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Ch’an Master Jing Hui - History of Master Xu Yun’s Complete Biographical Text
Translator’s Note: This is an English language translation of the original (2008) Chinese language text entitled ‘《虚云和尚全集》编辑说明’, as found on the Chinese language internet, uploaded onto the official website representing the Bailin Temple. Ch’an Master Jing Hui (1933-2013) is considered in China to be one of the greatest personal disciples of Ch’an Master Xu Yun (1840-1959), who not only took on the complete Five Houses of Ch’an teaching into the next generation (teaching tens of thousands of people in the process – including many non-Chinese students), but worked tirelessly until his death, researching and compiling each and every memory, anecdote and story concerning the long life of Xu Yun himself. This effort led to a much expanded and more detailed account of Xu Yun’s life than is found in the original 1950’s biography. Firstly, when Xu Yun (and his disciples) started compiling his biography at the Yunmen Temple in 1951 – Master Xu Yun was still alive (believed to be 112th years old at the time). Secondly, this original biography was taken out of Xu Yun’s direct hands after this date, with his disciples compiling what they thought were the most important points and interpretations of events. Thirdly, this manuscript was ‘transported’ piecemeal out of China at the time, to Xu Yun’s chosen editor – the former Nationalist scholar and political activist – Cen Xue Lu [岑学吕] (1882-1963) – residing in Hong Kong. Fourthly, and needless to say, the biography arrived in ‘waves’, and the early versions were incomplete (containing the occasional ‘error’, later ‘corrected’ by Cen Xue Lu). Even the ‘finished’ version extant in 1961 contained only the basic chronological framework (later translated into English as ‘Empty Cloud’ by Charles Luk), which Ch’an Master Jing Hui subsequently fully edited, revised, and expanded into a much richer and all-round text recording the extraordinary life of Master Xu Yun. What follows is the history of the development of Xu Yun’s biography as understood by Master Jing Hui. Needless to say, as matters stand, this complete version of Xu Yun’s biography has not yet been translated into English.
Ch’an Master Xu Yun must be considered the pre-eminent of Chinese Buddhist monks, who was directly responsible for preserving traditional Chinese Ch’an Buddhism, and directly facilitating its entry and survival into the modern age. Xu Yun’s entire life was dedicated to reviving and invigorating the Chinese Ch’an Buddhist (ancestral) tradition, and in so doing, strengthened and supported all Schools of Buddhism. Through all his actions he worked to assist those in trouble, and relieve the suffering of those in poverty. This selfless attitude toward others was premised upon a strict following of the Vinaya Discipline, and an equally strict self-sufficiency for all Ch’an practitioners. In this way, the Wisdom of the Buddha was not only generated in the mind (through successful meditation practice), but also manifested in the environment as compassionate and knowledgeable actions (that helped all beings without question). Quite often, Xu Yun drifted from place to place (with his robe-sleeves blowing in the wind), and tolerated quite often terrible hardship to teach the Buddha-Dharma to whoever would listen, or who needed assistance in some way. The manner in which he guarded his thought, speech and action was highly ‘virtuous’ (德 – De), and it was his virtue that sustained all his endeavours. Even if the last thousand years of Chinese Buddhist history is taken into account, the example that Master Xu Yun exhibited remains extraordinarily ‘rare’. The Great Master Tan Xu (倓虚) assessed Xu Yun’s life in the following manner:
‘It is obvious from reading his biography that the Great Master spent his entire life propagating the True Dharma. His entire life was dedicated to the authentic Buddhist way of life, which was sustained by a mind powered by a great source of energy (大气 – Da Qi). This strength of purpose meant that Xu Yun could face the physical bitterness of life, but his powerful mind would remain unaffected by external events. He made life better for innumerable beings through his wise and compassionate actions, which included the re-building and renovations of dozens of temples. At times his physical life was unbearable due to the suffering he experienced, and he faced danger so many times that it seemed like he had nine lives. Xu Yun never discriminated and treated all beings equally. This is why his Ch’an Dharma has spread all over world, including other parts of Asia, Europe and the USA. His virtuous upholding of the Five Traditions (五宗 – Wu Zong) of Ch’an throughout his life, and never deviating from the Empty Mind Ground for a single moment (even when in the midst of terrible suffering), resulted in him living into his 120th year of life. As he clearly followed and cultivated the ‘Dao of Virtue’ (道德 – Dao De), he grew long in the tooth, and produced a very rare enlightened manifestation in the world that had not been seen in over a thousand years. When all this is taken into account, it seems obvious that Master Xu Yun was a rebirth of a Great Bodhisattva.’
