Nan Huaijin is actually one of the most important and well-respected masters in Chinese Buddhism, and has quite a reputation in other fields as well. Earlier in his life he was a military commander and led a retaliation against the Japanese during the Sino-Japanese War. After this, he ended his military career and had a Chan awakening, and then went to live as a hermit in the Emei mountains for several years verifying his enlightenment against the Chinese Buddhist canon. He also lived in Tibet for some time, and became an acarya in the Kagyu line. When the Communist revolution came, he left for Taiwan with a very large number of ancient Daoist and Buddhist texts, to preserve them in case they were wiped out in mainland China. In Taiwan he became well known as a scholar and university professor, always teaching Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism, and generally acting as a paragon for traditional Chinese culture. His books on Confucianism are now used as standard textbooks on the subject in Taiwan, and dozens of books have been published in his name. I use the phrase "published in his name" because they were basically transcripts of his lectures. Still, he has sold millions of copies and is counted as a well-known Chinese author.
Later Nan Huaijin moved to Hong Kong, and then finally to China in Jiangsu province near Suzhou, where he built a massive education center focusing on meditation and spiritual development, as well as an international school. Apart from all this, he is also a high-level spiritual advisor to Chinese officials, and even arranged secret talks between China and Taiwan. In other words, he's a Buddhist master in high places. As for his books, for my part, I have never read any material from any modern works that match his in depth and comprehensiveness. Good examples of this are Working Toward Enlightenment
and To Realize Enlightenment
. But of course nobody understands their English translations due to the basic content, so he is virtually unknown in this part of the world. At the beginning of Working Toward Enlightenment
, he says something like "The texts we will be drawing upon in these lectures are ...", and then proceeds to list over a dozen sutras and sastras including some major long works such as the Yogacarabhumi Sastra
. The vast majority of his audience is monastic and is assumed to have some degree of expertise in the Buddhist texts and doctrines already. Although I am trying to convey his teaching style and context, this still does not amount to a good description.
As for William Bodri, he is a student of Nan Huaijin who has spent a lot of time with him in Asia, so it is basically a master-student relationship. In his teachings, though, William Bodri has some distinct disadvantages compared to other teachers. (1) His writings are disorganized and extremely casual. He won't talk entirely in a Buddhist context or otherwise, he freely uses any source he deems useful at the moment, and he generally cares very little about what anyone else thinks of him. (2) He is extremely eclectic, with his site carrying everything from details explanations of esoteric transformations and development of the Sambhogakaya, to the calculation of karma using some rare iron abacus methods, to material on nutrition and alternative health. People who are expecting a very dignified and purely Buddhist master would never believe him, although Chinese Buddhists might due to the cultural connection between some of these subjects. (3) He attempts to market his books and materials, which is every bit his right to do so, but this certainly leaves a bad taste in the mouth of some others. Everyone wants a Buddhist master who will teach them sublime pure Buddhism, which of course eschews things like money for time, etc. In other words, they are basing their search for a teacher on appearances.
Now, that having been said, William Bodri is the real deal. I read little outside the Buddhist sutras, but when I do, it is typically something from Nan Huaijin or William Bodri. I feel that most other books from modern authors offer a lot of fluff written by so-called gurus or masters which are either academic, shallow, or feel-good inspirational. William Bodri is like one of the old Chan masters who does everything on his own terms, scares away the unworthy students, and keeps around those with perception of truth. He has a crazy streak in this way, and part of this comes from his teacher as well. (On one occasion, Nan Huaijin feigned insanity so a National Geographic crew would leave him alone, and then was back to normal immediately after they left.)
If anyone is curious about Nan Huaijin's books, I would recommend Tao & Longevity
, which focuses on physical transformations during cultivation. This book turned me from Daoist meditation over to studying and practicing Buddhism. After reading this book, I realized that many years of Daoist meditation had been for nothing, that my knowledge of cultivation had been so far from complete, and this book resolved so clearly many misconceptions. In the process, I gave up Daoism to study Buddhist meditation instead, essentially because I was so impressed with this one little paperback. After I began to read Working Toward Enlightenment
, I knew this was the right choice. Of William Bodri's books, the best is his book on Anapana, which is actually a set of lectures that Nan Huaijin gave to Peter Senge from MIT, which was translated into English from the Chinese edition of the book.
In any case, best wishes to all. Apologies for the long post, but I felt this information might be helpful.
This is a photo of Nan Huaijin's main Chan teacher, a lay master named Yuan Huanxian. He burned off two of his fingers as an austerity (similar to Xuyun), and copied the entire Avatamsaka Sutra
using his own blood. Apparently Nan helped him to publish a book or two in Chinese (posthumously?), but I know little else about him except a few stories.
Here is a photo of Nan Huaijin in the 1940's when he was a hermit on Mount Emei.