Dharma Master Fa-Fang was born in the Ching Dynasty in the thirtieth year of Emperor Kuang-Hsu (1904 C. E.). He was the son of a farmer, Chin-Ching, of Hobei Province.
When he was young, he went to Beijing to escape a drought, and there he got a chance to study free at the school of Fa-Yuan Temple. He was moved by the kindness of that Buddhist organization, and he became a monk under Dharma Master Nan-Yueh Shih-An in 1921. The following year, he learned that the Buddhist Academy was going to recruit new students in Wuchang, so he went south with some friends. Under the guidance of Grand Master Ta'i-Hsu (1889-1947 C.E.), he studied there for two years. After that, he studied at the Tibetan Language School in Beijing, and then he went to Tibet with some other students. He stopped over in Kangting, the capitol of Sikiang Province, for awhile and studied esoteric Tibetan Buddhism. However, for some unknown reason, he returned to Wuchang, where he studied and practiced by himself for a few years and made steady progress. He mastered the Theory of the Mere Consciousness, the Abhidharma, and the Sastras; and he was highly respected by his contemporaries.
In 1930, he taught at the Buddhist Institute of Pai-Lin Temple in Beijing and also worked as the secretary of the World Buddhist Academy. His teaching and administrative work made him very famous in the Buddhist world. On September 3, 1931, the Grand Master called him back to Wuchang to head the World Buddhist Library, where he founded and edited a monthly publication titled Voice of the Ocean Tide in order to generate new ideas for modern Buddhist organizations and to spread the Buddhadharma. In addition to these responsibilities, the Grand Master asked him to lead the Preparatory and the Graduate Departments of the aforementioned World Buddhist Academy, and he worked there for five years. While staying in Wuchang, he was also invited by some other Buddhist organizations to give lectures; and he always obliged, giving them the Dharma medicine that would benefit them the most. Since the Buddhist Academy in Wuchang was founded by Grand Master T'ai-Hsu as a Sangha education center and since the Voice of the Ocean Tide magazine was its official publication, one can see how important his job was and how vast his responsibilities were during that period of his life.
During the Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), he retreated to Sichuan. Having been invited by Dharma Master Fa-Tseng (d.1980) of the Sino-Tibetan Doctrine Academy, he worked there for the next three years and did an excellent job.
After the Grand Master came back from abroad, he asked the Ministry of Education to send Master Fa-Fang to Ceylon to spread the Mahayana Dharma. On his way to Ceylon, he made a stopover in Burma. However, because of the transportation problem during wartime, he had to stay in Burma for more than one year. In February 1943, he arrived in India and studied at the International University of India. He also had a chance to study Hinayana Buddhism in Ceylon at a later date. Since he had to follow the Hinayana doctrine, he hid his Mahayana background to accord with the local custom and to avoid any trouble. At that time, the Pali Tripitaka Buddhist Academy, which had been established in Xian (Chang-An) in China, started an exchange-student program between China and Ceylon, that was made possible by Master Fa-Fang.
The Grand Master passed away in the spring of 1947, which made Master Fa-Fang very sad; but he was also worried about the Buddhist Academy in Wuchang as well as the Pali Tripitaka Buddhist Academy in Xian, so he stopped his study in Ceylon and returned to China. On his way home, he visited Malaysia and Hong Kong. He gave lectures in many places, where people always welcomed and respected him.
In the summer of 1948, he arrived in Shanghai via Amoy. The first thing he did was to visit the sarira of the Grand Master at Hsueh-Tou Temple in Feng-Hua, Chekiang Province. There, he was elected Abbot of the Temple to succeed the Grand Master and, thus, assumed a position of leadership. Thereafter, he returned to Wuchang to continue the training program left behind by the Grand Master.
In the spring of 1949, he was invited to Changsha to lecture at the Prajna Assembly there and was appointed Abbot of the Ta-Kuei-Shan Temple. Even though the country, at that time, was gripped by war and he could do nothing to help the Sangha or Buddhism, all the Buddhists, Sangha members and lay believers alike respected him nevertheless and trusted his leadership.
Later that year, he went to Hong Kong, spreading the Dharma in five different places; and he also published the Abhidharma, which he had translated. Later, he was invited by the University of Ceylon to teach there. Thus, he went to Ceylon again, and he taught the Mahayana Dharma there for two years. He also lectured in Malaysia and Thailand during his short stays in those places.
Talking about the Grand Master T'ai-Hsu's work-i.e., all his published books-I must give him great credit, for without his effort and constant assistance, we would have had no way to finish the collection within such a short period of time.
When I heard that he had high blood pressure, I did not pay too much attention to it, because I thought he was still quite healthy. Thus, it was completely unexpected when he passed away on October 3, 1951, due to a cerebral hemorrhage, at only 47 years of age.
Alas! The Dharma Master, who understood the English, Japanese and Pali languages, and had an excellent background in Fa-Hsiang (Mere Consciousness) and very broad general knowledge, departed all too soon. He was a wonderful Dharma Master! He spread the Buddhadharma in Southeast Asia for so many years, and established his incomparable reputation day by day. He wanted to translate the complete Hinayana Dharma into Chinese and to revive the Buddhadharma in China to fulfill the Grand Master's wish to glorify Buddhism. Who knows why we, the least blessed of sentient beings, had no chance to see him complete his work? It was such a great loss for us! The king of elephants had just passed away, and his son followed him so quickly! Alas! The Great Vow has not yet been realized. All Buddhists who knew him feel an incalculably great loss and will remember him forever.