OF FIVE ZEN MASTERS
1. Epitome of Zen Master
Han Shan's Autobiography
I was born at Chuan Chiao in the county of Nanking. My mother, a pious Buddhist, had been a worshipper of the All-merciful Kwan Yin all her life. One day she dreamed that the All-merciful Mother brought into the house a child which she received with warm embraces. As a result, she became pregnant, and on the twelfth of October, 1545,19 I was bom.
In 1546, when I was twelve months old, a serious illness carried me to the point of death. My mother prayed to the All-merciful One and vowed that if I recovered she would otfer me to the monastery to become a monk. When I recovered, she duly enlisted my name in the Monastery of Longevity.
When I was three years old, I preferred to sit alone and did not care to play with the other children. My grandfather would always exclaim, "This child is like a wooden pole!"
When I was seven years old, my mother sent me to school. At that time I had an uncle who loved me very much. One day, just before I arrived home from school, he died. When I saw him lying so still on the bed, my mother tried to deceive me about his death, saying, "Your uncle is asleep. You might wake him up." Whereupon I called to my uncle a few times, but he did not answer me. At this my aunt, greatly grief-stricken, cried out to him, "Oh, my Heaven! Where have you gone?" Very puzzled, I said to my mother, "My uncle's body lies right here. Why does my aunt say he has gone away?" Then my mother said, "Your uncle is dead." "If one dies, where does one then go?" I asked her, and from that moment this question was deeply impressed on my mind.
After some time, my aunt gave birth to a child. When my mother took me to see the new-bom baby for the first time, I asked, "How did this baby get into the belly of my aunt?" My mother patted me and said, "Foolish child! How did you get into my belly!"
From that day on, the big question of life and death obsessed my thought. It stuck in my mind and weighed like lead on my heart.
When I was eight years old, I was boarded in the home of some relatives across the river so that I could be nearer my school. My mother forbade me to come home oftener than once a month. One day, however, I refused to return to school after my monthly holiday. When I told my mother that I could not bear to leave her, she became furious. She slapped me and chased me to the river bank. But there I would not leave her to board the ferry boat. In a rage, my mother grabbed me by the hair, threw me into the river, and then turned homeward without once looking back. My grandmother, who was nearby, called for help and I was saved. Finally, when I reached home, my mother exclaimed, "What is the use of keeping this trash alive! It would be better if he had drowned!" After this she beat me and tried to chase me away. Then I decided that my mother was too stern and cruel and that, henceforth, I would not go home any more.
I learned later that my mother many times stood alone on the river bank weeping. When my grandmother discovered this, she upbraided her. With tears flowing down her cheeks, my mother answered, "I must make him overcome his too affectionate nature so that he can study seriously."
When I was nine years old, I entered the monastery to study. One day I overheard a monk reciting the Sutra of the All-merciful One. Thus I became aware that Kwan Yin could save us from all the sufferings of this world. At this realization, I became very excited and borrowed the sutra so that I might read and study it privately.
On a later occasion, when I had accompanied my mother while she burned incense and made obeisance to Kwan Yin, I said, "Do you know the sutra of the Bodhisattva Kwan Yin?"
My mother said "No," whereupon I immediately recited the sutra for her. This pleased her very much and she asked, "Where did you learn this?", for the manner and voice in which I recited the sutra were just like that of the old monk.
In 1555 I was ten. My mother was pressing me to study so hard that I was unhappy about it.
"Why should I study?" I asked her.
"To get a position in the government," 20 she replied.
"And what kind of position can I have later in the government?" I asked.
Mother said, "You can start in a low position and it is possible to rise to become Prime Minister."
"Even if I become Prime Minister," I said, "what then?"
"That is as far as one can go."
"What is the use of becoming a high government official? To toil all one's life and get nothing is futile. I want to obtain something of eternal value."
My mother exclaimed, "Oh, a useless son like you can be nothing but a wandering monk!"
I asked, "What good is it to become a monk?"
"A monk," she said, "is a disciple of the Buddha and can go anywhere in the world. He is a man of true freedom. Everywhere people will give him offerings and serve him."
"This seems very good to me. I should like to be a monk."
"I am afraid," my mother replied, "that you have no such merits."
When I appeared surprised at this, my mother continued, "There have been many Chuang Yuan (Champion Scholars) 21 in this world, but Buddhas and Patriarchs do not often appear."
"I have such merit," I insisted, "but I was afraid you would not let me go ahead."
"If you have such merit," my mother replied, "I will let you go your way."