Master Xu Yun taught students from every corner of the world, and due to his immense (and enlightened) virtue, this profound influence directly led to the authentic Ch’an Dharma being spread to many different countries. As a disciple of Xu Yun, I consider it my duty to continue in this process of spreading the Chinese Ch’an teaching to every corner of the world by working on Master Xu Yun’s biography, and making its narrative as complete as possible. The influence of Chinese Buddhism is far-reaching entirely because of Xu Yun’s virtue, which is forever ‘shining’ in the void. Just as important as Xu Yun’s complete biography, are his ‘Dharma’ (法 – Fa) teachings, within which he clearly explains the authentic Ch’an path. Together, the biography and the Dharma-teaching can only strengthen the peaceful spread of Chinese Buddhist practice throughout the world.
The ancient masters stated: ‘The authentic text transmits the correct tradition.’ Although all genuine disciples of Xu Yun know that the reality of Ch’an lies beyond the written word, nevertheless, it is through the skilful use of the written and spoken word by a qualified Ch’an master that tis underlying (empty) reality is revealed. If the words of Xu Yun are lost, then his Ch’an Dharma teachings face a major hurdle against its transmission to future generations. Xu Yun’s recorded sayings demonstrate what is to be considered the ‘True’ and ‘Correct’ Dharma interpretation. This is important in a world where many false Dharma teachers convey an incorrect Dharma that deviates completely from what Xu Yun clearly taught. If Xu Yun’s biography and Dharma Words are preserved, those who peddle delusion in place of wisdom, can be easily exposed in the hope that they will adjust their understanding and adopt the ‘True’ path. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that a ‘complete’ record of the life of Xu Yun be gathered together, edited and conveyed to the present and future generations.
When looking back at the editorial process of the compiling and editing of Xu Yun’s biography, it is clear that there has been many editions over the last 50 years, which have involved alterations, additions, mistakes, and clarifications from the early 1950’s to the present time. The gathering of Xu Yun’s biography began in the early 1951 following the upheaval surrounding the ‘Yunmen Incident’ (云门事变 – Yun Men Shi Bian). This was edited from a coherent biography by the scholar Cen Xue Lu, into a text he entitled ‘Venerable Monk Xu Yu Biographical Sequence’ (虚云和尚年谱序 – He Shang Nian Pu Xu). The first edition of this biography was published in 1953 (outside of Mainland China) and contained a section on Xu Yun’s Dharma Teachings (法汇 – Fa Hui). This edition had two further revised and corrected editions (making three in all worked-on directly by Cen Xue Lu). This work ceased with the death of Cen Xue Lu in 1963. When first published in the Spring of 1953, its relatively small print-run sold-out very quickly throughout the Chinese diaspora. This was the very successful first edition.
As the first edition was very hastily edited and arranged, it therefore contained many errors. Cen Xue Lu, aware of the situation, sent a copy of this edition with a trusted assistant to Mount Yunju, where it was shown to Master Xu Yun, who carefully worked through the text, correcting all the errors as they appeared. This re-edited text was then conveyed back to Cen Xue Lu in Hong Kong, and now contained all the information concerning the biographical events of Xu Yun between 1952 to August, 1956. Cen Xue Lu then re-read the text, re-edited where required, and clarified the chronology of events, and Xu Yun’s Dharma Teaching (some of which had occurred after 1952). The finished product was published in July, 1957, and it was this second edition that Cen Xue Lu considered ‘complete’ and textually ‘correct’. Then during the 8th month of the lunar calendar (a month after Xu Yun’s death in 1959), the final biographical and Dharma Teaching details reached Cen Xue Lu – who updated the text – this formed the (second update and) third edition of Xu Yun’s complete biography, which was published in the autumn of 1961.
