The Story of Venerable Master Hsu Yun's Leaving the Home-life
Never retreat from your resolve, from your vows, and from your practice. Advance with single-minded vigor.
The Venerable Master Hsu Yun (Empty Cloud) was born to the Xiao family and was a native of Xiang County of Hunan Province in China. His father, the Elder Yutang, was an incorruptible magistrate of Quan Prefecture in Fujian province who loved the people as if they were his own children. At the age of forty, he was still childless. One day, he and his wife went to the ancient Guanyin Temple outside of town to pray for a son. Their sincerity inspired a response; soon after their return to the prefecture, Mrs. Xiao conceived a child. When the pregnancy reached full term, one night both husband and wife dreamed of a long-bearded old man, wearing a dark-green robe and bearing an image of Guanyin Bodhisattva on his head, who came riding astride a tiger. Startled awake, the woman delivered a child who emerged in a bag of flesh. (This is the state of Bodhisattvas at the eighth stage or above). Frightened by the uncanny event, the woman passed away.
The following day an old peddler of medicines passed by and cut open the flesh-bag to reveal a baby boy inside. The child was raised by his stepmother. Endowed with keen faculties, the boy considered honor and position to be meaningless. Rather than delighting in the Confucian classics, he had a consuming interest in studying the Buddhist Sutras, and at an early age, he conceived the idea of leaving the home-life to cultivate the Way. Once, he tried escaping to Gu Mountain in Fu Prefecture to become a monk, but his family dragged him back home. His father ordered him to return to their old home in Hunan, and told his uncle to keep a close watch over him and to drive the idea of leaving home out of his mind.
The Venerable Master Hsu Yun was the only child in the family. His third uncle had passed away long ago, leaving no descendants. Thus he became the heir of two branches of the family. By social custom, he was entitled to marry two wives; one to be the daughter-in-law of his parents, and the other to be the daughter-in-law of his uncle. In this way, both branches could have heirs, and both family lines could continue. To get "two birds with one stone" was a situation most men might seek but never find, but to Venerable Master Hsu Yun, it only meant suffering and affliction.
In order to preserve the family lineage, he obeyed his father and uncle, and, at age eighteen, he married Miss Tan and Miss Tian in a double wedding. Both women were well-bred daughters of noble families, and both had deep understanding of ethical conduct. On the night of their wedding, the Venerable Master Hsu Yun entered into a solemn oath with the two young women, promising that their marriage was to be in name only, and that they would never consummate their troth. Maintaining their virginity, the three of them lived together without sharing husband-wife relations.
The following year, the Venerable Master decided to leave the home-life and cultivate the Way. But first he obtained the permission of his two wives, who later both left home to become nuns. He then secretly stole away from his comfortable home and travelled to Yongquan ("Bubbling Spring") Monastery on Gu Mountain in Fu Prefecture to become the disciple of Elder Master Miaolian ("Wonderful Lotus"), who gave him the names Yence ("Thorough Expression"), and Deqing ("Virtuous and Pure"). Fearing that his family might find him again, Venerable Master Hsu Yun went off to the remote mountain wilds to live as an ascetic. When hungry, he ate pine nuts and wild plants; when thirsty, he drank mountain spring water. The bitter conditions were certainly beyond the tolerance of ordinary people, but he was one who could:
Wear what others cannot wear;
Eat what others cannot eat;
Endure what others cannot endure; and,
Tolerate what others cannot tolerate.
He faced numerous tests, but he passed each one with a peaceful, tolerant attitude. Instead of feeling miserable, he felt very happy.
Three years later, in order to draw near to good and wise advisors and to investigate the Buddhadharma, he embarked on a study-tour. Crossing mountains and fording streams, he suffered untold hardships. As long as it was a place where eminent, virtuous monks resided, all the mountains and rivers couldn't impede him from going there to seek the Way and dedicate himself to the Dharma.He met prejudice and troubles at every turn of the road, but he stood firm in his indefatigable resolve and simply forgot himself in his quest for the Dharma. Despite continual setbacks, he never gave up, nor lost sight of his initial purpose. Instead, he simply forged ahead and studied with even more vigor. This spirit inspired others' respect and caused many people to emulate him.
Later on, he made a vow to undertake a pilgrimage in which he would bow to the ground once every three steps, in order to repay the kindness of his mother. His route took him from Potala Mountain to Five Peaks Mountain, and he made prostrations all the way. Three years later he fulfilled his vow, and the merit and virtue of the pilgrimage was completed. The following is a brief account of one of the responses the Venerable Master Hsu Yun experienced in the course of his pilgrimage.
