This English translation is drawn from two Chinese language texts that present an interesting biography of master Fo Yuan, and an important Dharma Talk delivered during a Ch’an Week Retreat held at the Yun Men Temple. The primary biographical text is entitled ‘Protecting the Body of the Sixth Patriarch & Emphasising Ch’an Meditation and Farming Together’ (曾保六祖真身，力推农禅并举), and the Dharma Talk is drawn from the text entitled ‘The Great Question of Life & Death – Dharma Talk Given by Ch’an Master Fo Yuan’ (生死事大--佛源禅师打七开示之一). The current abbot of the Yun Men Temple – the venerable Ming Xiang (明向) has provided me with the official permission required to translate this text into English. Upasika Sheng Hua, via her Dharma-brother (a monk at the Yun Men Temple), kindly sought permission on my behalf.
Ch’an master Fo Yuan (佛源禅师) was a native of Taojiang county, Hunan province. His family name was ‘Mo’ (莫) and he was born on the 27th day of the second lunar month of the year 1922. His father’s name was Fang You (芳有), and his mother’s name was Jia Ru Ren (贾孺人). As a young person he was well known for his intelligence. When he reached 18 years of age, he went to stay at the Yi Yang Institute (益阳会 – Yi Yang Hui) of the Qi Jia Temple (棲霞寺 – Qi Jia Si), situated on Mount Long (龍山 – Long Shan). Here, the most venerable Zhu Hui (智晖上人 – Zhu Hui Shang Ren) shaved his head. He was given the Dharma names of ‘Mind Pure’ (心淨 – Xin Jing) and ‘True Emptiness’ (真空– Zhen Kong). In just seven days he could recite the ‘Surangama Mantra’ (椤严咒- Leng Yan Zhou) in its entirety, and could understand all the disciplinary regulations of the temple. The following year he went to the Nan Yue Zhu Sheng Temple (南岳祝圣寺 – Nan Yue Zhu Sheng Si) situated in Hunan province, to receive further Buddhist education. During this time he received instruction from masters Kong Ye (空也), Ming Zhen (明真), and Ling Tao (灵涛).
In the spring of 1946, master Fo Yuan was staying at the Fu Yan Temple (福严寺 - Fu Yan Si) where he received the full ordination vows from vinaya master Zhen Qing (镇清律师 – Zhen Qing Lu Shi). For some time master Tai Xu (太虚) and others had been campaigning for a national Buddhist Association of China. As a result various education programmes for Buddhist monks had been created to train suitable candidates in modern administrative and organisational skills. Master Fo Yuan, as a representative of the Yi Yang tradition, was chosen too attend such a programme. After successfully graduating from the Zhenjiang Buddhist Institute (镇江佛学院 – Zhen Jiang Fo Xue Yuan), situated on Jiao Mountain (焦山– Jiao Shan), and the Study Buddhism Association (观宗学社 – Guan Zong Xue She), situated in Ningbo, Master Fo Yuan found that the social and political situation in China had become very dangerous and unpredictable due to civil unrest amongst the student population.
Therefore master Fo Yuan (and three others) avoided this trouble by travelling to Putou Mountain (普陀山– Pu Tou Shan - also in Zhejiang province). Their journey was assisted by other monks whom they met along the way, with one particular monk managing to raise the fares for everyone to travel by boat to the Chao Yin Dong (潮音洞) area of Putou Mountain. When they made land all looked for auspicious signs such as the Black Bamboo Forest (紫竹林– Zi Zhu Lin), or perhaps the Dharma Protector Bodhisattva Wei Tuo (护法韦驮 – Hu Fa Wei Tuo), but only master Fo Yuan perceived the presence of the Bodhisattva Guan Yin (白衣大士 – Bai Yi Da Shi) who was sat meditating in a cave. Not long after this, master Fo Yuan was at the Yi Yang White Deer Temple (益阳白鹿寺 - Yi Yang Bai Lu Si) situated in Hunan. The abbot – the old master Hong Chang (畅老人数 – Hong Chang Lao Ren) – who was over a hundred years old at the time, asked if master Fo Yuan would succeed him and lead the temple. However, master Fo Yuan politely declined, and modestly stated that he wished to dedicate his time to the Yi Yang Buddhist Institute tradition of providing good education for the monks. He then lectured on the ‘Amitabha Sutra’ (弥陀经 - Mi Tuo Jing).