This promise of hers I cherished in my heart.
One day in 1556, when I was eleven years old, several persons wearing bamboo rain-hats, with carrying poles upon their shoulders, approached our house. At once I asked my mother, "Who are these strangers?"
"They are traveling monks," she replied. I was delighted and scrutinized them most carefully. When they had nearly reached our house, they put down their carrying poles and rested under a tree nearby. They asked us where they could find some food. My mother told them to wait, and immediately began preparing food for them, attending and serving them with great respect and veneration. After eating, the monks stood up and shouldered their poles, but raised only one hand to express their thanks. My mother, however, waved them off, saying, "Please do not thank me." The monks departed without uttering a word. I then remarked to my mother, "These monks seem impolite! They did not even say Thank you' but just left!" "If they had thanked me," my mother explained, "I would have obtained less merit from this good deed." I then said to myself, privately, that their action showed the supremacy of the priesthood. This encounter encouraged me more strongly than ever in my decision to become a monk. The only obstacle was that I did not then have the opportunity.
In 1557 I was twelve. Usually I did not like to mingle with worldly people or take part in their affairs. Whenever my father tried to arrange a marriage for me, I stopped him at once. One day I heard a monk from the Capital say that in the monastery of Pao En lived a great Master named Hsi Lin. Immediately, I wanted to go to see him. I asked my father's permission to go, but he refused. Then I asked my mother to intercede for me. She reasoned, "It is better to let our son follow his own wish and to help him to accomplish it." That October I was sent to the monastery. As soon as the Grand Master saw me, he was pleased, remarking, "This boy is not a usual person. It would be a pitiable waste if he became an ordinary monk." At that time Master Wu Chi was preaching a sutra in the monastery. The Grand Master brought me to the meeting. When Master Ta Chou Chao saw me, he was delighted and exclaimed, "This child will become the master of men and Heaven." 22 He then patted me and asked, "Would you rather be a high officer in the government or a Buddha?" I answered, "A Buddha, of course." Then he turned to the others, saying, "We must not underrate this child. He should be well educated."
Although I did not understand a word of the lecture while I was listening to it, my heart became eager and fervent as if it knew something but could not express it in words.
In 1564, when I was nineteen, many of my friends gained honor by passing the official examination.23 My friends urged me to take the examination, also. When Master Yun Ku heard of this, he became worried that I might be persuaded to engage in worldly affairs; he, therefore, encouraged me to practice religion and to strive for Zen. He related to me many stories of the Masters of the past, and showed me the book called The Biographies of the Great Monks. Before I had finished reading the Life of Chung Feng, I was so moved and exalted that I sighed to myself, saying, "Oh, this is what I would like to do!" Thereupon I made up my mind to devote my life to Buddhism. I then besought the Grand Master to ordain me.
Discarding all worldly affairs and learning, I devoted myself to the study of Zen, but could not get anywhere. Then I concentrated on reciting the name of Buddha Amida, day and night, without interruption. Before long, Buddha Amida appeared before me in a dream, sitting high in the sky in the direction of the setting sun. Seeing his kind face and eyes radiant with compassion, clear and vivid, I prostrated myself at his feet with mixed feelings of love, sorrow, and happiness. I said to myself, "Where are the Bodhisattvas Kwan Yin and Ta Shih Chih? I wish to see them." Immediately the Bodhisattvas Kwan Yin and Ta Shih Chih displayed the upper halves of their bodies. Thus I saw clearly the Three Holy Ones and was convinced that I would be successful in my efforts at devotion.
That winter our monastery invited the Master Wu Chi to preach the philosophy of Hua Yen. When the lecture came to the point of the Ten Mysterious Gates 24 —the eternal realm of the Ocean Seal—I suddenly realized the infinite and all-inclusive totality of the universe. So deeply impressed was I with a profound admiration for Ching Liang [the founder of the Hua Yen sect] that I adopted one of his names and called myself Ching Yin. I then put my understanding before the Master Wu Chi. He said to me, "Oh, so you wish to follow the path of Hua Yen! Good! But do you know why he called himself Ching Liang [Pure and Cool]? It was because he used to dwell on the Ching Liang Mountain, cool in summer and icy and frozen in winter." From that moment, whether walking or standing still, I always saw before me a fantasy world of ice and snow. I then made up my mind to go and dwell on that mountain; nothing in the world could attract me any more. The yearning to renounce this world arose continuously within me.
