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A centenarian monk reads the newspaper

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Daily Sunshine
November 4, 2009

Today's Daily Sunshine, a Shenzhen-based commercial paper, talked to the former abbot of Hongfa Temple ahead of his 103rd birthday on the 21st day of the 9th lunar month (November 7 this year).

Master Benhuan (本焕), born in Hubei in 1907, has been a monk for 81 years and is currently director of the Shenzhen Buddhist Association. He told the newspaper that he still rises at 4:18 every morning, naps from 12 to 1:48 every afternoon, and goes to sleep at 9 every night. He plans to retire when he turns 120, and is counting on living another thirty years after that.

One of Benhuan's daily pleasures is reading the newspaper:

On the day of the interview, the reporter watched in silence outside the abbot's chamber. For several hours, an endless stream of people flowed in for blessings, and from time to time someone would rush up to Master Benhuan and ask for an adhistana blessing, or for a prayer for wealth or a promotion. The din continued inside the four square meter abbot's cell until around nine, newspaper time, when Benhuan was able to enjoy a brief moment to himself.

"Today's paper talks about relations between Australia and China...." An assistant carrying a copy of Reference News drew close to Master Benhuan's ear and read the newspaper cover to cover. This was the daily "newspaper lesson," a practice that he was said to have carried on for decades. Reference News was an old friend.

This reporter also ran across an eighty-year-old man who had come up the mountain especially to read a newspaper to the old monk. He had already clipped out some stories, and the old monk listened with rapt attention.

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Reading the headlines

"Bo Xilai is fighting the mafia in Chongqing, and they say he's going to drive them out." Holding a copy of the Hong Kong Commercial Daily, the old man spoke into Benhuan's ear while the old monk listened intently in silence. "Impressive," he responded softly, his attention unwavering. Then with his right hand he picked up a magnifying glass from the table and drew close to the newspaper to inspect the magnified headline. Then, as if by some unspoken agreement, the old man took back the newspaper and continued to read, while the old monk continued to listen. The old man made a deliberate pause after every critical point for the old monk to nod his head knowingly.

When he heard that a suspected gang member was also a representative at the municipal People's Congress, Master Benhuan gestured forcefully with his right index finger and exclaimed, "That's not an easy problem to solve. It's not simple. It's got to have the strong support of the central government." The old man nodded his head, and for a moment, harmony filled the abbot's cell.

As an impressively old monk who occupies an important position at an influential Buddhist temple in Shenzhen, Master Benhuan turns up in the news fairly frequently. He was last seen in July after he sued a businessman over a 1.2 million-yuan debt.

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To the author:
I am a Shenzhen citizen and I know Benhuan. I'd like to point out that he was born in Hubei province instead of Hunan province in 1907.

Thanks, Jimmy. That was in both the article and the Baidu Baike entry I consulted; don't know why I got it wrong.

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