During the first lunar month of 1951, the situation in China had deteriorated and it was getting very difficult to practice the Dharma. The master decided to travel to study under the old master Xu Yun (虚云老师 – Xu Yun Lao Shi) who was staying at the Yun Men Temple (云门寺) in Guangdong province. Whilst at the Yun Men Temple, Fo Yuan occupied the post of Guest Master (知客– Zhi Ke). One day, the local authorities sent armed police to surround the temple because of a false rumour that there was a pistol and radio hidden within the grounds. They searched but could find no such evidence. Master Xu Yun was arrested and brutally beaten. Along with many others, master Fo Yuan and the Supervisor of the temple – the monk Ming Kong (明空) – were both arrested and detained. During the fifth lunar month the government in Beijing was made aware of what was happening at the Yun Men Temple and immediately despatched officials to investigate and bring an end to the trouble. When they arrived they instructed the armed police to withdraw and calm was eventually restored in the area. On the 19th day of the sixth lunar month, and despite the recent troubles he had suffered, master Xu Yun performed the ritual of transmission of the monastic precepts, although only to a limited number of monks. At this time master Xu Yun bestowed upon the master the Dharma-names of ‘Fo Yuan’ (佛源) and ‘Miao Xin’ (妙心), and transmitted the Yun Men Dharma Lineage (云门宗法 – Yun Men Zong Fa) of Ch’an Buddhism to him. This made master Fo Yuan the thirteenth generation inheritor of the Yun Men Ch’an Dharma.
On the 19th day of the second lunar month of 1952, master Fo Yuan was approaching his 30th birthday. He was in the main hall of the Yun Men temple, devoutly lighting incense and candles. He bowed to the ground reiterating his vows and declaring further oaths of commitment to the Buddha, and then burnt-off his left ring-finger as an act of worship. A few days later, master Fo Yuan volunteered to go with master Xu Yun (and other disciples) to Beijing. By this time the Vice-President of the Central People’s Government – Li Ji Shen (李济深) – had heard of the trouble in Yun Men and informed Premier Zhou (周总理 – Zhou Zong Li) of the situation. Premier Zhou contacted the local Guangdong authorities and informed them that master Xu Yun was to be protected and that he was sending an escort to take him to Beijing.
According to the lay-Buddhist Ping Xue Cheng (冯学成), it was Li Ji Shen and Chen Ming Shu who were behind the invitation for master Xu Yun to go to Beijing. During this long and arduous journey master Fo Yuan was the personal attendant to master Xu Yun, taking care of all his daily needs. These duties included carrying his personal belongings, fetching food and water, and taking care of his medical needs whilst travelling through the many temples situated in Nanjing, Suzhou, Shanghai, and Hangzhou, etc. When master Xu Yun left the Yun Men Temple, there were over 200 monks resident there. They were all very sad to see him leave. As the temple required an abbot to guide and lead its daily routines, master Xu Yun eventually gave the monks permission to select (by vote) a new community leader. As there was a definite sense of crisis in the country, the monks chose master Fo Yuan to be their abbot. When master Fo Yuan received this news he returned immediately. On the 3rd day of the sixth lunar month of 1953, with master Fo Yuan being just 31 years of age, he was promoted to the rank of abbot of Yun Men Temple. In his teaching he advocated that equal emphasis be placed upon Ch’an meditation and agricultural work. This ensured that mundane tasks, such as sweeping the floor, and sprinkling water, became methods of self-cultivation.
