Ch'an Dao Links:
The Yunmen Incident Reconsidered
Translator’s Note: Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) initiated the transmission of authentic Chinese Ch’an Buddhism to the West, and he was assisted in this task by his biographer (and disciple) Cen Xue Lu, and his English-speaking Chinese disciple Charles Luk. The scholar Cen Xue Lu provided the Chinese language autobiography of Master Xu Yun – and Charles Luk provided an English translation. Charles Luk (with Master Xu Yun’s blessing) then went on to teach many Westerners Chinese Ch’an (and Daoism), whilst translating many more important Chinese Buddhist and Daoist texts into English. However, what follows is an analysis and deconstruction of a very controversial and unsavoury entry in Master Xu Yun’s autobiography that was not present in its earliest drafts and publications. The so-called ‘Yunmen Incident’ only appeared in this text in 1957 as the Cold War era (between the West and the Communist Bloc) was gathering pace. This, of course, involved an intense US-led anti-China propaganda campaign that involved the demonization of Communist China (whilst fervently supporting the defeated, non-democratic Nationalist regime on the island of Taiwan). As a consequence, the details of the ‘Yunmen Incident’ contain all the hall-marks of the type of ‘disinformation’ campaign common to that particular time period. In my investigation of the ‘Yunmen Incident’, I have accessed three primary sources of information that deal directly with the subject of the ‘Yunmen Incident’, which are:
1) The (2013) Chinese language text entitled ‘云门事变浅探’, or ’The Yunmen Incident Indepth Investigation’ for general background research on this matter (and a number of similarly entitled, Chinese language research papers listed in the ‘References’ section).
2) Cen Xue Lu’s complete (1957) Chinese language autobiography of Master Xu Yun (虛雲和尚年譜).
3) Charles Luk’s (1988) updated and revised (Richard Hunn) edition of the English language translation of Cen Xue Lu’s Chinese language life story of Master Xu Yun entitled ‘Empty Cloud – the Autobiography of a Chinese Zen Master’ (originally ‘copyrighted’ to Charles Luk in 1959).
I have also accessed a number of supplementary Chinese and English language texts that deal either with specific related details, or which provide broad and contextual historical and cultural information. It must be borne in-mind that the details of the so-called ‘Yunmen Incident’ are recorded in only one original Chinese language source, and that is Cen Xue Lu’s 1957 edition of Master Xu Yun’s autobiography (originally published not in Mainland China, but in the British colony of Hong Kong, (where Cen Xue Lu [1882-1963] was living). In fact, in the 1953 first edition of this text, the ‘Yunmen Incident’ is not included at all, and it remains absent in the second edition (that soon followed). Cen Xue Lu claims to have come into possession of this ‘new’ information around 1956 – some 5 years after the alleged event is believed to have occurred. The details of the ‘Yunmen Incident’ were subsequently conveyed to the West by the translation work of Charles Luk (1898-1978). The unchanged position of the government of Mainland China is that this story is a fabrication that has no basis within recorded historical fact. As a consequence, Cen Xue Lu’s autobiography of Master Xu Yun was first officially published in Mainland China in 1995 (with the ‘Yunmen Incident’ deleted), but the full Chinese language text is available online, and readily accessible. Furthermore, the details of the ‘Yunmen Incident’ are well-known within China, and the subject of general debate, with the majority of people assuming that these events either:
4) Never happened.
5) Was a deliberate lie.
6) A matter of misunderstanding (and the conflating) of different (and unrelated) events.
There remains no other objective evidence to support the allegations contained within the ‘Yunmen Incident’ as conveyed in Cen Xue Lu’s ‘note’. This suggests that:
7) Of the 100 local government officials supposedly involved, none subsequently came forward to confirm the details of the incident either directly or indirectly.
8) Of the alleged 120-130 Buddhist monastic victims, not one came forward to confirm that the ‘Yunmen Incident’ occurred in the exact manner which Cen Xue Lu relates (although it is acknowledged that Ch’an Masters Jing Hui, Ti Guang and Fo Yuan – all disciples of Master Xu Yun – did, decades later, confirm that the Yunmen Temple and surrounding areas were subject to a search, but they stop short of fully agreeing with Cen Xue Lu’s ‘note’ regarding the alleged treatment of Master Xu Yun).
9) Master Xu Yun (1840-1959), in his biography entry for 1951, simply states that in the spring he officiated over the transmission of the monastic vows and that an ‘unforeseen’ incident occurred at the Yunmen Temple. He did not elaborate on this statement, and despite living another 8 years, he never once mentioned the matter again.
This means that the details of the ‘Yunmen Incident’ exist only in Cen Xue Lu’s editorial ‘note’ which he inserted into Master Xu Yun’s autobiography in the mid-1950’s. Cen Xue Lu claimed that the information contained within this ‘note’ was relayed to him from Master Xu Yun (and his disciples) in China, and that he covertly received it in Hong Kong. This suggests that:
10) The ‘Yunmen Incident’ happened as Cen Xue Lu’s ‘Note’ suggests.
11) Cen Xue Lu forged the ‘note’ for political purposes.
12) A third party (unbeknownst to both Master Xu Yun and Cen Xue Lu) fabricated the information for political purposes.
There appears to be a subtle but profound political bias within Master Xu Yun’s autobiography in both its Chinese and English language versions. This has nothing to do with Master Xu Yun himself (who was apolitical), but is rather the product of his biographer – the known Nationalist-supporter Cen Xue Lu (1882-1963). This political bias is preserved and conveyed in the English translation made by Charles Luk (1898-1978). The ‘Yunmen Incident’ is viewed as a ‘fabrication’ within Mainland China, and it is not present in many versions of Master Xu Yun’s autobiography (this includes Cen Xue Lu’s version that has been available in that country since 1995, with the ‘Yunmen Incident’ deleted). What follows is a cross-reference translation of a number of contemporary Chinese language texts concerning the ‘Yunmen Incident’, together with supportive background research material gathered from many other relevant English language texts. I am of the opinion that the ‘Yunmen Incident’ bears all the hall-marks of a Cold War ‘disinformation’ exercise designed to sully China’s reputation not just in the West, but also amongst the Chinese communities living outside of China. As a consequence, it appears to consist of a number of imagined events superimposed over the very real fact that Master Xu Yun was badly ill whilst staying at Yunmen Temple in 1951. This research process reveals the numerous inconsistencies and illogicalities surrounding this issue, and confirms the ‘mythic’ character of its nature.
Within Chinese language sources, the ‘Yunmen Incident’ is written as ‘云门事变’ (Yun Men Shi Bian), or as ‘云门事件’ (Yun Men Shi Jian) i.e. ‘Yunmen Event’. The phrase refers to an alleged set of incidents that are believed to have occurred at the Yunmen Temple (云门寺 – Yun Men Si) – a centre of Ch’an Buddhist study – during late February, 1951. The Yunmen Temple is situated in the Ruyuan Yao Autonomous County area of northern Guangdong province – an area that receives its name from the Yao ethnic minority that inhabit the vicinity. The temple is near Shaoguan City, and is situated at the foot of the ‘Loving Kindness Snow Peak’ (慈雪峰 – Ci Xue Feng) of Yunmen Mountain (云门山 –Yun Men Shan), which is 6km northeast of the Ruyuan County Seat. The term ‘Yunmen’ (云门) literally translates as ‘Cloud Gate’, and refers to the mountain peaks of the area appearing to be continuously bathed in cloud-cover. The Yunmen Temple was founded by Ch’an Master Yunmen Wenyan [雲門文偃] (846-949 CE) and was completed in 928 CE. It is also known as ‘大覺禪寺’ (Da Jue Ch’an Si), or ‘Ch’an Temple of Great Enlightenment’. Today, in modern China, the Yunmen Temple is thriving, attracting not only interested tourists, but also sincere Buddhist practitioners. Master Xu Yun [虛雲] (1840-1959) was associated with the reconstruction of the Yunmen Temple from around 1940 to the early 1950’s, and his presence is remembered to this day.