The fourth (revised) edition of Xu Yun’s biography and Dharma Words was arranged in 1982, by the renowned Mahayana (lay) scholar known as ‘Le Chong Hui’ (乐崇辉), who lived in Taiwan. This edition included many stories about Xu Yun from Buddhist practitioners living in other countries, such as Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, and Hong Kong. This wealth of information formed a substantial increase in the stories relating to the life of Master Xu Yun and his Dharma Teaching, and served to demonstrate just how respected Xu Yun was outside of his native China. This updated version of Xu Yun’s biography was published in June, 1982, together with an explanatory note, clearly demarking the ‘new’ material, and explaining where it had originated.
Toward the end of 1990, I was in Hebei province, assisting in the renovation of the Zhaozhou (赵州) Bailin (柏林) Ch’an Temple. This was an activity designed to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Master Xu Yun. At this time, I also finished a book I had started 28 years previously, hastily designed to be something of a ‘sequel’ to Master Xu Yun’s official biography. Although of little importance, I sought to discover as of yet uncollected stories about Master Xu Yun from the people of Mainland China, of which there are many. As this book was a product of my own grasping, it does not possess a great deal of merit, but the stories that were relayed to me by others who remembered Master Xu Yun, are very valuable indeed. I entitled this book ‘Venerable Monk Xu Yun Continued Dharma Teaching Sequel’ (虚云和尚法汇续编 – Xu Yun He Shang Fa Hui Xu Bian), copies of which can still be found here and there. I subsequently re-edited and revised this book, giving it the new title ‘Venerable Monk Xu Yun Record of Dharma Words’ (虚云和尚开示录 – Xu Yun He Shang Kai Shi Lu). Both these books were published and distributed throughout China.
In 1996, during the three altars, great ordination ceremony at the Da Jue (大觉) Ch’an Temple situated on Mount Yunju, the old venerable monk Fu Yuan (佛源), commissioned the renowned scholar-monk Dharma Master De Hui (德慧) of the Xiu Yuan (修元) Ch’an Temple, to fully update and revise my 1990 edition of Xu Yun’s biography (i.e. ‘Venerable Monk Xu Yun Continued Dharma Teaching Sequel’), for use on the Mainland of China (and elsewhere). This 1996 version constituted the official ‘fifth’ edition of Xu Yun’s biography, and contained the best record as of yet, ever collected about Master Xu Yun’s life. This was published in Taiwan through a Mahayana Buddhist publishing house carrying the ‘new’ title of ‘Old Venerable Master Xu Yun’s Biography and Dharma Teaching’ (虚云老和尚年谱法汇 – Xu Yun Lao He Shang Nian Pu Fa Hui), and remains the most popular version of Xu Yun’s life throughout the Chinese diaspora. For good fortune, this edition received a print-run of 10,000 copies. Interestingly, this edition is also popular amongst those who can read the Chinese language in the West.
However, despite everyone’s best efforts to acquire ever more information about Master Xu Yun, it becomes ever more clear as the years go by, that even the best editions of Xu Yun’s biography suffer quite simply from a lack of information in many crucial places. This is because we have not been able to fill-in all the gaps in our knowledge of Xu Yun’s life, despite the great improvements in interpretation. This stems from the fact that Cen Xue Lu was not working on the Mainland of China during his foundational efforts, and was cut-off from direct contact with Xu Yun. He readily admits the limitations he had to work within, but this lack of knowledge has followed Xu Yun’s biography right-up to the present, where we have continuously worked to rectify it. Quite often there is a natural barrier involving times long ago, involving incomplete historical records, issues with geographical areas, linguistic problems, personal limitations, difficulty with research, trouble accessing or interpreting the records associated with imperial and Republican China, together with a host of other problems difficult to pin-point. Of course, as the older generation falls away, a library of memories disappears with each loss. Of course, research became easier in the 1990’s, with many photographs of Xu Yun coming to light, together with more biographical detail. Since then it has become apparent as certain sections of his biographical life has become clearer, where the weaknesses lie, and it is to these areas of our research, that we must turn our attention. Another area of concern is editorial deficiencies which involve:
1) In the matter of correct chronology, a number of dates (i.e. ‘years’ and ‘months’), names and places are not recorded in proper fashion or correct order, and were not subsequently corrected. This means that these foundational errors have followed through into all later (and expanded) editions.