According to the biography of Dharma master Chuan Yin (传印法师), the abbot of Dong Lin Temple (东林寺 – Dong Lin Si), situated on Lu Mountain (庐山 - Lu Shan) in Jiangxi province; in 1955 he travelled from Yun Ju Mountain (云居山 – Yun Ju Shan) in Jiangxi province, to the Nan Hua Temple (南华寺– Nan Hua Si) situated in Guangdong province. Here, he witnessed master Fo Yuan driving a tractor in the fields. Master Fo Yuan considered it an abbot’s responsibility to set an example whilst advocating the equal application of Ch’an and agricultural work. He personally led the temple monks of Yunnan in planting 200 fruit trees, and 200 gingko trees, as well as large areas of bamboo. He cultivated many acres of Yunnan farmland.
This is how master Fo Yuan taught the Dharma to his disciples. The great monk known as Ming Ch’an (明禅大和尚 – Ming Ch’an Da He Shang), who was simultaneously the abbot of the Gan Ming Temple (乾明寺 – Gan Ming Si) situated on De Mountain (德山 – De Shan), and the Ling Quan Ch’an Temple (灵泉禅院– Ling Quan Ch’an Yuan) situated on Jia Mountain (夹山 – Jia Shan), was introduced to the Yunmen method of agricultural Ch’an cultivation. He noticed that master Fo Yuan never let his own personal work load diminish and always led by example. Indeed, so strong was this practice that even guests to the temple had to participate regardless of rank, age, or stature. Whether an abbot, a senior monk, or a young monk - all had to participate in hard physical labour as well as practice meditation.
During the fourth lunar month of 1958 master Fo Yuan was arrested and falsely charged with being a ‘rightist’. He was sent to the Nan Hua Temple (南华寺) for rehabilitation through hard labour. He was released during the eighth lunar month of 1961, and eventually declared innocent of all charges in 1979. He then taught the Dharma as a representative of the Buddhist Association of China, and was responsible for foreign relations, and China’s cultural relics, amongst other duties.
During the years of the ‘Cultural Revolution’ (1966-1976) tragedy befell China. The Sixth Patriarch of Ch’an Buddhism – the great master Hui Neng (慧能大师 – Hui Neng Da Shi) – once said: “The wind and flag do not move – it is only the mind that moves.” The Red Guards took Hui Neng’s body and ran it through the streets of Shaoguan (韶关) in a wheelbarrow shouting all kinds of false obscenities at it. After this, they decided to smash and burn the body. Many set about smashing the chest cavity open and ripping-out the internal organs which were thrown around the Da Fo Temple (大佛殿– Da Fo Dian). Parts of the sixth Patriarch’s rib and spinal bones were fed to the dogs and pigs. Master Fo Yuan secretly gathered the bits of the body of the Sixth Patriarch and carefully placed them in a ceramic box. He then buried the box and hid it safely amongst the trees and hills of Kowloon (九龙 – Jiu Long). Prior to this, master Fo Yuan had sent a message to master Sheng Yi (圣一法师– Sheng Yi Fa Shi), of Hong Kong (香港 – Xiang Gang), asking him to bring a camera and record the event.
In 1980, master Fo Yuan went to see the President – Zhao Pu Chu (赵朴初) - of the Buddhist Association of China, and explained exactly what had happened to the true body of the Sixth Patriarch. When Zhao Pu Chu heard the story he was shocked! He immediately wrote to the Governor of Guangdong province – Xi Zhong Zun (习仲勋) – who in turn despatched an investigation team to Nan Hua Temple. With the intervention of the local authorities, master Fo Yuan was publically able to retrieve the physical remains of the Sixth Patriarch and rebuild the body. The bones were individually dried near a charcoal fire, mixed with sandalwood incense dust and carefully stuck back together. The Sixth Patriarch’s inner organs had turned to dust whilst buried. However, master Fo Yuan dried these remains so that they formed a fine powder. This powder was then mixed with sandalwood incense dust and reshaped them, before placing them back inside the body cavity.
