Following a Zhejiang temple’s inundation with applicants for short-term monkhood, Zoey Zhang at The Diplomat looks at young Chinese seeking temporary refuge from the pressures of the dusty world:
During the ten-day camp from July 16 to 25, Sun [a 22-year-old Tsinghua graduate student] shared a room with four other people in the temple, awaking at 4:30 am each day to the sound of temple bells. It was not easy for a night owl with a penchant for rolling out of bed late. Before breakfast, he chanted mantras with other students and monks. He learned how to meditate while sitting in the lotus position – though he admitted that was the hardest part for him and he still could not maintain the position for long. He liked the vegetarian food served in the temple and was happy to ensure nothing was wasted. When the monks taught him to pour hot water into his bowl after eating the rice, he drank it up.
[… T]he generation born in 1980s and 1990s are taking a different approach than their parents. The once despised feudal superstitions are now seen as trendy by Chinese youth who are not only curious about the lives of monks and nuns, but also cannot help romanticizing the idea of a spiritual shelter. They yearn to escape from the pressures and setbacks encountered in their studies, careers and love affairs. [Source]
Those who don’t have time for a retreat can turn to online temples, and perhaps make a donation. It may be unclear where the money would actually end up, but this is a problem at some offline temples as well. From Zhang Yiwei at Global Times:
A 31-year-old Buddhist with the Web name Qingjing Suiyuan, who often prays online, said that he doesn’t think praying online is connected with laziness. He said that people live fast-paced city lifestyles, and that the online prayers will be heard by Buddha as long as the prayers are sincere.
[…] Certain privately-owned online temples even advertise their temples as the most “efficacious,” stressing the fact that wishes can be granted by merely clicking a mouse. When the Global Times contacted an online temple called the “Tongling Buddhist Website,” the proprietor, who goes by the monastic name “Tongling,” told the reporter that clicking a mouse would make dreams come true, but hung up when asked further questions.
[… The Hebei Buddhism Association’s Master] Hengyu added that some form of sacrifice should be involved in prayer, but he said that it didn’t necessarily need to be financial. He said that this “sacrifice” could even be the effort in traveling to real temples, or taking the time to burn incense. [Source]