He had bowed to the banks of the Yellow River, when a huge snow-storm blew up, dropping powdery snow for three days and nights without cease. The Master stayed in a tiny hut and suffered from hunger and cold. Finally he lost consciousness and fainted. When he revived, he saw a beggar sitting nearby, fixing him food. After eating the meal, he recovered his strength and continued to bow towards Five Peaks Mountain. Upon his arrival, he discovered that the beggar had been none other than a transformation body of Manjushri Bodhisattva.
While the Elder Master Hsu Yun was living as a hermit on Jiuhua ("Nine Flowers") Mountain, news came to him that Gaomin Monastery in Yang Zhou Province was preparing to host an eight-week Chan meditation retreat, and he decided to participate. He walked down from Jiuhua Mountain, steering his course by the river-bank. It was the rainy season, and at that time the river was flooded and had overflowed its banks on the road ahead of him. Suddenly the Master lost his footing on the treacherous path and fell into the river, where he bobbed and floated for twenty-four hours. The current carried him downstream near Cai Jetty, where he was caught by a fisherman's net. By that time the Venerable Master was nearly drowned. The fisherman pulled him up, then informed the nearby temple. Monks from Baoji ("Jewel Cluster") Monastery carried the Master back to the temple, where they revived him. The Venerable Master was bleeding from seven orifices, and was in critical condition, but he would not give up his original intent. After resting for a few days, the Master set aside his personal welfare for the sake of the Dharma, and, putting life and death out of his mind, he went on to Gaomin Monastery to join the Chan retreat.
According to Gaomin Monastery's extremely strict regulations and their high standards of practice, anybody who broke the rules earned a beating with the incense-board (discipline-rod); there was no recourse to courtesy at all. The acting abbot, Chan Master Yue Lang ("Moon Radiance"), had requested the Venerable Hsu Yun to substitute for him in his position as official administrator. The Venerable Master declined the request, and thereby, according to the rules of the monastery, deserved a beating. He took his punishment without complaint. But after the beating, his illness grew worse; he bled non-stop from every orifice and his condition grew nearly fatal.
Someone may be wondering, "Since Venerable Hsu Yun was a sincere and diligent cultivator, why did the Dharma-protecting spirits fail to protect him, and let him fall into the river like that?" In fact, the spirits were still protecting him. If not, then how could he have been saved in the fisherman's net? Thus, we can know that he was protected invisibly at all times by the Dharma-protecting spirits.
The entire episode was a life and death test to reveal his thoughts and feelings upon meeting such a disaster. The test determined whether or not he would retreat from his resolve for the Way. Would he entertain thoughts such as these: "Ha! I've been cultivating for so many years, reading Sutras, bowing repentances, burning a finger, living as a hermit, practicing all kinds of austerities, and my cultivation has been earnest, so why haven't I had the least response? Forget it! I'm giving up! I'm not going to cultivate any longer! I'm going to return to lay-life and indulge the five desires!" If he'd allowed such thoughts to occur, then he could never have become the Patriarch of the Five Sects of the Chan School.
The Venerable Hsu Yun obeyed the rules closely in the meditation hall, especially since Gaomin Monastery was noted for the extreme severity of its regulations. Nobody was allowed to hold conversations, and often it was the case that cultivators living side by side in the monastery would not even know each other's name. Venerable Hsu Yun was seriously ill, but did not mention the fact to anyone, nor did he tell the story about falling into the river. He only investigated Chan with a single-minded concentration. Twenty days passed, and his sickness abated, thanks to the aid bestowed upon him by the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
One day, the Venerable Master De An ("Virtue Shore"), the Abbot of Baoji Monastery at Cai Jetty, happened by the retreat at Gaomin, and he encountered the Venerable Hsu Yun, who was sitting upright and properly on the meditation bench, his face radiant and beaming. The Abbot De An was startled, and told the entire assembly about the incident of Venerable Master Hsu Yun's fall into the river and his rescue. After hearing the story the meditators expressed their unceasing admiration, and in order to allow Venerable Master Hsu Yun to cultivate successfully, they excused him from the rotation of administrative duties. Thus he was able to concentrate on his meditation single-mindedly, until he penetrated to a state of "no further thoughts arising."
On the third night of the eighth week, at the end of an hour of meditation, an attendant brought hot water around to serve to the sitters. As he poured a cup of water for the Venerable Master, he carelessly spilled some of the boiling water on the Master's hand. The teacup fell to the floor and shattered, and the Venerable Master Hsu Yun became enlightened upon hearing the sound of the cup shattering. (A similar event happened to Venerable Master Zibuo, "Purple Cedar," a Chan Master of the Ming Dynasty, who became enlightened at the sound of a shattering bowl). Venerable Master Hsu Yun spoke a verse on the spot:
Smashing with a clear, echoing sound,
The teacup fell and hit the ground.
Shattering empty space,
The mad mind finally stops right there.
