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Master Miao Zhi (1888-2003)
(There are numerous examples of the mummified bodies of Indian and Chinese Buddhist masters still sat in the upright, meditation position, with legs-crossed and hands resting together, in China today. Many our thousands of years old, but a small number are contemporary – such as that of master Mi Guang and master Miao Zhi. The latter is the subject of the following English translation from the original Chinese document entitled ‘妙智法师’, or ‘Miao Zhi Dharma Master’, an encyclopaedic entry gathered from various sources. This text has had to be extensively edited to maintain a continuous (and logical) chronological representation of the master’s life. Where necessary, further research has been undertaken to verify additional information. The second half of the text is presented as an elaboration upon the details contained within the first part and there is repetition of important facts throughout. With regard to dating, a Chinese lunar year can often over-lap two Western (solar) years and this has been shown where necessary within the text. Furthermore, the numerical order of lunar months (as they appear throughout the year) do not necessarily correlate with their equivalent Western (solar) months, therefore the exact number of the lunar months in question has been retained within the English translation. Master Miao Zhi lived within three different centuries – the 19th, 20th and 21st. He passed away at the remarkable age of 116 years and was nearly as old as master Xu Yun. Master Miao Zhi’s life is important as it presents a Chinese Buddhist monk living well over a hundred years into the modern times, and demonstrates the ancient practice of enlightened masters passing away in the seated position.)
Master Miao Zhi - Introduction
Master Miao Zhi (妙智)was a native of Fuzhou, Fujian province, and was born in late 1888. In his childhood he studied medicine (and medical skills) under his father’s guidance, and through his life, as a traditional Chinese doctor, he relieved the pain and suffering of countless beings, and was a master of medicine up until his death at the age 116 years old. He achieved the physical form of a Bodhisattva and is revered throughout Fujian province (and China), for passing away within the upright, seated position – the first (known) occasion that such an occurrence has happened in that province.
Master Miao Zhi (1888-2003)– Biographical Over-view
Master Miao Zhi was born on the 28th day of the 12th lunar month of the year 1888. This was during the time of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the last imperial house to rule over the Chinese people. When a child, he studied traditional Chinese medicine under the guidance of his father. During his lifetime he relieved the suffering of countless beings, and has been praised by the community for still treating people up until four days before his death. His lay birth name was ‘Cai Song Cang’ (蔡松苍) – with ‘Cai’ (蔡) being his family name.
In 1937, master Miao Zhi had a change in perception and understood that all things in life are impermanent and continuously subject to change. Following the development of this understanding, Miao Zhi decided to ordain as a Buddhist monk at the Stone Crane Temple, situated near Fu Tong Town, Long Hai County, Fujian province. His head was shaved by the monk named master Li Chuan Qing. In the late 1930’s, master Miao Zhi travelled to the Long Quan Temple on Mount Gu – where he trained under master Xu Yun. This training involved the very important ‘mind to mind’ transmission of the full ordination precepts which served as a powerful initiation into the Ch’an Dharma.
In 1996, in Zhang Pu County, the Fujian Province Buddhist Association respectfully requested that master Miao Zhi take the position of abbot at Zi Wei, Wu Shu Yan and XingJiao Temples. In 1999, master Miao Zhi’s student, the monk Fa Guang, respectfully requested that master Miao Zhi reside at the Buddha Recitation Hall, situated in Longwen District, Zhangzhou city, Fujian province. Master Miao Zhi’s life spanned three centuries – the 19th, 20th and 21st – and in 1999/2000 he was chosen as the nation’s eldest and healthiest citizen.
The compassion and loving kindness of master Miao Zhi was dedicated to saving and transforming the world. His character was one of exemplary virtue. He used all his savings for the care of the poor, students, disaster relief, the disabled, adoption of abandoned babies, taking care of wild animals, the care of the environment (and other social welfare projects), temple building and repair, sutra printing, and other important activities involving the spread of Buddhism, for the benefit of all living beings.
