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Lohan from Nan Hua Si 

One Bright True Mind

The Forty-first Year (1586-7)

That year an Imperial order was given to distribute the collections of The Tripitaka to various temples. At first, certain works that had been written in China had not be included, but the Empress Mother ordered that these works also be included. When the printing was completed, the Emperor ordered that fifteen sets should be given to well-known temples around the country. Four of the sets were distributed to four border-region temples.

At that time, the Empress Mother, still remembering the prayer meeting in Five Peak Mountain and my refusal to accept a reward, ordered that a set of The Tripitaka be sent to Dong Hai for me. Unfortunately, no one informed me in advance of this gift and when it arrived, there was no place to put it, and it had to be stored temporarily at the district office.

When I read for myself the Imperial order accompanying The Tripitaka, I decided to go up to the capital to express my gratitude.

The Empress Mother graciously asked the court ladies to donate money for the restoration of the temple at Dong Hai so that it could properly house The Tripitaka. She also requested that the temple be named Hai Yin which means Symbol of the Sea.

Having heard that Master Da Guan had gone to see me at Lao Shan, I hurried to return there to meet him. We met at the foot of the mountain—just as I was arriving and he was departing. Together we returned to my place by the shore, and after his visit which lasted twenty days, he gave me a poem that contained the following lines:

    Leisurely I lived by the seashore,
    Having dropped my burden of fame
    East of the mountains.

That winter, in the eleventh month, after more than five years of nearly non-stop work, my body and mind finally found true rest one evening in the Temple’s new meditation hall. What ecstasy! I had sat in meditation all evening and then, during the night, I got up and looked at the sea. Time ceased. There was no movement in the ocean. No waves or ripples disturbed the water’s surface. Moonlight glistened on the still water as though it were shining on a field of snow. Everything was filled with light—the earth, the sky, the sea, and even my own body and mind. Nothing else but light existed. I recited the following gatha:

    From a clear sky the bright moon shimmers
    On the stilled sea and snow draped shore.
    In that holy light I cannot find the water’s edge.

When I returned to my room I picked up a copy of The Surangama Sutra , and letting it open at random, I read the following verses:

    Your mind and your body, and all the mountains, rivers, and spaces of the
    earth are merely phenomena that exist within the One Bright True Mind.

At that moment I gained such insight into the Sutra’s meaning that I immediately began to write The Hanging Mirror of The Surangama Sutra. The work was finished in no time at all. That evening, when the evening meditation in the hall had ended, I asked the monk who held the second highest office in the monastery to come and read my manuscript to me. I listened, feeling as if the words were being spoken in a dream.

The Forty-second Year (1587-8)

That year, when the temple repairs were finally completed, I started teaching Buddhist Precepts to faithful followers in the new hall. Once the hall was formally opened, monks came from all over the country to attend my talks. Especially for the benefit of laymen, I gave a lecture called Straight Talk on the Heart Sutra.

That autumn in the eighth month, district magistrate Hu Zhong Chen, who had gone back to his native home after he had resigned his office, returned to visit me. He brought a relative’s son with him and asked if I would accept him as a monk and also would allow him to serve me as my attendant. I agreed, naming the young man Fu Shan.

The Forty-third Year (1588-9)

One day, after reading The Hanging Mirror of The Surangama Sutra, a disciple came to me complaining that there was still much in the Sutra that puzzled him. “This Sutra is usually very clear about how we should regard the soul,” he said, “but there is much written ‘between the lines’ that needs to be explained. In order for students to understand its profound meaning, additional commentary is needed.” Then he said, “Such a commentary would be greatest gift anyone could give the Buddhist Dharma.”

I immediately began to write The Thorough Meaning of The Surangama Sutra. Although I completed an outline of my thoughts, I didn’t finish the manuscript.

The Forty-fourth Year (1589-90)

That year I read The Tripitaka and gave lectures on The Lotus Sutra and The Awakening of Faith.