2) In the chronology of events, many of the ‘local’ stories are presented in a much too simple fashion, and lack corroborating and supporting information. This needs to be expanded to offer a more convincing narrative, including proper names and correct historical data.
3) Master Xu Yun taught several large gatherings (which are well attested to), but his Dharma Teaching given in these sessions is sometimes reproduced ‘word for word’ in other parts of the text. This is odd as it includes time periods decades before the teaching was given. This needs to be acknowledged and resolved.
4) The section dealing with ‘Memories’ does add valuable information, but its data is haphazard and disparate in nature. This needs to be further edited and where possible, related to the already existing biography, to give these memories a reliable historical context.
5) As there exists no ‘index’, or ‘list’ of contents, the average reader cannot easily navigate the volume and seek-out specific sections when required.
To this end, the Hebei Province Buddhist Association, in 1990, did begin a new ‘revised’ addition of Xu Yun’s biography to celebrate the repairs at the Bailin Temple. The intended title for this work was ‘Xu Yun Sutra Printing for Merit’ (虚云印经功德藏 – Xu Yun Yin Jing Gong De Cang), the publishing of which was intended to coincide with the reprint of my ‘Venerable Monk Xu Yun Continued Dharma Teaching Sequel’ in 1991, but for more than a decade, the editors spent their time seeking and collecting more information. However, during the Spring of 2005, the editors felt that they had collected enough information, and invited the renowned ‘lay’ Buddhist scholars ‘Ming Yao’ (明尧) and ‘Ming Jie’ (明洁) to begin the processes of compiling this new and expanded edition on behalf of the Hebei Ch’an Study Institute. This is known as the ‘Venerable Monk Xu Yun Complete Work’ (虚云和尚全集 – Xu Yun He Shang Qian Yi) and was published 3 years later (in 2008). It is distinguishable from all the other versions (including my own), as it is comprised entirely of first-hand accounts gathered from the general public, and very much reflects how the ordinary people perceived and remembered Xu Yun. As such, this is not a follow-up version to the already extant Xu Yun literature. This is reflected in its usage of ancient categorisation, which includes ‘Dharma Expression’ (法语 – Fa Yu), Dharma Words (开示 – Kai Shi), Book Learning (书信 – Shu Xin), Cultural Precedent (文记 – Wen Ji), Poetry Verse (诗偈 – Shi Ji), Regulation Clarification (规约 - Gui Yue), Biographical Records (年谱 – Nian Pu), Biographical Information (传记资料 – Chuan Ji Zi Liao), Memorial Record (追思录 – Zhui Si Lu) and Non-Specific Records (杂录 – Za Lu) – making 10 sections in total. The editors worked through Cen Xue Lu’s third addition and as far as possible corrected the chronological errors, and this information is identified as the ‘Original Material’. Except for the Biographical Records, Memorial Record and Non-Specific Records, all other categories are divided into ‘Original Material’ and ‘Additional Material’, with the latter containing source notes for the new information. The ‘Biographical Information’ is comprised of first-hand material in two respects. The first is already extant articles containing well-recorded biographical information, and the second is comprised of information gathered from temple records and the press - this might also include records containing only partial information about Xu Yun. First-hand biographical information was gained from such books as ‘Venerable Monk Xu Yun’s Path of Life’ (虚云和尚画传 – Xu Yum He Shang Hua Chuan), compiled by Ch’an Master Xuan Hua (宣化), and the ‘Life of Venerable Monk Xu Yun’ (虚云和尚传 – Xu Yun He Shang Chuan), compiled by He Mingdong (何明栋), as well as ‘In the Footsteps of Old Venerable Master Xu Yun’ (虚云老和尚的足迹 – Xu Yun Lao He Shang Zu Ji), compiled by Shi Wei Sheng (释惟升), amongst many other examples.
