Buddhist “Pope” Announced in California: Artwork for Sale

A press release from the International Buddhism Sangha Association announces that the Buddha is back and living in California:

…More than twenty holy leaders of Buddhism, employing the rules of Buddhism, have formally determined and verified through personal attestations and written proclamations that H.H. Master [Wan Ko] Yee is the holiest and most honored leader of Buddhism.

H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III Holiest Tathagata is the most compassionate, the kindest, the holiest and the purest being of all. The wisdom of His Holiness is complete, and His learning is exceedingly profound. He is the Buddhist equivalent of the Pope, said Shih Long Hui, Chairperson of the International Buddhism Sangha Association…

Shih made his announcement while presenting a copy of a book which details the evidence for Yee’s claim to Asian Division of the Library of Congress of the United States. Apparently “members of Congress, the Diplomatic Corps and sixteen Dharma Kings and Rinpoches from around the world” attended this event, although Yee himself was in seclusion, praying for Tibet.

A copy of the “lavishly illustrated” tome (Dorje Chang Buddha III, a Treasury of True Buddha-Dharma) also made its way to the BBC, and caught the interest of Dan Damon of the World Service’s Reporting Religion. The BBC contacted various Buddhist organisations, including the Dalai Lama’s office in Dharamsala, but “they’ve never heard of Master Yee”. The International Buddhism Sangha Association appears to be rather obscure, too. To be fair, though, Yee’s name appears to have a number of variations, and this may have caused confusion – I’ve found “Wan Ko Yeshe Norbu” and “Yangwo Yisinubu Wan Ko”.

A bit of Googling brings us to this site, which publicises an exhibition of the “unprecedented achievements” of Master Yee, described as “Over Two Hundred World-Class Treasures in Twenty-on Categories From a Single Person”. The exhibition, which took place in 2006, was organised by the Master Wan Ko Yee International Cultural Institute and the United International World Buddhism Association. The site explains that

Master Wan Ko Yee is known as Dharma King Yangwo Yisinubu Wan Ko, an unprecedented great master of all Five Mings (Vidyas).

Another site has further details:

H.H. Great Dharma King Master Wan Ko Yeshe Norbu…immigrated to the United States from China, is a great master of outstanding international fame. During the thousands of years of human history, never has anyone person made such magnificent achievements as H.H. Master Wan Ko Yee. In the field of art, he has been a pioneer and has opened a new page in history in areas such as Chinese painting, Western oil painting, representational painting, abstract painting, 3-dimensional painting, the art of applying colors to portray realistic rock texture and rock grains, as well as sculpture, frame art, and calligraphy.

…In 1994, the 5,612 experts and scholars representing forty-eight countries and regions at the “World Poets and Culture Congress” unanimously named Master Wan Ko Yee as a “Distinguished International Master.” The certificate was signed and issued by Juan Antonio Samaranch, the then President of the International Olympic Committee.

In September of 1999, the Master was conferred a Ph.D. in Buddhism, Philosophy, Art, Calligraphy and Painting by the American League of Colleges and Universities. Moreover, Master Wan Ko Yee is the only artist awarded the position of “Fellow” by the Royal Academy of Arts in the United Kingdom in the Academy’s over two hundred year history.

(That’s a strange thing to write; in fact, there are many “Fellows” of the Royal Academy of Arts, who use the initials “FRSA”; some are artists and academics, others are well-connected mediocrities who get proposed by someone and pay a subscription fee for the snob-value of letters after their names – in some cases I’ve seen in the UK, this a practice that can become addictive, leading to absurd strings of letters. But I digress…)

…On October 28th and 29th, 2003, the U.S. Congress held an art exhibition for the first time in its history. It was called “Exhibition of Yun Sculpture Art Originated by Master Wan Ko Yee for the Benefit of Mankind” and took place at the Gold Room of the Congressional House Office Building. A continuous stream of visitors came to the exhibition. Hundreds of them wrote down their sincere impressions in guest books. The congressmen who attended were so excited that they gave forth spontaneous speeches of praise and admiration. Some people came to the exhibition three or four times in one day. Many people praised the Master’s Yun sculptures as “treasures from heaven”!

Meanwhile, a site run by “Lama Zhaxi Zhuoma, a disciple of Great Dharma King Yangwo Yisinubu” provides some useful context; although the site states it is currently “not available”, this applies only to front page, and there are lots of “orphaned” pages of information which one can browse via the directory pages (here and here). One report included on the site, from 2000, tells us that

Both the State of California and the City and County of San Francisco declared March 8 to be Master Wan Ko Yee Day. The State Assembly and Senate both passed resolutions in appreciation for Master Wan Ko Yee’s outstanding service and invaluable contributions, dedication, and leadership in art, philosophy, and science and for promoting cultural exchange between the United States and China.

China has also honoured Yee

The government of the People’s Republic of China built a palace-like museum to house the many awards and honors received by H.H. Master Wan Ko Yee along with examples of his paintings, calligraphy and books on logic and Buddhist philosophy.

The Museum is in Sichuan, and during a ceremony there nectar was observed to appear; apparently this is one of Yee’s supernatural powers. There is also much about Yee’s artistic abilities, and a James Randi-like challenge:

Any one who can duplicate the works of H.H. Master Wan Ko’s Yun Sculptures, either “One Column Upholding Sky” or “Stone with Mysterious Mist”, will receive award in the amount of six million US dollars. This duplicated work must be identical to the original work in shapes, details, degree of nature, degree of transparency, texture, phenomenon of mist, colors, no less and no much. There must be no difference between the original and the duplicated works when they are put next to each other. If there is any difference between the original and the duplicated works, this person cannot receive the award.

There are a number of other stories, including an account of a 1999 visit to Thailand, where even animals recognised Yee’s status:

Many types of birds and fish came to the area. These animals, along with dogs and insects, became totally still as they respectfully listened to the dharma. The lake started to surge up in waves. A large, dark gold fish used its tail to stand up by itself on the surface of the water along with a small black fish and a silver-white fish. All three fish paid homage to H.H. Wan Ko Yeshe Norbu. His Holiness said that the large fish was really a dragon who had transformed itself into a fish.

A photo of the fish is included.

Some of Yee’s art is sold through a company called Microputt, along with artwork by members of his family – despite the claim on the BBC that Yee is a monk, he has a son and a daughter. This company also runs International Arts Publishing, which sells books by Yee.

The “International Buddhism Sangha Association” meanwhile, is based at the same address as the “Bodhi Monastery” in San Jose, which also promotes Yee as “H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III”. The Association teaches Vajrayana Buddhism, which is the esoteric, tantric, tradition.