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Dharma Master Yi Cheng (一诚法师)
Master Yi Cheng (born. 1926), is a very important contemporary Chinese Ch’an Buddhist master. He trained and lived with the great master Xu Yun (1840-1959) on Mount Yun Ju at the Zhen Ru Temple, becoming well known for his strict and diligent Dharma practice. Master Xu Yun thought so highly of him that he transmitted to master Yi Cheng, two lineages of Ch’an Buddhism – the Lin Ji and the Wei Yang. Like many people in China, master Yi Cheng suffered bitterly during the Cultural Revolution, being forced to give-up the life of a monk and work in poor conditions building roads and ploughing the fields. In many ways this is where the story of Yi Cheng truly begins. In the late 1970’s, he led a group of monks back to the Zhen Ru Temple and ignited a rebirth of Chinese Buddhism that led to a complete and thorough reconstruction of temples, monasteries and shrines, and the full establishment of a practicing Buddhist Sangha. This is an English translation of the Chinese text entitled ‘一诚法师’ (Yi Cheng Fa Shi – Dharma Master Yi Cheng), a Chinese language encyclopaedia page found on Baidu.com. This text was provided to me by Upasika Sheng Hua, who has also provided translation advice throughout. Upasika Yukyern has read through the final draft and edited the text where necessary.
Master Yi Cheng (一诚法师) was born in 1926. His family’s surname was ‘Zhou’, and his full name was ‘Zhou Yun Sheng’ (周云生). He was born in a farm house in Ning Xiang County (宁乡县), situated in the province of Hunan. From childhood he disliked eating meat and preferred to be a vegetarian. As his family was poor, and even before he was ten years old, he was educated at home by his father, who taught him masonry and construction skills. When he was fifteen or sixteen years of age, he used to accompany relatives to the nearby Wu Shan Temple (乌山寺), to light incense to the Buddha. Much later he would take the Triple-Gem Refuge (三宝– San Bao) and seek instruction at the Zhen Ru Ch’an Temple (真如禅寺 – Zhen Ru Ch’an Si), where he would strive to follow and cultivate the correct Buddha-Dharma.
One day, in 1948, when worshipping in the main hall of the Wu Shan Temple (乌山寺 – Wu Shan Si), he looked into the hall and immediately was over-come with an incomparable and dignified respect for Buddha images. In front of the Buddha statues, the candles burned brightly and melted wax dripped down like tears. Master Yi Cheng’s heart was suddenly filled with joy and he was moved to tears. He could not help but recite aloud thoughts about the ‘Dao’ (道 – Way):
Immediately, and without the three words,
The Triple-Gem is realised…
Wu Shan Temple is vast and all-embracing,
It is illuminated by a thousand lights.
Those present were very surprised to hear this and understood that master Yi Cheng – although still young, possessed the good aspiration to follow the Buddha’s path. Amongst those people present was an elder Buddhist teacher who commented that Yi Cheng must have a karmic root-connection with the Ch’an-Dharma from a previous existence, suggesting that his ability to realise the truth must be very high indeed, and that through a diligent and continuous practice, great achievements would be expected. In the 6th lunar month of 1948, Zhou Yun Sheng (周云生) bid farewell to his parents and travelled to Chang Sha County - 长沙县 – (now called Wang Sheng County -望城县), situated in Hunan province, to Huang Jin Yuan Town (黄金园– Yellow Gold Park), and stayed in the Xi Xin Temple (洗心庵 – Xi Xin An). At the Xi Xin Temple (or ‘Clean the Mind’ Temple), Zhou Yun Sheng was ordained by master Ming Xin (明心师), into the Lin Ji lineage of Ch’an Buddhism (承临济宗派), and received the Buddhist name of ‘Yi Cheng’ (一诚– ‘One Truth’). Master Yi Cheng then studied the Buddha-Dharma (and self-cultivation) under master Ming Xin, with a particular emphasis being placed upon the experience of the application of the Diamond Sutra (金刚经 – Jin Gang Jing).
Master Yi Cheng At Zhen Ru Temple
In the summer of 1956, master Yi Cheng heard the news that master Xu Yun (虚云) - (1840-1959) was staying in the province of Jiangxi, on Mount Yun Ju (云居山), situated in Yong Xiu County (永修县). Master Yi Cheng decided to travel to Mount Yun Ju to live and practice with master Xu Yun. In the winter, master Xu Yun (despite great difficulties), transmitted the Buddhist monastic Precepts (戒– Jie) to all the monks residing on Mount Yun Ju. At that time, master Yi Cheng had travelled from Yun Ju to (temporarily) visit the Nan Hua Temple (南华寺) in Guangdong province, to receive Precept Transmission and was applying the Vinaya discipline to his daily life through its strict precepts. After returning to Mount Yun Ju, master Yi Cheng consciously tried very hard in his practice, and applied the teachings of Ch’an master Bai Zhang (百丈禅师), contemplating the saying “A day without work, A day without food.” (“一日不作，一日不食”). His diligent hard-work was very much appreciated by master Xu Yun.