Within Master Xu Yun’s original Chinese language autobiography, he appears to state in the entry for 1951 (his 112th year of age) the following information:
‘民國四十年辛卯師一百一十二歲 - 春戒期中。「雲門事變。」’
This is the only entry for 1951, and is translated by Charles Luk (in ‘Empty Cloud’) as:
‘During the transmission of the Precepts in the spring, misfortune befell me at the Yun-men Monastery.’
Cen Xue Lu (an ardent Nationalist) gives the year of this statement as occurring in the ‘fourth decade’ of the Nationalist regime despite its defeat a year earlier by the Communists (this is further compounded by the fact that Cen Xue Lu ‘added’ this entry in 1956, some 7 years after the fall of Nationalism on the Mainland of China), whilst Master Xu Yun appears to being saying even less than is implied by Charles Luk’s translation (which seeks to ‘import’ contextual meaning into the English text for the benefit of Western readers). An alternative English rendering is as follows:
‘Within springtime precept transmission – ‘Yunmen Incident’.’
Master Xu Yun seems to use ‘事變’ (Shi Bian) to describe the situation. Generally speaking, ’事變’ refers to an ‘unforeseen event’ or ‘unexpected incident’, and does not, in and of itself, necessarily refer to a ‘negative’ experience. It is as if Master Xu Yun, as a devout Ch’an Buddhist monk, was deliberately using non-inflammatory language, so as not to induce greed, hatred or delusion in the minds of those around him, or in the minds of those who in the future might read his Dharma-words. Charles Luk’s English translation creates a ‘negative’ tone to this sentence that is arguably not present in the Chinese language original. Charles Luk did this by projecting the apparently negative incidents that are believed to have constituted the ‘Yunmen Incident’ (which will be examined shortly), but in so doing, he changed the intention of what seems to be Master Xu Yun’s original statement. If Master Xu Yun had ‘intended’ to convey a long list of incredibly detailed complaints in his autobiography, it is likely that he would have made those complaints clear. As matters transpired, all Master Xu Yun seems to have said for 1951 is that there was an ‘incident’ at the Yunmen Temple during the spring transmission of the Vinaya Discipline – and nothing more. However, it is stated by Cen Xue Lu’s ‘note’ (in Master Xu Yun’s autobiography) that Master Xu Yun dictated his own life story up until his 112th year (1951), but that thereafter it was his disciples who compiled this record on his behalf. Was it Master Xu Yun who used the term ‘Yunmen Incident’, or was it his disciples? If it was his disciples (who are not named) this might be the origination of the political intrigue that follows. Certainly the statement is uncharacteristically ‘short’ when compared to other statements known to have been genuinely made by Master Xu Yun.
Given that Master Xu Yun said very little about the ‘Yunmen Incident’, how are the details of this event known to the world? This is an important question, as outside of Master Xu Yun’s ‘edited’ autobiography, there exists no other corroborating evidence. Charles Luk never added any further information about the Yunmen Incident simply because he was not present at the time in question (and did not personally know the details), but he did translate into English the notes added to Xu Yun’s original Chinese language autobiography (without Xu Yun’s knowledge or permission) by the scholar known as Cen Xue Lu, without question or criticism. Cen Xue Lu was a former member of the Nationalist government of China, and prior to his conversion to Buddhism, had actively participated in that regime’s attack upon Chinese religion, which included the destruction of Buddhist temples. It must be acknowledge at this juncture that both Charles Luk and Cen Xue Lu were supporters of the Nationalist regime, known to be ‘pro-Western’ in their political outlooks, and ideologically ‘opposed’ to the Communist regime of Mao Zedong and his fellow revolutionaries. This is an important point to consider, as it might suggest a ‘motivation’ behind Cen Xue Lu’s ‘insertion’ into Master Xu Yun’s narrative, details that Master Xu Yun did not originally include, and why Charles Luk, (as astute as he undoubtedly was), unquestionably accepted these ‘additions’ without comment when rendering the Chinese language text into English. Cen Xue Lu was responsible for gathering and editing Master Xu Yun’s autobiography throughout the 1950’s and early 1960’s. He often adds background information to the original texts that although helpful in part, is also obviously of a politically motivated nature. For instance, in the late 1880’s Master Xu Yun visited Tibet and recorded in his autobiography how he was disturbed by the nature of the different Buddhist sects he saw (that did not follow the Vinaya Discipline and routinely ate meat). This is obviously Master Xu Yun’s ‘intended’ meaning that he wanted conveyed through his text. However, Cen Xue Lu added a ‘note’ of his own that suggests that Master Xu Yun was ‘mistaken’ in his interpretation of Tibetan Buddhism because he could not understand the Tibetan language. Again, this ‘addition’ was added to Master Xu Yun’s narrative without his knowledge or permission. This was not the first time that Cen Xue Lu had politically interfered with Xu Yun’s autobiography. Around 1911/12 (when Xu Yun was in his 72nd year of life), the newly formed Nationalist government began its general persecution of Buddhism. Li Gen-yuan – the commander of Nationalist troops in the Yunnan area – led his men in an intended attack upon the Buddhist institutions of Yunnan, but was thwarted by the presence of Master Xu Yun. After listening to Master Xu Yun, Li Gen-yuan converted to Buddhism and withdrew his troops. At no time in his ‘notes’ does Cen Xue Lu admit or confirm that the Nationalist government pursued a deliberate ‘anti-Buddhist’ policy, but instead either ‘plays down’ or ‘omits’ these details (Cen Xu Lue is oddly ‘silent’ about the Nationalist destruction of the famous Shaolin Ch’an Temple of Henan in 1928). However, Cen Xue Lu (as a ‘note’) accesses the Yunnan County Records as a means to verify Master Xu Yun’s interactions with Li Gen-yuan, but then admits that he ‘removed’ parts of this quoted document, because it spoke of Tibet being part of China. For accuracy and truth it must be stated that at no time in his life did Master Xu Yun ever state (or imply) that Tibet was anything other than part of China. Cen Xue Lu appears to be ‘inserting’ a political implication not present in Master Xu Yun’s ‘intended’ narrative.
It is through the ‘note’ of Cen Xue Lu (added to the year 1951-1952 of Master Xu Yun’s autobiography), that the details of the ‘Yunmen Incident’ are known. It is acknowledged that Master Xu Yun (or one of his disciples) used this term in his autobiography, and that Master Xu Yun was aware of this, and agreed to its use (for reasons stated above). No other independent text in China has ever come to light confirming the details contained within Cen Xue Lu’s ‘note’. In fact, any and all extant Chinese language texts dealing with the matter of the ‘Yunmen Incident’ can be traced back only to Cen Xue Lu’s 1957 Chinese language edition of Master Xu Yun’s autobiography, or later editions of that text. Therefore, it can be correctly stated that Cen Xue Lu’s ‘inserted’ note into the autobiography of Master Xu Yun is the ‘only’ source for the ‘Yunmen Incident’. Given the rather obvious nature of the political bias of Cen Xue Lu’s editing technique (which subtly pursues a Nationalist, pro-Western, and anti-Communist rhetoric), a reasonable doubt as to the accuracy of the claims contained in his ‘note’, must be acknowledged and continuously borne in mind. Another issue to consider is that Cen Xue Lu was not present at the Yunmen Temple during the time period in question, and that he stated that he received the information contained in his ‘note’ from an unnamed Mainland Chinese source (presumably alongside the sections of Master Xu Yun’s autobiography that were smuggled out of China to Hong Kong – where Cen Xue Lu was living). Of course, this knowledge does not necessarily rule out the possibility that the details conveyed by Cen Xue Lu about the ‘Yunmen Incident’ were not a fabrication (either by himself or close ‘Nationalist’ associates working for the West), although some commentators writing in Communist China today, tend to think that the details might be genuine (but otherwise confused), out of context and not correct in implication, and that Cen Xue Lu did indeed receive them from someone close to Master Xu Yun (although this remains unproven). Whereas Cen Xue Lu (in his own Chinese language autobiography) readily admits to the Nationalist anti-Buddhist policy, he makes no similar admittance within Master Xu Yun’s autobiography. This lack of balance is suspicious and suggests that Master Xu Yun’s biography was being used as a political tool to undermine and attack Communist China in the service of the West (that openly supported the Nationalist invasion and annexation of Taiwan). Cen Xue Lu, for the sake of impartiality and education, could have written a ‘note’ about the Nationalist destruction of the Shaolin Temple in 1928, detailing not only the material damage done to an ancient Chinese cultural heritage site (considered the birth-place of Ch’an Buddhism), but also the torture and murder of the monks that resided there, by soldiers in the service of the Nationalist government, but instead he chose to remain ‘silent’ on this matter, which is peculiar considering that Master Xu Yun mentioned the Shaolin Temple a number of times in his autobiography, and was directly connected with this holy place through the martial arts mastery of his disciples – Master Shao Yun, Master Hai Deng and Master Ti Guang, etc.