In 1999/2000, the one hundred year old Taiwanese President of the Confucius and Mencius Society – Mr Chen Lifu – was very pleased to learn that master Miao Zhi was over 111 years old and still alive in the world. Such was his joy at learning this news that he composed a work of calligraphy for master Miao Zhi entitled ‘An Extra-ordinary Being Who Transcends The World’ (超世豪人), which he presented to master Miao Zhi as a gift. Master Miao Zhi was very happy to receive such a gift and in return composed a work of calligraphy entitled ‘Live A Long Life – Like That Of The Crane And The Pine Tree’ (松鹤延年), which he presented to Mr Chen. Such an exchange of cross-strait longevity best wishes is a rare occurrence and a symbol of great hope for the future!
Throughout his entire life, master Miao Zhi practiced the Medicine Buddha method. He promoted the Way (Dao) of healthy living. Three attributes must be diligently developed; the mind, the hands and the feet. Three attributes need to be tranquil; mind, vital force/energy (qi), and behaviour. There are three attributes that must be treated with indifference; worldly power, greed for money, and physical age. There are three joys that should be developed; helping others, being satisfied with one’s life, and exercising self-control. The Way (Dao) of health not only contains the essence of long life, but is an expression of the Buddha’s compassion, and is available for all to benefit from.
In 2002, between the 9th and the 17thday of the ninth lunar month, the 115 year old master Miao Zhi (and an entourage of 107 people) visited a number of famous places in China including the Mount Jiuhua, Nanjing (to see the tomb of Sun Yat-sen, and the Qi Xia Temple), the Bai Ma Temple at Luoyang, the Yong Tai Temple at Shaolin, and a number of other important and famous pilgrimage sites. Master Miao Zhi and this group travelled through six provinces including Jiangxi, Anhui, Jiangsu, Henan, Zhejiang, and Fujian, a journey that involved thousands of miles. Master Miao Zhi, despite is great age moved freely from place to place unhindered due to his diligence of foot in his daily life. The karma of this trip was very special indeed. On the 11th day of the ninth lunar month, 2002, Master Miao Zhi paid his respects to the mummified Dharma body of Master Ci Ming on Mount Jiuhua. He was very impressed. On that night, he requested the abbot - master Dichen - of Tianchi temple on Mount Jiuhua: 'When I pass away, please take care of my body in the same manner.'
Master Miao Zhi – Place of Practicing the Buddha’s Way (Dao)
The Fo Guang Ch’an Buddhist Temple, situated in Zhangzhou, southern Fujian province, has hundreds of years of history and is famous for containing the mummified remains of master Miao Zhi. In the middle of the third floor hangs the framed calligraphy written by his fellow centenarian - Mr Chen Lifu – presented to master Miao Zhi in 1999/2000 Master Miao Zhi was born in 1888, and trained under his father as a traditional Chinese doctor for 27 years – his family preserved and passed on this knowledge from generation to generation. Master Miao Zhi lived into his 116th year. He enjoyed life and was happy. During his life time he brought the relief of suffering to untold thousands of people, and was healing people up until four days before his passing.
Master Miao Zhi had a vision before he died, which he told to the teachers and students of Fo Guang. This vision involved master Miao Zhi’s tomb being opened three years after his death – such an event – the vision implied, would be most auspicious. During the first lunar month of 2006, the monks opened the tomb and were surprised to find the remains intact. The body was sitting upright and emitted a rare fragrance all around.
Master Miao Zhi left home to become a monk after 1937/38. Following his head being shaved (at the Stone Crane Temple, situated near Fu Tong Town, Long Hai County, Fujian province – under the monk named master Li Chuan Qing), he travelled to Mount Gu – where he received the full ordination precepts in a ‘mind to mind’ transmission from master Xu Yun, at the Long Quan Temple – around 1939/40. He spent around 66 years as a Buddhist monk and as a healer of people. When he was 112, he received an award (in 1999/2000) recognising his long life from the Committee on Aging, which is part of the Ministry of Civil Affairs. He was declared to be the healthiest, elderly person to be alive in China.
Entering the Fo Guang Ch’an Temple, one encounters the body of master Miao Zhi sat upright on a raised platform. The body is wearing a robe and the skin has been preserved with a golden lacquer – his eyes still seem to flicker – and this inspires a great faith in those who come to worship. The memorial itself comprises numerous colour photographs of master Miao Zhi’s life, including many of him pictured with Buddhist dignitaries from around China and abroad. Many depict him during physical and social activities. There are also awards, prizes and honorary certificates, and no shortage of legendary stories associated with master Miao Zhi.
