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Ch'an Master Hai Deng (1902-1989)
The following translation of the biography of master Hai Deng stems from two Chinese language source texts. The primary text is entitled ‘海灯法师’ (Hai Deng Fa Shi – Hai Deng Dharma Master), and is authored by Mr Feng Jun (冯君), a scriptwriter for Chinese TV, and a personal student of master Hai Deng, studying both tradition Chinese poetry and Chinese martial arts. This biography covers a select number of years fairly well, but omits (completely) details concerning master Hai Deng’s association with master Xu Yun (1840-1959) on Mount Yunju which occurred between early 1956 and late 1957. I have remedied this by accessing the Chinese language text entitled ‘海灯法师在禅宗的殊胜地位----沩仰宗第九祖’, (Master Hai Deng of the Ch’an Sect Holding the Wondrous Status – 9th Generation Lineage Inheritor of the Wei Yang Lineage), which is a typical representation of the generic texts available regarding master Hai Deng. I have inserted into the translation of the first text, an edited extract derived from the translation of the second text. The insertion is clearly marked and describes fully master Hai Deng’s life on Mount Yunju.
Master Hai Deng’s life is significant for a number of reasons. Not only was he a very well respected Ch’an master living in the time of Xu Yun, and the inheritor of the Wei Yang Lineage, he was also an accomplished scholar in Chinese classical literature, and a martial artist of some renown. He was considered a martial arts master before ordaining as a monk, and when he visited the Shaolin Temple (in Henan) in 1945, he was awarded (by the abbot) the award of ‘National Skilful Teacher Degree’ (国术教授 – Guo Shu Jiao Shòu), a distinct and extraordinary honour considering the source. His life spanned the 20th century, perhaps the most destructive and transformative of China’s long history, and yet he always managed to move ‘in the gaps’ between the worst excesses and emerge unscathed. Toward the end of his life, he was extensively filmed and photographed and became famous all over China and the world. I am very grateful to Upasika Sheng Hua for providing the second text, and translation advice, and Upasika Yukyern who has read through (and edited) the finished English text.
Master Hai Deng - 海灯法师 - (1902-1989)
Master Hai Deng’s lay surname was ‘Fan’ (范), and his fore-names were ‘Wu Bing’ (无病). He was born in Jiangyou County, Sichuanprovince in 1902.
Master Hai Deng – whose real name was Fan Wu Bing (范无病) – was known from childhood to be intelligent, fond of literature, conscientious toward his academic studies, and very interested in the practice of Chinese martial arts. At the age of 19 years old he gained entry to the Sichuan University Faculty of Liberal Arts. However, as his family were not wealthy, they could not afford the university fees. This led master Hai Deng to change the place of his studies to that of the Sichuan Special Police College (situated in the provincial capital of Chengdu), the fees of which (for each student) were paid for by the government. Whilst studying in Chengdu, he often took time to travel widely, seeking out authentic knowledge with respect to spirituality and martial arts. He met with the Shandong Daoist scholar named Zhi Han Zi, and the famous Songshan Shaolin Temple master of martial arts – the venerable Ru Feng. These meetings inspired master Hai Deng to such an extent that he gave-up his conventional studies and instead focused entirely upon the study and mastery of Chinese martial arts. In the spring of 1931, master Hai Deng became tired of the crowds, (constant noise and distraction) associated with life in a busy city, and arranged (through a friend) to travel south (six li – or Chinese miles – about two British miles) to Xindu County, situated northeast of Chengdu. Here he stayed at the Zhen Jing An (镇静庵), or ‘Place of Peace Temple’.