Since leaving five Peak Mountain, I continuously thought about visiting my parents, but I was always afraid of becoming involved in worldly affairs. Now, however, I decided to test myself. One evening, in the tenth month, as I opened my eyes after meditating, the following lines occurred to me:

    I’ve watched smoke spiral into the void of space.
    In that bright mirror, I’ve seen a myriad things.
    But last night a dragon gulped the shining moon
    and in the blackness, I saw what I had missed.

I called my attendant and told him, “Now I can return to my native village to see my parents.” I needed to express my gratitude to them. I planned first to go to the capital to ask the Emperor to donate a copy of The Tripitaka for Bao En Temple. The Emperor happily granted my request, and as soon as I received the volumes, I started my return journey without delay.

In the eleventh month, as I was traveling south to Long Jiang, the stupa there had begun to emit light. The light shone for several days and when I approached one evening bringing The Tripitaka, the light bent northwards like a bridge and the monks were able to walk in the light to come and welcome The Tripitaka. When the Sutras were safely shelved, a ceremony was held. The light continued to shine for days, and the thousands of people who witnessed it believed that this truly was a rare and favorable sign.

As soon as my mother learned that I was returning, she sent a messenger to ask me exactly when I’d be home and also how much time I planned to spend there. I told him to explain that since I was also conducting official business, I couldn’t be precise about my arrival time. I then joked, “If she’s as happy to see me arrive as she was to see me leave, I’ll spend two nights at home with her.” When my mother heard this she said, “Seeing him again after all this time will be like meeting him in the next life. I’m so happy! And two nights! Just one night would have been enough, but now he is going to stay for two!”

She was so happy when she finally saw me that she couldn’t stop laughing. I was surprised and delighted by her reaction. She had invited many friends and relatives to come to the house that evening and we spent the entire night talking together.

    “Did you come by boat or road?” an elderly clansman of mine asked.
    “Why ask about how he got here?” my mother replied.
    “Well, where did he come from?” the elder then asked.
    “He came from the stars!” my mother answered.
    I laughed. “No wonder she let me leave home!”
    Then I asked her, “Did you think of me after I left?”
    “How could I not think about you? I worried all the time.”
    “What did you worry about?”

“At first, I didn’t know where you were. Then a monk told me you were at Five Peak Mountain and I asked him in what direction that was and he said, ‘North. Your son is staying under the Great Bear.’ So every night I looked up at the Great Bear and thought of you as I recited the Bodhisattva’s name. I saw you up there every night. If someone were to tell me you had died, I would have said, ‘No. He is still there.’ What I’m looking at now must be your transformation body!”

The following day we went to pay our respects to our ancestral graves. While there I found a suitable gravesite for my parents. My father was eighty years old at the time, so I joked and said, “I might as well bury him now so that I won’t have to return later.” Then, pretending to dig, I struck the ground several times with a mattock. My mother pulled the mattock from my hands and began to dig, saying, “While we’re at it, I might as well dig my own grave, too. Then nobody will have to be bothered.” On the third day, I said goodbye to my parents. My mother, happy as usual, showed no sign of grief. She was such an extraordinary woman!

At Ji Mo I had a disciple named Huang Na Shan alias Zi Guang, who was a brother of an official named Huang. He became my disciple when he was nineteen years old and I had only recently arrived at my seaside residence at Dong Hai. I taught him The Surangama Sutra which he learned by heart in two months. Then, despite the opposition of his parents, he firmly decided to become a vegetarian.

He was so earnest in his Chan practice that he often went without sleep. Even though he knew that I was on my way back to Dong Hai, he still prayed to Guan Yin for my safe and early return. He said, “We are frontier people. For a long time we never even got to hear about the Three Treasures. Then, by some great fortune, a wonderful master came to be our teacher and our friend. So much do we now rely upon him that if he fails to return, we will not survive the loss.” Then, as a sacrificial offering, he cut his arm open and inserted a lit candle into the bleeding slot. He prayed to Guan Yin as the candle burned down and cauterized the wound.