The venerable old monk Fo Yuan continued to propagate the Dharma to his students and wrote a book about Ch’an Buddhism entitled ‘Yun Men Ancestral History Discussion’ (云门宗史话– Yun Men Zong Shi Hua). According to the lay Buddhist Feng Xue Cheng (冯学成居士– Feng Xue Cheng Ju Shi) this book explains the early history and development of Ch’an Buddhism, after the passing away of the Sixth Patriarch. The Dharma–heirs to the Sixth Patriarch developed the Ch’an tradition into two distinct lineages. One lineage was located in Hunan province, under master Nan Yue Huai Rang (南岳怀让), whilst the other lineage was situated in Jiangxi province, under master Qing Yuan Xing Si (青原行思). During the Tang Dynasty and Five Dynasties time period, the Nan Yue School divided into the two lineages known as Wei Yang (沩仰) and Lin Ji (临济), whilst the Qing Yuan School developed into the three lineages of Cao Dong (曹洞), Yun Men (云门),and Fa Yan (法眼). These developments are collectively known as the ‘Ch’an Ancestral Five Houses’ (禅宗五家– Ch’an Zong Wu Jia), and refers to the well known saying that Ch’an is ‘A single flower with five petals.' (一花五叶- Yi Hua Wu Ye). The Qing Yuan Mountain tradition was passed down through Dao Wu (道悟), Chong Xin (崇信), Xuan Jian (宣鉴), Yi Cun (义存), all the way to the great master Wen Yan (文偃大师 – Wen Yan Da Shi - 864-949). Master Wen Yan inherited the Dharma from master Xue Feng Yi Cun (雪峰义存), and afterward went to Yun Men Mountain (云门山 – Yun Men Shan), in Guangdong province to repair the Guang Tai Ch’an Temple (光泰禅院– Guang Tai Ch’an Yuan). It was here that he founded the Yun Men Ch’an Buddhist tradition and is considered the first ancestor (初祖 – Chu Zu) of the school. The Yun Men tradition is unique and emphasises the use of the ‘Yun Men Three Sentences’ (云门三句 – Yun Men San Ju) which are:
1) ‘(Mind) contains (and is obscured) by all things.’
2) ‘(Permanently) cut-off all streams (of thought).’
3) ‘Let go of (habitual) waves: dispel ignorance.’
When the deep meaning of these three sentences is understood, the doorway to enlightenment is entered.
The old monk Fo Yuan is a rare example of a contemporary enlightened Buddhist monk. It was often the case that when people approached him requesting a ‘Hua Tou’ (话头) for practice, he used to wipe his mouth and say: “Where am I? - this is the Hua Tou!” On occasion master Fo Yuan would attempt to cut-off the flow of deluded thoughts of the unenlightened who respectfully came and knelt at his feet by striking them with a stick to the head. Many did not move out of the way, or deflect the stick with their hand. Despite receiving beatings that led to bleeding injuries, enlightenment was not realised. Many write thousands of words commenting on the ‘Altar Sutra’ (坛经 – Tan Jing) of the Sixth Patriarch – Hui Neng, but when reviewing the Altar Sutra master Fo Yuan wrote: ‘The Altar Sutra contains hundreds of thousands of characters created from a river of ink. However, when the mind is realised, no ‘I’ is present. The wind gently blows on a clear, moonlit night, and songs praising it are sung.’
In 1990, master Fo Yuan is also appointed to the post of abbot at the Yi Yang White Deer Temple (益阳白鹿寺- Yi Yang Bai Lu Si).
In 1991, master Fo Yuan became the abbot of the Nan Yue Zhu Sheng Temple, and served as the Deputy Chairman of the Buddhist Association of China. Previous to this, however, the monk Wei Yin (惟因和尚 – Wei Yin He Shang) had entered nirvana in 1990, leaving the Nan Hua Temple without a leader. Eventually it was decided near the end of 1991 that master Fo Yuan should take the role of leader, and during the third lunar month of 1992 he was officially installed as abbot.