Zhen Jing An (镇静庵),or ‘Place of Peace Temple’ is a small Buddhist temple situated at the foot of the famous Bao Guang Ch’an Buddhist Temple (宝光寺) complex. It occupies around 20 acres and dates to the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). Through the central area is situated the gate house, or Mountain Gate Temple (山门殿), the Divine King Temple (天王殿), the main building, literally the ‘Hall of Great Heroic Strength’ (大雄殿), and the Temple of Guan Yin (the Goddess of Mercy), (观音殿). The temple grounds look out onto the Xiu Mountains (Xiushan), and are surrounded by a beautiful, peaceful and tranquil forest-garden. The abbot of the Zhen Jing Temple – the venerable Fo Tai - is a very good and accomplished Buddhist practitioner. Through his example, Buddhism remains a respected and great religion throughout the Xindu County Buddhist Association, and all over Sichuan province. This good reputation is shared by the Bao Guang Temple complex in general, where many people gather to practice with much diligence and careful study. The Dharma is upheld with great confidence and a certain prestige. The abbot allows martial arts to be practiced in the temple, but these arts are not studied to any great depth, due to a lack of authentic knowledge and experience. There was a disciple named Yuan Qing (源清) – he was eleven or twelve years old – he liked to practice martial arts and particularly favoured the cudgel. Despite his dedication to the martial arts, however, Yuan Qing could not progress to the higher levels of martial mastery as there were no masters who possessed this knowledge. The venerable Fo Tai was very happy when he received the news that master Hai Deng was coming to the temple to share in the practice of the Dharma. Master Hai Deng was treated with great respect and a ceremony was held in his honour – after which he formally accepted Yuan Qing as his disciple. In the early morning – before the temple bell is rung to start the day and in the evening after the temple day is over - master Hai Deng persevered to teach Yuan Qing (and other novice monks) martial arts in the forest of Cypress trees on Mount Xiu (Xiushan). His diligence in this matter can not be underestimated as he was determined that a true transmission of ‘martial skill’ (i.e. ‘wu-yi -武艺) would take place. In this way, master Hai Deng established a legitimate spiritual and physical lineage pertaining to that practiced within the Shaolin tradition. The novices and monks quickly learnt self-control and thoroughly understood the ‘wu xing’ (i.e. ‘五行’ – or ‘five phases’) teaching in relation to martial practice. Their movements became fast, fierce, and controlled. Through this method of thorough teaching a number of martial arts were transmitted and mastered, such as;
Shaolin Jing Quan -少林精拳– or ‘Shaolin Essence-Energy Fist’.
Shaolin Gun Fa -少林棍法– or ‘Shaolin Cudgel Art’.
Zi Long Qiang Fa -子龙枪法-or ‘Young Dragon Spear Art’.
Qing Long Dao Fa -青龙刀法– or ‘Green Dragon Sword Art’.
Jiu Bu Lian Huan Quan -九步连环拳– or ‘Nine Step Chain Fist’.
As well as the Single - Double Straight Bench Fist (Dan Shuang Ban Deng Quan - 单双板凳拳). Master Hai Deng placed an equal emphasis upon the practice and perfection of both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ martial arts skills. After practicing martial arts, master Hai Deng would return to the temple, and enter the East Flower Garden (Dong Hua Yuan -东花园). Here, he would practice calligraphy, and write and recite poetry about the Dao or ‘Way’ (道) – one such poem is entitled ‘Wen Zhong' (闻钟), or ‘Hearing (the) Bell’ and reads;
The pure moon appears high (in the sky),
Its reflection penetrates through the veil.
On a beautiful night such as this,
The heart-mind will not be defeated.
The Pu Lao (dragon) stays within secure boundaries,
Its profound nature is continuously aware.
The state of seclusion is like a tranquil dream;
Startled - there is a return to the Four Horse Bridge.