The following year, master Xu Yun considered the time to be correct for a transmission of Dharma to take place. Master Xu Yun declared that the abbot of the Zhen Ru Temple - master Xing Fu (性福), would transmit the Wei Yang Ch’an Dharma (沩仰宗) to master Yi Cheng, who had fully penetrated and understood the essence of the Dharma (法缘 – Fa Yuan), and perfected his training. Master Xu Yun personally arranged a ceremony to acknowledge the correct transmission of the true Dharma-eye between master Xing Fu and master Yi Cheng, formally recognising master Yi Cheng as the 10th generation Dharma-inheritor of the Wei Yang Lineage (沩仰宗) of Ch’an Buddhism. At this time master Xu Yun granted master Yi Cheng the Dharma-name of ‘Yan Xin’ (衍心– ‘Abundant Mind’). That same year, master Xu Yun also personally set-up an altar to transmit the 'Lin Ji Dharma' (临济法) of Ch’an Buddhism - at a distance - between the Hong Kong master Kuan Ben (宽本), and master Yi Cheng, giving him the Dharma-name of 'Chang Miao' (常妙). Since that time, master Yi Cheng practiced with the utmost diligence and zeal, never stopping for a moment. This level of commitment was the same for every undertaking that he participated in, including the re-building project at the Zhen Ru Temple. Master Yi Cheng was in-charge of the planning and design, and provided detailed drawings of the intended construction projects. He took control of this process and ensured everything was carried-out correctly. This important activity was very much appreciated by both master Xu Yun and master Xing Fu.
Between 1956 to 1959, in addition to his own careful cultivation, master Yi Cheng strove to be close to master Xu Yun and listen carefully to everything he taught. Indeed, he thoroughly studied the Sutta-pitaka, and became proficient in the understanding of the Buddhist scriptures. He further enhanced his understanding of Buddhist philosophy under the guidance of master Hai Deng (海灯)– who was in charge of education at Zhen Ru. In this way the daily practice of the cultivation of the Dao (道) prospered. During this period of time, master Yi Cheng dedicated himself to hard study, so that the acquisition of correct cultural knowledge could be achieved. As a result, he was entrusted with the important task of organising master Xu Yun’s letters, poems, and manuscripts of Dharma teachings. By the fifth lunar month of 1959, master Yi Cheng had organised master Xu Yun’s work into five great collections of source texts.
Master Yi Cheng – Cultural Revolution 1966-1976
During the Cultural Revolution, master Yi Cheng was driven out of the Zhen Ru Temple and forced to undertake work on the open land as a common labourer. He had to cut bamboo and tend to cattle. He was also forced to work on the building of roads on the Mount Yun Ju highway construction site. However, despite this sudden and abrupt change of lifestyle, and the terrible hardship associated with it, master Yi Cheng did not abandon the Dharma and continued to quietly follow a vegetarian diet and secretly recite the Buddhist sutras. At the end of 1978, master Yi Cheng and master Ti Guang (体光), together with others, led a return to the spiritual centre of Mount Yunju – specifically to the old meditation hall of the (Zhen Ru) temple. They split the thatch and cut the bamboo to constructs huts to live in. The monk’s life was restored and monastic daily routines re-established. Eventually it became public knowledge that the Zhen Ru Ch’an Temple was functioning again, and supported with happiness by the ordinary people. Not long after this, master Yi Cheng was elected as a member of the monastery Temple Service Management Committee, and served as the ‘Guest Master’ (知客 – Zhi Ke). Master Yi Cheng advocated that master Xu Yun’s Stupa should be repaired so that its spiritual influence could spread far and wide. He consulted the Chinese Buddhist Association in Beijing for direction on this matter, and it’s President – Zhao Pu Chu (赵朴初) – confirmed this action.