On the sixteenth of January, 1565, when I was twenty, my Grand Master died. A few days before his death he summoned all the monks in the monastery and said, "I am now eighty-three years old. Very soon I will be leaving this world. I have some eighty disciples, but the one who will carry on my work is Han Shan. After my death, you should all obey his orders and not neglect his injunctions just because of his age." On the seventh day of the New Year my Grand Master, wearing his formal dress, called each monk in his own room to say good-bye. All of us were much surprised by this action. Three days later he settled his affairs and made his will. At the time he appeared to have only a slight illness. We took him some medicine, but he refused it, saying, "I am going away; what is the use of taking drugs?" Then, he summoned all the monks in the monastery and asked them to recite the name of Buddha Amida for him. We prayed thus for him five days and nights. Rosary in hand, he died in the sitting posture, peacefully reciting the name of Buddha Amida. Not long after his death the room in which he had lived for thirty years was destroyed by fire, as if to give an omen to his followers.
In October of the same year Master Yun Ku opened up a "Meditation Assembly" [Chinese: Ch'an Chi]. He called together fifty-three nationally known elders in order to reveal and propagate the teaching of meditation through its actual practice. Because of the recommendation of Master Yun Ku, I was able to join the assembly. At first I did not know how to work [meditate] and was greatly disturbed by my ignorance. After burning incense and offering it to the Master, I asked him for instruction. He first taught me how to work on the koan of "Who is the one who recites the name of Buddha Amida?" I concentrated for the next three months on working on this koan without a single distracting thought. It was as if I were absorbed in a dream. During this whole period I was not aware of anyone in the assembly or of anything happening around me. But in the first few days of my earnest striving I was much too anxious and impatient. My impatience caused the rapid growth of a carbuncle on my back which swelled to a large size and was acutely inflamed. My Master was moved with great pity for me. I then wrapped a stole around my shoulder and prayed mournfully and with great sincerity before the Bodhisattva Vatou [one of the Guardians of the Dharma], making this vow, "This affliction must be a Karmic debt which I owe from a previous incarnation and which I must pay back in this life. But in order that I may complete this meditation period, I beg you to postpone it to a later date. Before you as witness, I promise to pay this debt after the meditation practice, and I also promise to recite the Hua Yen [Avatamsaka] Sutra ten times to show my gratitude and thankfulness to you." Thus I made my vow. Feeling very tired, I went to bed that evening, not even waking when the time for meditation was over.
The next day the Master asked, "How is your sickness?" I answered, "I do not feel anything wrong now." He then looked at my back and found that the carbuncle had healed. All the monks were moved with admiration and astonishment. Thus I was able to complete the meditation practice.
When the Assembly for Meditation ended, I still felt as if I were in meditation all the time, even while walking through the bazaar or on a busy street.
In 1566 I was twenty-one. That winter I attended the lectures on the Fa Hua Sutra given by Master Wu Chi. I had made up my mind to go far away for a meditation period and was looking for a suitable companion, but had not found the right person. One day, however, I saw a traveling monk named Miao Feng, who seemed to be an unusual and genuine person. But a few days later he left the monastery without my knowledge; presumably, he feared that a too close association with me might hinder his freedom.
In 1571 I was twenty-six years old. A very heavy snow had fallen that year, and by the time I reached Yang Chow I had become very ill. After being sick for some time, I had to beg for food in the street. But no one gave me anything. I wondered, asking myself, "Why will no one give me any food?" Suddenly, I became aware that I still had some silver money in my pocket. I then collected all the Buddhist and Taoist monks who were unable to obtain food in the snow, and bought them dinner in an eating house, spending all the money I had. The next morning, when I went to the bazaar again, I experienced no difficulty in begging and obtaining food. I was so delighted that I exclaimed to myself, "Now my strength is sufficient to counter the weight of hundreds of tons!"
In 1574 I was twenty-nine. I had come across Miao Feng again in the capital. That September we journeyed to Ho Tung. The local magistrate, Mr. Chen, became our sincere patron. He contributed a sum for making a block printing of the Book of Shao Lun. I edited and checked the work for him.