In 2007, a reporter went to Yun Men Temple in search of master Fo Yuan. He was guided to an area next to the rice fields where he found master Fo Yuan sat in a wheelchair watching the monks harvest the rice. Standing in front of the thresher, and dropping the rice into the machine, was a young monk wearing glasses – such was his exertion that his robes were covered in perspiration. The lay Buddhist Feng Xue Cheng (冯学成) told the reporter that this monk - working so hard threshing the rice - is in fact the current abbot of the Yun Men Temple, the venerable Ming Xiang (明向大和尚– Ming Xiang Da He Shang).
On the 23rd day of the second lunar month of 2009, at 8:46pm, the Ch’an tradition saying of ‘A single flower with five petals’, is fulfilled as master Fo Yuan – the 13th generation inheritor of the Yun Men Ch’an Dharma passes away at the age of 87 years old. On the 1st day of the third lunar month of 2009, his body is placed into a pagoda.
When he was alive, it was his duty to take care of the Yun Men vegetables, trees, fruit, flowers and rice in all kinds of weather. Today it is known that master Fo Yuan has entered Nirvana never to return, and all is naturally silent.
Master Fo Yuan’s Dharma Words The Life and Death Purpose of the Ch’an Week.
Striking with the ‘fragrant board’, or ‘discipline stick’ (香板 – xiang ban) is a tradition handed down by the Patriarchs, and is referred to as ‘hit alert encourage’ (打警策 – Da Jing Ce). Its purpose is to inspire the utmost effort during Ch’an meditation, and assist you in the realisation of enlightenment. You may be struck twice – are you enlightened yet? Do not lose your head!
The Gao Min Temple (高旻寺– Gao Min Si), situated in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province, is a very old, famous and powerful centre for Ch’an study. There was a monk in the temple named Tian Hui Che Zu (天慧徹祖) who held the seat of honour. He was known to be diligent in his studies and very intelligent. The emperor Yong Zheng (雍正) visited the temple and seeing that Tian Hui Che Zu was of a very high spiritual level invited him to Beijing. However, when the emperor questioned him, he found that Tian Hui Che Zu could not answer correctly. After this the emperor had Tian Hui Che Zu locked-up, but arranged for servants to deliver him plain steamed buns everyday to eat. The servants used the emperor’s own treasured long-sword and struck Tian Hui Che Zu twice with the flat side asking: “Are you enlightened yet? If you do not gain enlightenment your head will be chopped-off!” Everyday Tian Hui Che Zu was questioned in this manner, and it was apparent that the threat to cut-off his head would be carried-out if he failed in his task of seeking enlightenment. The pressure to achieve enlightenment was intense. Tian Hui Che Zu was warned that if seven days passed and there was no progress, then death would be the inevitable result. As he was routinely hit with the sword, he would sweat profusely and re-double his efforts. On the seventh day Tian Hui Che Zu was enlightened!
The Ch’an Week Retreat is seven days long. This is to say that a definite time limit is set for the realisation of enlightenment. The emperor was effectively limited to just seven days of lonely meditative effort – and on the seventh day enlightenment was realised. The ‘discipline stick’ represents the emperor’s sword. Everyday it is used to strike the practitioner and enquire as to what progress has been made? Many people come to train in a Ch’an Week, but what power sustains them? For every single participant that sits in meditation there are numerous people assisting behind the scenes. They cut vegetables, prepare noodles and cook the buns that are eaten. They work very hard for the benefit of those who meditate. Those who meditate and eat the buns owe a great debt to these sustainers who serve them, and are obliged to pay that debt with an intense effort during meditation that ends in enlightenment.
In the past there was an old devout practitioner who went up into the hills to intensify his practice of the Dharma. A number of his disciples sent several pieces of clothing for the master to wear, and as they wished to assist him with travel expenses along the way, they secretly sowed four silver ingots (元宝 – Yuan Bao) into the four corners of a hem. When the master was meditating in the night, he saw in his mind that he had travelled to a disciple’s house and entered the body of an unborn foal. However, as the master knew the true Dao (道) of the Dharma he did not deviate from its purity, and therefore avoided rebirth as a horse. The following day the master asked the disciple if anything had happened. The disciple replied that a foal had been born, but had died. The master then recited this verse: ‘Four silver ingots, and four hooves, a patch-work robe and a piece of leather. None of these things are stronger than a monk’s pure Samadhi. So powerful is Samadhi that it prevents rebirth as a horse.’ It was this monk’s good fortune that he had cultivated a pure mind and did not entertain impure thoughts that would have caused rebirth as a horse!