It took three months for the painful wound to heal, but when it did, it left a scar that mysteriously took the form of Guan Yin’s face. The features were as clearly recognizable as if they had been purposefully drawn. Though he lived at home with his wife and mother, he did not tell them the story of this scar. Then, when he came to me saying that he would leave home if I would accept him as a monk, I regretfully refused. He protested. "Haven’t I proven my devotion to the Dharma?” he asked. “Why won’t you let me become a monk?” But since he had already committed himself to domestic responsibility, I had to refuse. Still, this incident showed that the seed of Buddhahood could take root even in a spiritual wasteland.

When I first decided to stay at Five Peak Mountain my intention was to await an opportune time to rebuild Bao En Temple which had been destroyed by fire. Of course, the project required money, too. But while much time made itself available, no money did.

When I moved to the seashore, I continued to await an advantageous time to press for the necessary funds. This occurred when I was transporting The Tripitaka to the southern capital. I wrote a detailed plan for rebuilding the temple and presented it to the Empress Mother. I acknowledged the difficulty of raising so much money, but suggested that it could be amassed a little at a time by, say, cutting Imperial food expenses by a mere hundred taels a day. The savings would add up until, in three years, the reconstruction could begin. In ten years it would be completed. The Empress Mother was pleased with this proposal and ordered that in that twelfth month of that year, a hundred taels a day be set aside from the food budget.

The Forty-fifth Year (1590-1)

In the spring of that year, I copied The Lotus Sutra in payment of my gratitude to the Empress Mother.

During this time, a few Daoist cult members got together with their priests and, claiming that their Daoist temple sites had been unjustly seized by me, tried to take possession of what was now Buddhist land and temples. They stirred up a crowd of people and, rioting at the provincial viceroy’s headquarters, demanded the return of their property. Two of my attendants and I were present during the riot. We tried to calm the crowd, but they were too unruly. Viceroy Li, believing that they had no just claim, played for time by insisting that he would send the case to Lei Zhou for a thorough investigation.

The crowd was not appeased. At one point, my attendants and I were surrounded by an angry mob. I immediately dismissed my two attendants and moved ahead alone. One of the mob leaders confronted me with a knife in his hand, threatening to kill me. I kept my composure and said gently, “And if you kill me, do you really think you’ll get away with it?” Grudgingly, he sheathed his knife. Seeing that he was in a more amenable frame of mind, I began to walk with him, trying to reason with him. We walked together for a couple of miles and were on the point of parting amicably, when the crown suddenly decided that he had betrayed them and ran towards him threatening to beat him.

Fearing that they’d kill him, I quickly grabbed his arm and practically dragged him to my residence. Inside, I had him disguised, and then we sat down pretending to be casually chatting and laughing and eating some fruit. Of course, a rumor had already spread that Daoists were murdering Buddhist monks, and when the Prefect heard the rumor, he immediately sent militia to arrest the crowd. Everyone converged on my residence. Seeing the militia and the Prefect, and knowing we were not safe, I had my Daoist guest change back into his old clothes. The crowd, thoroughly frightened, kow-towed to me, begging me to save them.

    “Did these rioters murder any Buddhist monks?” the Prefect asked.
    “Rioters? No, this group of people didn’t kill anyone,” I said simply. “In fact, their leader and I have been sitting here talking quietly and enjoying a little fruit.”
    “What was all the noise about?” the Prefect demanded to know.
    “That was just marketplace noise,” I answered. “Just disperse the crowd. There’s no need for jail.”

The Prefect quickly understood the true situation and ordered the local authorities to send the people back to their homes. In less than three days, law and order were completely restored.

That year I wrote a commentary on the works of Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi.

The Forty-sixth Year (1591-2)

In this year the Empress Mother commissioned a sandalwood statue of Vairocana for the main temple hall which was now completed.

In the autumn, my disciple Huang Zi Guang died while sitting in meditation.

The Forty-seventh Year (1592-3)

In the seventh month of the year, I went to the capital and visited Master Da Guan in his mountain lodge. Centuries before, in the Jin Dynasty, Dharma Master Yuan, worried that Buddhist teachings were in danger of disappearing, had the sutras carved in stone. He then stored the stones in a nearby cave. Later, however, Buddhist monks decided to sell the temple and stupa, and so the buildings remained, not serving any Buddhist cause until Master Da Guan came and redeemed them. He took me to the cave and showed me the treasure of stone sutras. It was all such a wonderful story that I did not hesitate when he asked me to write it out. Delighted to do so, I recorded the recovery of the stones, stupa and temple. I also took some time to organize the manuscripts that I had written at Hai Yin Temple.

