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Lohan from Nan Hua Si 

The Last Year (1623-23) by his disciple Fu Shan

Master stayed in the Chan Hall at Cao Ji. During the first month of his return he devoted himself to expounding the Dharma. Many officials, gentry, disciples and followers of all kinds came to Cao Ji to pay their respects to him and to listen to his wise instructions.

That autumn, in the eighth month, Master summoned an attendant to carry an expression of gratitude to Chief Justice Su. As the attendant started to leave, Master said, “Good results can come only when the time is right. When the Buddhas and Patriarchs preached the Truth, they succeeded because people were ready to listen to it. If the cause is noble and the time propitious, the work will succeed. My lifetime’s work is over; it’s time for me to go back.” People who heard him thought he wanted to tell Chief Justice Wu that he intended to go back to Kuang Shan Mountain. Master Han Shan then wrote a poem entitled Mid-autumn Without Moonlight. Since the moon is particularly bright in mid-autumn, we understood that he was saying that very soon death would close his eyes.

On the fourth day of the tenth month, district Magistrate Xiao Xuan Pu came to visit master. The two of them chatted happily for the entire day. But Master’s condition was clearly weakening, and when he asked Magistrate Xiao to select a suitable gravesite for him, the Magistrate immediately promised to do so.

After the Magistrate departed, Master began to sicken. On the sixth day of the month, his attendant Guang Yi returned and, after seeing Master, said that he had returned just in time. That same day, Official Chang brought a physician. Master knew his time was near and that medicines were useless. He thanked the physician but declined his help.

On the eighth day of the month, disciple Zhao Yi arrived. After he came out from visiting Master he said that if he had arrived two days later, he surely would have come too late.

On the eleventh day of the month. Master said goodbye to Official Chang. Then after bathing, he burned incense and instructed his disciples for the last time. “All worldly things are impermanent. Keep your minds fixed always on Buddha,” he said.

Hearing this, Disciple Guang Yi cried, “Master, we need more guidance!”

Master Han Shan scolded him. “You have been my disciple for so long,” he said sadly. “Why are you still confused? Have you learned nothing?” Then Master sighed and said, “When the proclamations that come from the (Buddha’s) Golden Mouth are regarded as old and worthless news, what value can my words have?” He refused to speak again.

On the twelfth day of the tenth month, which was Master Han Shan’s birthday, many Buddhist followers gathered at the monastery. Prefect Chang came bringing a purple silk robe as a birthday gift. He and Master chatted during the afternoon and in the evening, when the prefect withdrew, Master bathed.

The following morning, wearing his new silk robe, he received the Prefect saying, “The old monk of the mountain is leaving. Thank you for the protection you have given the Dharma.”

Prefect Chang, in tears, protested. “You are not going to leave! I am the boss of this region and I say that you may not leave!”

Master smiled and again thanked the Prefect.

At noon, after the Prefect departed, Master bathed for the last time as the monks assembled, chanting the Buddha’s name. After he put on fresh garments, he received the monks, saying “Don’t be frightened. Follow the Buddhist custom; no grieving, no weeping. And with one mind repeat the Buddha’s name.”

In the middle of the afternoon, still sitting upright, Master Han Shan quietly died. The birds of Cao Ji cried mournfully, echoing our sorrow.

When the monks of Kuang Shan Mountain learned of Master’s death, they petitioned several high officials to order that the remains be returned to them. This order was issued and Master Han Shan’s body was placed in a coffin and, on the twenty first day of the first month (February 1625), was taken from Cao Ji.

At Kuang Shan Mountain, Bhiksu Fu Shan erected a stupa hall in which the coffin was placed so that all could come and pay their respects to the Master. Later, Prefect Chien Wu Xin of Nan Kang selected a gravesite in a shady but wet place, and the coffin was interred. Eleven years later, the mountain was infested with tigers. People grumbled that this misfortune had been caused by the failure of the monks to bury the Master’s remains in a proper site. The coffin was then disinterred at which time it was discovered that much of the wood had been eaten by ants. No one wanted to place the coffin in the ground again and so it was left in the stupa.

After another nine years had passed (1643), the minister of rite Chen Tzu Chuang of Ling Na, who had been the Master’s disciple, sent money and a formal letter requesting that the remains be returned to Cao Ji.

Though the damage to the coffin was extensive, the Master’s remains were still intact. He still sat upright in the Lotus posture. It was decided to follow the Indian custom of plastering the body with sandalwood dust, making it appear to have been lacquered.

Years earlier, when Master Han Shan had lived in Cao Ji, a seamstress, who was one of his devoted followers, made him a magnificent silk robe which she had embroidered a thousand Buddhas, each set in the niche of appliquéd silk. The master died before she could complete the robe, and so he had never gotten to see it. It was reverently stored in the monastery treasure room.

At last, the monks at Cao Ji were able to place this splendid robe upon his body. The Master was then enshrined in Han Shan Hall where thousands came to venerate him.

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Acknowledgments   ~   Introduction
Early Training   ~   Becoming a Monk
Meeting Miao Fang   ~   Samadhi
One Bright True Mind   ~   "Purify Your Mind"
The Court   ~   Song of the Placard Carrier
The Last Year   ~   Maxims of Master Han Shan
Last modified: July 11, 2004
This work courtesy of Grandmaster Jy Din Shakya
Published by the Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun, 1998