In 1953, the venerable old monk Lai Guo (来果老和尚 – Lai Guo Lao He Shang) passed away at the Gao Min Temple. It was reported by a lay Buddhist disciple in Guangzhou that master Lai Guo had been reborn as a son to a local family. Whether this happened or not I can not tell for sure, as such things are difficult to confirm. However, out of compassion, it is true that Bodhisattvas routinely return to the world. Can a fully enlightened master return to the world but remain unaware that he has lived before? This is unlikely. When Bodhisattva’s of low spiritual attainment are reborn, they can not recall their past lives. They can recall the events of their youth, or what happened yesterday, or the day before that, but their past lives remain a mystery. Were they a cow, a dog, or a horse? When they are reborn they have no knowledge of their past lives. If master Lai Guo has been reborn, as he is an enlightened being he will have the ability to recall his past lives.
The patriarch Huang Mei (黄梅祖师– Huang Mei Zu Shi) could recall his past lives. In a previous life he wanted to be a monk, but the master said that he was too old and did not want him. He then entered a girl’s belly, but this girl was not married. Her belly enlarged and her parents were furious! They believed that she had brought ruin upon the house by getting pregnant out of wedlock. She was taken to the main gate and expelled from the family house. The girl was very angry when the child was born and tried to drown him in a river. However, when he entered the water, he would not sink, and instead of going downstream, he moved upstream against the current. Seeing this, the girl had no choice but to retrieve the child and take him home. Later he ran away to join the master mentioned in his previous life, but when he got there, the master said that he was too young! He said: “In my last life you said that I was too old!” We can tell from this that Huang Mei fully recalled his previous lives.
Huang Mei had a predestined karmic relationship. Rebirth has three distinct aspects to it; the past life, the present life, and the future life. This means that all past lives are fully and clearly remembered, and that all the conditions and circumstance of the present life are understood through the karmic roots generated in the past. The past lives, when combined with the present life, lay the karmic foundations for future existences. Karmic connections tend to re-appear in each incarnation, with people we once knew being reborn near us and sharing in our lives. Enlightened beings can arrange to meet friends in future lives, and in so doing, when they are reborn they recall completely their past existences. These enlightened beings do not forget when they transmigrate through existence, but ordinary beings, when they die and are reborn, they do not remember any details of past existences.
The great master Kui Ji (窥基大师– Kui Ji Da Shi) lived in the time just after the parinirvana of Kasyapa Buddha (迦叶佛 - Jia Ye Fu), and before the birth of Sakyamuni (释迦佛 – Shi Jia Fu). This predicament is known as being one of the ‘Eight Difficulties’ (八难– Ba Nan) which are karmically created hindrances that prevent a person from experiencing the Buddha and his teachings. He practiced the isolated path of the Pratyekabuddha (僻支佛 – Pi Zhi Fu) and so master Kui Ji decided to sit and meditate in a cave and await the coming of Sakyamuni. When the great master Xuan Zang (玄奘大师 – Xuan Zang Da Shi) journeyed to India to gather the Mahayana Tripitaka to bring back to China, he travelled through the ‘Cong Mountain Range’ (葱岭 – Cong Ling). Whilst there he saw that one of the mountains was emitting a bright light. As he possessed knowledge of the Dao, he knew that there was some thing important that needed digging-up. After digging for some time he came across a person sat in meditation, and his hair, beard, and nails were very long. After striking the ‘qing’ (磬) stone once, the person left the state of deep meditation and woke-up. Xuan Zang asked: “Who are you, and why are you sat in here? The person answered: “I did not see Kasyapa Buddha when he was alive, so now I am waiting for Sakyamuni Buddha to incarnate.” Xuan Zang exclaimed: “Oh! Sakyamuni Buddha lived over a thousand years ago and has already entered parinirvana!” The person then replied: “In that case I shall re-enter deep meditation and await the birth of Maitreya Buddha (弥勒佛 – Mi Le Fu)!” Xuan Zang said: “What is the point of this empty sitting? When the Buddha was born you did not know, so even when Maitreya Buddha arrives, who is going to tell you? It is better to go to China where the Great Tang (大唐 – Da Tang) Dynasty has facilitated the flourishing of Buddhism throughout the country, as the emperor understands clearly. The imperial palace is covered in yellow tiles – just look for the yellow tiles and you will find the palace. Go now and be reborn there!” During that time there was a high official known as Wei Chi Gong (尉迟恭), so powerful was he that his house resembled the imperial palace and was also covered in yellow tiles. It was here that the person Xuan Zang encountered in the mountains was reborn and became known as ‘Kui Ji’.