At this time, due to master Hai Deng staying in the temple for such an extended period, and routinely coming into contact with Buddhist philosophy, he began to consider the possibility of becoming a fully ordained monk. Originally, it was the intention of the venerable Fo Tai to take master Hai Deng as a disciple, but he was concerned that he was too old for such a task, and that his knowledge of the Dharma was not adequate. Instead, he advised the master to seek Dharma teachers who had advanced knowledge of Buddhist thinking. One such teacher was master Zhi Guang (智光法师) the abbot of Zhao Jue Si (昭觉寺) – a temple in the Chengdu area. Master Zhi Guang’s learning was known to be very profound, and he was considered the most suitable to teach the Dharma to master Hai Deng. The problem was that the Zhao Jue Si was a very popular and crowded temple, and according to the rules of Buddhism, master Zhi Guang could not receive a personal disciple there, particularly one associated with another temple. However, the abbot of the Zhen Jing An – the venerable Fo Tai - met with master Zhi Guang and negotiated an agreement. After this, master Hai Deng was accepted as a Dharma student of master Zhi Guang, and it was decided that his initial ordination and training would take place at the temple known as Wu Yue Gong (五岳宫), situated in the Chengdu area.
In the late autumn of 1937, when it was time to depart, the abbot arranged for a rickshaw to carry master Hai Deng to Wu Yue Gong – but he declared that he would not sit down for the journey, but walk all the way. His feet moved like the wind and it seemed that he ran all the way to Four Horse Bridge (Si Ma Qiao - 驷马桥) in a single breath! The rickshaw could not keep-up and fell a far distance behind. Upon arrival at Wu Yue Gong – the venerable Fo Tai and master Hai Deng entered the main hall to pay their ceremonial respects to master Zhi Guang. Master Zhi Guang then shaved his head, and administered the Triple Refuge formula and the Five Precepts. It was at this moment that the name ‘Hai Deng’ (Great Dharma - 海灯) was formally granted by master Zhi Guang. In the early winter of the same year (1937), master Hai Deng and master Zhi Guang travelled together to the Zhao Jue Temple– where the monastic ordination process was finally completed in its entirety. At this time master Hai Deng exclaimed; ‘For the eternal essence, the monk strives.’ Eventually, master Hai Deng served as a teacher of Chinese literature and martial arts at the Zhao Jue Buddhist Institute. At that time, the Bao Guang Temple, and the Zhao Jue Temple enjoyed an equal reputation of being centres for the study of Buddhist religion through the Ch’an tradition. The morality and virtue of the venerable monks produced in these places was well known to be of a high level. This fact made these places very popular amongst the people. At that time, the Bao Guang Temple and the Zhao Jue Temple, as centres for Ch’an training and Buddhist practice were considered to be of an equal, high rank. The previous abbot possessed a deep penetration of Ch’an and was known to be morally pure, and the venerable Fo Tai was considered his equal. Master Zhi Guang was the former Vice President of the Buddhist Association of China and master Hai Deng his disciple. The venerable master Hai Deng attended the Bao Guang Temple both before and after he ordained as a monk, to learn and perfect the Ch’an method. He has also taught the monks martial arts. For decades master Hai Deng has maintained close ties with the Bao Guang Temple.
In 1945, master Hai Deng decided to leave Sichuan province and travel far and wide throughout China, visiting the famous mountain areas and seeking out those skilled in martial arts – or ‘拳术武功’, literally ‘fist techniques of martial skill’ (quan shu wu gong). The following year, he visits the Shaolin Temple (少林寺) situated on Song Shan (嵩山). The abbot of Shaolin – the venerable De Yi (德意长老)– confers upon master Hai Deng the ‘National Skilful Teacher Degree’ (国术教授 – Guo Shu Jiao Shòu), in recognition of his profound martial knowledge. This award confirms master Hai Deng’s status as a ‘Professor of Martial Arts’. After Liberation (1949), master Hai Deng travelled around the provinces, participating in a number of national martial art displays and competitions, as well as holding the position of the ‘Shanghai Municipal Sports Teacher for Martial Arts’ (上海市体育宫武术教练- Shanghai Shì Tǐ Yù Gong Wu Shu Jiao Lian). However, even at this time of great historical change, master Hai Deng adhered to the study of Buddhism, medicine and classical Chinese literature – which he viewed as inseparable from the practice (and teaching) of martial arts. His understanding and insight into the old-style classical literature of China attracted praise from other experts, far and wide. His expertise is exampled in his published book entitled ‘少林云水诗集’ (Shao Lín Yún Shuǐ Shī Jí), or ‘Shaolin Cloud Water Poem Collection’, and so on.
