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Lohan from Nan Hua Si 

"Purify Your Mind"

The Fifty-first Year (1596-7)

In the first month, still in the state of banishment, I crossed Wen Jiang River and visited Imperial Counselor Zhou. Upasaka Wang Xin Hai of Lu Ling came to the bout to pay his respects and to ask me to write a commentary on The Lankavatara Sutra.

In the second month I went up to the peak of Yu Mountain to see the place where Wei Ming attempted to seize the Sixth Patriarch’s robe. In memory of this event, I wrote these two lines:

    And when you passed this way before, beloved Journeyman,
    One who followed showed you his Immortal Face.
    Shall mine be seen so clearly?

The site was truly inspirational and well worth seeing, but the path to it was far to rugged to travelers. I therefore instructed one of my attendants to set up a booth to offer free tea to visitors, and I encouraged local Buddhists to work on the road and to persuade each visitor to also contribute a little help. Within a few years the path to the site was smooth and safe.

When I arrived at Shao Yang, I went immediately to the mountain to pay reverence to the Sixth Patriarch. I drank the water of Cao Ji and wrote the following gatha:

    One drop of Cao Ji’s water was enough
    To make the ocean waves lash at the sky
    And change the timid fish to dragons.
    The spring is clogged. The well is dry.
    In the calm sea no infant dragons stir.

The Sixth Patriarch’s temple was nearly deserted and close to ruin. Deeply saddened, I left for Guangzhou.

When I arrived there, I put on prisoner’s garb and bonds and presented myself to the military general who untied my cords and invited me to a feast at Hai Zhu Temple.

At that time, Imperial Counselor Zhou Hai Men was lecturing on Yan Ming metaphysics. When he heard of my arrival, he called on me bringing a few dozen of his followers along. He began a discussion by referring to the saying: “One cannot realize the truth until one understands the condition of day and night.”

A Daoist elder who was sitting among them responded. “The condition is consciousness,” he said. “And day and night are waking and sleeping. The same consciousness that functions during our daylight actions, functions during the night in our dream actions.” The audience showed its approval.

Counselor Zhou then turned to me. “Venerable old Chan Master,” he said, “thought everyone else seems to be satisfied with this interpretation, I am not. Please give us your opinion.”

“What is the source of the quotation?” I asked

“It is from The Book of Changes,” be answered, reciting a few additional sentences.

“These words are a wise man’s advice to men that they should transcend Samsara and get beyond birth and death,” I said.

The Counselor applauded. “Only this old master’s interpretation accords with the text. The meaning is now clear.” But his followers didn’t understand and asked for further explanation.

“Day and night are the illusion called birth and death,” the counselor explained. “Not until one is delivered from the conditions of this illusion, can one experience reality.”

This time everyone was in agreement. At the request of some devoted Buddhists, Viceroy Chen issued traveling passes to me for my journey south. On the tenth day of the third month, I arrived at Lei Zhou and stayed at an old temple located in the western part of the town. In a few weeks I began to write my Commentary on The Lankavatara Sutra.

At that time a year long drought had produced a terrible famine, and due to the people’s weakened condition, an epidemic raged though the area, resulting in many deaths. As though sitting in a cemetery, I was surrounded by death. But the power of the Dharma shielded me from disease and, fortunately, I did not fall ill.

Due to the drought, all the wells had dried up. Every night, my attendant Fu Shan would wait until midnight before going out to try to obtain a small can of water for the following day’s use. Times were very hard and water seemed as precious as ambrosia.

Corpses piled up everywhere. By Autumn, when the epidemic had abated, I and a scholar named Ke Shi Fu organized the burial of about the thousand victims. I then held a funeral service for the dead while at the same time offering prayers for rain. The prayers were overwhelmingly answered. A few hours after the service, it rained so heavily that the streets were soon three-feet deep in water. The drought and the last vestiges of the epidemic were washed away.

In the eighth month, by order of the prefecture, I returned to Guangzhou. Still under limited military supervision, I stayed in a barracks and while there composed some twenty poems about my experiences traveling with the army.

While on the road to Guangzhou I passed though Ku Teng of the Dian Bai district which was considered the gateway to the country. This was my first visit to the area and to commemorate it I wrote a literary composition. I also helped to set up a station where travelers could get free tea.

