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Master Xu Yun: Two Examples of Difficulty with Soldiers
This English translation has been made from the Chinese text entitled ‘虚云和尚两次遇兵难’, or ‘Master Xu Yun: Two Examples of Difficulty with Soldiers’. Although it involves two examples, one in 1911, and the other in 1951, it could have included a third which saw master Xu Yun threatened by a foreign soldier during the Boxer Uprising in 1900. The nationality of this soldier is not given, but it is known that he asked Xu Yun if he was afraid to die, and when Xu Yun answered that he was not, the foreign soldier allowed him to leave unmolested. Of course, Xu Yun survived all these encounters due to the advanced development of his mind, and the powerful spirituality that he possessed. This article also summarises the master’s extensive travels both within and outside of China, and give details of the exact moment of Xu Yun’s enlightenment. These stories appear in Charles Luk’s English translation of Cen Xue Lu’s biography of Xu Yun and an alternative translation can be found in that book.
In times of trouble it is well known that master Xu Yun faced danger fearlessly, and was considered as brave as he was wise. Under difficult circumstances he remained very, very calm. In 1911, revolutionary armed forces emerged in Yunnan, led by Li Gen Yuan (李根源), advocating the discarding of the old and the establishing of the new. Li was in charge of applying this policy throughout the province of Yunnan and as he did not support the Buddhist Sangha, he made it clear that nothing would be exempt from this policy. He believed that Buddhist monks did not really follow the discipline of the Dharma and so sent troops to occupy the Xi Tan Temple (悉檀寺- Xi Tan Si) situated on Ji Zu Mountain (鸡足山– Ji Zu Shan). Li ordered that the gold and bronze statue of the Great King (大王– Da Wang) deity that protected Ji Zu Mountain be smashed and the Buddhist temple hall destroyed. He also issued a warrant for master Xu Yun’s arrest on the grounds that he must be a fraud. Master Xu Yun was unafraid of Li Gen Yuan, and with no concern for his personal safety, travelled directly to Li’s military headquarters to discuss the situation. After watching the behaviour of the master and listening to his words, Li ordered the destruction to be stopped. Not only this, but such was the power of Xu Yun’s spirituality that Li Gen Yuan converted to Buddhism and spent the rest of his life trying to make amends for his reckless actions.
After this happening there was another 40 years before master Xu Yun had to face a similar dangerous situation. As his practice was very deep he never became angry and was never scared, but was calm and assured during the three month long ‘Yun Men Incident’ (云门事变 – Yun Men Shi Bian). In the spring of 1951, The Yun Men Temple was preparing for a period of initiation for monks. Many came to the area from far around. This coincided with the government beginning an ‘anti-counter-revolutionary’ (镇反– Zhen Fan) drive that sort to eradicate any perceived threat against Mao Zedong’s government in China. The local authorities believed that the sudden influx of people into the area (from elsewhere) was a preparation for an armed uprising. For this reason the local authorities sent security forces to Yun Men Temple, believing false rumours that master Xu Yun (and other monks) were hiding weapons, ammunition and a radio-set within the temple ground. On the afternoon of the 24th day of the 2nd lunar month, over a hundred men of the security forces deployed all around the temple area. On the high ground they set-up a machine-gun aimed directly at the monastery and surrounding grounds. The security forces treated the temple (and its occupants) as if it were a foreign enemy within China, as a consequence the atmosphere was very tense. At that time over a hundred monks were eating and were not allowed to leave their seats whilst each was searched for weapons, ammunition and a radio. This search was extended to the temple grounds, but despite extensive investigation nothing was found. Anyone thought to be suspicious was called for interrogation and this questioning continued well into the night. This state of affairs continued until the 23rd day of the 5th lunar month when an investigation team from Beijing arrived in the area to assess the situation. Their presence prevented further action by the local authorities and the excesses of the ‘Yun Men Incident’ started to subside. In all, 26 monks had been arrested and removed from the temple. During the entire time the monks had to eat, sleep and go to the toilet in the meditation hall whilst being continuously observed by armed guards. The local authorities had been in error by assuming that master Xu Yun and the other monks were counter
revolutionaries. However, during their presence in the temple they detained and tortured master Xu Yun, inflicting terrible injuries that devastated his body.
The emergency had subsided at Yun Men by the 6th lunar month, but master Xu Yun was still very ill from his injuries. Nevertheless, despite the situation many requested that the master transmit the Great Vows of the Triple Altar Ordination (三坛大戒 – San Tan Da Jie). He agreed but with the condition that only a small number could be personally ordained by him due to the extremely hot weather. This may be considered a compromise in a very difficult and unusual situation.
During his lifetime, master Xu Yun travelled extensively both within Chinaand abroad visiting famous mountains and ancient temples. At the age of 27 he left Gu Mountain (鼓山 – Gu Shan) in Fuzhou, and went to Tian Tai Mountain (天台山 – Tian Tai Shan) and Pu Tou Mountain (普陀山 – Pu Tou Shan) in Zhejiang. He visited the Tian Tong Temple (天童寺 – Tian Tong Si), and the A Yu Wang (Ashoka) Temple (阿育王寺 – A Yu Wang Si). In Hangzhou he visited the San Tian Zhu Temple (三天竺寺 – San Tian Zhu Si), the Tian Ning Temple (天宁寺 – Tian Ning Si) of Changzhou, the Jin Shan Temple (金山寺– Jin Shan Si) of Zhenjiang, and the Gao Min Temple (高旻寺 – Gao Min Si) of Yangzhou. He visited all these places in his quest for authentic knowledge regarding the Ch’an method. He then decided to pay the karmic debt of gratitude that he owed his parents by going on a pilgrimage first to Pu Tou Mountain, and then to Wu Tai Mountain (五台山 – Wu Tai Shan) in Shanxi province, bowing to the ground (prostrating himself) every third step. This journey was very difficult and lasted three years.
After this, the master visited Zhong Nan Mountain (终南山 – Zhong Nan Shan) situated in Shaanxi province, and the E Mei Mountain (峨眉山 – E Mei Shan) of Sichuan province. He then travelled to Lhasa and visited the three most important monasteries in Tibet. From there he continued onward to India – the birthplace of Buddhism - and then to the other Buddhist countries of Sri Lanka, and Burma (Myanmar). After returning to Chinafrom Myanmar, the master stayed on Ji Zu Mountain in Yunnan. He also visited Guizhou,Hunan, Hubeiand many other places, including Jiu Hua Mountain (九华山 – Jiu Hua Shan) in Anhui province. Then he went to the Gao Min Temple in Yangzhou to participate in an extended Ch’an Week Retreat. During this time the master’s mind was silent and still, beyond all duality. When hot water was accidently splashed on his hand, the master dropped the tea-cup he was holding and it smashed with a loud and sharp noise – at this exact moment, master Xu Yun over-came all doubts about the mind and realised complete enlightenment.
©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2013.