Extract Begins- ‘海灯法师在禅宗的殊胜地位----沩仰宗第九祖’
Master Hai Deng of the Ch’an Sect Holding the Wondrous Status – 9th Generation Lineage Inheritor of the Wei Yang Lineage.’
Chapter 3 –Venerable Xu Yun Entrusts Master Hai Deng With the Wei Yang Transmission.
The venerable master Xu Yun (1840-1959) of Hunan, thought very highly of master Hai Deng, and passed-on the 9th generation lineage of the Wei Yang (沩仰) Ch’an tradition to him. Master Xu Yun was the recognised 8th generation successor of the Wei Yang lineage. On the 6th lunar month of 1954, master Xu Yun decided to repair the damaged monastery of Zhen Ru (真如寺), situated on
Mount Yunju (云居山) of Jiangxi province.
On the 10th day of the 6th lunar month of 1956, master Hai Deng travelled from Shanghai to the monastery on Yunju to be near to master Xu Yun. At the end of the 9th lunar month of 1957, he returned to Shanghai, meaning that he spent around a year and a half at Zhen Ru. Now at this time, master Hai Deng had risen above and beyond all suffering. After arriving, a few people had harsh thoughts toward master Hai Deng, mistakenly assuming that his life of martial training (武功– Wu Gong), and his reputation of martial brilliance was a distraction or form of pollution. However, master Xu Yun (disagreed with this criticism) and asked master Hai Deng to permanently remain at Zhen Ru. At the same time, the then abbot – master Xing Fu (性福和尚) –decided to step-down and retire from this role, leaving the post vacant. Master Xu Yun requested that master Hai Deng assume this role, and following the appropriate ceremonial ritual, master Hai Deng was appointed abbot of Zhen Ru Temple. Soon after, both master Xu Yun and master Hai Deng both lectured to the monks for around 4 months upon the Surangama Sutra (楞严经 – Leng Yan Jing).
Whilst at Yunju, master Hai Deng kept up a strict practice that was based upon a fine and diligent scholarship. Master Xu Yun, after an appropriate investigation, declared that the bright mind of the Wei Yang (沩仰) Patriarchal lineage would be passed-on to master Hai Deng, making him the 9th generation inheritor of this Ch’an lineage. He received, at this time, the new Dharma-name of ‘Xuan Ming’ (宣明),or ‘Propagating Brightness’. The 9th generation Dharma of the Wei Yang lineage was also passed-on (by master Xu Yun) to the former abbot – the monk Xing Fu (性福). This transmission ensured that the Patriarchal ancestry of the (Ch’an-Dharma) continued into future generations, unbroken.
Master Xu Yun taught the Dharma for decades so that it could successfully spread both within China, and out into foreign lands. This he achieved by choosing carefully those he entrusted with Dharma transmission. His great teaching strengthened the Dharma in Hong Kong, and spread the Buddha-Dharma to America through the efforts of Ch’an master Xuan Hua (宣化禅师). The Zhen Ru Temple has been associated with many great (and old) Ch’an masters, such as Da Ding (达定), the Venerable Mi Guang (弥光), the old monks Hui Tong (慧通), Ti Guang (体光), Ben Huan (本焕), Zhao Ch’an (照禅), Jie Quan (戒全), Jing Hui (净慧), and the President of the Chinese Buddhist Association – master Yi Cheng (一诚), amongst other eminent masters who benefitted from master Xu Yun’s teaching that helped them spread the Buddha-Dharma far and wide.
Chapter 4 – Master Hai Deng’s Affection for Yunju.