Of particular importance for many are the details of master Miao Zhi’s biography that deal with good health and long life, including the three attributes that must be developed - of mind, the hands and the feet; the three attributes that need to be tranquil; mind, vital force/energy (qi), and behaviour. There are three attributes that must be treated with indifference; worldly power, greed for money, and physical age. Three joys should be developed; helping others, being satisfied with one’s life, and exercising self-control – all these points of self-cultivation, coupled with the practice of the Buddha’s Way (Dao) ensures a long life. It is because of these qualities that master Miao Zhi lived into his 116thyear and was disease free – such a long life is rare today – as is the fact that his body has not decayed many years after his death. In recent years, such is master Miao Zhi’s reputation in China and abroad that hundreds of thousands of people have come to the Fo Guang Ch’an Temple to pay their respects – this has greatly developed the general awareness about this temple’s existence in Zhangzhou.
Master Miao Zhi - Convertion To Buddhism and Purification of Mind and Body
The master’s family were scholarly and studied medicine from generation to generation. His lay-name was Cai Song Cang. He was born in 1888, but in his youth, whilst studying medicine with his father, he saw China torn by violent strife, and the destruction of property and people – families were ripped apart and there was great sadness and pain. Just after the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War (in 1937), Cai Song Cang fled from Fuzhou to Xiamen, and then went on to Taiwan by motor-boat. Whilst in Taiwan he practiced medicine all over the island and became renowned amongst the Taiwanese people for his ability to save lives, cure people and relieve distress. However, not long after arriving in Taiwan, the Japanese Occupying Forces (that controlled Taiwan) forced Cai Song Cang back to the mainland of China, where he went to Xiamen and continued to practice medicine. Here, he got married and had a son – but this situation did not last long. Eventually Xiamen fell to the invading Japanese imperial army – and Cai Song Cang never saw his wife and child again. He was displaced and forced to travel to several places (such as Anxi, Longhai, etc) and made a living through the practice of traditional Chinese medicine. Then he was ordained in the latter part of 1937/38. In 1949 the Chinese Civil War was over and the People's Republic of China was formed. Around this time master Miao Zhi finally settled down in Luoyun village, near Qianting town, situated in Zhangpu County. It was here that he was contacted by his nephew. He decided not to move back to Fuzhou, because he thought; 'Take things as they come.' In 8th lunar month of 1996, he was seriously sick and the government (in Zhangpu County) decided to move him to the Zi Wei Temple, situated in the Jiuzhen area of Zhangpu County, so that he could receive better medical care.
There is a Chinese saying; 'When a person survives the hardships of life at a young age, he is able to calmly face the difficulties of life when he gets old.' As master Miao Zhi experienced misfortunes and suffering when he was young, he became very strong-willed in life. He once said; 'As I have had many difficult experiences and misfortunes when I was young, (and have seen so many conflicts), I can now face anything happening in my life with a peaceful and bright mind.' From this, we can see how open-minded and understanding master Miao Zhi actually was. He was always determined to single-mindedly pursue a policy of doing good deeds for people he came into contact with during his life time. He often said; 'Asking for help from others can cause worry; but if one offers help to others as a dedication – with devotion – then helping others becomes an act of religious offering. This kind of practice will make your mind peaceful, calm and bright.’
After this time, master Miao Zhi stayed at the Zi Wei temple for some time, and continued to practice traditional Chinese medicine, treating the patients – and giving them medicine free of charge. He used the donations he collected from the government and the laypeople - to buy confined animals and set them for free; to buy plant seeds to be planted on the uncultivated hillsides, to support poor students in the continuation of their studies, and for disaster relief. The people were really moved by his compassion.