I had had difficulty in understanding the thesis, "On Immutability," by Shao, especially the part about the Whirlwind and the Resting Mountain on which I had had doubts for some years. But this time when I reached the point where the aged Brahmin returned home after his lifetime of priesthood and heard his neighbors exclaim, "Oh, look, the man of old days still exists!" to which he replied, "Oh no, I may look like that old man, but actually I am not he," I suddenly was awakened. Then I said to myself, "In reality, all dharmas have no coming and no going! Oh. how true, how true this is!" I left my seat immediately and prostrated myself before the Buddha. As I made my obeisance I felt, "Nothing moves or arises." I then lifted up the curtain on the door and stood on the platform outside. A sudden gust of wind swept the trees in the courtyard, whirling leaves against the sky. Nevertheless, while I watched the flying leaves, I did not feel that anything was moving. "This," I thought to myself, "is the meaning of the Whirlwind and the Resting Mountain. Oh, now I understand!" Later, even while passing urine, I did not feel that there was anything flowing. I said to myself, "Oh, this is what is meant by the saying that rivers flow all day, but nothing flows." From that time on, the problem of life and death—the doubts on the "wherefrom" before birth and the "whereto" after death—was completely broken. Thereupon I composed the following stanza:
Life comes and death goes,
The water flows and the flower withers.
Oh, today I know my nostrils were facing downwards.
The second morning after this experience, Miao Feng came in. As soon as he saw me, he exclaimed delightedly, "What have you found?" "Last evening," I said, "I saw two iron oxen fighting with each other along the river bank until they both fell into the water. Since then, I have not heard anything of them." Miao Feng smiled. "Congratulations!" he said. "You have seized the means by which you can afford to dwell on the mountain from now on."
Soon after this Zen Master Fa Kuang, whom I had long greatly admired, also came. I was pleased to have this opportunity to meet and study under him. After we had exchanged a few words I was very impressed and begged him for instruction. He told me that I should work on Zen by dissociating from mind, consciousness, and perceptions, and also that I should keep away from both the holy and the mundane paths of learning. I benefited greatly by his instructions. When he talked, his voice was like the throbbing of a heavenly drum. I then realized that the speech and behavior of those who actually understood the Truth of Mind are quite different from the speech and behavior of ordinary people.
One day, after reading some of my poems, Master Fa Kuang sighed, "This is really beautiful poetry. Where else can one find such wonderful lines? Yes, these poems are good, but one hole still remains unopened," he laughed. I asked, "Master, have you opened that hole yet?" He replied, "For the past thirty years I have trapped tigers and caught dragons, but today a rabbit came out of the grass and frightened me to death!" I said, "Master, you are not the one who can trap tigers and catch dragons!" The Master raised his staff and was about to strike me when I snatched it and grabbed his long beard, saying, "You said it was a rabbit, but actually it was a frog!" The Master then laughed and let me go.
One day the Master said to me, "It is not necessary for you to go away to a far place to seek a Zen teacher. I hope you will stay with this old man so that we can work together on subduing the Ox." 25 I said to him, "Your wit, eloquence, and understanding of Buddhism are in no way inferior to that of Ta Hui. However, there are some peculiarities in your manner that puzzle me. I am conscious that your hands are always waving and your mouth constantly murmuring as if reading or chanting something. In short, your manner seems rather like that of a lunatic. What is the reason for this?" Master Fa Kuang replied, "This is my Zen-sickness.26 When the 'Wu' [Satori] experience came for the first time, automatically and instantaneously poems and stanzas poured from my mouth, like a gushing river flowing day and night without ceasing. I could not stop, and since then I have had this Zen-sickness." I asked, "What can one do when it first appears?" He replied, "When this Zen-sickness first appears, one should notice it immediately. If he is not aware of it, a Zen Master should correct it for him at once by striking him severely and beating it out of him. Then the Master should put him to sleep. When he awakes he will be over the sickness. I regret to say that my Master was not alert and severe enough to beat it out of me at that time."
In 1575 I was thirty years old. With Miao Feng I went to Wu Tai Mountain. We stayed at Lung Men on the north side. On the third of March we cleared the snow from an old house of several rooms and took residence there. Ranges of mountains completely covered with snow and ice surrounded our abode. This was the place I had dreamed of for a long, long time. I felt as happy as if I had entered into a heavenly paradise. Both mind and body felt at ease and comfortable.
After some time Miao Feng went to Yeh Tai, while I remained alone. I fixed my mind upon one thought and spoke to no one. If anyone came to the door I merely looked at him and said nothing. After a while, whenever I looked at people, they appeared like dead logs. My mind entered a state in which I could not recognize a single word. At the start of this meditation, when I heard the howling of the storms and the sounds of the ice grinding against the mountains, I felt very disturbed. The tumult seemed as great as that of thousands of soldiers and horses in battle. [Later] I asked Miao Feng about it. He said, "All feelings and sensations arise from one's own mind; they do not come from outside. Have you heard what the monks in the old days said—'If one does not allow his mind to stir when he hears the sound of flowing water for thirty years, he will come to the realization of the Miraculous Understanding of Avalokitesvara.'" 27 I then went to sit on a solitary wooden bridge and meditated there every day. At first I heard the stream flowing very clearly, but as time passed I could hear the sound only if I willed it. If I stirred my mind, I could hear it, but if I kept my mind still I heard nothing. One day, while sitting on the bridge, I suddenly felt that I had no body. It had vanished, together with the sound around me. Since then I have never been disturbed by any sound.
