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China's prosperity inspires rising spirituality

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Ming Zhaung is never without a place to sleep, food to eat, or ink for his brush. The Zen master of the Bailin Temple in Hebei Province is constantly cared for by his devotees - now more than 1,000 students, most of whom started attending his lectures last summer.

"I am always traveling to spread the Dharma," says Mr. Ming, who makes a circuit of homes and meeting places throughout China. "Everything is provided by my students."

As China becomes more wealthy and worldly, it's also experiencing a growing interest in spirituality. Chinese are emerging with "more time and freedom to think," says Yuan Ci, a monk who works with the Buddhist Association of China in Beijing. In doing so, they are helping to revive China's venerable religions, like Buddhism.

In urban areas, China's new Buddhists are young, college-educated, and upwardly mobile. They are looking not only for purpose in their lives, analysts say, but for a way to cope with the pressures of modernization and high expectations.

Spirituality is "the peach orchard outside the world," says Gyan Giri, director of the Mountain Yoga retreat center in Beijing, citing a Chinese saying. "It's finding an Eden or a utopia where people can lead a better life."

China's market economy, Yang Fenggang, a sociologist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., wrote in an academic paper, is "accompanied by widespread moral corruption, which prompts many individuals to seek a theodicy, or a religious worldview, to put the seemingly chaotic universe into order."

With roughly 100 million followers, Buddhism is the largest religion in China, according to government statistics. It also is the most favored. Senior officials have been known to seek Buddhist masters for guidance - and many turn a blind eye when Buddhist masters disregard laws that prohibit teaching in private settings, something that can result in punishment for Christian leaders of "home churches."

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