At Guang Hai I met Imperial Counselor Ding You Wu, who, like me, had been victimized by the judicial system. False accusations had resulted in his being banished there. I had always admired him and now that we had so much in common, we were able to become close friends.

The Fifty-second Year (1597-8)

The winter had brought much hardship to Guangzhou. Corpses and skeletal remains, numbering in the thousands, lay in the streets. Ding You Wu and I worked hard organizing burial details, and after the sad task was completed we held a seven-day ceremony for the welfare of the dead. Our efforts were much appreciated and many Cantonese converted to Buddhism.

That summer, in the fourth month, I finished my Commentary On The Lankavatara Sutra but because some of my disciples didn’t understand its main theme, I also wrote The Zhong Yong Directly Explained which enabled them to comprehend the sutra.

Persons convicted of crimes were not usually welcomed in polite society. Convicted priests were particularly despised. So, generally, I was treated coldly or even shunned by most people. But it so happened that Viceroy Chen Ru Gang, who was so strict in his duty and stern in his manner that no one ever even dared to call upon him privately, frequently sent his men kindly to inquire about me. Encouraged by this, Ding You Wu and I decided one day to pay him a visit. Naturally, we didn’t get past the doorkeeper.

That evening, however, the Viceroy came by boat to visit me. He brought food and tea and we sat and talked until midnight. His friendship towards me astonished everyone. Afterwards he openly praised me to other officials, even claiming that I was the most accomplished master in the sangha. To emphasize his support of me, he ordered various department-heads to visit me; and in no time the people of the entire Ling Nan region began to show me some respect.

The Fifty-third Year (1598-9)

That spring, in the first month, the administrator who had been accused of fiscal irresponsibility in the matter of the Bao En rebuilding plan was banished to Lei Yang. He called on me in Guangzhou where I was editing the manuscript of my commentary on The Lankavatara Sutra. When he asked about the scenery of Lei Yang, I showed him my manuscript, saying, “This is the scenery of Lei Yang.” He appreciated the view enough to immediately start soliciting donations for carving the wooden blocks to print it.

Inspector Zhou Hai Men, head of the Guangdong salt tax office, called on me frequently to ask about the Dharma. He was particularly interested in the history of the Sixth Patriarch’s monastery at Cao Ji and asked me if I would revise the official Cao Ji Annals.

At that time very little Buddhist theology was being taught in Guangdong. One day, Imperial Counselor Zhou Hai Men, who taught Yang Ming metaphysics, brought his class to me to ask me about Buddhism. One of his students, Long Sheng, was sufficiently impressed by my teachings so that when he returned home he repeated them to two of his friends, Wang An Shun and Feng Sheng Chang. Later, the three of them returned to my residence and asked me to instruct them further. I taught them the transcendental doctrine which they understood and accepted. They earnestly practiced Chan and were able to convert many others to Buddhism. Because of the efforts of these three disciples, the Three Treasures became well known in the area.

That summer I set up a meditation hall in order that I might openly preach the Dharma. Recalling Master Da Guan’s vow to recite The Lotus Sutra a hundred times to reduce suffering. I decided to teach this sutra to the few dozen monks and disciples who gathered in the hall. When I came to the chapter on the Precious Stupa, I suddenly grasped the Buddha’s meaning. The Pure Land of Buddhas existed before everyman’s eyes. The Three Transformations which were necessary to enter it were available to all, even to those of inferior ability. I then wrote a commentary entitled Applauding the Lotus Sutra.

My friend Ding You Wu had a quick and fiery nature, but he had a warm and generous heart. He showed respect towards the Sangha even though he didn’t know anything about the Dharma. But little by little I instructed him until one day, as he was boarding a boat, he realized the Great Awakening. Cautioning him always to discriminate the truth, I gave him the name Upasaka Jue Fei. I also wrote him the following poem as a reminder.