And then he said another verse:
My hand was scalded, the cup shattered.
The family's broken and relatives are gone－
Words are hard to find.
Spring's come now; buds are in bloom,
Full and sweet in every place.
Mountains, rivers, and the earth itself
Are just the Thus Come One.
After his enlightenment, he left Gaomin Monastery and cultivated even more vigorously than before, travelling extensively to look for and pay his respects to good and wise teachers. His travels carried him finally to Yunnan Province, where he rebuilt the monasteries on Jizu ("Chicken Foot") Mountain. Because his resources were insufficient, he journeyed on to Southeast Asia to solicit donations. The Venerable Master fell ill on the boat to Singapore, and, once ashore, the English inspectors interrogated him because he did not have a passport. They suspected that his illness was contagious and confined him in an isolation ward, where he was virtually left to die. However, later on he was sent to Jile ("Utmost Happiness") Monastery, where he went into seclusion, and, before long, regained his health. Travelling on to Thailand to make his almsrounds, he stayed at a certain monastery and entered samadhi for nine days. His external appearance was lifeless, but in fact he was not dead. All Buddhists in Bangkok, the national capital, were startled by the news of his meditation skill; and the populace, from the King and his courtiers on down to the ordinary citizens, flocked to take refuge with the Venerable Hsu Yun. The offerings made by these faithful disciples were gathered into a lump sum and sent back to Yunnan, China, to finance the reconstruction of the monasteries.
In the spring of 1947, when Nanhua ("Southern China") Monastery held a precept ordination, I personally met the Venerable Master for the first time. I still remember the occasion: After the precepts had been transmitted, the Venerable Master Hsu Yun was stricken with a throat infection and lost his voice, so it was an inopportune time to hold a conversation. He was treated by the doctor and recovered slowly.
The troubles and miseries endured by the Venerable Master during his entire life were such that they could never be fully described in just a few sentences. I know beyond a doubt that few persons could have withstood the hardships and pressures that he endured. As he took both himself and others across, he benefitted both himself and others. The many miracles and spiritual marvels that he experienced throughout the century of his life span are too many to relate. I've given you only a brief sketch of his life, and I hope that in the future you will imitate the elder monk's untiring forbearance.
Left-home people of this day and age sit and meditate for a brief time and expect a response, or hope to get enlightened, and gain great wisdom. This is simply unrestrained greed. It took the Venerable Master Hsu Yun a lifetime of work to "see his original face," up to the point of forgetting all concern with life and death. What suffering have we undergone? What merit and virtue have we created? Yet we can still fantasize about getting enlightened! This is simply too childish!
Cultivators of the Way must never retreat from their resolve, from their vows, and from their practice. They must advance with single-minded vigor, so that "at the top of the hundred-foot pole, they take one more step." It does not matter what accomplishment you have. What counts is that you bring forth a great resolve for Bodhi, and work hard at your cultivation. Don't hanker after the Five Spiritual Eyes and Six Spiritual Penetrations, or the wonderful functioning of spiritual powers. They are not the ultimate reward of cultivation. Remember this well! Don't be thinking about gaining psychic powers and enlightenment from morning to night. Such thoughts are truly the stumbling block of cultivation!
A talk given during a Chan Session from July 16-23, 1981 The Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas, The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas
The Story of the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua's Leaving the Home-life
Translating the Sutras is the work of the sages: it is exalted and supreme work.
Editor's Commentary: The Venerable Master Hsuan Hua is a native of Shuangcheng ("Twin Cities") County, Jilin ("Lucky Grove") Province, of Manchuria, China. He was surnamed Bai, His father, Mr. Bai Fuhai,was thrifty and frugal in managing the household, and was a farmer by occupation. His mother's maiden name was Hu. A vegetarian for her entire life, she recited the Buddha's name without cease for years, and was by nature a charitable and generous person who gave to anyone who asked. Her attitude was, "doing good deeds is the utmost happiness." As a result, her neighbors praised her constantly and gave her the name, "The Living Bodhisattva." On the night of the sixteenth day of the third lunar month, Mrs. Bai (Madame Hu) dreamed that Amitabha Buddha, his body shining with golden light that illuminated the entire world, came down, and the earth trembled and shook. Startled awake, she smelled an unusual fragrance that she had never known before. The scent was pure, and permeated her lungs and midriff; a truly inconceivable state of being. Soon after this experience, the Venerable Master was born. He cried incessantly for three days and three nights, perhaps feeling that the suffering of the Saha World was simply too painful for people to bear. The following is the Venerable Master's account of how he came to leave the home-life.
