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Master Xiu Yuan (修园) 1900-1959
(This English translation is derived from the Chinese text entitled ‘Xiu Yuan Dharma Master’ (修园法师 – Xiu Yuan Fa Shi), which appears on a web-page dedicated to the history of the Hua Ting Temple. It is the short and concise biography of a Chinese Ch’an master who trained under the great master Xu Yun (1840-1959), with both masters dying in the same year. Master Xiu Yuan’s story is important, as it shows a monk who was born during the last years of the imperial era, and who lived through the entire Republican period and into the new China of post-1949. Master Xiu Yuan adapted himself to each political era, and even managed to co-operate effectively during the early years of Mao Zedong’s regime, but his example shows that despite this positive approach, his life was destroyed by a regime that denied the relevance of spirituality in society. However, this negative observation should not obscure the great light of Dharma that master Xiu Yuan brought to the world. During his training under master Xu Yun, he benefitted from the respectful attitude of the warlord Tang Ji Yao (1883-1927), who served as the Military Governor of Yunnan province from 1913 – 1927, and who recognised the spiritual greatness of master Xu Yun. The bright light of master Xiu Yuan’s life out-shines the darkness associated with the tragedy of its end.)
Xiu Yuan (1900 – 1959 CE) was also known as ‘Zhen Xun’ (贞训). His lay-name was ‘Li Yong Fang’ (李永芳), and he was born in the Nan Hua area of Yunnan province. As his family was very poor he was sent to the local ‘Pan Long Temple’(蟠龙寺 – Pan Long Si) where his head was shaved at the age of 6 years old and he became a young novice Buddhist monk.
In 1916, at the age of 16 years old, he travelled to ‘Mount Ji Zu’ (鸡足山 – Ji Zu Shan), where he became a student of master Xu Yun (云法).
In 1918 master Xu Yun was invited by Tang Ji Yao (唐继尧) to perform the ‘Land and Water Dharma Ritual’ (水陆法会 – Shui Lu Fa Hui) in Kunming, for the release of the spirits of those killed in war. Both master Xu Yun and Xiu Yuan walked to Kunming.
In 1920, Tang Ji Yao invited master Xu Yun to become the abbot of Hua Ting Temple (华亭寺 – Hua Ting Si). Under his guidance the temple experienced a great resurgence. At this time Xiu Yuan served as the ‘Guest Master’ (知客– Zhi Ke), and held other important supervisory positions at the temple.
In the spring of 1921, master Xu Yun presided over the altar at the Hua Ting Temple as he passed-on the initiation rites for the ordination of monks (传戒法会 – Chuan Jie Fa Hui) for the first time. Master Xiu Yuan assisted master Xu Yun by guiding the ceremony.
During the 9th lunar month of 1931, the abbot of Qiong Zhu Temple (筇竹寺 – Qiong Zhi Si) – master Ping Guang (筇竹寺) - relinquished control. Throughout the mountains of the province of Yunnan, eminent members of the Buddhist community gathered to decide who should take his place. It was generally agreed that master Xiu Yuan should become the abbot of Qiong Zhu Temple. During this same year, a lay-Buddhist association was established in Yunnan, under the guidance of master Xiu Yuan – such was his good reputation in the Dharma.
In 1935 at the main altar of the Hua Ting Temple, master Xiu Yuan administered the initiation rites for the ordination of monks. He also issued certificates of respectful discipleship (尊证阿阇黎 – Zun Zheng A Du Li).
Due to internal disputes within Buddhism in 1938, master Xiu Yuan travelled to Pan County in the provinceof Guizhou, where he assumed the abbotship of Dan Xia Temple (丹霞寺 – Dan Xia Si). After China’s victory in the Sino-Japanese War, master Xiu Yuan returned to the Hua Ting Temple, where he took the post of abbot.
In 1949 the old Republican Regime carried out what was known as the ‘99 purge’ (九九整肃 – Jiu Jiu Zheng Su) in the area. However, master Xiu Yuan helped to shelter a number of progressive thinkers – such as Zhang Tian Ru (张天如) – hiding them in the temple.
On the 4th lunar month of 1953, master Xiu Yuan was appointed vice-chairman of the preparatory committee of the regional Buddhist Association. During the 5th lunar month of the same year, master Xiu Yuan, together with Hong San (弘伞) and Sun Le Zhai (孙乐斋), formed the delegation representing the Yunnan Buddhist Association at the newly formed Buddhist Association of China.
In 1955, master Xiu Yuan, as a religious personage, was elected to the People’s Congress of Yunnan Province.
During the 3rd lunar month of 1957, Buddhist representatives gathered for the second meeting of the Buddhist Association of China and elected master Xiu Yuan as Director. During the 5th lunar month of that year, it was proposed that a Buddhist Association be established in Kunming City, with master Xiu Yuan as its vice-president. However, at this time the ‘Anti-Rightist’ (反右 – Fan You) campaign was sweeping across China and master Xiu Yuan was falsely accused of being a ‘rightist’. He was denounced and suffered humiliation as a consequence.
In 1959 master Xiu Yuan was drowned in a well at the Sheng Yin Temple (胜因寺 – Sheng Yin Si). Today his name has been fully cleared and his reputation restored.
©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2012.