The ‘Memorial Record’ section is not limited to the memories of those who met Master Xu Yun, but also includes articles written about events that Master Xu Yun was a part of. Of course, such documents also carry important biographical material, and this can be used in other categories to good effect, but such material still derives from the ‘memory’ of a specific event. Also, many, if not all of these memories are extremely ‘personal’ in nature, and are not quite the same as objective history because of this fact. There is a similarity, but the objective is different. In addition, many poems recalling Xu Yun were written by future generations, and although important, it was felt that these should be placed in the ‘Memorial Record’ category – as they are few in number – rather than in the ‘Poetry Verse’ section proper.
The ‘Non-Specific Records’ (which can also be referred to as ‘Miscellaneous’), is different in construction to the other 9 categories, in as much as its content is disparate and diverse in nature. Much of the material describes the relationship between the general public and Master Xu Yun from perspectives that cannot strictly be included in the other categories, but which is nonetheless of historical interest. This includes partial references about Xu Yun in unrelated works, prefaces, short articles, letters, memoirs, and learning experiences written before the official inscriptions and memoirs, and records the general respect that Master Xu Yun received from the general public even before he was famous throughout the nation, and at different times throughout his long life. However, as there is far too much of this material (that could probably make two separate volumes on its own), not all of it was included in this edition (due to time constraints). This means that there is more Xu Yun material available to be drawn upon by future generations, should the need arise. I think that when the time is ripe, a detailed index of research articles should be compiled and added to the edition for research purposes.
Differences with Cen Xue Lu’s Early Editions
In this (2005) Mainland Chinese edition, the compilers have fully revised the ‘Biographical Records’ and moved away from Cen Xue Lu’s arrangement (because of its confusion of categories in a number of areas).
1) For instance, where Cen Xue Lu drew on all kinds of different records, letters and notes to build a narrative or support a hypothesis – all these ‘different’ texts have been extracted out of the general biographical narrative, and re-placed into the ‘correct’ category of analysis.
2) Where Cen Xue Lu often accepted statements whilst offering no clarification (due to time constraints), ample historical notes have been added that explain context convention, and where relevant – legality, etc.
3) Cen Xue Lu used the ‘dynastic’ style of dating – which is out of date and confusing to modern readers. To remedy this, the old dates are retained, but the modern (Western) date is added in brackets up to 1949 – after this date, however, China officially adopted the ‘new’ (Western) calendar, and this is reflected in the biography by only using the modern dating after 1949.
4) Between 1946 to 1959, Cen Xue Lu does not offer any historical background to the events unfolding in China. This omission creates a false impression in the mind of the average reader, and suggests that ‘nothing of importance’ happened. This error has been corrected, and all relevant historical developments have been included. This will help people understand the prevailing historical conditions within which Master Xu Yun lived at the time.
5) The 1959 version of Xu Yun’s biography had a number of dating errors, misspelt names and places, and issues surrounding historical clarity – all of these errors have been carefully identified and corrected.
Needless to say, the creation of the ‘Venerable Monk Xu Yun Complete Work’ (2005) is not the effort of a single person (like the early versions), but is rather an ongoing collaboration of countless individuals representing the various generations. This has been, and will continue to be, an ongoing project motivated by compassion and wisdom not only throughout China, but also throughout the world. This book has been motivated by loving kindness and a collective (focused) mind, and the end result is something to be admired and respected in equal measure. It is as if the entire world has been motivated by the example of Master Xu Yun to gather information, and form an authoritative edition of his life. This is why people at home and abroad should be acknowledged for all their help and support. Of particular help has been the Malaysian Dharma Master Su Wen (素闻), Mr Song Lianwang (宋连旺), of the Huadian Weiye Book Company, Mr Li Yangquan (李阳泉), Mr Ye Bing (叶兵) of the Guangzhou Guangdong Vocational and Technical College of Communications, and so on. In addition, there was Dharma Master Zong Shun (宗舜), My Ji Huachuan (纪华传), Mr Zhang Jinde (张金德), Mr Ma De(马德), and Mr Huang Gongyuan (黄公元) and so on. All these people (and more) gave a lot of help in achieving this project.