My daily food was a gruel of bran, weeds, and rice water. When I first came to the mountain someone had given me three pecks of rice, which lasted for more than six months. One day, after having my gruel, I took a walk. Suddenly I stood still, filled with the realization that I had no body or mind. All I could see was one great illuminating Whole—omnipresent, perfect, lucid, and serene. It was like an all-embracing mirror from which the mountains and rivers of the earth were projected as reflections. When I awoke from this experience, I felt as "clear-and-transparent" as though my body and mind did not exist at all, whereupon I composed the following stanza:
Abruptly, the violence of mind stops;
Inner body, outer world—both are transparently clear
After the great overturn,
The great Voidness is broken through.
Oh! How freely the myriad manifestations
Come and go!
From then on, both the inward and the outward experience became lucidly clear. Sounds, voices, visions, scenes, forms, and objects were no longer hindrances. All my former doubts dissolved into nothing. When I returned to my kitchen, I found the cauldron covered with dust. Many days had passed during my experience of which I, being alone, was unaware.
In the summer of that year Hsuen Lang came from the north to visit me, but he stayed only one day, because he could not stand the cold and gloom of my isolated hermitage.
In 1576 I was thirty-one years old. Although I had attained this "Wu" experience, there was no Master at hand to certify or approve it. Therefore, I read the Leng Yen [Surangama] Sutra with the hope of testing my "Wu" experience against it. Since I had never studied this sutra with any Master, its contents were not known to me. I decided to read it, using only my intuition, and to stop whenever even the slightest intellectual reasonings began to arise. In such manner I read the sutra for eight months and came to understand its meaning thoroughly.
Surangama Sutra, commentary by Han Shan, translated by Charles Luk (pdf, 2 megs)
In October of that year my patron, Mr. Hu, invited me to stay at his house. His friend, Mr. Kao, asked me to write a poem for him. I replied, "There is not a single word in my heart now. How can I write you a poem?" However, both he and Mr. Hu earnestly entreated me to write a poem. After their repeated insistences, I could not refuse. I then glanced over some old and contemporary books of poetry to stimulate my thought. In casually turning over the pages, my mind suddenly became keyed to inspiration. Verse poured from me, so that a few minutes later, when Mr. Hu returned, I had written some twenty poems. Suddenly I became aware of the danger in this and warned myself: "Notice, this is just what that devil-in-words, your habitual thought, is doing to you!" Immediately I stopped writing. I gave one of the poems to Mr. Kao and kept the rest of them secret. Nevertheless, I could not seem to stop the creative outflow I had started. It was as though all the poems, books, or sayings I had ever learned or seen in my life appeared simultaneously before me, cramming the space and air. Even had I had thousands of mouths all over my body, I could not have exhausted the word-flow. Confused, I could not discern which was my body and which was my mind. Observing myself, I felt as if I were about to fly away. I did not know what to do.
The next morning I thought to myself, "This is just what Master Fa Kuang calls the Zen-sickness. I am now right in the midst of it. Oh, who can cure me of it? Well, since there is no one here who can do so, the only thing for me to do is to sleep—to sleep as long and as soundly as I can. I will be lucky if I can sleep like that!" I then barred the door tightly and forced myself to sleep. Not being able to do so when reclining, I took a sitting posture. Before long I forgot that I was sitting and fell asleep, deeply and soundly. Some time later, the servant boy knocked on the door, but could not rouse me to answer. He tried to open the door, but found it fastened. When Mr. Hu returned home and learned of this, he ordered the boy to break in through the window. Finally, gaining entrance to the room, they saw me sitting there unmoving. They called to me, but I did not respond. They tried shaking me, but could not move my body. Then Mr. Hu caught sight of a small bell which lay on a table. He remembered that I had once told him it was used in cases of emergency to wake a yogi from a deep trance. Immediately he held the bell to my ear and struck it lightly many times. Gradually I began to awaken. When I opened my eyes, I did not know where I was or why I was in that position. Mr. Hu said to me, "Since I left the other morning, your Reverence has been sitting in this room. That was five days ago!" I said, "Why, I thought only a single breath of time had passed." I sat silently and began to observe my surroundings, still not sure where I was. I then recalled my past experiences, and both they and the present ones seemed like events in a dream—no longer attainable or available. Whatever had troubled me had vanished like rain clouds before a clear sky. All space seemed as clear and transparent as if it had just been thoroughly washed. All images and shadows dropped away into the great, all-tranquil Voidness. My mind was so empty, the world so serene, my joy so great, that words could not describe it. I then composed the following poem:
When perfect stillness reigns,
True Illumination is reached.