When Xuan Zang eventually returned to China from India, the great master Kui Ji was already around 18 years old. As a young child he was very happy and intelligent in his Confucian studies, but when he saw a Buddhist monk, he was unhappy as this monk practiced the Pratyekabuddha path, and he remembered that it was this incomplete teaching that had led him to becoming lost within the realms of rebirth. Dharma master Xuan Zang wanted Kui Ji to ordain as a Buddhist monk, but although Kui Ji could read and remember perfectly the Buddhist sutras he refused to be ordained. Nothing Xuan Zang did or said would convince Kui Ji to change his mind. Even when it looked as if Kui Ji was deceiving and disobeying the local lord, he still preferred execution by beheading rather than becoming a monk. However, he was advised that he would be pardoned if he became a monk. If he became a monk, people said that he could have any thing that satisfied him. He said: “I want one cart full of beautiful women; one cart full of alcohol and meat, and one cart full of Buddhist sutras.” It was agreed that this was not a problem and that he could have all these things. After this Kui Ji ordained as a Buddhist monk and the three carts followed him everywhere that he went – this is why he is also known as the ‘three cart monk’. Xuan Zang brought back many sutras from India and the great master Kui Ji assisted him in translating most of them. This collaborative effort laid the foundations for the development of the ‘Mind Only’ (唯识 – Wei Zhi) School in China which became very well known.
From these examples it is clear that rebirth is a major issue. Many lead a very devout and pious existence, generation after generation (and life after life), perfecting ascetic practices, and earning the positive karmic rewards such endeavours create. This includes a comfortable existence with wealth, good fortune, three wives and four concubines. On the other hand, others are very clever but choose to continuously criticise and slander the Dharma, whilst others have the conviction that the mere acceptance of the Dharma will bring good fortune. Every one has a different strength to their will-power and each person’s thoughts differ considerably.
When the air (气– Qi) is good it is advisable to light incense, sit in meditation and cultivate peace and tranquillity. If you can not cultivate tranquillity it is best not to sit. When the old master (Xu Yun) was alive the meditation hall was small and only a few dozen people could sit in there. Now there has been much rebuilding and enlargement and the meditation hall can hold hundreds of people. In the past the patriarchs ran the meditation halls in the Ch’an temples situated on Wei Mountain (沩山 – Wei Shan), and Xue Feng Mountain (雪峰山 – Xue Feng Shan). Generally speaking these places could hold around a few hundred to a thousand practitioners at one time. It was a similar situation with the regards to the Yun Men Temple during the time of the founding patriarchs, where six or seven hundred monks could be accommodated. In the past, conditions appeared to be good because people had few desires, all that was needed to practice was an old patchwork robe and a pair of straw sandals. In the day time they worked and at night their backs did not touch the ground in sleep. As there is so much desire today, how can conditions be as good (or as pure) as those in the past?
