It's time to begin. The man has put his water bottle, his two thick notebooks and his briefcase on the table at the front of the library auditorium.
Into the dim, empty hall on this bright fall day come two teenage girls. They sit down at the back and ask "What is this?" "A lecture about religion," the man says. "Oh," say the girls as they make a quick retreat. Now the auditorium is empty again.
Well, says the man, maybe people don't want to be inside on such a beautiful day. "And maybe not too many people read the newspaper."
He is referring to the ad he put in the religion section of the Salt Lake City papers: "The New Revelation of Eternal Gospel! New Millennium Testament. The Big Picture of World Religions, the Mystery of Revelation & the Prophecy of 9/11 will be revealed! The 'Man Child' in Revelation 12 has come with The New Message for the Time of Reward & Judgment!"
According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, two or three new religions are created every single day somewhere in the world, many of them just slight variations of religions that have come before. Some of these religions, even if they eventually grow into something that alters whole societies, must have started small, just like this: one man with a new way of looking at things . . . one man who believes that God has spoken to him and that he must now speak to others.
Yes, his ad sounds like fire and brimstone. So perhaps you are expecting a rumpled man who stands on street corners carrying a poster that says "Doomsday!"
But here is Yi-Chen: born in China, raised on the teachings of Mao, came to the United States as a physics student in 1990, switched to computers, owned his own business. Attended a Christian church for a while.
One night in September 2000, he took a walk around the block and everything changed.
His name was still Richard Lee then. Earlier that year, his wife suffered a miscarriage and he began re-thinking the meaning of life. He started to search for answers at church and in prayer, and when it seemed to him that "religious sectarianism" wasn't the answer when it seemed that many churches thought they had the corner on truth he began meditating.
He did traditional sitting meditation and also walking meditation; and so it was that one night he was walking around the block, focusing on the grace of God up the hill, past the subdivision homes, back down the hill, the Salt Lake Valley spread out before him all the time trying to clear his mind. As he came back around to his own house, he says, he had what he calls "sudden enlightenment."
In a nutshell, this was it: Christianity and Buddhism, especially the school of Pureland Buddhism (the type of Buddhism practiced most often in China, Japan and Southeast Asia) are really two sides of the same coin. When Pureland Buddhists speak about the "Amitabha Buddha" not the historical Buddha but a symbolic Buddha that is said to represent "compassionate Buddha of Ultimate Bliss in the Western World" they're really talking about Christ, although they don't know it. This is the missing link between East and West, he says.
After his enlightenment, he says, he changed his name to Yi-Chen, which means "grain of dust." Because "I'm thinking I'm nothing more than a grain of dust before the God of the universe," he explains. "There is no place for ego and self-pride for an enlightened spirit."
At first he thought this was just a personal enlightenment meant only for him. But during the next 12 months, he says, he received more revelations from God. "A big thing for the whole world," he explains. "Now is the time for Western and Eastern religions to communicate with each other. This revelation will break the barriers between the religions, in fact all religions, he says.
"It's the complete picture and unification of the word of God for both East and West in the past 5,000 years," he says. And not just a unification but an "upgrading" of all religions "to a higher level of spiritual awareness. A reformation."
Initially he called his idea Grand Buddhism Christianity, then realized that this name didn't represent the scope of his revelation. "It's more like 'Eternal Gospel For Every Nation' that was prophesied in Revelation 14:6."
He has a lot to say. Sometimes his library lectures cover two days, three hours each day, although sometimes no one shows up at all so he just goes home. When he has an audience, he'll put transparency after transparency into the overhead projector. He'll outline the history of world religions. He'll quote the Bible, chapter and verse.
His English is excellent, but sometimes his pronunciation is confusing. "Blasting," he might seem to say, when he means "blessing." "Plags," he'll say instead of "plagues." In this way he works through all the pages in his two notebooks, laying out the things he believes.
Some religions are "first phase of word of God" religions, he says. "They were started for the nations who never had word of God before." Buddhism and Christianity, he says, are second phase religions, given to the nations that had already learned the first phase of the word of God from their sacred texts. "The main difference between the first phase and the second phase of the word of God is the teaching on forgiveness and loving your enemies."
Christians, he says, should learn from Buddhists to meditate, seeking enlightenment from within. Buddhists should learn from Christianity, he says, that there is also a Holy Spirit that "comes from above." "Buddhists who don't understand Christianity don't fully understand Buddhism," he says. "They're missing the part about salvation and sacrifice. And Christians who don't understand Buddha don't fully understand Christ."
Yi-Chen owns a small religious art studio in the ExpoMart, where he sells Christian art in the main room and Buddhist paintings in a back room. "The situation is," he explains, "currently most Christians don't like to see other things. I don't want to offend them."
Yi-Chen believes both in Christ and in reincarnation and karma, which he calls "fortune credit." "People who generate positive fortune credit will receive the reward of good fortune from God, and people who have negative fortune credit will receive judgment through misfortunes in their life," he says, adding that both good and bad fortune credit can be inherited from a past life. Nations have fortune credit too, he says.
"When you help others, you also help yourself by generating more positive fortune credit, which will turn into good fortune in the future; when you hurt others, you also hurt yourself through negative fortune credit. All people are spiritually connected as one body through fortune credit."
Yi-Chen is not lecturing these days. Instead he spends much of his time working on a book he says he was encouraged to write in yet another revelation. "Every morning I wake up and it's like someone has left a message in my heart. I have to write it down and show it to the world. It's my mission now."
He will call the book just a month or two from being finished, he says "New Millennium Testament," but it's clear that he doesn't think of it as just another book. His new Web site is called www.bible3.org.
Yes, he says, LDS prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation, too. "He prepared the way for the eternal gospel, but he only started the prelude, not the full version," Yi-Chen says. "The main reason the Father sent me here is that Joseph Smith was one of the two witnesses in Revelation 11." But Joseph Smith only fulfilled that prophecy, he says. Now that other prophesies have been revealed, "the secret of revelation will be revealed in this book."
Yi-Chen will publish the book himself. As for distribution, he says he's not worried. "The word of God has its own power," he says. "I just wrote down the revelation I received, and God will take care of the rest." If not this generation, then the next, he says. He's not worried.