Master Hai Deng spent his time at Zhen Ru living in the hills practicing and teaching Tiantai (天台)Buddhism, practicing martial arts, and the yogic method for feeding ‘hungry ghosts’ (and relieving their suffering) known as ‘Flame Mouth’ (焰口 – Yan Kou). Not only this, but in his capacity as abbot he kept control of the day-to-day running of the temple, and personally presided over the construction of two buildings – the Bell Tower and Drum Tower. At this time the monastery was under the guidance of the master Xu Yun – the honorary President of the Buddhist Association, but Xu Yun’s restoration work was nearing completion, and he stepped aside so that master Hai Deng (who was now also the managing director of the National Buddhist Association) could perform his duties as abbot of Zhen Ru. This was facilitated by the fact that master Xing Fu had temporarily stepped aside as abbot to pursue other duties that took him away from Zhen Ru. Xu Yun established a Buddhist College and asked master Hai Deng to take control of the education programme, and to teach. This he did, particularly in relation to the Surangama and Lotus Sutras – both of which he taught in-depth upon the mountain. Some times, master Hai Deng taught around 120 people, but this often rose to around 300 on occasion. This included both male and female lay and monastic scholars from all over China – including Hong Kong. His voice was clear and his explanations of the Buddhist teachings were precise and engaging. All who heard him teach were immediately taken with his ability to explain in simple terms, even the most intricate of philosophical principles. All who attended his classes never left until the lesson had ended - such was master Hai Deng’s ability as a teacher.
Master Hai Deng, as a means of enriching the cultural diversity of the temple, not only taught the Buddha-Dharma, but also taught from the Tang Dynasty poetry tradition, focusing upon the ‘Three Hundred Poems’ (唐诗三百首 – Tang Shi San Bai Shou). This allowed the monks to study and become familiar with classical Chinese literature (as well as Buddhist texts), from which they greatly benefitted. Therefore, master Hai Deng did not emphasis the classical literary tradition only (古文观止 – Gu Wen Guan Zi), but taught in a manner that allowed other traditions to strengthen the Buddhist philosophical position, and not diminish it. As well as classical literature, master Hai Deng would write poems that recorded his own, every day experiences. He some times used this type of poetry to explain the Buddhist Sutras – particularly the Surangama Sutra. Despite this eclectic approach, master Hai Deng very much followed the Ch’an path as his central practice, and wrote important poems to this affect. As a consequence of his poignant comments and insightful observations, many of his poems have been gathered into prominent ‘collections’ and published as distinct works of creative genius.
The Zhen Ru Temple follows the School of Ch’an (禅宗 – Chan Zong), one of the 8 great Buddhist traditions in China. As a general rule, the monks and attending laity are not taught, and do not practice Chinese martial arts as part of the daily disciplined routine. Therefore, master Hai Deng tended to practice martial skills on his own, or occasionally with his personal disciples. However, whilst staying at Zhen Ru, master Hai Deng would some times demonstrate his martial skills for all to see. These martial demonstrations left a very profound impression upon the resident monks. He was particularly famous for the following martial skills;
Two Finger Ch’an (Er Zhi Ch’an - 二指禅)
Three-sectional Staff (三节棍– San Jie Gun)
Nine-sectional Whip (九节鞭 – Jiu Jie Bian)
Arahant Boxing (罗汉拳– Luohan Quan)
Plum-flower Palm (梅花掌– Mei Hua Zhang)
Flying Archery (空中射箭– Kong Zhong She Jian)
Master Hai Deng could make each section of the three-sectional staff align – making it appear (momentarily), as if a single stick was being held. His flying archery was even more impressive. Master Hai Deng’s two-finger Ch’an was considered the greatest feat, and all who witnessed were stunned.