    Purify Your Mind
    Your True Nature is deep, like still, clear water in a lake.
    If you allow the bottom to be stirred by love and hate,
    Waves of passion will arise. What was clear will become murky.
    With your vision obstructed, you will not notice
    How your troubles are increasing.
    If you look with desire upon people or things,
    You throw mud into the clear water.
    If you allow yourself to become another’s desire.
    You are like oil poured on passion’s fire.
    When the clamoring ego sinks to silence,
    Burning hells will turn to ice.
    Let your ego slip gently towards a muted death.
    When the ego’s eyes are closed, in vain does harm appear.
    This death does not come easy. Be on guard against old habits
    That, haunting, come to quicken it. Be steadfast and endure.
    Alertness brings awareness and awareness is a light that in a
    Searing flash obliterates all traces of the ghost.
    Let your True Nature shine forth in perfect clarity.
    Rest easy in the pure, serene stillness of the One.
    Alone, you are a sovereign. Yourself, a precious kingdom.
    Reign with peace and harmony!
    What external force can possibly invade?

The Fifty-fourth Year (1599-1600)

In the spring I finished carving the wooden blocks for my Commentary On The Lankavatara Sutra. I lectured on the Sutra and distributed one hundred copies of it to learned Buddhists and to those government officials who had assisted the spread of the Dharma. I particularly wanted them to know that despite my difficulties I was still performing my clerical duties.

Many Cantonese observed the custom of sacrificing animals to their ancestors. On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, many animals were gathered for one sacrificial ritual. It was so pitiable, seeing them waiting to be slaughtered, that I introduced the Ullambana ritual in which vegetarian food and prayers were offered in sacrificial respect to the ancestors. I sermonized on the sanctity of all life and tried to persuade people to cease killing animals both for food and for acts of ritual sacrifice. It pleased me to see how many of them accepted my teachings. From that time on, funeral ceremonies and ceremonies marking parental birthdays, as well as Khsamayati ritual service, were usually performed with vegetarian food offered in substitute of animal flesh. Many birds and animals were actually set free. This kindness to animals was looked so favorably that many people were moved to convert to Buddhism.

That summer, in the fifth month, Magistrate Chen, who had been my intimate Dharma friend, returned home. When he arrived he did not call upon me or any of the senior monks, but instead sent a messenger to request that I lend him one hundred sets of eating utensils. I complied with his request. Later, we were all surprised when he invited us to a banquet. Naturally, he served us with the borrowed utensils. It was good to know that he had so much respect for the sangha. Before long, he resigned his office. Fearing that he might be in poor health, I went to visit him, but he had passed away just before I arrived. His body was brought into town the next day and I went directly to the mortuary to pay my last respects to him.

At the mortuary, I met Supervisor Ren of the Chao Yang district. He and I went to Hui Yang together and then, accepting his invitation, I went on with him to visit West Lake. At Dong Po we climbed White Crane Peak. My sadness over Magistrate Chen’s death did not leave me, and when I returned home I declined to see any visitors and instead sat in solitary meditation.

The Fifty-fifth Year (1600-1601)

The Japanese invasion frightened the entire country. In addition to national fears, local communities were terrorized by customs’ tax collectors. I decided to close the temple temporarily and, scattering my followers, I went to a nearby retreat.

Rice merchants, attempting to profit from the calamitous situation, began to export large quantities of rice to Fujian Province; and, as rice became scarce in Canton, it’s price soared. Most people could not afford to buy rice and as their hunger grew so did their anger toward the Fujianese.

Now, the Fujianese traditionally painted their commercial vessels white, and the customs’ tax collectors were easily able to spot them. So, of course, could the people; and whenever the tax collectors boarded a Fukien rice boat, people would gather on the docks to jeer at the crew.

On one occasion, the tax collectors boarded a Fujianese vessel and discovered the son of Canton’s Provincial military commander, who was a native of Fukien. When the people learned of the son’s presence on the boat, they began to riot. They could hardly believe that their commander, whose duty was to protect the people of Canton, was actually contributing to their suffering by helping his own son to profit in the rice market. When the news of this official abuse spread, thousands of people came to join the riot. Throwing rocks and brandishing weapons, they marched on the provincial administration office.

As luck would have it, all three of the high ranking administrators had gone to Jun Men for a festival and there was no one in authority to deal with the rioters. Desperate to resolve this situation, the commander sent his assistant to my retreat to ask for my help. At first I refused, saying that I wasn’t able to perform miracles. But then the assistant began to weep and, dropping to his knees, implored me to help. “So many people will die,” he said, and hearing this, I got up and hurried to the scene of the riot.