The People’s Republic of China was declared by Mao Zedong on October 1st, 1949, even as fighting continued in the south of the country between the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and the Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-Shek. The ‘Yunmen Incident’ happened just fourteen months later in northern Guangdong province, and is said to have involved paramilitary police representing the ‘new’ local Communist authorities of the area, investigating claims that the Yunmen Temple had been a centre of support for the old Nationalist regime, and that gold, silver, weaponry and radios had been secretly gathered and hidden throughout its complex. The fact remains that in many areas of China, there remained supporters of the old Nationalist regime that was being armed and replenished by the United States of America, for an intended ‘re-taking’ of the Mainland of China from the Communist forces. According to Cen Xue Lu’s ‘note’, the local authorities had received a ‘tip-off’ that the Yunmen Temple was a centre of Nationalist activity (either with or without the knowledge of Master Xu Yu). Although Master Xu Yun remained politically impartial during ALL eras (be they imperialist, Nationalist or Communist), there is no reason to believe that he favoured the Nationalist regime and would have lended it his support. On the contrary, when Master Xu Yun met Chiang Kai-Shek in the 1940’s, he profoundly disagreed with Chiang’s pro-Christian viewpoints to such an extent that he later wrote him a letter criticising Christianity and confirming that China’s traditional philosophies were more suited to the Chinese people. (Although this letter is included in the original Chinese language biography of Master Xu Yun, Charles Luk omitted it from his English translation of ‘Empty Cloud’ so that it could be published elsewhere, as a separate document). Throughout the entirety of Master Xu Yun’s autobiography, there are no anti-Communist statements, and it is a matter of historical record in China that the Communist politician Zhou Enlai was a personal disciple of Master Xu Yun, and that Mao Zedong once discussed the possibility of himself also becoming a disciple. In fact it is now known that other prominent Communist politicians such as Liu Shaoqi and Li Xiannian were lay-Buddhists who had taken Refuge in the Triple Gem at various Buddhist temples throughout China (including the Shaolin Temple). Unlike the previous Nationalist regime, there is no evidence that the ‘new’ Communist regime pursued a deliberate ‘anti-Buddhist’ policy. Contrary to anti-China propaganda originating from the West, Mao Zedong was not ‘anti-Buddhist’, but after a life steeped in Buddhism, was the exact opposite. Therefore, whatever transpired at the Yunmen Temple was not, as Cen Xue Lu implies (and which Charles Luk supported), an attack on ‘Buddhism’ in general, or an attack on ‘Master Xu Yun’ specifically, and yet Cen Xue Lu’s ‘note’ states that the monks were imprisoned within the temple buildings, tortured, and some even taken away and allegedly ‘killed’. Master Xu Yun is said to have been repeatedly beaten and near to death at various times during this alleged despicable treatment, but that he sat in meditation and ‘healed’ himself, an act of endurance that apparently ‘scared’ the guards and eventually drove them away. Cen Xue Lu informs that after weeks of searching the temple grounds, the local authorities found nothing incriminating. Cen Xue Lu is even forced to admit that when the Communist government in Beijing heard of these events, it immediately ‘ordered’ Master Xu Yun (and his fellow monastics) not to be harmed, and the temple to be left undamaged. This is another example of an inconvenient fact getting in the way of the false narrative that Cen Xue Lu was trying to build – namely that the Communist Party of China was embarking on a general attack upon religion (in the early 1950’s). This is compounded by the fact that the US academic Holmes Welch (in his 1972 book entitled ‘Buddhism Under Mao’) suggested that the authorities did indeed find a radio set, and hidden money, (amongst other items), although I have not found a Chinese language source to confirm this statement. As Master Xu Yun was in his 112th year of his life at the time of the ‘Yunmen Incident’, it is reasonable to consider why it was that his life was not lost, considering the severity of the beatings he is believed to have been subjected to. This logical question is often obscured by the general attitude of respect with which Master Xu Yun is quite rightly held, and how his obvious virtue is often used as an excuse by others not to delve further into various issues of research.
Between 1951 and 1989, the ‘Yunmen Incident’ was not acknowledged or discussed within Mainland China. The reason for this seems to be that the story itself was believed to be a ‘lie’ concocted by the West (or those influenced by the West) as a means to perpetuate ‘anti-China’ sentiment. However, in 1989, the eminent (and now deceased) great Ch’an monk known as Dharma Master Jing Hui (净慧法师 – Jing Hui Fa Shi), published an article for a Buddhist magazine entitled ‘Dharma News’ (法音 – Fa Yin) under the pseudonym of ‘Zhouzi’ (拙缁). This article was designed to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the passing of Master Xu Yun in 1959, and is considered the first mention of the ‘Yunmen Incident’ within Mainland of China. Master Jing Hui was a disciple of Master Xu Yun, who was fully ordained at the Yunmen Temple in June, 1951, one month after the ‘Yunmen Incident’ is recorded as coming to an end. Master Jing Hui’s account simply states that the authorities were seeking hidden radios, guns, ammunition and gold in the general area, etc, but did not find anything, and does not state that Master Xu Yun was tortured, or that the other monks were ill-treated. In Master Jing Hui’s biography, it is unclear as to whether he arrived at the Yunmen Temple ‘after’ the ‘Yunmen Incident’, or was present during its alleged events, and witnessed the situation first-hand. In 1995, the Religious Culture Publishing House, for the first time in Mainland China, published Cen Xue Lu’s edition of Master Xu Yun’s autobiography. However, the official governmental position was that the ‘Yunmen Incident’ was not true, and therefore Cen Xue Lu’s ‘note’ was deleted from the text. For the year 1951, the edited edition simply reads ‘In the spring, the Vinaya Discipline was transmitted at Yunmen’ (春戒期中，云门事起”). In the year 2000, Heming Dong published a version of Master Xu Yun’s autobiography, and mentioned Master Jing Hui’s viewpoint that the ‘Yunmen Incident’ had occurred (but not entirely as Cen Xue Lu’s ‘note’ implies).
On the other hand, ‘official’ scholarship emanating from modern, Nationalist Taiwan has to be treated as biased and therefore unreliable. This is because the Taiwanese Nationalist government is ideologically opposed to the Communist regime of Mainland China, and demonstrates a tendency to unquestionably support Cen Xue Lu’s ‘note’ from a dogmatic position. As a rule, the official general position of the Taiwanese government and its academic community, is that of supporting any view or position that either opposes, or paints the Mainland Communist regime in a bad light. The ‘Yunmen Incident’ is an ideal candidate for the continuation of this ‘anti-China’ policy. An example of this is Lin Peisheng’s (2007) Master’s Thesis entitled ‘Master Xu Yun’s Influence in Ch’an Buddhism’ (林培圣《虚云法师的禅法及其影响》), where Cen Xue Lu’s ‘note’ is used as the basis for an ideological attack upon the government of Mainland China. As matters stand, in the 65 years since the alleged ‘Yunmen Incident’, there has not been any official investigation or objective study performed into its historicity (free of political dogma). As a consequence, Cen Xue Lu’s ‘note’ remains the only foundational text that presents the ‘Yunmen Incident’, which was much later partially supported by the viewpoint of the Venerable Jing Hui.