Before I reached age twelve, I was obstinate to the extreme. How stubborn was I? Whenever anyone provoked me, I'd always start to cry; and once I began to cry, I wouldn't stop. I disobeyed my parents, and did only what I pleased. Sometimes I refused to eat and drink, and cried my eyes out; my parents simply couldn't handle me. I knew at the time that my father and mother were very fond of me, and if I stopped eating, their hearts would yield, and I would get my way. That's how unfilial I was as a child. I had no appreciation of the trouble my parents went to on my behalf. Reflecting on my behavior, I regret that I was so naughty.
One day the neighbor's boy came over to play, and I'd just learned to crawl. He too, was a new toddler, and we both started to crawl on the bed; we held a race to see who could crawl faster. I took the lead, but then he started to bite my heels from behind. Stupid as I was, it didn't occur to me to resist or fight back; all I could do was to sob and cry. Thinking back on it, it was pretty funny!
In my eleventh year I went to the countryside with some other children to play, and discovered the dead body of a small child. Having never before witnessed the phenomenon of death, I assumed that the baby was just sleeping. When I called to it, however, it didn't wake up, and I noticed that its eyes were closed. Further-more, its breath had stopped. I couldn't figure it out, and ran home to ask my mother what the matter was. "Why was the child sleeping out in the countryside?" I asked. She answered, "That child was dead." "Well, why do people die? How can they avoid dying?" I asked. A relative of the family who was visiting answered, "The only way to not die is to leave the home-life and cultivate the Way." The sight of death scared me, and I didn't want to die. The idea of undergoing round after round of birth and death seemed meaningless, and I conceived the idea of leaving the home-life, since only by cultivating the Way can one put an end to birth and death.
One day I said to my mother, "I want to leave the home-life and cultivate the Way. Is that all right with you?" She said, "To leave home is a good thing, and I cannot prevent you from doing so. But I hope you will wait until after I die before you leave home; it won't be too late." Having obtained my mother's permission to leave home made me very happy, even though I could not fulfill my wish right away. At the time I reflected on my unfilial behavior in the past. I recalled how I had made my parents upset and wasted their energy in concern over me. I asked myself how I was going to repay their kindness in raising me and giving me my education. Tossing the question around in my mind, I struck upon a dumb idea: I would bow to them, to demonstrate my shame and remorse for my misbehavior. At that point, I decided to make a vow to do this.
As soon as I began to bow to them, my parents were startled, and asked me, "What are you bowing for?" I answered, "Because in the past, before I knew that I should be filial and respectful to my parents, I did many wrong things and made you both angry. Now I know I was wrong, and from today on, I am going to bow to you to make up for the past." My father said, "Since you already know that you were wrong, all you need to do is change; you don't have to keep on bowing like that." I responded, "I've always had a stubborn streak, and whatever I say, I will certainly do!" My parents were well-acquainted with my temperament; they didn't say anything, but silently complied with my wish and accepted the morning and evening bows that I made to them.
From then on, I'd rise early in the morning while the family was still in bed, and go out into the yard to bow three times to my father and three times to my mother. Each evening after my family had retired, I'd go out again and bow three times to each of my parents. Before long I felt that these bows were insufficient, and I added some bows to heaven and earth. At the time I had never heard the names of God, or earth-rulers, or kings among people; I knew only about heaven, earth, the emperor, parents, and teachers. So every morning and evening, I'd bow three times to heaven, three times to earth, three times to the leaders of the nation, three times to my father, three times to my mother, and three times to the teachers I would meet in the future. Time passed and I felt once more that this wasn't enough, so I increased my prostrations to include bows toward all the great filial sons and daughters on earth, and the great samaritans, and also the great worthies the world has known, and the great sages as well. The bows continued to expand to all the great good people, and even to all the great evil people in the world. While bowing to heaven, I made a wish that the really bad, evil people on earth would change their ways, reform, and become wholesome.
I kept adding bows in this way, until the total number of bows reached 830. The entire course of bows took two and a half hours to complete, and I bowed twice each day--morning and night. I spent five hours in the yard each day; regardless of rain or wind, the bowing still went on. Even during the winter while the snow fell, I continued to bow in the courtyard. I used a stupid sincerity to fuel my bowing, and I sought for the winds and rains to be regular and harmonious, for the country to be stable, and for the people to be at peace.
My practice of bowing continued for several years. After my mother passed away, I observed filial mourning by her graveside and continued bowing. The period of mourning completed, I left the home-life and began to study the Buddhist Sutras. These Sutras were, in my opinion, the most complete and wholesome texts on earth. I found them to be the richest and fullest resources. The spiritual classics of other religions were simply left in the dust; they couldn't compare.