Then, for forty days and nights, Master Da Guan and I sat facing each other as if we were united in one state of samadhi. This was the most beautiful time of my life.

The Forty-eighth Year (1593-4)

That year, a severe famine in Shandong province caused many people to starve to death. The streets were filled with the dead. Near our mountain, there were many hungry people. We fed them with our temple’s provisions, and after our supplies were exhausted, I went by boat to Liao Dong to buy more staples. Not a single person on our side of the mountain died of starvation.

The Forty-ninth Year (1594-5)

That spring in the third month, Viceroy Zheng Kun Ya of Shandong visited me. He had many questions about the Dharma which I happily answered.

In the tenth month, for the winter solstice festival, I went to the capital to extend holiday greetings to the Empress Mother. I accepted an invitation to stay on several months for the New Year celebrations and also to lecture on Buddhist Precepts at Ci Shou Temple.

By this time, the Empress Mother had amassed a considerable sum of money for the Bao En Temple rebuilding project. I asked her when the reconstruction would commence. Owing to a political crisis which had been created by the Japanese invasion of Korea, Chinese troops were being mobilized, and under these circumstances, she had to defer any decisions about the temple project.

The Fiftieth Year (1595-6)

This was not a good year. In the spring, no sooner had I returned from the capital to my seaside temple, then I was arrested on a variety of charges.

First of all, owing mostly to Daoist intrigue, the Empress Mother’s devotion to Buddhism and her kind attentions to me were not entirely appreciated by the Emperor and by some other ranking members of the Imperial court. Many courtiers resented Her Majesty’s gift to me of The Tripitaka and her request that other ladies of the court donate the money to build a suitable temple to house it. They also resented that while others had paid for the temple, she personally chose to rename it Hai Yin, a renaming which seemed to give Imperial recognition to the Buddhist claim of ownership.

Then too, that old misunderstanding about the Moksha Parishad had never fully been resolved. Many officials still thought that I had disobeyed an Imperial order. Complicating this, these court officials also detested the Empress Mother’s envoy, the one who had delivered both The Tripitaka and the money which had been donated to build the temple to house it. Of this money, I had used only seven hundred gold coins on the construction project and had asked the envoy to distribute the remainder of the gift to those who were suffering from the famine, and he had done so. But at the instigation of several Daoist functionaries and those resentful court officials, charges of having misused the entire sum were brought against me and the hated envoy.

My Bao En rebuilding plan also aroused much enmity. Court members, especially those who were not Buddhists, did not see why they should suffer even a small reduction in the sumptuousness of their meals just to satisfy my sentimental fondness for an old temple. That Her Majesty could have been persuaded to finance my expensive whim suggested that I had undue influence in the Imperial court. Their irritation extended even to the court administrator who oversaw the collection of the money saved from the daily food budget. He, too, was charged with fiscal irresponsibility.

Most serious of all, however, was the old charge that I had illegally seized Daoist property at Dong Hai mountain. When the Daoists of the area had rioted, the Prefect had been able to disperse their bodies; but neither he nor I had been able to disperse their enmity. The Daoists continued to press their grievance against me and when they and the disgruntled court officials became allies, their petty grievance took on Imperial dimensions. A formal complaint replete with exaggerations and false accusations was drawn up against me and presented to the Emperor by an agent of theirs who, for this purpose, falsely presented himself as a Daoist priest. It was an effective piece of deception. The Emperor, angered and indignant, immediately gave the arrest order.

Upon learning of my misfortune, my friends and disciples were extremely upset and I naturally tried to console them. “I have been here with you for twelve years. Think of what has been accomplished during this time. People who wandered aimlessly without any moral guidance now walk strong and straight on our sacred Buddhist path. I have heard little children sweetly chant the Buddha’s name. What do I have to regret?” And then, recalling my old vow to rebuild Bao En Temple, I corrected myself. “That Bao En Temple is not likely to be restored in my only real regret.”