In the Autumn of last year, I visited the Wujiang Taihu University, and had the opportunity to visit the venerable old gentleman Nan Huaijin (南 怀瑾). At this time he agreed to assist in the editing of the ‘Venerable Monk Xu Yun Complete Work’, and compiled an introductory commentary to the text of over 10,000 words! Within this text, venerable old Nan explained how the early versions of Xu Yun’s biography was hampered by a lack of corroborating historical information, but that in this ‘new’ edition, most of this problem had been removed through ongoing and thorough research. As a consequence, therefore, the entire biography of Master Xu Yun had been improved dramatically for the benefit of all beings.
A very welcome and important development in recent years has been the increasing attention paid by the academic community in China, to the importance of the life of Master Xu Yun. This is true of Mr Fang Litian (方立天) of Renmin University of China, and Mr Chen Bing (陈兵) of Sichuan University, all of whom threw their academic weight behind the project and publicised the research efforts far and wide. Also important was the Shandong couple Ming Dao (明道) and Ming Xin (明信), the Beijing couple Hao Heming (郝合明) and Zhou Qiong (周琼), and Dharma Master Su Wen (素闻). These people assisted with the final publication by generously donating money to cover the many and numerous costs – for which they will earn a great karmic merit for their selfless attitudes. For all this help given to the memory of my old Master Xu Yun – I offer a sincere and deep bow of gratitude.
Just as China has modernised (since 1949), so has the practice of Chinese Buddhism. It can be truthfully stated that it was Master Xu Yun who initiated the survival of Chinese Ch’an Buddhism into the modern age, and that through his expert guidance, the Buddha-Dharma has strengthened as it has been shown to be relevant to the modern world. In this regard, many different people from varying backgrounds were most willing to assist in the project of creating a Xu Yun biographical text that is suitable for the modern-day, but which is simultaneously free of error and bias, and faithfully records the pre-modern era. Although this work is significant, it is also true to say that there has been many great difficulties in carrying it out. Working in the background has been some very old first generation disciples of Master Xu Yun who have lived into the modern age, such as Venerable Old Master Ben Huan (本焕), Venerable Old Master Fu Yuan (佛源), Venerable Old Master Sheng Yi (圣一), Venerable Old Master Yi Cheng (一诚), and Venerable Old Master Chuan Yin (传印), all of whom spiritually and materially led the entire project. As these men are highly respected within modern China, when they came forward, their spiritual power enthused the entire project with vigour and confirmed its unhindered success on all levels. As many of these great masters had assisted me with my (1990) book entitled ‘Venerable Monk Xu Yun Continued Dharma Teaching Sequel’, and were happy for me to co-ordinate their efforts for this ‘new’ project. As for myself, although my input has been slight, I have respected without end, the Dharma-power of these great masters, who concentrated their efforts upon ensuring that the Ch’an Dharma was correctly presented throughout, with an emphasis upon personal discipline as the foundation for genuine Ch’an practice. It must not be forgotten that Master Xu Yun placed a great emphasis upon upholding the Vinaya Discipline – without which he taught there could be no genuine Chinese Buddhist practice. Although temporal history is one thing, and correct Dharma interpretation quite another, these Great Masters understood that both aspects and interpretations of reality must come harmoniously together in this single volume. In this manner, all beings could be uplifted and led on the right path of understanding – which is exactly what Master Xu Yun advocated. In all other respects, these Great Masters quietly follow the Vinaya Discipline and have no interest in the world of dust.
Finally, I would like to urge future generations to learn from this edition, and where possible, work toward making it even better when the time is right. This is because despite all our best efforts, there still remain areas of Xu Yun’s biography that need improvement through future research. This is natural, as a work of this importance and magnitude invariably involves numerous individuals – each with their own particular speciality, understanding and knowledge. What must not be forgotten is that Xu Yun’s biography is not just a ‘dry’ text of historical information, but also records and transmits the genuine Ch’an Dharma to all of humanity. I call on all beings to read this completed (2005) edition, and record and report any errors that might become apparent. If we all do this, then eventually Xu Yun’s biography will become a near perfect text, like the classic books of the past, only relevant for the modern age.
©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2017.