Before I left the home-life, I occasionally joined the activities of other religions. I took part in a Catholic Mass and joined a Christian service. I also sat in the assemblies of the various heterodox sects and cults. To sum it up, I took every opportunity to look into the methods for resolving the matter of birth and death; and, frankly, I wound up disappointed by my inability to find any approach that dealt with the fundamental problem. The various methods proposed by the religions were not thoroughgoing and not ultimate. However, I realized that Catholicism and Christianity had been widely accepted by many people. Why? Because their Old and New Testaments had been translated into the languages of each country, and because the principles they contained were quite shallow and easy to understand.
The principles of Buddhism in the Sutras, although perfect and complete, were presented in very learned prose which was beyond the understanding of the average reader. Thus believers in Buddhism were very few. At this point, I made a futile vow, making up my mind to translate the entire Three Storehouses and Twelve Divisions of the Buddhist Canon into colloquial speech, and, further, to translate them into the languages of every nation on earth. The vow was "futile" because I myself didn't understand all the languages on earth, nor did I hope to get a chance to learn them. I lacked this wisdom, and didn't know whether or not I could achieve my vow.
In 1962 I came to America to propagate the Buddhadharma, and when the opportunities ripened, my American disciples began the work of translation in order to fulfill my vow. After several years of effort, they've had a bit of success, but are still far short of the ultimate goal. I hope they will all forge ahead and work hard. If they can carry out this instruction, they will be doing the work of the sages; it is exalted and supreme work. The merit and virtue of this task, once the Three Stores of the Buddhist Canon are all translated into English, is truly limitless and boundless.
Today a disciple made a vow to translate the Buddhist Sutras into English, and it brought to mind the vow I made in the past. I hope that my disciples will work together and put their hearts and minds into the completion of my vow!
Note: At Nanhua Monastery, when the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua drew near to the Venerable Hsu Yun, he received the Elder's full attention, and was subsequently appointed as Director of the Nanhua Vinaya Academy. Soon the Master's duties were elevated to Director of Education. During the Precept Ordination Ceremonies, the Venerable Master Hua was asked to serve as Certifying Master (Acharya). Later on, the Elder Master Hsu Yun transmitted the "pulse of Dharma" of the Wei Yang Sect to the Venerable Master, making him the Ninth Patriarch of the Wei Yang Chan School.
In order to continue the Buddha's life of wisdom, the Venerable Master traveled from Hong Kong to America, where he has delivered lectures on several dozen Mahayana Sutras and promoted the five main schools of Buddhism--Chan, Teachings, Vinaya, Secret, and Pure Land--with equal emphasis, eliminating the artificial separations between them. Taking the revitalization of Buddhism as his personal duty, he teaches his disciples that every day they must meditate, recite the Buddha's name, bow in repentance, investigate the Sutras, and genuinely cultivate in order to uphold the orthodox teaching and enable the proper Dharma to dwell long in the world.
The Venerable Master has peerless wisdom, and his memory retains at a glance any material that he reads. Before explaining the Sutras or speaking the Dharma, he has no need to prepare outlines or notes. Instead, he delivers his lectures according to the potentials that he perceives on the spot and talks to the audience based on the particular location, time, events, and people involved. His eloquence is truly unimpeded; the words pour forth in an unending stream, and every sentence tallies with the Way. The principles he elucidates are perfectly meshed and all-encompassing, and those who hear them praise them as worthy of deep consideration.
When the Venerable Master lectured on the Flower Adornment Sutra, he delivered the words of the text with his eyes closed, reciting from memory without being off by a single word. (I saw and heard the event with my own eyes and ears and felt it was unprecedented. It inspired my deep respect.) The assembly of disciples attending the Venerable Master's lectures include many intelligent, well-educated young people, who display the utmost respect and admiration for the Venerable Master's virtuous conduct and his erudition.
The young men and women who have responded to the Venerable Master's reputation for excellent virtue and strict standards include natives of China, America, Vietnam, and other countries, who have come to take the Three Refuges and the Complete Precepts, to leave the home-life, and to cultivate the Way. They include holders of Bachelor's, Master's and Doctoral degrees, and many have renounced lucrative occupations and luxurious lifestyles in the world to study the true principles of the Buddhadharma. Some cultivate asceticism, with fasting of one week, or three weeks; some fast as long as thirty-six days, and even up to seventy-two days. Such a vigorous ascetic regimen is unparalleled in the history of Buddhism in America, and can be considered extremely rare! There are also some who, for the sake of world peace, have vowed to bow once every three steps, and they have done so continuously for two and a half years. Undaunted by the wind or rain, they practice this in order to serve as models for all Buddhists. Inspired by the Venerable Master's exalted virtuous conduct, they strive to emulate the Master's spirit of forgetting himself for the sake of others to practice the Bodhisattva Way.