I shouted to the crowd, “What you want is rice, what you’re asking for is death. Don’t you realize that by rioting you are breaking the law! You can receive the death sentence for this! I know that you want cheaper rice. But even if you got it cheaply, how could you eat it if you’re dead?” I begged them to return to their homes and they slowly withdrew.

Meanwhile, when the three high ranking provincial administrators who were partying at Jun Men heard about the riot, they returned immediately. But by the time they arrived all was quiet and peaceful.

Everyone credited me with quelling the riot. Supervisor Ren, commenting on my new celebrity, wrote to me, “If you hadn’t come out, what would have happened to the town? But since you did come out, what will happen to you?” I, too, knew that I would have no peace because of my intervention.

That autumn, in the seventh month, Supervisor Dao Zhu of the Nan Shao District, invited me to Cao Ji. I seized this chance to get away. The invitation also gave me the opportunity to pay my respects to the Sixth Patriarch’s remains.

But my successful intervention had also secured an invitation from our new Viceroy Dai. Actually, he ordered the commander to bring me to his office.

The Viceroy received me warmly, even serving me special vegetarian meals, and delighted me by giving his assurance that he would protect the Dharma. As we parted he told me to call upon him for help whenever I needed it. Relieved and happy, I said goodbye to him and headed for Cao Ji.

The Fifty-sixth Year (1601-1602)

In Spring, during the first month, I arrived at Cao Ji and found that the Sixth Patriarch’s nine hundred year old monastery, the very source of Chan Buddhism, had been converted into a meat market. Squealing animals were being slaughtered, dressed and butchered. Stinking piles of worm infested guts filled the stately courtyard. Huckstering vendors in clap-board stalls shouted for the milling crowds’ attention. The entire place was in total disarray. Even the graveyard, intended only for clerical remains, had been invaded by the dead relatives of neighboring villagers.

The monks still in residence at Cao Ji were as helpless as sheep. Whether from bribery or fear, they did nothing to oppose the profanation of this hallowed place. Merchants, tradesmen, and an assortment of brigands conducted their vile business without any opposition from clerical or civil authorities.

Deeply distressed, I went to Viceroy Dai and begged him to help. His response was immediate. He ordered the district magistrate to dispatch the militia to Cao Ji, and, within three days, the vendors and tradesmen were driven away and their shops and stalls torn down. The piles of filth were removed and the entire temple complex was cleaned.

With much satisfaction, the Viceroy and I inspected the monastery. Afterwards, as we enjoyed a vegetarian meal, he said to me, “Master, I did you a favor by cleaning up the Sixth Patriarch’s monastery. In return, you can do me a favor.”

“I’ll do whatever I can,” I replied. “What exactly is the problem?”

He explained, “The people of this region are constantly being harassed by piratical pearl divers and rogue miners, who, among other mischief, rob ancestral graves. The law is powerless to apprehend these criminals because no on knows when or where they are going to strike. There are many pearl diving vessels and when one of them commits an act of piracy, no one can determine the guilty vessel. You see,”, he confided, “the supply of pearls has dwindled so much that there is not much work for the divers to do. But since they can earn a living stealing from the people here, they refuse to leave. It’s the same situation with the miners. When they’re not exploiting the local workers in the mines, they come at night to rob the ancestral graves. Both the pearl divers and the miners have official permission to work here so we simply cannot drive them away. The people here are grievously oppressed by such lawlessness; and I confess that I just don’t know how to help correct the situation.”

“I can see your problem,” I said. “It won’t be an easy one to solve.” But I agreed to try to help.

It so happened that Li, the officer in charge of the pearl fishery and mining operations, came to Cao Ji to spend a few autumn days in the pleasant surroundings of the mountain monastery. I undertook to instruct him in the Dharma which he received with great delight.