At the time of the ordination ritual at the Yunmen Temple in spring, 1951, it is reported in Chinese language texts that there over 130 monks staying at the temple – with one report assuming that there were ‘hundreds’ of monks wandering about the area. This being the case, the question is raised as to why is it that these ‘hundreds’ of monastics never told others of the ‘Yunmen Incident’, or made a written record of the events? Master Xu Yun had become the Head Monk (住持 – Zhu Chi) for the Yunmen Temple in 1943, and had set about re-building the dilapidated structures. As part of a general celebration of the nearing completion of this major refurbishment (which was finished in 1953), Master Xu Yun called for a ritual ceremony for world peace, and for a mass ordination of Buddhist monastics. This is what was happening at the Yunmen Temple at the time of the alleged raid by the local authorities, and the occupation that lasted for around three months. It is said that local people contacted the Beijing government on behalf of Master Xu Yun, and the government sent an investigation team (as reported in Cen Xue Lu’s ‘note’) armed with tape-recorders and cameras. When Master Xu Yun was asked if he had been ill-treated, or the temple damaged – he answered ‘no’ to both questions, despite the fact that he was ill in bed. These representatives of the Beijing government comforted Master Xu Yun, and ordered all the detained monks to be released. This is how Cen Xue Lu’s ‘note’ describes the ending of the ‘Yunmen Incident’. It is a peculiar narrative that accuses the Communist government of being both the ‘oppressor’ and simultaneously the ‘liberator’ of that oppression. Cen Xue Lu appears to be presenting a confused version of events that tries to remain loyal to what Master Xu Yun said, whilst actively ‘elaborating’ in directions that Master Xu Yun did not acknowledge as either relevant or real. A pivotal contradiction to Cen Xue Lu’s ‘note’ is that there is no official records in China that confirm that the Yunmen Temple was deliberately targeted and Master Xu Yun persecuted as a result. Instead, the official narrative is that work committees were despatched to all liberated areas to reassure the people, cater to their needs, and over-see the re-distribution of land out of the hands of a few landlords and into the hands of the far more numerous peasants and workers. One issue of concern was the quite often large tracts of land owned by Buddhist temples that were not used for farming purposes and food production. The Yunmen area was subject to this kind of scrutiny in the early 1950’s, and it is well-known that not all Buddhist temple authorities were willing to declare the full extent of the land held, or enter into negotiations with the government. As a consequence, it is recorded that the County Public Security Bureau did, from time to time, temporarily ‘detain’ Buddhist monastics as an incentive to resolve the issues surrounding the implementation of the new egalitarian policies. However, at no time is it recorded that torture and execution was used in this process, which was essentially peaceful in nature. It must be remembered that the Communist government of Mao Zedong was very popular amongst the masses of the people, many of whom agreed with, and actively assisted in the implementation of the new policies. Only that the minority with vested class interests, opposed the re-distribution of land (and wealth), and conspired with hushed tones to resist (in the name of the ‘Nationalist’ cause). Certainly the ‘tone’ of Cen Xue Lu’s ‘note’ falls into this category.
Of course, it is entirely possible that the content of Cen Xue Lu’s ‘note’ is a product of a number of confused and misunderstood historical events that have been conflated by those who gathered them together. These people may have possessed incomplete information, due to only witnessing certain events (but not others) personally, or have been the recipients of information of events they had nothing to do with and could not verify. The situation is compounded by the ever-present threat of ‘false’ information being fed into the system, either deliberately or by accident. As Cen Xue Lu was a Buddhist at the time of his compiling of Master Xu Yun’s autobiography, he believed in the agency of karma, and was very careful not to put words into Master Xu Yun’s mouth. To have done this to an enlightened being would have attracted a hellish karmic retribution as its natural consequence. This explains why Master Xu Yun is presented by Cen Xue Lu’s ‘note’ as NOT confirming the ‘Yunmen Incident’, despite the fact that the ‘Yunmen Incident’ narrative is constructed around this apparent indifference to circumstance. By way of clarification, Charles Luk could translate Cen Xue Lu’s ‘note’ because he had not produced it, and was relatively ‘free’ of any associated karmic retributions, although it can be argued that Charles Luk should have raised reasonable doubts about the questionable structure of its internal logic and consistency (or lack of). It would have been a far easier task to ‘plant’ words in Master Xu Yun’s mouth that ‘confirmed’ and ‘condemned’ the ‘Yunmen Incident’, but this would have been too far for devout Buddhists to have gone, even those ideologically wedded to an ‘anti-Communist’, ‘pro-Western’ narrative. In the spring of 1952, Charles Luk states that Master Xu Yun was feeling better from his ‘illness’ (病 – Bing). This is an unusual term to describe what Cen Xue Lu stated in his ‘note’ to be multiple internal and external injuries. A more apt choice of descriptive words (considering the horrific nature of Cen Xue Lu’s ‘note’) would have been, for instance ‘多发伤’ (Duo Fa Shang), or ‘multiple injuries’, etc, but neither this (nor similar terms) were used. It is an interesting speculation that perhaps Master Xu Yun was in fact referring to some kind of illness or disease suffered at the Yunmen Temple, which he was still recovering from in early 1952. Master Xu Yun had been ill and injured at numerous times throughout his long life, and he generally treated each occasion with a cultivated ‘indifference’, not wanting to generate alarm or confusion throughout his immediate environment. When weighing the evidence, it seems that something transpired at the Yunmen Temple that was out of the ordinary during early 1951. The story as presented by Cen Xue Lu is riddled with internal contradictions and political bias that would suggest that his narrative is at least in part, incorrect. The government of Mainland China readily admits that government employees were in the area establishing the rules and regulations of the new regime, but deny that Master Xu Yun was brutally beaten. The fact that a year later Master Xu Yun was advising Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai in Beijing as to the path for the new government to take regarding the legal status of Buddhism in New China, gives credence to the government’s version of events. In fact it is a matter of public record that Master Xu Yun was responsible for the retainment of the Vinaya Discipline within Chinese Buddhism (rejecting the proposed following of the Japanese Zen model of monks and nuns being allowed to get married, eat meat and drink alcohol), having it protected under secular law, whilst agreeing that the establishment of Chinese Buddhism should actively assist the building of Socialism within China. It is difficult to imagine a man like Master Xu Yun being beaten virtually to death, only to later fully collaborate with the regime that allegedly initiated the beating. Master Xu Yun does not mention anything about the so-called ‘Yunmen Incident’ to anyone during the last years of his life. When asked to ‘flee’ to the British Crown colony of Hong Kong, (following the example of both his disciples Cen Xue Lu and Charles Luk), Master Xu Yun firmly refused, stating that the people of China needed him.
This is the full text of the ‘Yunmen Incident’ as translated from the original Chinese language into the English language by Charles Luk, and presented in his ‘Empty’ Cloud’, Pages 138-143 (for the original Chinese language version see Appendix I). I have added ‘Paragraph Numbers’ for clarity:
‘MY 112TH YEAR (1951/52)
During the transmission of the Precepts in the spring, misfortune befell me at the Yun-men Monastery.
Note by Cen Xue-lu, Xu-yun’s Editor
The Master dictated his life story up to his 112th year, after which his attendants recorded subsequent events as they occurred until the time of his death.