The Venerable Master's teaching methods are effective; his disciples are well-behaved. They cultivate earnestly and observe the Buddha's regulations of always wearing their precept-robes, eating one meal a day at noon, and not lying down to sleep. It would be hard to find another place with comparable standards. Therefore, the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas has become a center of world Buddhism and serves as an inspiration for all Buddhists.
In 1962, the Venerable Master brought the Proper Dharma to the West, and in the years that followed, he founded the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association (formerly the Sino-American Buddhist Association), the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, and other Way-places in the United States, Canada, Taiwan, Malaysia, and other countries. In order to educate people to become good citizens of the world, at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas the Venerable Master established Dharma Realm Buddhist University, Developing Virtue High School, and Instilling Goodness Elementary School. For the sake of causing the Proper Dharma to remain in the world and to train Buddhist workers in both theory and practice, he established the Sangha and Laity Training Programs. He also founded the International Translation Institute so that Buddhist Sutras might circulate throughout the world. Many monks, nuns, and laypeople are now diligently working to translate the Sutras into English. Over a hundred volumes of Sutras and Buddhist texts have already been published in Chinese, English, and other languages and are being circulated worldwide.
The Master's whole life has been one of hardship and distinctive achievement, of selfless dedication to the Dharma. Although the branch monasteries of Dharma Realm Buddhist Association have spread throughout the United States, Canada, and Asia, the Venerable Master remains as humble and modest as ever, calling himself a tiny ant that walks beneath everyone else and would never contend with anyone. He has said, "The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is not a private institution; it belongs to all the Buddhists of the world, and in fact, the followers of all religions have a share in it. The people living at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas are putting their nose to the grindstone everyday; I am just the person who watches the door, a custodian waiting for those living beings who have affinities to come here and cultivate together. None of you should stand outside the door and be afraid to come in; all of you are members of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, and in the future you will become Buddhas.
A talk given during a Chan Session from July 16-23, 1981 The Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas, The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas
一九八一年禪七 七月十六日至廿三日 開示於萬佛聖城萬佛殿
The Story of Cultivator Guo Zuo's Leaving the Home-life
Being content with our station, guarding our behavior, and truly cultivating with vigorous energy is only way to attain actual skill.
While staying at Sanyuan ("Three Conditions") Monastery, which was located south of Harbin, thirty (Chinese) miles away, at the town of Pingfang Station, I saw in my meditative contemplation that the following morning a young boy would come to leave the home-life. The next morning I told my disciple Guo Neng, "Today, a young boy is coming to leave home. Tell me when he arrives." At noon, Guo Neng came to my room and said in his Shandong accent, "Teacher, that boy you mentioned has finally come!" I went down to the front hall and found a strapping boy of twelve or thirteen whose build and countenance were handsome and full; he had the look of a Bhikshu. The boy took one look at me and couldn't control his emotions. Just like one who sees a long-lost relative, he began crying uncontrollably, shedding tears of joy.
"Why do you want to leave home?" I asked him."Because I have a serious illness," he answered. From the age of five, he could cure others' illnesses, but he couldn't cure his own illness. "Doctors couldn't find the reason for my ailment and had no medicine to heal me. They were at a loss as to what to do. My father was very anxious. He sought a cure everywhere, but nothing seemed to work. One night I had the same dream three times, in which I saw a fat monk who came to me and said, our illness will never be cured unless you go to the Sanyuan Monastery in Harbin and leave the home-life to cultivate the Way under Dharma Master An Tse. If you do that, you will be cured spontaneously, without medicine. If you don't do this, you have no hope of recovery.' The memory of the dream was quite clear, so I obtained my father's permission to come here and seek the compassion of Dharma Master An Tse, to allow me to leave home."
I laughed, and asked him, "Do you know Dharma Master An Tse?"
"No, I don't," he said.
I said, "I'm afraid there is no Dharma Master An Tse here."
"Oh yes, there is!" The lad answered confidently. "As soon as I entered the door I saw that same fat monk who was in my dream. He's sitting right over there." (The boy pointed to Maitreya Bodhisattva.) "He wouldn't cheat anybody. He told me to come here; there's no mistake."
"What proof do you have that this dream-talk is true? Who will believe you?" I challenged him. "You're probably just a poor boy with no clothes, food and shelter, who wants to come and leave the home-life, aren't you?"
"No, I'm not!" he replied firmly. "I'm simply following the instructions of that fat monk, and he directed me to look for Dharma Master An Tse; he's the only one who can cure my disease. That's why I've been on the road for over a month, walking one thousand miles to get here. (At that time the Japanese had just surrendered unconditionally, and the railroads in Manchuria had not yet resumed operation.) Sometimes along the road I walked right past the last inn in a town, and found no village ahead, so I could only camp out in the open fields. I was in a hurry to get here, and I paid no attention to anything else. One night I was sleeping in a meadow when suddenly a pack of wolves surrounded me. I wasn't afraid of them, though, and I said, et out of here, or else I'm going to give you trouble. You're going to get a taste of these eggs (hand grenades)!' And the pack of wolves ran away obediently." That was an episode that occurred in his quest for the Dharma.