Since serene reflection includes all space
I can look back on the world again,
Which is filled with nothing but dreams!
Oh, today I really understand
How true and how faithful is the teaching of Buddha!
In 1579 I was thirty-four years old. I devoted myself to copying the sutras. During this work, on every stroke of the character and on every mark of punctuation, I recited the Buddha's name once. Whenever monks or laymen visited me in the temple, I would talk with them while still carrying on my work of copying. If anyone asked a question, I answered without hesitation. Nevertheless, my work was never hindered, nor did I make any mistakes in copying because of conversation. I did this every day as a routine, for not a trace of activity or quietness existed in my mind. This greatly surprised some neighbors, who were skeptical about it. So one day they sent many people to visit me and to do things purposely to distract my mind, and divert my attention from my copying work. After this visit I showed the copy to them; and when they found not a single mistake in it, they were all convinced. They questioned Miao Feng about my accomplishment. Miao Feng said, "Oh, this is nothing! It is simply because my friend is well-acquainted with this particular samadhi. That is all."
I always had some wonderful dreams when I stayed in the mountains while copying the sutras. One night I dreamed I entered into a diamond cave. On the gate of the cave, made of stone, was carved "The Temple of Great Wisdom." As I passed within, an immense space opened. Palatial mansions of indescribable magnificence stood before me. In the central mansion there was only one huge seat-bed, on which the Great Master Ching Liang lay, while my friend, Miao Feng, stood beside him as his attendant. At once I prostrated myself before him, and then stood on his left side. Great Master Ching Liang then preached for us the Hua Yen doctrine. First he expounded the inscrutable realm of the all-embracing Totality—the teaching of "Entering into the Dharmadhatu." He explained how the myriad Buddha-lands are interpenetrating, and how the Principleship and Partnership are a mutual "turning-into" 28—a state of going forward and coming back in steadfast immutability. As he commented, an actual picture illustrating each topic appeared before us. Thereby I understood how body and mind mutually penetrate each other. After this demonstration Miao Feng asked, "What realm of experience is this?" The Master laughed and said, "This is the realm of No‑domain." When I awoke from that dream I beheld my mind and body harmonious and transparent—empty of all hindrances and doubts.
Another night I dreamed that my body soared into the sky, floating up to the edgeless height of the firmament. Then gradually I descended to a place where I saw that nothing existed. There the ground shone transparent, like a great flat mirror of crystal. I gazed into the far, far distance where a huge mansion stood, so large that it filled the entire sky. All events and happenings, all peoples and their actions, including the trivia of the bazaars, were reflected from, and manifested within, that vast mansion. In the center stood a huge and high seat, purple in color. "This," I said to myself, "must be the precious Vajra-seat." 29 The splendor of that mansion was such that human imagination could not conceive it. Delighted at beholding such a wonderful scene, I wanted to approach it. Then I thought, "How is it that the impure and trivial things of the world can be manifest in this pure and heavenly mansion?" As soon as this thought arose, the mansion moved away from me. Then I said, "'Pure or impure' depends entirely on one's own mind!" Immediately the mansion appeared close at hand.
After a while I noticed that many attendant monks, all large, graceful, and handsome, stood before the Great Seat. A monk suddenly came from behind the seat holding the scroll of a sutra in his hand and said to me, "The Master is going to preach this sutra. He ordered me to give it to you." I received the scroll and examined it, discovering that it was writen in Sanskrit — a language I did not understand. I then asked the monk, "Who is the Master?" He replied, "Maitreya Bodhisattva." 30 Following the monk, I ascended the steps to a high platform where I stood quietly with my eyes closed, feeling both excitement and delight. Hearing a chime ring, I opened my eyes to discover Bodhisattva Maitreya already in the Master's seat. I made my obeisance. His face shone with a golden radiance to which nothing in this world could compare. It was evident that I was the honored guest and that Bodhisattva Maitreya was to preach the sutra especially for me. I knelt down and opened the scroll, whereupon I heard him say, "That which discriminates is the consciousness; that which does not discriminate is the Wisdom. From relying on the consciousness, defilements come; from relying on the Wisdom, purity comes. From the defilements arise life-and-death. [If one realizes the purity] there are no Buddhas." Suddenly both my mind and body felt empty, and I awoke with his words still sounding in my ears. Thenceforth I understood thoroughly and clearly the differences between consciousness and Wisdom. I knew I had been visiting the Tushita Heaven—the palace of Maitreya.
