth century, a succession of Buddhist traditions have put down roots in Los Angeles, each one providing spiritual support and a sense of community for the tradition’s immigrant population. By the late twentieth century many of those traditions had extended their reach beyond their original ethnic base to include an American-born, often largely Anglo, constituency. The series seeks to document the ethnic and immigrant roots of these traditions, as well as the changes that have resulted as traditions have accommodated to an American context. Series participants included monks, nuns, and lay people from Buddhist traditions from Japan, China, Tibet, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam and a mixture of immigrants and American-born practitioners.
Meaning of monastic name—Family’s background in Southern China and relocation to Hong Kong—Family’s crowded first apartment—Relationships with siblings and family—Catholic education and exposure to Western culture—Disconnection from Cultural Revolution in China—Remoteness of Buddhism in Hong Kong—Attends Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia—Return to Hong Kong and government work—Leaving Hong King before handover—Relocation to Vancouver with family.
Begins reading about Buddhism—First visits Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple with mother—Attends the International Buddhist Progress Association international conference and sees Master Hsing Yun—Further commitment to Buddhism and attending a precepts ceremony—Mother’s death and selling Vancouver real estate—Attends first monastic retreat—Learning Mandarin through translation skills—Transformation of life through practice—Translating Buddhist materials into English—Relocating to Hacienda Heights in 1999—Ordains as a nun in 2000 and has an easy adjustment—Discrimination faced by founders of Hsi Lai Temple—Collaborations with other Buddhist centers.
“Humanistic Buddhist” tradition of Fo Guang Shan—Origins and current state of Fo Guang Shan—Support in Chinese communities worldwide—Robust activities for practitioners—Involvement of young members—Adjustment of tradition’s packaging—Equality between monastics and lay members—Personal changes after choice to become a nun—Importance of community practice—Personal practice—Increased interest in Buddhism—Temple’s connection to interfaith activities—Master’s current health—Gender make-up of Fo Guang Shan.