Having said his piece, he looked up at me with pleading eyes. I decided to give his sincerity another test. I picked up a piece of steamed bread and, after chewing it up thoroughly, spit it out on the ground. I said, "First pick that up and eat it, then we'll see what's what." He didn't hesitate for an instant or worry about my unsanitary saliva, but promptly scooped up the bread and swallowed it down. Having passed his test, he had demonstrated that his wish to leave the home-life was sincere. I gave him the Novice Precepts, and he became a young Shramanera.
Having received the Precepts, he worked hard in his cultivation. He was quite a courageous student, not at all lax or lazy. Before six months passed, he realized the attainment of the Five Eyes and Six Spiritual Penetrations. His skill was considerable, and his psychic abilities were vast. This is not an exaggeration, but a matter of absolute fact. Everyone in the area knew that this young novice monk had psychic powers. It is sad that afterwards he fell into arrogance and pride. He grew haughty, and his psychic abilities vanished. When he wanted to demonstrate them, he couldn't do so anymore.
Cultivators of the Way must pay close attention to this. Whether we have psychic powers or not, we shouldn't indulge in pride or attachments for any reason whatsoever! Even less should we advertise for ourselves and create our own publicity. Our proper role is to be content with our station, guard our behavior, and truly, honestly, cultivate with vigorous energy. Be valiant and forge ahead; that's the only way to attain actual spiritual skill. Under no circumstances may we toy with the superficial aspects, and when provoked by a certain sound, or struck by a certain vision, feel that we have become extraordinary. To make such a mistake leaves the true Way a million miles away!
A talk given given during a Chan Session from July 16-23, 1981 The Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas, The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas
一九八一年禪七 七月十六日至廿三日 開示於萬佛聖城萬佛殿
The Story of Cultivator Guo Shun's Leaving the Home-life
In every moment, do not forget the suffering of birth and death. In every thought, yearn to escape the wheel of transmigration.
Guo Shun was a native of Jilin (Lucky Grove) Province in China and made his home in the city of Harbin. His surname was Yao, and he was a farmer by occupation. His good roots from lives past led him to realize that the world was full of trials and suffering. His sensitivity to the evils that filled the world gave him the wish to leave the home-life. To realize this wish, he travelled about to seek wise teachers. One day (during the Japanese occupation of Manchuria) a patrol of Japanese soldiers found him, mistook him for a vagrant, and ordered to work in the countryside.
He was sent to the Li River forced-labor camp. Imprisoned there, his only wish was to escape, but he never got a chance. An electrified fence encircled the camp, and any person who attempted to escape was either shot to death by the guards, or was savagely attacked by killer dogs that patrolled the perimeters. Even if by sheer luck one escaped the sentries and the watchdogs, there was still the electric fence that immolated anyone who touched it. The camp was a small hell on earth, dreadful to the extreme.
One night while sleeping, Guo Shun dreamed of a long-bearded old man who told him, "Tonight is your chance to escape this cage. There's a white dog outside the door. Follow him and run away!" Startled awake, Guo Shun tiptoed to the doorway, and sure enough, saw a white dog waiting for him just outside. He walked behind the dog safely past the electrified fence, and made it all the way home without difficulty. Snatched from the jaws of death, he saw through the illusion of the material world and deeply resolved to leave the home-life to cultivate the Way.
In the winter of 1944, I went to the village of Danangou (Big Southern Ditch) to cure Upasaka Gao's mother's illness. The following day, news of the woman's miraculous recovery spread throughout the village. When the story reached Guo Shun, he came to ask me to be his teacher. He knelt down and did not rise. Seeing his sincerity, I permitted him to leave home, thus fulfilling his wish. I gave him these instructions: "It is not easy to cultivate at home, and to cultivate as a left-home person is harder still. It's said that,
Before the great matter is clear to you,
you feel as if you have lost your parents.
After you understand the great matter,
you feel even more as if you have lost your parents.
Cultivators must endure what other people cannot endure; they must take on what others cannot take on; they must eat what others are unable to eat, and wear what others are unable to wear. The Shramana's duty is to diligently cultivate precepts, concentration, and wisdom, and to put an end to greed, hatred, and stupidity.
In every moment, do not forget the suffering of birth and death.
In every thought, yearn to escape the wheel of transmigration.
Obliterate empty space and understand the Buddha-nature.
Cast off the entire substance and see the original source.