On another night I had this dream: A monk addressed me, saying, "Bodhisattva Manjusre invites you to attend his bathing party at the North Mountain. Please follow me." I did so, and found myself in an immense temple hall filled with the fragrant smoke of incense. All the attendant monks were Indians. Then I was guided to the bathing quarter. After disrobing I was about to enter the pool when I noticed someone already there. Scrutinizing the figure more closely, I thought it was a woman. I hesitated in disgust, unwilling to enter the pool. The person in the pool then exposed his body further. I now discovered that the body was that of a man, not of a woman. I then entered the pool and bathed with him. With his hand he scooped up water and poured it over my head. The water penetrated my head and body, flowing down into all the five viscera and cleansing them as one washes filth from meat and guts before cooking. My body was so thoroughly cleansed that all viscera had vanished; nothing was left of me except a frame of skin. My body became radiantly transparent, lucent as crystal.
Meanwhile the man in the pool had called out, "Bring me some tea!" An Indian monk then appeared, holding half a human skull, which looked like half a melon but dripped marrow and brains. Seeing my repugnance, the monk scooped some of the stuff from the skull with his hand, asking, "Is this impure?" Immediately he thrust the stuff into his mouth and swallowed it. He continued to scoop and swallow in this manner, as if drinking some sweet and delicious syrup. When only a little fluid and blood were left in the skull, the man in the pool said to the monk, "Now you can give him to drink." The monk handed me the skull-cup and I drank from it. It tasted like the most delicious nectar. After I had drunk it, liquid flowed through my whole system, reaching the tip of every hair in my body. When I had finished drinking the nectar, the Indian monk rubbed my back with his hand. Suddenly he gave me a hearty slap on my back and I awoke from the dream. My body was exuding fine sweat as if I had just bathed. From that time on my mind and body remained so light and comfortable that it is difficult to describe the feeling in words. I experienced auspicious dreams and omens very often. Through dreams I frequently contacted the holy Sages and heard the preachings of the Buddhas. More and more was I convinced of the truth of the Buddha's teaching.
In 1581 I was thirty-six years old. I vowed to call a great Congregation-for-Dharma. In the same year Miao Feng wrote the complete Hua Yen [Avatamasaka] Sutra with his blood; he also wanted to form a nondiscriminating Congregation-for-Dharma. For this purpose he went to the Capital to raise money. In a short while he had not only secured the money and provisions needed, but had also invited five hundred well-known Masters and monks from all over the country to attend the Congregation. All administrative matters, such as preparing the supplies and provisions, the quarters, and so forth, were handled by me alone. I was so occupied that I had no chance to sleep for ninety days and nights. On a certain day in October, Miao Feng arrived with the five hundred monks. Altogether, the Congregation, inside and out, numbered about a thousand people. Their accommodations, supplies, and food were all in good order. No shortage or discrepancy occurred during this gathering.
In the first seven days we held a great prayer-convocation for sentient beings of the waters and lands. During this time I did not eat even a single grain of rice, but only drank water. Each day I took care of changing five hundred tables of offerings to Buddha, all in perfect order. People wondered how I could do it; they believed that I must have had some magic power. But actually, I knew that I was able to do this through the blessing of Buddha.
In 1582 I was thirty-seven years old. That spring I preached the Hua Yen philosophy for one hundred days. Listeners came from the ten directions to hear my talks; every day the audience numbered over ten thousand. We all ate at the same time and place, but no one made any noise or uttered a sound while eating. Everything in these meetings was conducted by me alone, thus exhausting my life energy. After the Convention, I checked the treasury. Some ten thousand units of money remained, which I handed over to the temple. I then went away with Miao Feng, taking nothing with me but a begging bowl.
In 1586 I was forty-one years old. After a long period of traveling and working, 1 was able to reside quietly in a newly constructed meditation lodge of my own. Both my mind and body relaxed so that I began to feel wonderfully happy. One evening during meditation I clearly saw the great Illuminating-Whole, pellucid, transparent, void, and clear like a limpid ocean—nothing at all existed! Whereupon I uttered the following stanza:
The limpid ocean shines clear and void.