(At this time, the Communist Revolution had taken place and the first shudders of ideological change were beginning to make themselves felt.) That spring a great many monks, nuns, male and female lay-disciples had gathered to receive the Precepts at Yunmen Monastery, where the community numbered over 120 monks. On the twenty-fourth of the second month, a band of more than a hundred thugs suddenly came and surrounded the monastery, allowing no one to enter or leave it. First, they forcibly detained the Master in the Abbot’s room, leaving a few to watch him, and confined the monks to the Dharma and Meditation halls. After that, they searched the temple buildings from the roof-tiles to the flooring bricks, including the statues of the Buddhas and Patriarchs, sacred articles and the cases containing the Tripitaka.
Although over a hundred men searched for over two days, they found nothing illegal. Finally they took away Bhiksu Ming-gong - the Superintendent of the monastery, and Wei-xin, Wu-hui, Zhenkong and Wei-Zhang - the monks in charge. They also put the registers, documents, correspondence and all the Master’s manuscripts of explanations and commentaries on the sutras - and his recorded saying during a whole century - in gunny bags which they carried away. They then accused the community of all sorts of crimes, but in reality they had wrongly believed groundless rumours that there were arms, ammunition, radio transmitters, gold bars and silver bullion hidden in the monastery, these items being the real object of their search.
Altogether twenty-six monks were arrested and brutally beaten in an attempt to force them into divulging the supposed cache of arms and money, but they all declared that they knew nothing of such things. Bhiksu Miao-yun was beaten to death and Bhiksus Wu-yun and Ti-zhi were so ruthlessly knocked about that their arms were broken. A few other monks went missing. As the thugs found nothing after ten days of vain searching, they visited their anger on the Master.
On the first of the third month, he was taken to another room, the doors and windows of which were sealed up. He was given nothing to eat or drink and was not even allowed to go out and ease nature. The room, dimly lit by a small lamp, resembled hell. On the third day, about ten tall men entered roughly and ordered the Master to surrender gold, silver and arms. When he said that he had none, they struck him - first with wooden sticks - and then with iron bars until his head and face bled profusely and his ribs broke.
He was interrogated while being attacked, but sat in the meditation posture to enter the state of dhyana. As the blows rained down mercilessly, he closed his eyes and mouth and seemed to be in the state of samadhi. That day they beat him brutally four times and, finally, they threw him to the ground. Seeing that he was badly hurt, they thought he was dead and left the room. A little later the guards also left and the Master’s attendants carried him to a bed and helped him sit in the meditation posture.
On the fifth day, when they heard that the Master was still alive, they came again; and seeing that he was sitting in the meditation posture as before, they were furiously angry and stuck him with wooden sticks. Dragging him to the ground, they kicked and trampled on him with their heavy leather boots. As he lay there with blood streaming from his head, they thought he was dead, laughed brutally, and left. At night, his attendants again carried him to the bed and helped him to sit in the meditation posture.
On the tenth day, early in the morning, he slowly reclined on his right side (in a position similar to that of the Buddha at his Parinirvana). As he was motionless for a whole day and night, his attendant took a lamp-wick and held it close to his nostrils; he was found to be breathless and was thought to have died. However, the Master’s mien was fresh as usual and his body was still warm. His attendants, Fa-yun and Kuan-shan, kept watch by his bedside.
Early in the morning of the eleventh, the Master was heard to groan feebly. His attendants helped him sit up and told him how long he had sat in dhyana and lain on the bed. Slowly, the Master said: ‘I thought it was just a few minutes.’ He then said to Fa-yun: ‘Take a pen and write down what I dictate, but don’t’ show the notes to outsiders lest they blaspheme.’
Then he said slowly: ‘I dreamed that I went to the inner chamber of Maitreya Buddha in the Tushita Heaven which surpassed in beauty and majesty all that we have on earth. Maitreya Bodhisattva was seated on a throne and was expounding the Dharma to a large assembly where I saw over ten of my late acquaintances: among them were Abbot Zhi-shan of Hai-hui Monastery in Jiangxi, Dharma-master Yong-jing of Mount Tian-tai, Master Heng-zhui of Mount Qi, Abbot Bao-wu of the Baisui-gong Monastery, Abbot Sheng-xin of Mount Bao-hua, Vinaya-master Du-di, Abbot Guan-xin of Mount Jin, and also Master Zi-bai. ‘I brought my palms together to salute them and they pointed to the third vacant seat in the front row on the east side, telling me to sit there. Arya Ananda was the leader of the assembly and sat close to me. Maitreya was teaching meditation on the mind to still consciousness but purposely stopped to say to me, ‘You should go back (to your monastery).’ I said, ‘My karmic hindrance is too great and I am unwilling to return.’ He said, ‘Your karmic link with the world has not ended yet and you must go back now so that you can return here later. He then chanted the following gatha:
How do consciousness and wisdom differ
When like wave and water they are one?
Distinguish not between a golden jug and bowl
For in essence the gold of both is but the same.
The capacity of self-nature is three times three.
A thin string of hemp or small snail’s horn
Appears like a strong-bow to the hallucinating;
This fearful illness vanishes when delusion ends.
Like a house of dreams is this human body,
An illusion to which one ne’er should cling
When that illusion’s recognized,
One keeps from it and is enlightened.
Bodhi is illuminating
And perfect as it shines on all.
Saints and worldlings, good and evil, even happiness
Are illusions like flowers appearing in the sky.
Because of your great compassion you have vowed to save
All beings and are now involved in this world of dreams.
The evil karma of this eon flourishes
So be alert, awake to all that happens.
Turn not back when from compassion
The seas of suffering you sail.
The lotus rises from the mud to flower bearing a Buddha seated in its centre . . .
There were many other verses which I do not remember. He also gave me advice which I must keep to myself.
In this profound state of dhyana-samadhi, the Master wiped out all feelings of suffering and happiness. In the past, when they were arrested, beaten and tortured, Masters Han-shan (1546- 1623) and Zi-bai (1543-1604) entered the same state of samadhi which is beyond the reach of those who have not realized the Dharma.
The thugs who had beaten and tortured the Master and who now witnessed his remarkable feat of endurance, whispered to one another and began to be afraid. A man who seemed to be their leader asked a monk: ‘Why did not the old monk succumb to our beating?’
The monk replied, ‘The old Master endures suffering for the welfare of all living beings and also to help you escape from your troubles. Later, you will know why he did not succumb to your beating.’
The man trembled and never thought of torturing the Master again.
Since they did not find what they were looking for and were afraid that news of the torture might leak out, they stayed on at the monastery and searched the monks, forbidding them to speak to one another or leave their quarters. Even their food and drink were subject to their captors’ rigid examination. This state of things lasted for over a month. As a result of the beating and torture, Master Xu-yun suffered great pain and felt very ill. He could neither see nor hear. Afraid that he might pass away, his disciples urged him to dictate his life-story. Hence, this autobiography.
In the fourth month, the news of events at the Yun-men Monastery reached Shaozhou, where the monks at Da-jian Temple at Qujiang relayed it to the Master’s disciples in Beijing and to overseas Chinese Buddhists who then jointly worked to rescue him.
As a result, the Beijing government telegraphed the Guangdong provincial authorities to inquire into the matter. The thugs gradually relaxed their control of the monastery, but the community’s clothing and food had been seized and taken away.
After his torture, the Master did not even take the rice-gruel, but drank only water. When he learned that all the provisions had been confiscated, he said to the monks, ‘I am sorry that you are all involved in my heavy karma. The situation being such as it is, you should leave this place to make a living somewhere else.’ As his disciples refused to leave him, he urged them to gather firewood on the hills behind the monastery, sell it in the local markets, and then purchase rice for the community. Thus they had meals of rice-gruel and continued reading the sutras and practicing the morning and evening meditation without interruption.