Abbot of Zhen Ru Temple – 1985 Onwards
In the autumn of 1985, master Yi Cheng received the honour of being promoted to the post of abbot responsible for the Zhen Ru Temple. He was very much aware of the weight of responsibility, and the great example set by the abbots of the past. He understood that – “The dutiful transmission of the great Dharma of the Buddha’s mind-lamp.” (继佛续心灯，宏法是家务) – is our mission. Under the auspices of the temple management, the Ch’an teachings of the ancestors who lived in past dynasties, were seamlessly integrated into the situation of the present day. Therefore the monks not only observed the Buddha’s teaching, but also had to observe the law of secular China, or the worldly law. The management committee ensured that the monks were not too relaxed in their daily routine and the following of the monastic precepts. Instead, there was a policy of the insistence of the utmost discipline and the strictest of precept observance. A series of clear rules and regulations were drawn-up, such as the “Zhen Ru Temple Permanent Residents’ Regulations” (真如寺常住规约), and the ‘Guest Hall
Regulations” (客堂规约). Guiding principles based upon the Buddha’s teachings were made clear to everyone, so that all could follow them without error or exception. With this establishment of a serious practice, and through master Yi Cheng setting a good example, the temple soon regained the spiritual power of the Dao (道) which swept through it like a wind – and secured the good reputation previously forged through the hard work of master Xu Yun. Everyday, in the morning and evening, the monks worked on their education and the cultivation of the mind in the main hall. On the fifteenth day of every month, at the time of the new moon, the ‘Bodhisattva Vow’ (布萨诵戒 – Bu Sa Song Jie) was recited, and a great importance was continuously placed upon the practice of seated meditation (坐禅 – Zuo Ch’an) for the monks. The area of space of the meditation hall was extended by a thousand square meters – this project was completed in 1990. The seated meditation time for the monks was extended from the length of time it took four incense sticks to burn, to that of the time it took fourteen incense sticks to burn – this improved the practice and deepened the attainment. Ch’an Weeks were held every summer and every winter. These occasions for intensive Ch’an training were not only attended by monks living on the mountain, but also by monks from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia. Following the teachings of master Bai Zhang (百丈祖师), master Yi Cheng would lead the monks in farm work around the monastic grounds. In 1987, through this work, master Yi Cheng restored “The Zhen Ru Ch’an Temple Sangha Farm’ (真如禅寺僧伽农场), and established an appropriate management system to run it efficiently. He studied secular (worldly) law, and adopted the ‘contract’ system so that the monks were made aware of the serious nature of the daily running of the monastery, and the requirement for each monk to contribute to it with some sort of productive (physical) labour, as well as pursuing enlightenment through seated meditation practice. In this way, the Zhen Ru Ch’an Temple cultivated the ‘spirit of the Dao’ (道风– Dao Fung), which swept through its structures like a positive wind. This development was maintained through strict rules of the practice of agricultural Ch’an (农禅 – Nong Ch’an), and ensured that there was prosperity achieved through the industry of the monks. Since 1985, master Yi Cheng personally took control of the planning for the reconstruction of the temple, this included the repair of the Xu Yun Memorial Hall (虚云念堂), the West Ch’an Hall (西禅堂), the Abbot’s Room (方丈寮 – Fang Zhang Liao), the stupa graves of masters Xing Fu, Hai Deng, and Lang Yao (and other monks), as well as the stupa graves of ancient masters. These projects were completed successfully, each being achieved in a harmonious and balanced manner. The interior of the temple halls were renovated repairing the pavilions and installing hundreds of newly cast Buddha-statues which were inlaid with gold colouring and were incomparably grand and serene.
Master Yi Cheng Educates the Monks
Master Yi Cheng was very concerned for the educational well-being of the monks and insisted that they study in the Prajna Hall (般若堂 – Bo Re Tang) and cultivate ‘non-action’ (无为 – Wu Wei), so that the mind could be ‘cleaned’ of impurities through introspection, and the essential nature clearly perceived. This study required an in-depth appreciation of the Diamond Sutra (金刚经 – Jingang Jin) and other classical literature. He taught the monks that they should, at all times, live theirs lives contemplating that “Enlightenment (pure mind) is generated through non-attachment" (应无所住而生其心 - Ying Suo Zhu Er Sheng Qi Xin). Over-time, vigilance is necessary to prevent pollution (不污染 – Bu Wu Ron), as dust that mixes with dust in the temple, has the ability to reach the clouds. Those who wish to study Ch’an should first learn to behave correctly. Understanding the Ch’an dharma requires periods of productive labour during the weekdays. In this way Ch’an is studied not with an attachment to seated meditation, but includes the physical activities of digging the earth, fetching water and ploughing the fields.