I gave him further instructions: "We are now in the age of the Dharma's decline. Although there are still many people who leave home, those who actually cultivate the Way are very few. People who believe in the Buddha are many, but very few actually become Buddhas. Since you have now made a decision to leave home, you must make the resolve for Bodhi. Be like a bright candle in a strong gale; be like refined gold in a smelting furnace. Do not fail your initial inspiration to leave home. Work hard, and take care."
Guo Shun bowed to me and then followed me to Sanyuan (Three Conditions) Monastery to receive the Shramanera (novice) precepts; I gave him the Dharma-name of Guo Shun. After he became a monk, he made courageous, vigorous progress. He held the precepts strictly, and was never remiss or lazy. He concentrated his mind in meditation practice. Every time he entered samadhi, he would sit for an entire day and night. While in that state of concentration, he could know the causes and results of all things in the past, the present, and the future. His state was inconceivable.
In September of 1945, Guo Shun built a cottage to the left of Dragon King Temple, below West Mountain, near Danangou Village, in order to cultivate in seclusion. I took disciples Guo Neng, Guo Zuo, Guo Zhi, and others to inaugurate the temple on the opening day. On that very night, ten dragon spirits came to me seeking to become "refuge disciples." I told them, "You all have the duty of bringing rain and receiving people's offerings. There is an unseasonal drought here now. Why hasn't it rained for so long?" The dragon spirits answered in unison, "Unless the Jade Emperor gives us the order, we little spirits don't dare to randomly make the rain fall." I said to them, "Please relay my request for rain tomorrow to the Jade Emperor. Then I'll let you take refuge." The next day, as it turned out, there was a rainstorm, and the drought came to an end, which set the local farmers dancing for joy. They celebrated with songs and festivities to thank the spirits for their kindness, and everyone was quite happy about the whole thing.
These were the circumstances that commemorated the events surrounding the dedication of Guo Shun's cottage, which was thereupon named Dragon Rain Cottage.
Three people lived and cultivated there, all of whom were neighbors from the same town. Two laymen, Mr. Liu and Mr. Yang, did morning and evening ceremonies with Guo Shun, and they recited the Great Compassion Mantra as their primary method of cultivation. Layman Liu later left home to join the Sangha, and layman Yang was drafted into the Eighth Route Army. After becoming a soldier, he regularly sent letters home, but one day the letters suddenly stopped, much to the anxiety of the entire family; they assumed right away that their boy was no longer alive. One afternoon in 1948, Guo Shun and Mr. Gao were reciting the Great Compassion Mantra in the hut when they heard a knock on the door. They opened it to find that Mr. Yang had returned. He walked in without saying a word, and continued on to the back of the building. Guo Shun continued to recite the Great Compassion Mantra until the end of the hour. Then he went to the room at the back to see Mr. Yang, and asked where he had been during the last two years. When they entered the room they saw a fox that shook its tail and ran out.
Because Guo Shun recited the Great Compassion Mantra and led a life of virtue, the fox had no way to disturb his mind, and could only revert to its true identity. They surmised that Mr. Yang had been killed on the battlefield, and his brain had been eaten by a fox. That animal later came to their cottage to make mischief disguised as Mr. Yang. The fox spirit didn't expect that Guo Shun's samadhi-strength was already imperturbable, and that he could not be overpowered by the deviant magic. The fox spirit met its match and ran away in defeat. The story illustrates that cultivators must face all kinds of tests and take care not to be moved by circumstances.
On the fifteenth of the seventh lunar month in 1945, the day of the Ullambana celebration, I led a group of disciples to offer incense to the Buddhas and make this vow: "If I am allowed to live to the age of one hundred, I will burn my entire body as an offering to the Buddha, in quest of the supreme Way." All of the disciples present at the time made the same vow. Guo Shun also made the vow, "Disciple Guo Shun vows that if the opportunity appears, I will imitate Bodhisattva Medicine King and burn my entire body as an offering to the Buddha; I will not wait until my hundredth year before making this offering." Through my meditative contem-plation, I knew that he made this vow in past lives as well, so I permitted him to make the same vow this time.
On April 18, 1949, Guo Shun felt that all in the world was impermanent and that Buddhism had grown decadent. His pain at seeing these two truths was bitter beyond words. His grief was indescribable. Thus he vowed to burn his body, to die for the sake of Buddhism. He gathered a pile of tinder, soaked it with oil, sat on top of it in the meditation posture, then burned himself. The next day, when news of the event reached the local people, everyone came out for a look. Guo Shun's entire body had burned to ashes; only his heart remained unburnt. The villagers respected him greatly, and they buried his ashes and heart in the place where he had given up his life.
A talk given during a Chan Session from July 16-23, 1981 The Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas, The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas
一九八一年禪七 七月十六日至廿三日 開示於萬佛聖城萬佛殿