Master Miao Zhi – The Centenarian
In 1999/2000, the Taiwanese scholar (and head of the Confucius and Mencius Society), Mr Chen Lifu – himself a centenarian – composed a piece of calligraphy in honour of master Miao Zhi which read ‘An Extra-ordinary Being Who Transcends The World’ (超世豪人). In return, master Miao Zhi wrote a page of calligraphy which said ‘Live A Long Life – Like That Of The Crane And The Pine Tree’ (松鹤延年). With the exchange of this calligraphy (and best wishes) across the sea that separates the island of Taiwan from mainland China, many were optimistic about the possibility of unification between the two nations. The island of Taiwan was given to the Japanese by the last imperial Chinese dynasty, (the Qing), in the mid 1890’s – and remained a Japanese colony up until 1945. Since then it has been occupied by the remnants of the last Nationalist regime of China – which was defeated by Mao Zedong in 1949. The island nation of Taiwan still remains outside of direct political control of mainland China, despite the return of similar colonies to Chinese rule such as Macao and Hong Kong. To this end master Miao Zhi wrote a poem;‘Times of peace will last for thousands of years and China will prosper under the beneficial rule of the People’s Government. It is a sincere wish that after a hundred years of separation, China will be eventually re-united with Taiwan as it has been with Macao and Hong Kong. A united China will rise like a dragon in the sky.’
In the middle of the second lunar month, in 2001, master Miao Zhi began to suffer from a severe cold. As a consequence, he was taken to the hospital at Zhangzhou City, where he was examined by a doctor. His internal organs appeared to be functioning very well and his eyesight was very good. His blood-pressure was 172 over 92, and his rate was 62 beats per minute, and had a normal rhythm. He moved his hands and feet in a slow but otherwise co-ordinated manner, and his mind was obviously agile and clear thinking.
In the fourth lunar month of 2001, the 114year old master Miao Zhi participated in a two week tour of Hong Kong. In the ninth lunar month of 2002, the 115 year old master Miao Zhi, accompanied by his disciples, undertook a tour of important spiritual places in China including Mount Jiuhua, Nanjing (to see the tomb of Sun Yat-sen, and the Qi Xia Temple), the Bai Ma Temple at Luoyang, the Yong Tai Temple at Shaolin, and a number of other important and famous pilgrimage sites. Master Miao Zhi and this group travelled through six provinces including Jiangxi, Anhui, Jiangsu, Henan, Zhejiang, and Fujian, a journey that involved thousands of miles. On the 11th day of the ninth lunar month, 2002, Master Miao Zhi paid his respects to the mummified Dharma body of Master Ci Ming on Mount Jiuhua. He was very impressed. On that night, he requested the abbot - master Dichen - of Tianchi temple on MountJiuhua: 'When I pass away, please take care of my body in the same manner.'
Master Miao Zhi – Unexcelled Purified Dharma Body
Master Miao Zhi passed away on the 28th day of the first lunar month of 2003. Two days before this (on the 26th), master Miao Zhi had told his disciples that he had to days left to live. The disciples believed that due to his enlightened mind – he was making a joke and was not serious. The master, hearing their disbelief, reiterated that in two day’s time he would leave his body and that the appropriate arrangements should be made. As predicted, two days latter master Miao Zhi left his body whilst sat in the upright, meditation position in the Buddha Worshipping Hall. His eyes were open and he had a smile on his face.
In compliance with master Miao Zhi’s wishes – his disciples, shortly after his passing, invited the master of Mount Jiuhuato arrange the preservation of his body. The body was prepared in the cross-legged position, and treated with various materials including sandalwood and charcoal, etc. After this careful procedure the tomb was sealed correctly with the laying of bricks. In accordance with the master’s earlier vision – the tomb was opened three years later on the 28th day of the 1st lunar month of 2006. The body was completely intact and still sat upright – there was no deterioration to be observed. The face was very life-like and the eyes still glinted in the light. The master’s hair and nails had continued to grow and the area of the body was surrounded by a rare fragrance. Master Yuan Chi of the Minnan College of Buddhist Studies, Xiamen, declared master Miao Zhi’s body to be that of a genuine and fully enlightened Bodhisattva (‘肉身和尚’). At the end of 2006, the Fo Guang Buddhist Temple had master Miao Zhi’s body gilded with 8 layers of gold-leaf. After this process the body was considered better protected.
©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2012.