Many patriarchs and ancestors were well educated and had a firm cultural appreciation of Chinese culture before they chose to live a life as a monk. This was the case with Ch’an master Tian Ran (天然禅师 – Tian Ran Ch’an Shi) of Dan Xia Mountain (丹霞山 – Dan Xia Shan). When he lived at home he received a very good education with the study of the Four Books and Five Classics of the Confucian School. He even passed the civil service exam in the national capital and served as an official. When young he read the works of Ch’an master Yong Jia (永嘉禅师– Yong Jia Ch’an Shi), and was familiar with the sutras of the Tripitaka. He wrote a book and established a theory. Confucian philosophy, as espoused within the Confucian book entitled ‘Doctrine of the Mean’ (中庸 – Zhong Yong) can be viewed as being very similar to Buddhist thinking. When Buddhist philosophy is understood, then Confucian thinking becomes clear. However, if an individual does not have an extensive education, then they must rely upon the cultivation of good karmic roots, meditation, and fortuitous opportunities. Through these experiences it is possible for a practitioner to fully comprehend the Dharma, as well as be able to effectively explain these important principles of enlightenment to others. Whatever the educational background, the example set by the patriarchs and ancestors must be followed. Therefore it is important to meditate and seek out wise advisors and spend time committed to learning the Dharma from them. Understanding the importance and implications of karmic opportunity is very important.
In the old days, the provinces of Jiangxi and Hunan were covered in jungle. The founding patriarch valued good instruction and studied every where that he could find good knowledge and guidance. Today, in this era, it is a fact that many people just play at following the Dao and do not take education seriously or look for good opportunities to learn. People run outside to play like young children. How many actually follow the Dao correctly, with dedication? It is important to understand that life and death is a very great and important question that must be answered through strict discipline and commitment to the Dharma. Monks who study in the Buddhist colleges often only know how to read and quote sutras, but they have not yet developed meditative insight and can not understand the true essence of the Dharma. What is the point of this shallow study? I do not know.
I am old now and my strength is not what it once was, and yet I enter the meditation hall with you and my strength is sufficient to the task. For many nowadays it seems that Ch’an Week Retreats are treated lightly and are used simply to pass the time. What is the point of all this talking? Are you truly benefitting from it in any essential way? In the past the patriarchs and ancestors were very strict and diligent in their Ch’an practice and did not rely on words to make progress in their self-cultivation. The patriarch of the Wei Mountain Temple did not depend on words to teach the Dharma. When students came and enquired about the Dharma he would respond with silence and push them out of the door. He was not like me who has gone on and on, continuously speaking about life and death. In reality no one outside of yourself can realise enlightenment and solve the question about life and death for you. You must find the strength within yourselves to realise enlightenment.
Karma is created in three ways; through ideas in the mind, through words, and through actions. As all is karma, all is delusion; this is why talking is strictly prohibited in the meditation hall, as is the wearing of written signs around the neck. Sleeping is not allowed as the mind can produce all kinds of unending, deluded thoughts. The mind must be focused through the continuous use of the Hua Tou (话头) method, which must be maintained throughout the day, whether walking, or eating, etc. The Hua Tou must not be dropped from the mind at any time or the training will be wasted. In this way sitting is good; walking is good, sleeping is good, and eating the bun is good. Hold the Hua Tou with diligence and conviction, and practice, practice, practice, and practice without a break! You must do this until complete enlightenment is realised. Reciting the Buddha’s name is also effective. It must be repeated continuously without a break and kept clear and bright in the mind. Whatever the method used, the mind must be trained through intense effort. Make more effort in your self-cultivation and do not give-up, only then will the question of life and death be resolved. Remember that every thing changes – even this temple will change, but in the meantime, cherish its developmental structure and make good use of it. Use the outer environment to look within and perfect the inner environment.
'Licchavi Vimalakirti came to the foot of that tree and said to me, ’Reverend Sariputra, this is not the way to absorb yourself in contemplation. You should absorb yourself in contemplation so that neither body nor mind appear anywhere in the triple world. You should absorb yourself in contemplation in such a way that you can manifest all ordinary behavior without forsaking cessation. You should absorb yourself in contemplation in such a way that you can manifest the nature of an ordinary person without abandoning your cultivated spiritual nature.' Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra