Master Ju Zan’s (巨赞法师) 1908-1984 Biography Of
The Foreign Monk Zhao Kong (照空) - (1879-1943)
Master Ju Zan
Abbot Zhao Kong 1942
Translator’s Note: This English translation has been rendered from the original Chinese text entitled ‘洋和尚照空' (Yang He Shang Zhao Kong), or ‘The Foreign Monk Zhao Kong’. This is comprised of the memories of the great Chinese Buddhist master Ju Zan. Master Ju Zan was an ordination brother of Zhao Kong and presents very interesting Chinese sources about his time in China.
Trebitsch Lincoln (birth name Ignacz Trebitsch) occupies a unique position in history, as he receives criticism from both Jewish intellectuals (particularly from Bernard Wasserstein highly negative biography), and from anti-Semites who would have the world believe that Lincoln was a German spy in WWI, a Nazi spy in WWII, and a Japanese spy whilst living in China. He was born to a Jewish family in Hungary, and learnt to speak German as a second language when young. He travelled to Great Britain in his youth where he converted to Christianity and was for a time a Christian missionary in Montreal.
After returning to the UK in 1903, Lincoln, via his Christian contacts, was eventually able to be elected as a Member of Parliament for the British government, representing the Liberal Party, in January 1910. Due to a lack of personal wealth, however, this career was short lived. He then became involved in the oil industry, and whilst visiting the USA in 1916 was arrested for committing ‘fraud’ on behalf of the British authorities. He was actually suspected of ‘spying’ for Germany during the First World War, but the charge could not be proven. He served 3 years in Parkhurst Prison and was released in 1919. He was deported from the UK and began a life of extensive travel. He first visited China in the 1922 and worked, over-time, as an advisor to 3 different warlords.
In 1925, he left China for Sri Lanka where he lived in a meditation cell and studied the Pali Buddhist sutras, eating only one small meal a day. His Buddhist study in Sri Lanka was even commented on by the Times newspaper who ran an article about his activities. In early 1926, his son, John‘Ignatius’ Lincoln – a serving British soldier – was sentenced to death for his part in a burglary that involved the death of a civilian. John Lincoln was executed by hanging on March the 2nd, 1926. This single tragedy was the impetus behind Trebitsch Lincoln deciding to ordain as a Buddhist monk in China in 1931, and is believed to be the first Westerner to do so. As a Buddhist monk, ‘Zhao Kong’ continued to travel, but always returned to China, as China had become his home. He campaigned against the Japanese occupation of China during WWII, a conflict that saw his brother – Sandor – perish in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. In 1943, the Japanese occupation forces of Shanghai were persuaded by their Nazi German allies to initiate a rounding up of any Jewish people in the city for interment into a concentration camp. Zhao Kong was arrested and whilst in transit became gravely ill. He died in hospital shortly after.
For those interested in a concise biography of Master Ju Zan, please 'click' on the following link:
On the 3rd lunar month of 1931, at the Ling Yin Temple (灵隐寺– Ling Yin Si) in Hangzhou, I had my head shaved. My teacher – Abbot Que Fei (却非方丈 – Que Fei Fang Zhang) – thought that I should not fully ordain at this time, but master Tai Xu (太虚法师 – Tai Xu Fa Shi) thought that I should. I travelled to Shanghai with master Tai Xu where we stayed for two days at the ‘Bright Virtue Path Pure Work Society’ (赫德路净业社 – He De Lu Jing Ye She), and then we travelled to Nanjing. At that time master Tai Xu was Chairman of the Buddhist Association of China. In his name he wrote a letter of introduction for me to take 169 miles to the Long Chang Temple (隆昌寺 – Long Chang Si), situated in the Bao Hua Mountain (宝华山– Bao Hua Shan) of Nanjing, so that I could be ordained.
I arrived at the Long Chang Temple on the 11th day of the 3rd lunar month but found that the hall was already closed. On Bao Hua Shan - monk ordination occurred twice a year. The spring session ran from the 1st day of the 3rd lunar month and ended on the 8th day of the 4th lunar month. All those receiving ordination must be in the hall by the 1st day of the 3rd lunar month, and those who are late are not received – hence the closing of the hall. I arrived ten days late and according to the rules could not enter the hall. However, I used master Tai Xu’s letter of introduction as a skilful means and the doors of the hall were opened. The master in charge of the day to day running of the temple (当家师 – Dang Jia Shi) greeted me with much thought and consideration, and happily informed me that a foreigner had been ordained. I enquired casually whether this foreigner was an Indian or a Korean, and the master quickly answered that he was a Westerner who could not speak Chinese. At the time I thought that this was very unusual.
The master of the temple accompanied me to get a bowl of rice for the mid-day meal, and then led me through many twists and turns to the left side of the Wei Tuo Hall (韦驮殿– Wei Tuo Dian), or ‘Hall of the Temple Guardian’. We headed upstairs and into a room situated near the mountain gate. By the window inside the room was a man with glasses who had a shaved head and was wearing a simple monk’s robes. He was bent over a table writing with a fountain pen (自来水笔– Zi Lai Shui Bi). When he saw us he stood-up and clasped his hand together out of respect for the master. This monk had a high nose and green eyes –this was the ordained Westerner! I could not contain my curiosity, and asked in very bad English: “May I speak English with you?”
He hurriedly removed his glasses and talked with me. It was then that I learned that his Dharma name was ‘Zhao Kong’ (照空), and that he was born in Hungary, brought up in Germany, and was 52 years old. His master was ‘Ji Yun’ (寂云), and his senior Dharma-brother was Zhao Xin (照心). The master of the temple placed me in the care of Zhao Kong. Zhao Kong was very attentive in his care for his new ‘ordination-brother’ (we often referred to one another by the English term ‘brother’). Zhao Kong made and folded the bed for me, and found a woollen blanket to cover my feet. He said that although spring had arrived, the mountains can still be very cold at night, and that a monk should be aware of this.
Later, I was introduced to his master and Dharma-brothers. It was then that I met Yuan Lai (原来), who served as his translator. This monk was 60 years old, and from the Panyu area of Guangdong province, and it was said that he was a naval veteran who had returned from studying in the USA. His common name was Pang Zi Yang (庞子扬) and he fought in the Battle of the Middle East. He also assisted Li Yuan Hong (黎元洪) working at the Military Academy situated in Hankou. In time I got to know him very well and he told me many things about Li Yuan Hong and Song Jiao Ren (宋教仁). He said that Song Jiao Ren was a student during a period of unrest and protest. The teachers could not solve the problem, but Song was able to win the situation over and was then referred to by everyone as ‘Song Gong Ming’ (宋公明), or ‘Song Public Brightness’. Zhao Kong said that his master (Ji Yun) was from the Tiantai area of Zhejiang province, and had studied in Japan. Upon his return to China, he did not become a monk, but rather became an official. This is why his years following the ordained discipline were not very long. He knew Chen Ying Shi (陈英士) the relationship with whom was very deep. He had a bearded, rectangular face, his clothes were tattered, and he looked formidable. All four of us lived together.
None of them ate an evening meal. This was because master Ji Yun and Zhao Xin had lived in Thailand and trained in that tradition of Buddhist self-cultivation, and Zhao Kong had studied Pali and Sanskrit in Sri Lanka for two or three years and followed the rules of the Southern Buddhist tradition. I decided to follow their example and only eat two meals a day. This refers to the Buddhist practice of ‘Upholding Noon’ (持午 – Chi Wu). At first I was unaccustomed to this practice and wanted to add more food, but after five or six days I got use to eating in this way and thought nothing of it. However, Zhao Kong had made a note of the bowls of rice that I had been eating per meal, and according to this record I was astonished to learn that my intake of rice had steadily increased over time!
At that time there were over 400 men being ordained within the temple, with myself and others living in the guest rooms. The monks were organised into groups of four, and these groups were controlled by a hall master. The hall master ensured that the regulations were kept by the monks. Zhao Xin was in charge of our group, with Zhao Kong second and myself fourth. The hall master was very good to us. With each meal was added vegetables, I particularly liked the roasted dangshen sprouts (党参苗). We were taught to line-up in groups, and correctly hold our bowls in front of us, and behave correctly in the company of others whilst in the dining hall. We had to be quiet and silently sip the doufo soup, and keep a regular distance of 5 feet between one another when we ate in front of the abbot. The abbot and monks ate well due to the generosity of those who donated money to the temple. It was important to get up early for classes, and not to fall asleep in the meditation hall if punishment was to be avoided. Sometimes groups of monks would gather firewood and pick tea. In Buddhist terminology this is called ‘Out Everywhere’ (出普– Chu Pu) and we used to watch them travel backwards and forwards to Yue Mountain (游山 – Yue Shan). The expression on hundreds of faces was one of deep gratitude and admiration.
As I arrived late, there were many rules that I did not know, such as worshipping Buddha, making and maintaining a robe, and how to sit properly, etc. Zhao Kong taught me how to do all these things correctly. I asked him what his common name was, and why he became a monk. He answered; “Surname is Lincoln - first name is Trebitsch.” He said that he had a sincere belief in the Dharma and had not eaten meat for years. I found out later that he decided to become a monk after his beloved son experienced terrible mistreatment in a British prison, and died as a consequence. This information was told to me by Zhao Xin, who said that Zhao Kong had told this to the warlord Wu Pei Fu (吴佩孚), when Zhao Kong had previously acted as his adviser. As Zhao Xin was already studying under master Ji Yun at the time, and given the fact that he had got to knew Zhao Kong quite well, he was able to introduce Zhao Kong to his master. Therefore Zhao Kong accompanied Zhao Xin on a journey to the Cheng Huang Mountains (城隍山 – Cheng Huang Shan), situated near Hangzhou. Master Ji Yun had been living in a small temple for a couple of months in that area, and decided that the time had come for Zhao Xin to ordain. At this time Zhao Kong requested that he too should be ordained, and master Ji Yun agreed, thus making Zhao Kong the first European (欧洲人- Ou Zhou Ren) to train as a Buddhist monk in China. This agreement formally acknowledged the‘master –disciple’ (师徒 – Shi Tu) relationship between master Ji Yun, and his disciple Zhao Kong – making Zhao Xin and Zhou Kong Dharma-brothers within the same lineage. Zhao Kong was able to ordain because of his friendship with Zhao Xin.
Europeans are sometimes of the opinion that the ordination halls in Chinese temples are not pure and clean, and that the hall masters are not very knowledgeable about health. Zhao Kong was training to receive the full Bhikkhu ordination vows (at the Long Chang Temple), but the hall master routinely used a thin willow branch to arbitrarily beat the monks. This behaviour aroused his anger and was viewed as an ignorant obscuration of the true teaching. He said to me, and Zhao Xin that this was barbaric and inhumane, and was not authentic Buddhist practice. He said that he was not going to ordain, but go to Nanjing and sue the temple. I and Zhao Xin strongly advised him against this action. We requested that the guest master listen to the problem and he ordered that from now on Zhao Kong was not to be struck with the thin willow branch. After this things settled down and Zhao Kong agreed to continue with the ordination. The monk in charge of administering the vows– De Kuan (德宽) – asked for a meeting with Zhao Kong to discuss this matter, and I accompanied him. Everybody was aware that we came and went together, and assumed I was unable to tell right from wrong, and that my influence was to blame for this problem. As a result the master of the temple was not happy with me, and the hall master stopped giving me the vegetable side-dish at meal times. Zhao Kong said that these kinds of monks were beneath contempt and had nothing but scorn for their behaviour.
After his ordination, Zhao Kong told me that he intended to gather a number of Buddhist students together in the South of France and create a temple based upon the Chinese tradition that emphasised scholarship and learning. He said that he did not have a resident monk with the appropriate knowledge to over-see the running of the temple, and asked if I would help him, so that he could concentrate on other matters that needed his attention. I agreed, and it was decided that we would travel to Shanghai to discuss the plausibility of this plan further with others. At this time there was a district chief from the Jiangning area of Nanjing, who had heard that a Westerner had ordained as a Buddhist monk. He came to visit Zhao Kong and they discussed many things. Then Zhao Kong asked that if the ‘four great constituents of Buddhism are all empty’ (四大皆空 - Si Da Jie Kong), then from where do the four great empty constituents arise? The chief, who had studied in the USA, could not answer this question, as he had not studied the Buddhist teachings. When Zhao Kong returned from this meeting, he asked me to ask master Ji Yun this question on his behalf, and master Ji Yun replied: “This arising is an empty manifestation.” I translated this to Zhao Kong who listened and then shook his head saying ‘no’ a number of times. I asked him how the question should be answered and he said: “The arising of the four great constituents is empty of ‘self’.”
He added that with the exception of Hume, British philosophy is unsatisfactory. The rest do not penetrate the Dao (道). He said this is because the English written language lacks the ability to express profound and reasoned thought. On the other hand, he continued, German grammar is very similar to the grammar of Sanskrit and recently many classical, spiritual texts had been successfully translated directly from Sanskrit and into German. He said that these translations were reliable and that he had benefitted deeply from growing-up in Germany. This being the case he advised me to study German. He also gave me the names and addresses of two learned Sri Lankan monks – as he understood the foreign language – I keep this information in a book that contains the quotes of Ruskin and Carlyle.
Early on the morning at the 1st day of fourth lunar month, there was sticky rice gruel to eat, and Zhao Kong discovered that his portion contained red jujube berries. He said that this was a ‘Good Omen’, and that it coincided with the fact that this day of the week was the third anniversary of his arrival in China. He added that the Hungarian people were descended from the Xiong Nu (匈奴)which he referred to as ‘Huns’. Furthermore, out of all the peoples of Europe, only Hungarian people make use of cloth buttons – just as the Chinese do. He believed that in a previous existence that he was born Chinese, and he told me the following two stories.
He could not recall the exact year he was in Hankou, but he said that at the time he was there for leisure and relaxation. He knew a manager of courtesans surnamed Wang (王). Everyday they drank alcohol together with the courtesans. One day there was a singer who was about 20 to 23 years old. This lady had a very generous nature, and was well spoken in conversation. However, Mr Wang behaved in a frivolous manner and Zhao Kong advised him to respect this singer. As a consequence, this woman was very grateful to Zhao Kong, and invited him to her room the following evening so that she could play and sing for him in private. Zhao Kong suspected that she could speak English, but when he asked her she pretended not to understand. As promised, Zhao Kong visited her room the next day, and before entering could hear her playing the piano. When the playing stopped, the woman came out to greet him and invite him in. Next to her dressing table, Zhao Kong discovered, was an English language novel written by Charles Dickens (狄更司 – Di Geng Si). Seeing this, Zhao Kong again engaged her in English conversation and found that she could speak the language. Zhao Kong asked her why it was that she lived a life as an entertainer, despite her obvious good education. This lady started to cry, and then began to relate her life story to Zhao Kong. She said that she was of the Manchu (Man Zu Ren) ethnicity (and when the Qing Dynasty fell) and was replaced by the Republic during the Xinhai Revolution (辛亥革命– Xin Hai Ge Ming) in 1911, both her father and elder brother committed suicide in Hangzhou, whilst she and her mother ran away to Shanghai. They lived by pawning their possessions, but after two years the possessions were running out and it seemed that they could not continue much longer. At just 14 years old, she begged her mother to sell her to a madam. This madam saw that she was literate, very pretty and with the right cultivation could make much money. This was when she started learning the English language and to play the piano. This situation lasted until she was 18 or 19 years old, when a certain man named ‘Cao’ (曹) from Guangdong secured her freedom with a formal marriage. However, this marriage did not last long and the couple soon split. On top of this her mother had been ill the previous year, but had not died. She was heart-broken and fatigued from all the changes and uncertainties associated with her journey through life. She hoped to find an honest gentleman to be her marriage partner and look after her. Zhao Kong said that he made enquiries and found the person named Cao who had married this woman. It turned out that Zhao Kong and this Mr Cao had met previously. Out of compassion and mercy, Zhao Kong mediated between the two until an agreement was reached and the couple were re-united.
On another occasion, whilst in a vehicle travelling between Beijing and Shanghai, there was an American who had just arrived in China and been told by some British people that China was a land of bandits. Zhao Kong responded in a severe manner and told the American: “When I was in the United States two brothers robbed a train. Also, robbers pretended to be shooting an outdoor movie scene in the busy city as a cover to rob a bank of millions of dollars which they transported away in a car. These facts are well known. Compared to US criminals, Chinese bandits are nothing more than shoplifters by comparison.” Then later a British person asked his advice about issues relating to China, and a Japanese correspondent questioned him about whether he thought that Japan and China would come to an amicable agreement? He said: “The problems existing between China and Japan are the result of Japanese behaviour. Only Japan can solve this matter by having an open and sincere discussion with China. In this way conflict can be replaced by cooperation.” Then, according to him, the Japanese correspondent secretly took his photograph. Later, when he was travelling through Japan he found that his picture and viewpoints had been published in the Japanese newspapers.
On the 8th day of the 4th lunar month it is Sakyamuni Buddha’s birthday (释迦牟尼佛的诞辰 – Shi Jia Mou Ni Fo De Dan Chen). On this day our monastic discipline is augmented by the following of the Bodhisattva Precepts (菩萨戒 – Pu Sa Jie). There is the practice known as the ‘burning of incense’ (燃香 - Ran Xiang), or the ‘burning of scars’ (烧疤– Shao Ba). Within Buddhism this practice represents the spirit of self-sacrifice and determination which is designed to support and raise-up the mind. During the Tang Dynasty, Su E (苏鹗) wrote the novel entitled the ‘Shut-Out Sun Integrated Compilation’ (杜阳杂编 – Du Yang Za Bian), and in the Song Dynasty, Wang Jun Yu (王君玉) wrote the book entitled ‘Continuous Integrated Sacrifices’ (续杂俎 – Xu Za Zu). Both texts record the ‘Top of Head Practice’ (练顶 – Lian Ding) as being the last difficult aspect of the ordination process. The incense is arranged into half inch lengths, and it is lit and placed upon the head. It burns very hot for around half a minute until a dot is burnt into the scalp and only ash is left. Due to the intense pain this experience can cause, some monks have been known to faint. I will not forget our experience of this special treatment, the place it happened, nor the hall master who administered it. He placed the incense on the scalp and I felt a tingling sensation, like a needle piercing the skin. When the incense turned to ash, he was very quick in removing it from the skin of the head with an unusual agility that was rare to see. There was a moment of burning heat which was a little uncomfortable, but with no lasting pain. Zhao Xin was concerned about the possibility of ulcerations developing and so wanted to apply a medicated balm to the burns. However, master Ji Yun said that the medicated balm would prevent the necessary scarring from developing and Zhao Kong agreed. Zhao Kong said that the scars were the best marks to distinguish a monk from a layperson, and that when he opened a temple in France he would use this very same method. At this time, master Tai Xu sent me a letter. In it he said that when the ordination ritual is finished, I should not come down the mountain but continue to live at the Long Chang Temple. I discussed this with Zhao Kong, and he urged me to act as if I had not received the letter, and we both went down the mountainside together. As regards a place to live, master Ji Yun said that as long as there was no suspicions about our whereabouts, we could live with him in his small temple, without a problem. The three of us, together with many other ordination brothers went down the mountainside to Long Tan (龙潭). As all my bags were with the Buddhist Association of China, I first went to Nanjing, whilst the others went to Shanghai. We agreed to meet in Shanghaia week later, at a German Hotel situated in Ancient Uplifting Road (古拔路– Gu Ba Lu).
Zhao Kong with Dot Burns
When I arrived at Nanjing, master Tai Xu enquired as to whether I had received his letter? I acted surprised and said: “What letter?” This was in accordance with what Zhao Kong had taught me. Master Tai Xu blamed it on the problems of communication as he was an honest person. At that time there was a disagreement between master Tai Xu and master Yuan Ying (圆瑛), with Tai Xu threatening to resign. I was required to negotiate between them. These two intelligent men founded an organisation for the dissemination of Buddhist knowledge based in Anhui province. They both said that if I did not get involved, they would not pursue this project. Initially resources were limited in both manpower and material. A body of reading material had to be developed regarding the explanation of the Dharma even in its most difficult aspects. Therefore I drafted brochures on their behalf, and took care of the administration ensuring everything was filed correctly. After I made arrangements to ensure that daily supplies would arrive, I quietly left for Shanghai. Zhao Kong was preparing to go to Beijing, whilst master Ji Yun and Zhao Xin had already left for Hangzhou. I only spent a single night in the small German hotel, and the matter of establishing a Buddhist temple in the South of France was not discussed. The next day Zhao Kong left for Beijing and I left for Hangzhou. When I arrived in Hangzhou I discovered that all was not well between Zhao Xin and Zhao Kong. Although both were monks, Zhao Xin was Zhao Kong’s master – but Zhao Xin was not happy with Zhao Kong and over-time cracks had formed in the master-disciple relationship. A few days later, Zhao Xin – who was full of resentment, left for Hong Kong. Then master Ji Yun asked me to relay an unusual message that had arrived for Zhao Kong from the UK. The London editor (named Mr March) of ‘Buddhism in England’ asked for the following message to be forwarded to Zhao Kong:
‘…I wanted to write a letter to you sooner, but have not managed until now. A few days ago, a friend in Berlin witnessed your great campaign to abolish war. He wrote a letter asking me all kinds of questions about you and I am informing you of the content of this dialogue.
He questioned your Buddhist ordination, and wanted to know whether you had entered into ordination with a sincere heart? I replied: “A person can emerge from darkness and find the brightness. I think the darkness has been left behind.” He also asked about the time of your ordination, and whether you submitted to the barbarous practice of scarred dots being burnt upon your head? “As he has ordained in China, of course he has suffered the barbaric scarring, and he has excellently secured a passport to Tibet too!” I answered’
I forwarded this letter to Zhao Kong, but I do not think that he received it as all communication between us was lost at this time.
Part 2) Zhao Kong’s Master.
Master Ji Yun’s lay surname was ‘Xie’ (谢), his forename was ‘Gou Liang’ (国梁), and he was also known as ‘Ren Zhai’ (仁斋). He came from the Fei Xi area of Tiantai County, situated in Zhejiang. In his early years he studied law and politics in Japan, and when he returned to Chinahe became an official working in the north-eastern provinces. His family was very wealthy and all the necessities of life were provided. There was always meat to eat, and his chopsticks never touched vegetarian food. Later, he enquired as to the whereabouts of master Hong Yi (弘一法师 - Hong Yi Fa Shi) as he intended to become a vegetarian and study Buddhism. He trained with master Hong Yi for a short time at the Ji Le Temple (极乐寺 – Ji Le Si), situated in Tiantai at the foot of Cang Mountain (苍山 – Cang Shan). They were together for only a few days. Later, master Ji Yun travelled to Thailand to study Buddhism with You Xi Yin (尤惜阴), and Pang Zi Yang (庞子扬), where they lived for several years. Eventually You Xi Yin ordained in the Nanyang (南洋) tradition in China, receiving the Dharma-name ‘Hong Ru’ (弘如). Ji Yun returned to China via Xiamen in 1930 and stayed at the Nan Pu Tou Temple (南普陀寺 - Nan Pu Tou Si), where his head was shaved by the venerable old monk Zhuan Feng (转逢老和尚– Zhuan Feng Lao He Shang). He was given the Dharma-name ‘Ji Yun’, and the further name of ‘Rui Chuang’ (瑞幢). In the winter of the same year he went to Nanjing, and was ordained at Bao Hua Shan. Afterwards, he settled at the small shrine called ‘Zhun Ti Du’ (准提阇) situated on Cheng Huang Mountain near Hangzhou. Zhun Ti Du was a small temple designed for pilgrims who wished to burn incense in the worship of Avalokitesvara-Guan Yin (also known as ‘Zhun Ti’). When he settled at this temple he built 5 or 6 meditation rooms on the open ground to the east, so that those following the same contemplative path could practice together. I returned to Hangzhou and lived upstairs at the Zhun Ti Temple. Toward the end of the year, Ji Yun announced that he would pass on the triple gem and precepts to disciples. At that time I left Zhun Di Tu and went to live in the famous Mei Hua area of Chao Mountain (超山 – Chao Shan). After this time I never saw him again. However, on the 17th day of the 6th lunar month of 1956, I received a letter from him, sent from Sichuan province. He had changed his name to ‘Liao Xing’ (了性), or ‘Understand Nature’. The text of the letter is as follows:
‘This old and worthless person lived comfortably in Hangzhou for awhile after we parted, then I went and built a thatched hut on Zhong Nan Mountain (终南山 – Zhong Nan Shan). Everything was good until the Anti-Japanese military arrived in the area, and then I took my begging bowl and headed to Sichuan. I resided temporarily at a temple in the wilderness and lived off the land. Following the Japanese surrender, and the normalisation of the East of China, I headed to Emei (峨嵋). I travelled en route through the Jiading (Leshan) area of Sichuan, and during this time I stayed with a number of different lay people. Eventually six or seven people accompanied me on my journey.
The day before yesterday, I read in the newspaper that a China Buddhist Association was being planed in Beijing. Needless to say, I was very happy to read this. If the great Dharma is to survive in this present time, it must adjust itself to circumstance. As followers of the Buddha, we must all strive to change with the times. Although I am now clumsy from old age and sickness, I still exert myself with vigour in the quiet and empty mountains. However, I do not wish to appear presumptuous, but it is my intention to join the Sangha education programme and would be very grateful if you could introduce me to the association. To be approved by the association will take a combination of knowledge, good will and good fortune. I can head north with a willing (and recently ordained) young disciple who never complains, as soon as the Bao Cheng Road (宝成路 – Bao Cheng Lu) is open to traffic. Of course, I hope that you have the time to reply, as I urgently await your kind words.’
Ch’an master Ji Yun (寂云禅师 – Ji Yun Ch’an Shi) was old in years and very learned. He had such enthusiasm for the China Buddhist Association that I was very deeply moved by his attitude. I immediately sent an invitation and travel expenses to Sichuan so that he could travel eastward. Unfortunately, he did not receive the China Buddhist Association letter in Jiading for a very long time. Due to him living for many years in the mountains, he suffered from rheumatism (风湿 – Feng Shi) and eventually passed away from seizures of the heart (心脏病发作 – Xin Zang Bing Fa Zuo). His posthumous work is entitled ‘Agricultural Ch’an Selected Poems’ (Nong Ch’an Shi Chao).
Part 3) Zhao Kong’s Journey to Tibet Blocked at Chongqing.
During the 7th lunar month of 1931, the World News Service (世界新闻社 – Shi Jie Xin Wen She) reported that the former international spy, member of the British Parliament, Christian priest, and oil entrepreneur - Trebitsch Lincoln – recently ordained as a Buddhist monk in China. This matter raised the question as to why it was at the time that Westerners were so enthusiastic and apparently turning toward Eastern religions. What were the reasons? Therefore, E Uanter once visited Zhao Kong and interviewed him in a Chinese-style house in an out of the way part of Beijing. Zhao Kong showed him the 12 burn marks upon his head, and pointed out that his entire body was dressed in the garb of a Chinese Buddhist monk; the robe, the trousers, the shoes, all were suitable for a monk and made of Chinese materials – this information he used to prove his ordination. He said:
“I have become a monk in China because I am no longer interested in the world. This year I am 52 years old, and the various joys and pleasures of the world are like a blazing fire. I am no longer blind, my eyes have been opened and I see the world for what it really is. It is nothing but pain and worry, and the average person is drunk with craziness and indulges any and every desire. There is nothing but attachment in the unenlightened state.
Since I entered the world, and just like everyone else, I have strived to be happy. In this respect I was also once a Christian priest. However, the more my studies penetrated Christianity, the less confidence I had in it and this led me to finally abandon it as a religious path. After this I studied the teachings of Socrates, Plato, Kant, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. I looked for happiness in money and fame, but the more I strove, the greater was my disappointment. I realised that life was nothing but a tragedy. In this way I grew tired of the world and decided to become a monk.”
He said that he was no longer interested in politics and seldom read newspapers for weeks at a time, and that the Guo Ming Dang government, as they had taken German military advisors such as Bao Ou (鲍欧), who had recommended Zhao Kong as a political advisor. He refused the position and Bao Ou criticised his decision as being ‘stupid for not making himself available’ (愚不可及 – Yu Bu Ke Ji). After arriving in Beijing, he published the text entitled ‘Why I Ordained as a Monk’ (我为什么出家为僧 – Wo Wei She Me Chu Jia Wei Seng), and below are a number of extracts.
‘All life strives for an identical goal; the god and the human, the animal and the vegetation, all seek happiness without exception. Therefore the attainment of happiness is the main problem and becomes the foremost question. We all seek the path of happiness even though each and every one of us is different. Despite our surface differences, the desire to be happy is exactly the same, and we all pursue this identical goal. This is the case with every moment from birth to death, nothing changes and nothing can be changed. The fact of the matter is that (through desire) permanent happiness can not be found. Instead people create all kinds of deluded fantasies to hide this fact.
At this time there are a number of German scholars, following the example of French scholars, who are of the opinion that the New Testament (found in the Christian Bible) is not convincing, and that people no longer believe in it. In Sri Lanka and India, many British people have become aware of the Vedas and the Buddhist teachings, with a particular interest in Buddhism. This has led to the translation of Sanskrit and Pali Buddhist texts into English, despite all the inherent difficulties this task entails. The British and Germans have acquired access to the Pali Canon and translation has already occurred. In England, for instance, after many years of hard toil, the entire Pali Canon has been translated into English.
In the Western world today, the interest and understanding of Buddhism is increasingly growing day by day. In the Berlin area of Germany there is a Buddhist Institute founded by the late Dr Dan Lu Ke (丹律克). In Hamburg, Lai Bo Xi (莱伯锡), having trained in Sri Lanka, has founded a Buddhist organisation, and in Munich there is a Buddhist Association presided over by the West’s greatest Buddhist scholar – Dr Ge Li Mu (葛立穆). The Munich Buddhist Association has made contact with a Buddhist group in the South of France, situated in Nice – I visited there for a few years to study the Dharma. In Britain there are many places to study Buddhism; there is even a Buddhist Temple near London that Sri Lankan monks built after collecting funds for the project around two years ago. The United States has Buddhist groups, and these three countries – Britain, Germany and the USA– all publish books about Buddhism.
[Additional Information: in the text are the names of the founders of different German Buddhist groups. Dr Dan Lu Ke is surely Dr. Paul Dahlke, Lai Bo Xi should be Nyanatiloka Thera, coming back from Sri Lanka... Dr Ge Li Mu is Dr. Georg Grimm, who extensively corresponded with Zhao Kong. Veronika Mathe - email to the Translator dated 18.6.14]
China should send teachers of Chinese Buddhism to Europe and the USA to teach the truth about Buddhism to the people. In this way they can be taught how to follow the true path of joy and peace, whilst cultivating good actions instead of bad, and not to rely on the belief of an imaginary ‘kingdom of heaven’.’
From the above statement from Zhao Kong, it is obvious that he became a Buddhist monk for a profound reason. He studied Theravada Buddhism and had no contact with Chinese Buddhism, or understood anything about Buddhism in Chinatoday. During the 5th lunar month of 1934, Fa Tang (法舫) wrote an article entitled ‘Sounds Carried on the Ocean Waves’ (海潮音 – Hai Chao Yin), he said:
‘I remember that when I was in Beijing, I once asked Zhao Kong to give a lecture at the Bo Lin Temple (柏林寺– Bo Lin Si). He said that when he was studying Theravada Buddhism, he was taught to hold Chinese Buddhism and Chinese monks in contempt. He said that because of this attitude, he decided to come to China to teach the real Dharma. At the time there were around 500 or 600 people in the audience which included Chinese monks, the laity, and foreigners. The general consensus was one of dissatisfaction with this opinion. I declared:
“What Zhao Kong has said is not an opinion held by most Buddhists, and has no bearing upon the effectiveness of Chinese Buddhism. Only a small number of Theravada Buddhists think this way. Even though Zhao Kong may have come to China to spread what he thought to be the real Dharma, after ten years of living in China and studying the Dharma, his opinion has changed.”
The audience hoped that this was the case. Later, myself, Hu Zi Hu (胡子笏), Wang Bo Zhi (汪波止), Lin Li Guang (林黎光),and various other people met with Zhao Kong. The conservation is as follows:
We asked: “Master Zhao Kong is it true that you have been to China a number of times?”
Zhao Kong replied: “Including this time, I have visited China six times.”
We asked: “You did not ordain straight away, but spent a number of years studying Buddhism?”
Zhao Kong replied: “I have had contact with Buddhism for around 30 years, but have only specialised in its study during the last 6 years.”
We asked: “In what language were the Buddhist texts translated?”
Zhao Kong replied: “The majority of the texts were German translations of the Pali sutras, but I also studied Pali and Japanese Buddhist texts translated into English. When I encountered problems in understanding, I would look at the Pali texts, but my Pali is not that good.”
We asked: “When you ordained as a Chinese Buddhist monk, did you study the Chinese Buddhist sutras, or learn from Chinese Buddhist scholars?”
Zhao Kong replied: “No. I have never seen Chinese Buddhist texts, or received instruction from Chinese Buddhist scholars.”
He added: “As far as I am concerned, I have complete trust in the ‘Word of the Buddha’ (佛说 – Fu Shou) and do not believe in other things. I do not accept the notion of the Hinayana (which is favoured in India and Sri Lanka), nor the Mahayana (which is favoured in China), as I see no evidence for the Hinayana or Mahayana in the Buddhist sutras. Those sutras which speak of the Hinayana and the Mahayana, I do not consider to be authentic; the authentic sutras do not contain this teaching. It is important to note that when the Buddha was alive, he never mentioned the Hinayana or Mahayana, and did not write down any sutras. The ‘Four Agama Sutra’ (四阿含经 – Si A Han Jing) contains many sayings of the Buddha, and it is clear from this that the Dharma is not separated into Hinayana or Mahayana – this is why I do not accept this distinction.”
We asked: “If you do not believe in the Buddhist sutras, then from where does your knowledge of Buddhism arise?”
Zhao Kong replied: “I did not say that all sutras are wrong, and I think that many are very good and worth studying. However, amongst the sutras there are many which are incorrect. In the authentic sutras there is only one true way, there is not another. It is easy to know which is true and which is false.”
We asked: “By which method is this knowledge made known?”
Zhao Kong replied: “Through ‘non-self’ (无我 – Wu Wo). Where the teaching of ‘non-self’ is present, this is authentic Buddhist teaching; where it is absent the teaching is not correct.”
We replied: “We know of the teaching of ‘non-self’ in China, as it is one of the so-called ‘Three Dharma Seals’ (三法印 – San Fa Yin). This is a common principle within both Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism. There are two other ‘Dharma Seals’ that signify the correct path that you do not know about.”
We continued to talk in this manner for an hour and a half before the end. With regard to his grasp of the Pali teachings of Theravada Buddhism, our opinion is that he has carried out a reasonable, but limited amount of research, and as a consequence his understanding is not complete. However, his understanding of the ‘non-self’ principle is correct and straightforward. In other words, his knowledge is limited and this effects his interpretation of the Dharma, which is highly subjective.
As Zhao Kong was in Beijing at this time, he gave a number of lectures, but these were not popular and not very well received. Indeed, so unpopular were his lectures which attacked Chinese culture, that he was given the pseudonym ‘Not Empty’ (不空 – Bu Kong) by the people. After this Zhao Kong left Beijing and travelled to Chongqing.’
This information is relevant to the letter previously mentioned above, written by Mr March and sent from England, which enquired about Zhao Kong’s planned visit to Tibet. Zhao Kong travelled to Chongqing to find the whereabouts of Liu Xiang (刘湘), as this person could help with an application to visit the area. Liu Xiang was a warlord who paid particular attention to the matters involving Xikang and Tibet and supported the establishment of the Sino-Tibetan Research Institute (汉藏教理院 – Han Cang Jiao Li Yuan). With regards to Zhao Kong’s application, Liu Xiang considered the matter but delayed in replying, as he had a number of concerns. In the meantime, he had Zhao Kong stay at the temple on Jinyun Mountain, situated in the Beibei District of Chongqing. Zhao Kong remained there for quite some time before realising that he was not going to be granted permission. As his journey to Tibet had been prevented from progressing, Zhao Kong left Sichuan, and China, returning to Europe.
Abbot Zhao Kong and 10 Disciples - Vancouver 1934
In early 1935, master Zhao Kong returned to China accompanied by a number of disciples. When the Japanese invaded North China, Zhao Kong was in Shanghai. I heard that the Japanese wanted him for pro-Japanese propaganda purposes, but he firmly rejected their requests. He also wrote many articles for newspapers in Europe and the USA, criticising the Japanese invasion of China. As a consequence of this refusal, the Japanese wanted to strike a vicious blow against him, so he and a disciple, carrying a small amount of money, fled to the rear of the fighting, but on the way they were detained by the Guomingdang Army who robbed them, and they had no choice but to return to Shanghai. On the 8th day of the 10th lunar month of 1943, Zhao Kong died during surgery at the Renji Hospital (仁济医院 – Ren Ji Yi Yuan), aged 64 years old. Attending his funeral were many important people from countries around the world. He was buried at the Shanghai First District Cemetery (第一区公墓 – Di Yi Qu Gong Mu). Some people say that Zhao Kong died because of Japanese interference during the surgery.
'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