During his time on Mount Yunju, master Hai Deng left a great impression upon people. There are many stories about his life at Zhen Ru. Master Ji Xiang (寂祥法师), now in his seventies, was a disciple of master Hai Deng and remembers;
“On the 15th day of the 7th lunar month of that year (1956), a ceremony was held to appoint master Hai Deng as the abbot of Zhen Ru Temple. After its completion, master Xu Yun asked an attendant to place a wooden bed and blankets into the abbot’s room for master Hai Deng to use. When master Hai Deng discovered the bed and blankets in the evening, he had the bed dismantled and the blankets sent back to the reception room. Instead he moved to a shrine (龕 – kan) near the gate, to rest in the evening. However, even at night he would not lie down, but spent the time entirely sat upright and motionless in meditation.”
Master Ji Xiang also recalls that master Hai Deng was very concerned about the daily dietary habits of the monks on the mountain, and under his guidance life got very good. He sighed and said; “This was all due to the powerful virtue of master Hai Deng!” There was another interesting matter: “When master Hai Deng preached for two hours (at night), he did not walk around or drink any water. He would only sit (briefly) after the lecture was over. He would then urinate, drink half a cup of boiled water and go to the main hall to propagate the Buddhist yogic practice of ‘flame mouth’ (焰口 – Yan Kou), designed to feed the hungry ghosts. His energy knew no bounds." Due to his strict and diligent Buddhist practice, and his extensive scholarly knowledge, master Xu Yun was very impressed with master Hai Deng. He saw in him the virtuous quality suitable not only to be an ‘abbot’, but also to be a living vehicle for the transmission of the Wei Yang Ch’an Lineage (伪仰宗), making him the 9th generation Patriarch of this school.
At the end of the 10th lunar month of 1957, master Hai Deng left Mount Yunju and returned to Shanghai, and the post of abbot reverted to master Xing Fu. He did, however, visit the Zhen Ru Monastery on two more occasions, once in 1959, and again in 1962. In 1959, he received the news that master Xu Yun had passed away, and climbed the Yunju Mountain to pay his respects. He performed the Buddhist yogic practice of ‘Yan Kou’ (焰口– ‘Flame Mouth’), to assist master Xu Yun in his travel beyond this world and the attaining to the realm of ‘Divine Bliss’ (极乐世界 – Ji Le Shi Jie). Master Xu Yun was unsurpassed as a Buddhist monk, and the saviour of the country. After this, at the request of the resident monks, master Hai Deng gave a demonstration of Chinese martial arts in the main hall. This would be his final demonstration of martial arts on Mount Yunju. In 1962, master Hai Deng visited Zhen Ru to pay his respects, on his way back to Sichuan province. He spoke to his fellow travellers in the Dao (道) and stayed in the temple for several days, before bidding them farewell. Extract Ends.
In the late autumn of 1967, master Hai Deng returned to his home town of ‘Zhong Hua’ (重华镇)located in Jiangyou County, Sichuan province. Here, he lived on the hillside in a simple one-roomed grass hut – which he names ’本愿精舍’(Ben Yuan Jīng She) – or ‘Foundation of Virtue Essence Abode’, and expresses his feelings through the writing of poetry;
As many as the grain of sands in the Ganges,
Half-ladles of white water sustain life.
At the sea shore, the world is left behind.
At the foot of the mountain, the scholar perfects his art.
Master Hai Deng lived in isolation throughout the year and was indifferent to the conditions of life. Despite being a recluse, he continued to teach his personal disciples martial arts. Although he was physically apart from the practice of Shaolin martial skills, he did not, in his heart, forget the Shaolin Temple. Six year’s later, during early spring - he composed the following poem;
‘Being seventy years old does not cause a decline with age;
Both feet are still worthy of treading the nine provinces.’
He had a compelling vision – a great ambition – to lead his four disciples on a visit to the Shaolin Temple in Henan. Master Hai Deng had not been to the Shaolin Temple in nearly three decades. He followed this aspiration and went to the Shaolin Temple - this constituted his sixth visit to this very important place. Upon arrival the snow was flying and the birds were singing. The old pine-trees still stood, as before, and he recalls in the past ‘Hearing the Bell Ring’ and participating in the martial training of developing the hard power of Shaolin gongfu. He can not help but casually recite the following;
Snowflakes fall - six birds appear singing,
Swallows in flight recall the ‘resting dragon’ (卧龙 – wolong).