During the first fortnight of the fifth month, the Beijing government sent a few officials to Guangdong Province. On the twenty-second they went with provincial officials to Ru-yuan and reached Yun-men Monastery the following day. They brought with them technicians, tape-recorders and cameras to make on the spot investigations. They inquired first about the Master, who was then very ill and kept in bed. He could neither see nor hear clearly and did not realize that the officials had come from Beijing.
When he recognized the local officials and policemen, he refused to speak; when asked if he had been ill-treated and if the monastery had lost anything, he replied in the negative. When the visitors revealed their identities, he only asked them to make an accurate investigation and report it to Beijing. After repeatedly comforting him, they ordered the local authorities to release all the arrested monks. Thus the misfortune that had befallen Yunmen Monastery on the twenty-four of the second month ended on the twenty-third of the fifth month.
In the autumn and winter, the Master rested at the monastery to recuperate, while the community of about a hundred monks earned their living by gathering and selling firewood, farming and working at handicrafts. When people in the hundred or so local villages heard that the thugs had left the monastery, they came to inquire after the Master. His disciples in Beijing and elsewhere wrote to comfort him, urging him to leave Yun-men. They also wrote, asking provincial authorities to give him protection.'
When compared to the order of paragraphs and content, there are considerable differences (and significant omissions) between Charles Luk’s English translation and Cen Xue Lu’s original Chinese language edition. The list of differences are as follows:
1) Charles Luk’s English translation is comprised of 22 paragraphs and 1 poem, whilst Cen Xue Lu’s original Chinese language ‘note’ contains 10 paragraphs and 1 poem. This observation, although interesting, is primarily due to the translation and transliteration process between two very different languages (i.e. Chinese and English), but secondarily demonstrates a deviation between the two texts. It must also be made clear that Charles Luk did not translate the complete autobiography of Xu Yun into English, but omitted portions of text that he thought Westerners either would not understand, or were not directly required to convey a general understanding of Master Xu Yun’s life.
2) Whereas paragraph 1 is identical in both texts, paragraph 2 in Charles Luk’s translation correlates to the last three sentences of paragraph 8 in Cen Xue Lu’s version. What Charles Luk includes as paragraph 3 – Cen Xue Lu lists as paragraph 5. It is stated that the ‘Yunmen Incident’ began on the 24th day of the second month, according to the Chinese lunar calendar (夏曆二月二十四日).
3) Charles Luk adds an opening sentence to his version of paragraph 3, stating that the ‘Communist Revolution’ had just taken place, and that the first shudders of ideological reform were sweeping across China (whilst both he and Cen Xue Lu remain ‘silent’ about the daily atrocities carried-out by retreating Nationalist forces that had been happening for a considerable time). The problem here, is that Charles Luk does not make it clear that he has added this line himself, and that it does not exist in what Cen Xue Lu presents in his text as paragraph 5. In fact, Cen Xue Lu does not mention the ‘Communist Revolution’ at all throughout his Chinese language text, although, of course, as a Nationalist, he does maintain an ‘implied’ antagonism against the Chinese Communist regime. However, although obvious and apparent within the Chinese language text, when placed into English translation, the subtlety of Cen Xue Lu’s underlying critical approach is lost. Presumably Charles Luk felt compelled to add a new sentence to the structure, so as to ensure that there was no doubt in the Western reader’s mind, as to the assumed ‘destructive’ nature of the new Communist regime. This is, of course, exactly the Western Cold War attitude toward the Soviet Bloc and Communist China, and this single sentence sets the ‘anti-China’ tone for the entire text.
4) Charles Luk states (in his English translation) that all that follows paragraph 1 is a ‘note’ by Xu Yun’s editor – Cen Xue Lu. However, the phrase ‘編者按’ (i.e. ‘Editor’s Note’) is not present for paragraphs 2, and 3, in Cen Xue Lu’s original Chinese language text, and is only found at the beginning of paragraphs 4 and 6. This suggests that paragraphs 4 and 5 constitute one added note, and that paragraphs 6 to 10 constitute another added note.
5) Master Xu Yun’s poem (or ‘gatha’) appears immediately after Charles Luk’s paragraph 11, and Cen Xue Lu’s paragraph 2. The poem is identical in both versions and probably a legitimate utterance of Master Xu Yun, although this does not mean that the ‘Yunmen Incident’ is validated as a result of this assessment. This poem could have been produced in any number of situations, but is used here by Cen Xue Lu to give credence to the ‘Yunmen Incident’ he is conveying. It is interesting to note that at no other time in his life after the alleged ‘Yunmen Incident’ did Master Xu Yun mention anything to anyone about what supposedly happened. This fact makes this poem a very convenient propaganda tool in the hands of those who supported the Nationalist cause, as when placed into the narrative of the ‘Yunmen Incident’, it appears that Master Xu Yun is indirectly, and mystically ‘confirming’ what is being said. This poem might well be legitimate, but its usage is questionable within the broader narrative of the ‘Yunmen Incident’. When lifted out of the ‘Yunmen Incident’ narrative, the content of this poem appears to be nothing more than a re-statement of the Chinese Ch’an Buddhist cosmological view of existence, and in and of itself, has nothing whatsoever to do with the ‘Yunmen Incident’. Therefore, what seems to be a compelling piece of evidence, turns out to be ‘generic’ in nature, and no evidence at all, particularly when considering that Master Xu Yun was apparently so badly treated, but was still able to formulate the kind of sophisticated poetry normally produced in the conducive atmosphere of the scholar’s classroom, or the hermit’s cave, etc.
6) Charles Luk omits from his English translation, the information conveyed by Cen Xue Lu in paragraph 4 of the original Chinese language version. This is interesting, as paragraph 4 and 5 of Cen Xue Lu’s Chinese language version constitute a single ‘Editor’s Note’. Instead, Charles Luk takes paragraph 5 of Cen Xue Lu’s work, and uses it as paragraph 3 of his own work. What is omitted is that Cen Xue Lu states that it has been 5 years since the ‘Yunmen Incident’ (he is presumably writing in 1956), and that he has been slowly gathering more and more information as it has reached him in Hong Kong from within China. However, this connection between China and Hong Kong has not always been open, and that there has been times of hearing no news (with the vacuum filled with rumour and speculation). He discusses that Master Xu Yun was ‘ill’ in 1951, and recalls when they met in Hong Kong in 1949, and explains how he had asked Master Xu Yun to stay in Hong Kong and not return to China (due to the Communist Revolution). Master Xu Yun had refused this request and stated that the people of China needed him, and that others could teach the Dharma outside of China. An important fact omitted by Charles Luk is that prior to 1957, Cen Xue Lu had published two (incomplete) editions of Master Xu Yun’s autobiography, and that in those two early versions, there is no mention of the ‘Yunmen Incident’. The ‘Yunmen Incident’ is only mentioned in Cen Xue Lu’s version of Master Xu Yun’s autobiography published in 1957 – this is the revised and corrected ‘third edition’. Between 1951 (the alleged year of the ‘Yunmen Incident’) and 1956, Cen Xue Lu knew nothing about the ‘Yunmen Incident’. The part of Cen Xue Lu’s paragraph 5 that covers his meeting with Master Xu Yun in Hong Kong in 1949, appears to have been moved by Charles Luk, and instead attached to the entry of Master Xu Yun’s autobiography that deals with the year ‘1949’. This entry has Master Xu Yun explaining how he travelled from Nanhua Temple to Hong Kong, before returning to the Yunmen Temple. Master Xu Yun also mentions that he met with, and asked Cen Xue Lu to edit the ‘Yunmen Records’ – it is here that Charles Luk relocates Cen Xue Lu’s note written for 1951.