Now a devoted Buddhist, Li wanted to show his appreciation by doing more than just donating money to the monastery. I saw my chance to propose a solution to the problem. “Clearly,” I said, “when the Emperor issued work permits, it was not his intention to allow the divers and miners to remain in the area after their work was completed. And certainly he never intended that they should oppress the people so cruelly. I know that the culprits claim that they are still legitimately working but you and I both know that this claim is merely an excuse for remaining.” I then suggested that Li require proof of labor by inspecting the results of the work they said they were doing. If they could produce neither pearls nor ore, they should be ordered to leave the area. Fines could be imposed if they failed to leave as ordered.

Li thought my plan had merit and implemented it without delay.

The miscreants were dispersed and order was restored. Thus, by being instrumental in pacifying the community, I was able to repay my debt to Viceroy Dai. Extremely grateful, he became an even more enthusiastic protector of the Dharma. Under his aegis I was able to expand Cao Ji’s temples, improve roads, start a training program for monks, arrange for certain accomplished monks to teach Buddhist Precepts, establish clerical rules and regulations, appoint a hierarchy to govern efficiently and fairly, collect rents, pay taxes, and redeem all of the temple’s properties. All this was accomplished within a year.

The Fifty-seventh Year (1602-1603)

During this year additional work was done at Cao Ji. We renovated the Sixth Patriarch’s hall, built a retaining wall at the rear of the temple complex, improved numerous paths and lanes, and converted some of the secular buildings that had been constructed by the merchants into guest houses for visiting monks.

The Fifty-eight Year (1603-1604)

In the eleventh months of that winter, Master Da Guan was jailed in the capital because of charges made against him in an anonymous letter sent to a government official. I feared that his association with me had made him enemies and, indeed, at his trial he was implicated in my case. I knew that master Da Guan would never betray me, but knowing also the power of my enemies, I fully expected new indictments to be handed down against me. I prayed and waited. Then, sadly, Master Da Guan died in his cell while sitting in meditation.

The Emperor was merciful and no further charges were brought against me. I was permitted to travel to the South. Also that year, my attendant, Xin Guang, joined the sangha.

The Fifty-ninth Year (1604-1605)

That spring, in the first month, I left Cao Ji and returned to Lei Zhou. I recalled that Master Da Guan had once told me that The Surangama Sutra required more commentary. “Cause and effect, as related to worldly affairs, needed to be thoroughly explained,” he had said. I decided to write about immorality and how evil forces, when they are not properly restrained, can corrupt even the best people. I called my book, Chun Qiu Zuo’s Doctrine of the Mind.

The Sixtieth Year (1605-1606)

That spring, in the third month, I crossed Hai Nan Sea to Nan Zhou and stayed at Ming Chang Temple while I wrote the preface to the book on immorality which I had just completed. I also visited Feng Lang Temple, made famous by poet Su Dong Po, and went to see White Dragon Spring. I searched for but could not locate the temple of Chan Master Jue Fan.

I then wrote about my explorations in the area and also recorded my impressions of The Golden Corn Fountain which I had seen when visiting Ming Shan.

One night, as I sat on a hill watching the distant town of Ju Cheng, I had a terrible premonition that the town was going to be destroyed. I told my followers about my premonition and asked them to pray for the town’s survival. None of the townspeople gave my warning any consideration at all. Dismayed by their indifference, I decided to leave the area. Everyone pleaded with me to stay, but I refused.

One night, two weeks after I left, a strong earthquake struck. The town’s gate, eastern wall and numerous buildings were destroyed. Ming Chang Temple also collapsed. The bed in which I would have been sleeping when the quake occurred was buried in tons of debris. Had I not left when I did, I would surely have been killed.

That summer, in the fourth month, the Viceroy allowed me to return to Guangzhou.

That autumn, in the seventh month, I went back to Cao Ji for the completion of the restoration work on the Sixth Patriarch’s temple. Unfortunately, due to lack of money, only sixty or seventy percent of the work had been done. I had to go to several Buddhist officials and beg for the required funds. With their donations, the rebuilding project was finally completed that year.

I also repaired the Chang Chun An Temple in Guangzhou. It became a subsidiary temple to Cao Ji.

That winter, in the tenth month, my attendants, Guang Yi and Guang Se, joined the sangha.


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Last modified: July 11, 2004
This work courtesy of Grandmaster Jy Din Shakya
Published by the Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun, 1998