For thirty years this has been only a dream,
Immeasurable time preserves the martial prestige.
Leaving Shaolin increased the commitment to its path.
The benefit of the midnight bell is never forgotten.
On the way home master Hai Deng wrote a number of poems about ‘Revisiting the Shaolin Temple’ – one such poem says;
The Songshan skill of (defence) and attack is well known in China and abroad.
Only a few young heroes spread the teachings throughout the nine provinces.
I arrived during the good time of the Spring Festival.
The vision of endless snow-fall did not cease.
With deep affection he praised the Shaolin martial arts tradition preserved and practiced within the Shaolin Temple.
After the smashing (of the political power) of the ‘Gang of Four’ (in 1976), master Hai Deng was very happy and set pen to paper, he wrote;
Ten years of cold sitting has finally reached the foundation of the matter.
Until now humanity has been divided (and uncertain) about the white ox (Dharma).
From this time on, master Hai Deng dedicated his life to revitalising and spreading the martial teachings of the Shaolin Temple tradition – to this end he spared no effort. During the ninth lunar month of 1979, the Hong Kong Great Wall Pictures, together with the Emei Film Studio, co-operated together with the filming of a news-documentary entitled ‘Sichuan Rare Events Record’- (Sìchuan Qí Qù Lu - 四川奇趣录), which featured master Hai Deng and his students practicing Shaolin martial arts at the famous Bao Guang Temple. At this time, master Hai Deng gave a wonderful demonstration of ‘two finger Ch’an’ (Er Zhi Ch’an - 二指禅), and ‘Youthful Boy Skill’ (Tongzi Gong -童子功), as well as demonstrating and explaining other aspects of Shaolin martial arts that he considered to be most important for others to understand - particularly in regard to acquiring the ‘Profound Skill of Wall Facing’, and the ‘Unrelenting Ability to Shake the Divine Sky’ - (Gong Shen Miàn Bì, Jue Jì Jīng Tian - 功深面壁, 绝技惊天) these abilities he praised highly. Many young people from around Xindu County, as well as monks from the Bao Guang Temple learnt Shaolin martial arts from master Hai Deng. His dedication to teaching knew no bounds and it was as if he never grew tired or developed fatigue. The poem entitled the ‘Bao Guang Temple Ten Integrated Chants’ (Bao Guang Sì Za Yong Shí Shou -宝光寺杂咏十首) says;
Years spent amongst the high mountains and flowing water,
Unable to wash the marrow (洗髓 – Xi Sui) – I dare not sleep.
The newly acquired learning is passed on (through the generations).
The vast (divine) sky emits a pure, joyful music throughout time.
The physical body of master Hai Deng was both healthy and strong. He never ceased in his endeavour of conveying to the younger generation the spirit of Shaolin fighting arts, thus ensuring that the true lineage was transmitted intact. It was at this time that the author of this article (Mr Feng Jun - 冯君) became acquainted with master Hai Deng and learnt the technique of the Chinese long-sword (Jian Shu -剑术), and received instruction regarding the writing of Dharma poetry from him. The author presented a poem to master Hai Deng entitled ‘To Show Respect to Master Hai Deng’ (敬呈海灯法师 - Jing Cheng Hai Deng Fo Shi), composed in the seven characters written in four lines - style of poetry (七绝四首 – Qī Jue Sì Shou). When it came time to leave the Bao Guang Temple, master Hai Deng wrote a poem in return for Mr Feng Jun – composed in the seven characters written in eight lines - style of poetry (七律一首 – Qī Lu Yī Shou), the poem said;
Rain-water and sun-light come to cleanse the eye,
The exiled immortal is blown from place to place.
The Green Mountain contains ten thousand amusements,
Whilst the white moon is but a reflection of the mind.
The sword (剑– jian) gains in wisdom the more it is used,
For ten years, there is silence amongst the autumn cliffs.