7) Charles Luk presents the general narrative of government ‘thugs’ surrounding the Yunmen Temple and imprisoning the monks for some three months. Initially, this process was to search for hidden contraband, but when no such items were discovered, the ‘thugs’ then began a torture and murder campaign that saw a number of prominent monks injured, killed or go missing. This emotive description forms the central core ideology of the ‘Yunmen Incident’, and Charles Luk’s translation remains faithful to Cen Xue Lu’s original Chinese language text. However, the text is presented as being from the stand-point of a single (unnamed) ‘witness’ of all the events involved. The ‘thugs’ are depicted as ignorant and deluded, and the monks as superior and wise – and yet these apparent ‘simpletons’ possess the ability to hold over 100 monks prisoner for three months, without any of those ‘superior’ monks managing to either escape, or manipulate the ‘thugs’ into a more congenial method of behaviour. The ‘thugs’ are therefore ‘stupid’, but otherwise in ‘control’ (perhaps a Nationalist metaphor for the Communist Party of China). Conversations between the ‘thugs’ (who are ‘scared’ of Master Xu Yun’s steadfastness, whilst remaining in ‘control’ of the Yunmen Temple) enter into conversations with the monastics, but who is recording this information, and how is it that these ‘mysterious’ witnesses are always present in the right place exactly as significant events unfold? A particularly perplexing example of this unusual ability involves the allegation that Master Xu Yun was placed in a room on his own that had all the windows and doors ‘sealed’. The narrator of Cen Xue Lu’s ‘note’ then describes - in breath-taking detail - exactly what happened in that ‘sealed’ room, despite the fact that Master Xu Yun was apparently kept in ‘isolation’ until 10 ‘tall’ men entered and proceeded to beat him up. The interior of the room is described as ‘hellish’, and even possessing a ‘dim light’! Obviously, if the ‘thugs’ really existed, and were as ‘stupid’ as implied, there is no way that they could have controlled over 100 monks or secured the temple itself, preventing people from coming and going. Furthermore, any witnesses that came forward after the event, would all have given different accounts of the incidences – and yet none have come forward. Not only this, but it is also entirely possible that any number of the ‘thugs’ could have, over-time, revealed their part in the attack on the temple, but of course, none have ever done this. The ‘thugs’ and the monks, join Master Xu Yun in never talking about an event that was supposed to have happened in 1951, and to have involved them all.
Cen Xue Lu’s first edition of Master Xu Yun’s autobiography was published in 1953, in Hong Kong. It proved to be an instant success and as it soon sold-out, a second edition was issued. However, in 1955, Cen Xue Lu became aware of certain errors and omissions. Although he had not had continuous contact with Master Xu Yun since 1951, he managed to re-establish contact in 1956, and to gain clarification on a number of issues concerning Master Xu Yun’s family background and age. This new information was added to the text, and an updated third edition of Master Xu Yun’s autobiography was published in 1957. It is this edition that contains his ‘note’ on the ‘Yunmen Incident’, and this is the basis of all information about this issue. Cen Xue Lu’s opinion is that this information was provided to him from his contact in Mainland China, and that it emanated from Master Xu Yun himself (and his close disciples). If this is correct, then of course, Master Xu Yun’s involvement would add credibility to its assertions, but is it correct? Politics influence opinion and interpretation, and it is clear that Cen Xue Lu was an ardent Nationalist, and anti-Communist. This attitude reflects exactly the ideological direction of the Nationalist government under Chiang Kai-Shek. The fact that Cen Xue Lu refused to return to the Mainland of China after 1949, confirms where his political allegiance lied. He took refuge in the British colony of Hong Kong, because the West was generally sympathetic toward the Nationalist movement, and lamented its exile to the island of Taiwan. The fact the Nationalist government was not democratic did not matter to the Western democracies, just as long as it was ‘anti-Communist’. During the 1950’s, the US was active in Tibet (through the CIA), striving to create the ahistorical mythology that Tibet was not part of China, and that China had ‘invaded’ it after the 1949 Revolution. This ignored the obvious historical evidence to the contrary, and culminated in a US-inspired ‘uprising’ of ‘armed’ Buddhist monks (who had taken vows ‘not to kill’, or ‘harm’ other living beings), led by the 14th Dalai Lama. When the security forces of Tibet dis-armed the monks – the US arranged for the Dalai Lama to flee initially to India, and then to the West. These sequence of events allowed the US to roll-out its ‘anti-China’ policy which it has as its central theme, the mythology that the Chinese Communists were against religion, and routinely ‘invade’ other countries and ‘massacre’ anyone who disagrees with their ideology. More specifically, it created the paradigm that Communist China was violently opposed to ‘Buddhism’ and prone to ‘attack’, ‘humiliate’ and even ‘kill’ its practitioners. As the Tibet policy of the US was an attack on the hegemony of Communist China, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Cen Xue Lu was working for a Western intelligence agency, and conspired to ‘insert’ a piece of anti-China propaganda into Master Xu Yun’s autobiography, working from the pretext that Master Xu Yun was already very old, and would probably not live to realise the fabrication. On the other hand, pro-Western agents in China could have fabricated the ‘Yunmen Incident’ (adding it to the genuine Master Xu Yun information) that was then passed-on to Cen Xue Lu in Hong Kong. Whatever the actual case as to its origins, the ‘Yunmen Incident’ is ahistorical in nature as it does not seem to follow-on from previous events in Master Xu Yun’s life, or feed into subsequent future events. It is difficult to reconcile the fact that Master Xu Yun was sat in Beijing after the alleged ‘Yunmen Incident’, dictating the future policy of the Chinese Communist government and its attitude toward Buddhism.
Did something happen at the Yunmen Temple between February and May of 1951? Master Jing Hui states that it did, within the context of the government combatting counter-revolutionary elements in the Yunmen Temple area. An eye-witness to the ‘Yunmen Incident’ is Master Xu Yun’s disciple – the very highly respected Master Ti Guang (体光法师), who confirms the presence of local security forces at the temple, but does not confirm that Master Xu Yun was ill-treated. The original Chinese language text of Master Ti Guang’s statement can be read in Appendix II, but I present here, the first English language translation of this important document:
‘Master Ti Guang recalled the case and said: ‘From the other side of the road, a large force of armed police entered the area. The police separated into two groups and deployed directly opposite us, across the wasteland, and we (over 100 monks) were ordered to go quickly back to the temple. We returned to the Yunmen Temple and assembled by the pond at the gate. The police followed and surrounded the temple, and I told everyone to wait quietly in the yard. The police then tightened their encirclement of the Yunmen Temple and called for Master Xu Yun to come out and talk. Police officers then entered the temple and escorted Master Xu Yun out, to sit amongst his disciples. A member of the police then asked Master Xu Yun if all the monks present were known personally to him, and whether there were any who had recently arrived, or who were unknown to him? Master Xu Yun looked at all the monks present, and stated that they were all his disciples. However, the Public Security Bureau ignored Master Xu Yun (believing that some of the monks were Nationalists in disguise) and started to detain the monks. This is how trouble began at the Yunmen Temple at that time.’