Bright as moonlight mirrored in white snow.
No trace of men or gods remains.
Oh, when the eye of Vajra opens
The mirage disappears;
The great earth vanishes into the realm of tranquility!
After this experience I returned to my room. Upon my desk lay the Leng Yen [Surangama] Sutra. Casually I opened it, and came across the following sentences:
"You will then see that both your body and mind, together with the mountains, rivers, space, and earth of the outward world, are all within the wonderful, illumined, and true Mind."
Suddenly the gist of the whole sutra was clearly understood in my mind and appeared vividly before my eyes. Whereupon I dictated a thesis called "The Mirror of Leng Yen," within the time measured by burning half a candle. I had just finished when the meditation hall opened. Calling the administrative monk in, I let him read the thesis I had just written. As I listened to his reading I felt as if I were hearing words from a dream.
In 1589 I was forty-four years old. In this year I began reading the complete Tripitaka. Also, I lectured on the Lotus Sutra and on The Awakening of Faith.
Ever since I left the Wu Tai Mountain I had thought of visiting my parents, but I was afraid of being blinded by worldly attachments. I then carefully examined myself to determine whether I would be able to visit my parents. One evening during meditation, I casually uttered the following stanza:
Waves and ripples flow
In the cool sky;
Fish and birds swim
In one mirror:
On and on, day after day.
Last night the moon fell from the heavens.
Now is the time to illumine
The black dragon's pearl. 31
At once I called my attendant and said to him, "Now I can return to my native land to see my parents!"
The Temple of Gratitude in my home district had, for some time, been applying for the gift of a complete set of the Tripitaka. In October I went to the capital to make an appeal for my countrymen. A complete set of the Tripitaka was granted by the Emperor as a gift. I escorted the sutras from the capital to Lung Chiang, arriving at my home temple in November. Before my arrival the pagoda of the temple inexplicably and continuously shone with a light for some days. On the day when the sutras arrived the mysterious light emanating from the pagoda assumed the shape of a rainbow bridge stretching from the heavens down to the ground. The monks who came to welcome the sutras all walked through this light. Throughout all the ceremonies and prayers for installing the sutras, the light shone each day without interruption. Spectators, numbering more than ten thousand a day, came from all directions to witness this miracle. All considered it a rare and auspicious sign.
Meanwhile my old mother had heard of my coming. She sent messengers to ask me when I would visit my home. In reply I said that I had been sent by the Court to escort the sutras, not just to go home. However, if my mother could see me in a pleasant manner without grief or sorrow, as if I had never left her, then I would stay for two nights. When my mother heard these words, she exclaimed. "This is [an unexpected] meeting, like finding someone of yours in another incarnation! Overwhelmed with joy, how shall I find time for sorrow? Oh, I shall be quite content to see him, if only for a little while. Two nights at home is far more than I had expected!"
When I reached home my mother was overjoyed. She showed no sign of grief whatsoever. In her I beheld only joy and good cheer. This surprised me very much.
In the evening the elders from among our relatives came in. One of them asked, "Did you come by boat or by land?" My mother immediately answered him, "What do you mean, 'come by boat or by land'?" "What I really want to know," he said, "is from whence did he come home?" My mother replied, "From the Void he returns to us." I was surprised to hear her speak so. In my astonishment I said, "No wonder this old woman could give me away to the priesthood!" I then asked her, "Have you thought of me since I left home?" She said, "Of course! How could I not think of you?" I then asked, "But how did you console yourself?" She replied, "At first I did not know what to do. Then I was told that you were at the Wu Tai Mountain. I asked a priest where this was, and he told me it was just under the North Star. I then made obeisance to the North Star and recited the Bodhisattva's name. After this I felt much better and thought of you no more. Later I just presumed that you were dead—for me no more prostrations, no more thought of you. Now I see you as if in another incarnation."
The next morning I visited the graves of my ancestors to pay my respects. I also chose the site for the graves of my parents. At that time my father was eighty years old. I amused him by saying, "Today I bury you, and so save you the trouble of returning to this earth again." Saying this, I struck the ground with a pick. Immediately my mother snatched it away from me and said, "Let this old woman do the grave-digging herself. I do not need anyone to bother for me." She then began digging up the ground in a lively fashion.
I remained at home three days. When the time for departure came my old mother was still in a very cheerful mood. Not until then did I become fully aware that I had a very unusual woman for a mother!