Friends and relatives are everywhere in the world,
Do not fear suffering - assistance is given without having to ask.
Master Hai Deng had a very strong sense of patriotism for China, particularly in relation to the preserving and passing-on of authentic, traditional Shaolin martial arts. This fact explains why he turned-down an invitation to travel abroad and teach martial arts toward the end of 1982. Instead, at the age of 80 years old, he decided to return to the Shaolin Temple.
Arriving at the Shaolin Temple is like a vision renewed,
Its essential spirit endures like the beautiful thousand peaks.
In this place of vibrant life – the first temple under the divine sky (天下第一古刹) – master Hai Deng
tirelessly instructed disciples so that the true tradition of Shaolin martial arts could be revitalised. This process of preserving the authentic traditions, helped to rejuvenate the Chinese nation, and this inspired his disciples to dedicate their utmost energy to the task of mastering martial practice. At that time, students travelled long distances from XinduCounty and other areas of Sichuan province, to train with master Hai Deng. The master posed for a photograph (with them) and wrote a poem entitled ‘Memories of Sichuan’ (忆蜀 – Yi Shu) and presented this as a gift;
The many secluded (mountain) peaks are tranquil and silent,
Everywhere red pomegranate (liu hong - 榴红) flowers bloom.
Single white clouds manifest fully into existence,
And the mind remembers many great things.
Govern the people in the name of love and true virtue, this brings order,
Assist the world; forget accomplishments, and give-up the good life.
Always remember that the path (followed) should be pure and peaceful,
(Like) the reflection of a half new-moon upon the peaceful lake (平湖 – Ping Hu).
This recited poetry (contains) within (it) the pure and tranquil path.
(Which) actually refers to the Bao Guang Ch’an Temple of Xindu (County).
Whilst the Poetry regarding the peaceful lake (平湖 – Ping Hu),
Refers to the Sheng An Gui Lake (升庵桂湖), also located in Xindu.
Dharma master Hai Feng ‘practiced the authentic Dharma, and astonished many people with his unique skills’. In the middle of the fourth lunar month, in 1984, the Central News Film Studios (中央新闻电影制片) accompanied master Hai Deng (and his students) back to the Bao Guang Ch’an Temple, with the intention of filming a documentary about his extraordinary life so that more people could learn about him. This documentary was entitled ‘Dharma Master Hai Deng of Shaolin’ (少林海灯法师). This documentary featured monks, the laity, old friends and both civilian and military disciples. At the end of the year, master Hai Deng was finishing the filming of this documentary in Beijing, when he was invited by both China Central Television and the Chengdu Foreign Affairs Office, to participate in another documentary entitled ‘A Life In Buddhism’ (佛门生涯). He hurried back to the Bao Guang Ch’an Temple accompanied by his outstanding students Fan Ying Lian (范应莲), Li Xing You (李兴友), battling through the wind and the snow. As the author of this article (Mr Feng Jun - 冯君) had written the screenplay for this TV movie, he had the privilege of meeting with the master of poetry yet again, and this inspired him to take-up the drawing brush and compose the following poem;
Only a few people know the precious meaning of Bao Guang,
The master instructs to the lofty peaks of ritual (峨峰礼 – E Feng Li).
What a timely encounter (between) ‘Guihu’ (桂湖) and the gifted-scholar,
This conduct is not in vain, but is a constant source of inspiration.
At this time, master Hai Deng, during the wintery snows of the dawn, would go and visit the new disciples as they participated in martial arts training practice, he was very pleased with the martial power that he saw in the students and said;
“You are all pure youths – ‘The youth practices Qing Gong (轻功 – ‘Light-body Skill’), more practice at (rapidly) shooting up’, I want you to learn and practice good martial skills. Train more – never stop, so that the ability to create martial power can support the ‘Four Modernisations’ (四化 – ‘Si Hua’), so that the national honour can be enhance through (personal) sacrifice.”
©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2012.