In 1987, master Yi Cheng delivered numerous lectures on cultivation to the monks residing at the temple. Two years later, this was wisdom employed in lectures at the Zhi Lai Temple (智来寺) of Guangdong, under the auspices of the head monk Guang Xiao (光孝). In 1992, master Yi Cheng encouraged the Jiangxi Buddhist Association to come to the temple and teach a training course for the education of monks wishing to become ‘temple administrators’ (执事 – Zhi Shi) – he lectured specifically upon the subject of “Buddhist Temple Monastic Regulations” (寺院清规 – Sì Yuàn Qīng Guī). During these lectures, the young monks living in the Zhen Ru Temple were invited to attend the lectures as a means to improve their education. Master Yi Cheng kept the lamp of the Ch’an dharma burning brightly, and in 1985, 1988 and 1991, he personally presided three times over the transmission of the ‘three altar great monastic precepts’ (三坛大戒 – San Tan Da Jie) ceremony, thus ordaining untold thousands of monks. In the autumn of 1989, master Xuan Hua (宣化) was invited to become a member of the Chinese Buddhist Dharma Mission to the United States. After arriving at the ‘City of the Ten Thousand Buddhas’ (万佛圣城 – Wan Fu Sheng Cheng), in California, he transmitted the great monastic precepts, and issued certificates of monastic ordination.
Master Yi Cheng not only personally presided over the reconstruction and preservation of the Zhen Ru Ch’an Temple, but his spiritual influence also served to revitalise Buddhism in general. In 1986, master Yi Cheng held (successively) the posts of President for the Yongxiu County Teachers Association, and the Yongxiu County Buddhist Association, both situated in Jiangxi province. In 1987, master Yi Cheng also served (in Jiujiang City) as the Vice-President of the Buddhist Association. He repaired and restored the temples at Ping Xiang (萍乡), Fu Zhou (抚州), Shang Rao (上饶) and Nan Chang (南昌), as well as many other places. Even when 60 years of age, master Yi Cheng was performing many different tasks in Jiangxi province. He served as the honorary abbot for such places as the Dong Shan (洞山) Pu Li Temple (普利寺) situated in Feng County, the Bo Shan (博山) Neng Ch’an Temple (能禅寺) situated in Guang Feng County, and the Kong Dong Shan (崆峒山) Ci Ji Temple (慈济寺) situated in Yan Shan County, etc. Master Yi Cheng carefully planned the reconstruction of the ancestral birth place of the Cao Dong Ch’an lineage (曹洞宗) very carefully, seeking advice wherever possible. He drew up the reconstruction plans and personally took control of the restoration work. His masterful calligraphy work was renowned for its unique and innovative qualities and was highly respected. He also gave much consideration to the preservation and perpetuation of genuine Buddhist culture. Despite many difficulties over a 3 year period, master Yi Cheng personally compiled and edited the “Yun Ju Shan Xin Zhi”(云居山新志 – New Yun Ju Shan Records), which contains 700,000 characters. Master Yi Cheng was also very concerned with the recording of the Ch’an teaching of master Xu Yun and carried-out research to preserve it. His written research was compiled and edited by Professor Zhang Zhi Zhe (张志哲教授) of the Shanghai East China Normal University (上海华东师范大学), and was published in a book entitled ‘Xu Yun Essence of Ch’an Record’ (虚云禅学精华录- Xu Yun Chan Xue Jīng Hua Lu).
Master Yi Cheng 2002 Onwards
In the 9th lunar month of 2002, master Yi Cheng was elected the new president of the China Buddhist Association, whilst also serving as the president of the China Buddhist Institute. In the 9th lunar month of 2003, master Yi Cheng was awarded the post of abbot of the Fa Yuan Temple (法源寺) situated in Beijing, by the China Buddhist Institute. Under master Yi Cheng’s leadership, the China Buddhist Association successfully held its 7th Congress, and its 50th anniversary celebrations, and excellent cultural ties were successfully cultivated and maintained between China, Japan and South Korea. Furthermore, master Yi Cheng successfully established a World Buddhism Forum, amongst other activities. He vigorously carried forward the fine tradition of Buddhism, and strengthened Chinese Buddhism from within, encouraging the cultivation of patriotism within the monks, as well as following the correct Way (道– Dao) of Buddhism. He carried out essential good work with the overseas Chinese Buddhist communities of Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, enhancing mutual understanding, cooperation and friendship, and working to promote the reunification of the (Chinese) motherland. He thoroughly opposed any and all evil cults that claimed to teach Buddhist philosophy, but in reality taught a distorted and misleading ideology – as such movements have the potential to seriously damage Buddhism. Master Yi Cheng also paid special attention to Buddhist education, particularly since serving as President of the Chinese Buddhist Institute. He was very concerned about the building of the Buddhist Institute and its academic administration. He frequently visited the student dormitory to ensure that the monks were correctly cared for. Master Yi Cheng also personally donated 500,000 Yuan, so that the Buddhist Institute could prepare materials for a unified teaching syllabus. Through the care and support of the Master, a cross-strait Buddhist education forum was held, organized by the National Chinese Language Department of the Buddhist Institute and the National Education Conference. The forum reflected upon the current situation of Buddhist education, and what opportunities could be developed to enhance Buddhist education.
©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2012.