According to Chinese language narratives, as Master Xu Yun did not discriminate between ‘old’ or ‘new’ disciples, the authorities were suspicious and believed that the Yunmen Temple had become a centre for Nationalist resistance to the Communist Revolution. This suspicion was given credence when in March, the local authorities discovered the Nationalist spy (from Hong Kong) named ‘Wei Zhang’ (威章) - also known as ‘Jing Hui’ (净慧) - whose real name was ‘Zheng Zhaodong’ (郑兆栋) disguised as a monk at the temple. He was in fact a lay-person caught with a photograph of a woman in his wallet (and a secret money-belt), living ‘undercover’ as a monk at the Yunmen Temple. He was discovered at the Yunmen Temple after the local authorities checked all the identity papers of the incumbent monastics. Those monks whose identity papers were not in order, were arrested and their case subject to further investigation. Under the stress of interrogation, Wei Zhang confessed that there were other ‘spies’ in the temple, and that they had brought in a radio, guns and ammunition and hidden these objects in the immediate vicinity (a vague answer that could mean the temple grounds, or somewhere nearby in the surrounding countryside). The police then arrested the monk named Wu Yun (悟云) who had been implicated by Wei Zhang. Under the stress of interrogation (which included his arm being hit and made permanently disabled), Wu Yun admitted that the weapons were lost in the nearby Guihua Lake (桂花潭 – Gui Hua Tan), but when the authorities took Wu Yun to look in the lake, Wu Yun tried to kill himself by drowning – but was saved by the police. When no weapons were found, Wu Yun did not know what to say. After this, and having found no contraband in the area, the Public Security Bureau left the Yunmen Temple and expanded their search into other areas. It seems that either Cen Xue Lu (or others unknown) deliberately conflated the arrest and interrogation of Nationalist spies, with the arrest, torture and murder of legitimate Buddhist monks, and the detainment and torture of Master Xu Yun (a fact Xu Yun never conceded as occurring). It seems that the actual Nationalist spies hiding-out in the temple used deception and intrigue as a weapon against the ordinary Buddhist monks who did not show open support for the defeated Nationalist cause. This Nationalist process of ‘disinformation’ inevitably led to innocent members of the Sangha being arrested and interrogated by the authorities (although not killed), and gave the impetus for the ‘anti-Communist’ tone of Cen Xue Lu’s ‘note’ which was retained in English translation by Charles Luk. This contextual understanding explains the ‘ahistorical’ nature of Cen Xue Lu’s note, and the political circumstances surrounding its initial formulation.
©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2016.
Cen Xue Lu’s Original Chinese Language ‘Note’ of the ‘Yunmen Incident’ as Recorded in Master Xu Yun’s Autobiography (I have added ‘Paragraph Numbers’):
三月初三日。師病重時。即趺坐入定。閉目不視。不言。不食。不飲水。惟侍者法雲。寬純。日夜侍之。端坐歷九日。 十一日早。漸倒下。作吉祥臥。侍者以燈草試鼻官。氣已絕矣。診左右手脈亦已停矣。惟顏色如常。體尚溫。 十二日早。微聞呻吟。旋開目。侍者告以時間。師曰。「我覺纔數分鐘耳。」語侍者法雲曰。「速執筆為我記之。勿輕與人說。啟疑謗也。」師從容言曰。「余頃夢至兜率內院。莊嚴瑰麗。非世間有。見彌勒菩薩。在座上說法。聽者至眾。其中有十餘人。係宿識者。即江西海會寺志善和尚。天臺山融鏡法師。歧山恆誌公。百歲宮寶悟和尚。寶華山聖心和尚。讀體律師。金山觀心和尚。及紫柏尊者等。余合掌致敬。彼等指余坐東邊頭序第三空位。阿難尊者當維那。與余座靠近。聽彌勒菩薩講『唯心識定』未竟。彌勒指謂余曰。『你回去。』余曰。「弟子業障深重。不願回去了。」彌勒曰。『你業緣未了。必須回去。以後再來。』並示偈曰。
識智何分 波水一箇 莫昧瓶盆 金無厚薄
性量三三 麻繩蝸角 疑成弓影 病惟去惑
凡身夢宅 幻無所著 知幻即離 離幻即覺
大覺圓明 鏡鑑森羅 空花凡聖 善惡安樂
悲願渡生 夢境斯作 劫業當頭 警惕普覺
苦海慈航 毋生退卻 蓮開泥水 端坐佛陀
Master Ti Guang’ statement about the ‘Yunmen Incident’ as recorded in Chinese language sources.
REFERENCES & FURTHER READING:
“云门事变”浅探 http://www.shixiu.net/news/fjxw/1036.html Accessed 13.6.2016 (i.e. ‘Investigation into the Yunmen Incident’)
云门事变 http://www.baike.com/wiki/云门事变 Accessed 13.6.2016 (i.e. ‘Investigation into the Yunmen Incident’)
云门事变 http://fodian.goodweb.cn/dict_read1.asp?ID=16534 Accessed 13.6.2016 (i.e. ‘Investigation into the Yunmen Incident’)
云门波澜 http://www.pusa123.com/pusa/news/dujia/201349772.shtml?1366521802 Accessed 13.6.2016 (i.e. ‘Great Waves at Yunmen’)
净慧法师 http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_5fb123c60101djm6.html Accessed 15.6.2016 (i.e. ‘Dharma Master Jing Hui’)
“云门事变”浅探 http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_71c772c40100y6mu.html Accessed 15.6.2016 (i.e. ‘Investigation into the Yunmen Incident’)
Mapping Buddhist Monasteries http://monastic-asia.wikidot.com/yunmen Accessed 13.6.2016.
Luk, Charles (trans), Hunn, Richard (Editor), Empty Cloud, The Autobiography of the Chinese Zen Master Xu Yun, Element Books, (1988), Chapter Twelve – The Yun-Men Monastery – Pages 131-143.
虛雲和尚年譜 http://book.bfnn.org/books2/1184.htm Accessed 13.6.2016 (i.e. ‘Autobiography of the Monk Xu Yun’)
雲門文偃 https://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/雲門文偃 Accessed 13.6.2016 (i.e. ‘Yunmen Wenyan’)
云门寺 （广东韶关云门寺）http://baike.baidu.com/subview/53054/7138496.htm Accessed 13.6.2016. (I.e. ‘Yunmen Temple of the Shaoguan area of Guangdong’)
Yunmen Temple, Ruyuan http://www.szdaily.com/content/2014-07/21/content_9838885.htm
Xu Yun (1840-1959) Present Awareness http://wenshuchan-online.weebly.com/biography-master-xu-yun-1840-1959.html Accessed 13.6.2016 Accessed 13.6.2016.
The Venerable Old Monk Miao Lian [妙莲] (1824-1907) - Teacher of Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) http://wenshuchan-online.weebly.com/master-miao-lian-2293733714-1824-1907.html Accessed 13.6.2016.
Master Shao Yun’s Recollections of Xu Yun http://wenshuchan-online.weebly.com/master-shao-yunrsquos-recollections-of-xu-yun.html Accessed 13.6.2016.
Scholar Cen Xue Lu - (1882-1963) - Xu Yun's Editor http://wenshuchan-online.weebly.com/scholar-cen-xue-lu-1882-1963---xu-yuns-editor.html Accessed 13.6.2016
Charles Luk (1898-1978) - Ch'an Buddhist Scholar http://wenshuchan-online.weebly.com/biography-charles-luk-1898-1978.html Accessed 13.6.2016.
Why the Shaolin Temple was Burned in 1928 http://www.chandao.co.uk/why-the-shaolin-temple-was-burned-in-1928.html Accessed 13.6.2016.
Master Xu Yun, Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai http://wenshuchan-online.weebly.com/master-xu-yun-mao-zedong-and-zhou-enlai.html Accessed 13.6.2016.
Degeneration of the Sangha in the Dharma-ending Age By Ch’an Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) http://wenshuchan-online.weebly.com/degeneration-of-the-sangha-in-the-dharma-ending-age.html Accessed 13.6.2016.
Zhou Enlai – Disciple of Master Xu Yun https://thesanghakommune.org/2016/03/11/zhou-enlai-disciple-of-master-xu-yun/ Accessed 13.6.2016.
Mao Zedong: A lifetime of Respecting the Buddhist Temple http://buddhistsocialism.weebly.com/mao-zedong-a-lifetime-of-respecting-the-buddhist-temple.html Accessed 13.6.2016.
Cen Xue Lu – An Open Letter to the Public http://wenshuchan-online.weebly.com/cen-xue-lu-ndash-an-open-letter-to-the-public.html Accessed 14.6.2016.
Master Jing Hui Ch’an Principle, Practice & Style http://wenshuchan-online.weebly.com/master-jing-hui---dharma-words.html Accessed 14.6.2016.
Master Xu Yun and Tibet 1911-12 https://thesanghakommune.org/tag/cen-xue-lu/ Accessed 14.6.2016.