At the capital, the Bureau of Pacification was ordered to interrogate me. Before being formally indicted on all counts, I was beaten and relentlessly questioned about the Empress Mother’s donations to various Buddhist monasteries, donations which, according to my accusers, totaled several hundred thousand gold coins. I refused to say anything that might compromise Her Majesty’s devotion to Buddhism; and, as to the donation which the court ladies had made, I fortunately was able to produce court records which showed exactly how and where the money had been spent. The charge of misappropriation of funds was then dropped.

I was further prodded to betray the Empress Mother by saying that she had not only sanctioned my illegal acquisition of Daoist property at Dong Hai but had actually encouraged it when she had requested that money be donated to construct a new Buddhist temple on a old Daoist site. I related to the court the historical research of the area which I had done when I first arrived at Dong Hai. I contended that the property had been originally Buddhist, that Daoists had illegally obtained title to it by forging the Emperor’s signature, that subsequently Buddhist authorities had successfully petitioned for its return, and that, in any case, the temple site had long been abandoned when I arrived. These, I insisted, were assurances I had given Her Majesty.

I presented my views with such conviction that the Emperor readily understood how the Empress Mother would have accepted my version of the facts without any doubt as to their accuracy. He and the Empress Mother were completely reconciled. I was devoted to both Their Majesties; and the one consolation I was able to derive from my ordeal was that I had not succumbed to torture and allowed myself to become an instrument of familial dissension.

But it was the Daoists’ version of the facts that the Emperor chose to accept; and I was found guilty of illegally building temples at Dong Hai. Accordingly, I was jailed in Lei Zhou. This was in the third month of the year.

Throughout my trial, all of the temples in the capital continuously recited sutras for me and held Kshamayati ceremonies which invoked divine patience and forgiveness. Some monks even offered the sacrifice of letting incense sticks burn down on their arm while they repeated mantras and prayers for my safety. At Jin Wu, the son of Official Zheng Fan Ji of An Su, whom I had never met, held a banquet for the purpose of rallying support of nobles and gentry. With tears in his eyes, he told them of my innocence. His audience expressed much regret for my suffering and for the damage that was being done to our Buddhist Dharma. In this they reflected the true attitude of the people towards the Dharma at that time.

For eight months I remained in prison. During this time only Fu Shan was permitted to bring me food.

That winter, in the tenth month, I was deported to the South. Many people, including officials who dressed as ordinary citizens, accompanied me to the river bank. My attendant Fu Shan and two or three other monks followed me.

In the eleventh month I arrived in Nanjing. After saying goodbye to my mother, I composed a literary work entitled Mother and Son. When I departed, I took my orphaned nephew with me.

I recalled that earlier, when Master Da Guan and I had stayed together on the mountain of the Stone Sutras, he had said, commenting on the decline of the Chan sect, that Cao Ji (Nan Hua Si), the source of Chan, might also be deteriorating. We had then decided to go there to revive the monastery. He had in fact gone ahead and was waiting for me to join him at Kung Shan. When I was arrested, he was staying at Tian Chi.

When Master Da Guan heard of my arrest, he was stunned. Then he sadly noted, “If Master Han Shan is gone, our vow to revive Cao Ji cannot be fulfilled.” Nevertheless, he continued on to the monastery before returning to Liao Cheng.

When he learned that I would be arriving in Nanjing, he went there to wait for me. We were able spend time together talking in a temple by the river bank. He wanted to go to the capital to plead my case for me, but I discouraged him from doing this. “As a son obeys his father, I obey His Majesty. What is the difference between families and governments. This sentence is my fate and I accept it. Please,” I begged him, “Do not do or say anything in my defense.”

Before we parted be grasped my arm and said, “When I heard that you were arrested at Tian Chi, I vows before the Buddha’s shrine to recite The Lotus Sutra one hundred times for your safety. I prayed with all my heart that you would be delivered from harm. I pray not that you will have no further trouble.” I humbly thanked him.

He later wrote to me, sending me a copy of his composition, The Expulsion of a Guest.

back   page 7 of 12   next page
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