In the final years of the Northern Song Dynasty in China, there lived a great hero named Yue Fei. His father passed away when he was young. His mother was worthy and wise. Mother and son had only each other to rely upon for support. She taught her young son to read and practice penmanship. Since the family was too poor to afford pens, ink, and paper, he practiced writing characters in the sand, and eventually became an accomplished calligrapher. Yue Fei entered military service at an early age. His mother tattooed on his back the slogan, "Give your all in service to the country." He never forgot his great vow to save his country's people.
This was the era when the Tartars (the Jin Dynasty) invaded the Song Dynasty and captured the capital of Bianjing (Kaifeng). They kidnapped the two Emperors Hui and Qin and took them to the North. The King of Kang set up his capital at Hangzhou and named it the Southern Song Dynasty, calling himself Emperor Gao. He appointed Qin Kuai as Prime Minister. At that time, the literati advocated peace while the military advocated going to war with the Tartars. General Yue Fei gave the Tartars a devastating defeat at the town of Zhuxian (close to Bianjing) and planned to attack their capital towards Yellow Dragon (near Jilin Nongan). Unfortunately, Qin Kuai was jealous and so issued twelve false summonses commanding him to return to the capital. Yue Fei's credo was "loyal subjects are patriots to the end." Thus he led the army back to the capital. En route he passed by Gold Mountain Monastery, in the middle of the Yangtze River, where he stopped to pay his respects to Chan Master Daoyue (Joy of the Way).
The monk urged him not to return to the capital, but to leave the home-life and cultivate the Way at Gold Mountain Monastery in Zhenjiang. That way he could avoid all political scandals and conflict. Yue Fei did not take the matter of birth and death seriously, feeling instead that the duty of a military man was to follow orders. He did not follow the philosophy that, "When the general is in the field, he can choose not to follow the emperor's commands." Thus he rejected Master Daoyue's wise suggestion. Before he left, Master Daoyue wrote him a verse that said,
Before New Year's day, be very cautious of heaven's tears;
A gift with two dots beneath it will harm you grievously.
Yue Fei returned to Hangzhou, and Qin Kuai sent a message reading "No grounds necessary," which was a command to imprison both Yue Fei and his son. As he approached the executioner's block, Yue Fei suddenly realized the meaning hidden in Master Daoyue's verse. On New Year's eve, which fell on the twenty-ninth day of the twelfth lunar month that year, the heavens poured forth a heavy rain. Hearing the rain as he sat in jail, Yue Fei knew his death was at hand; the prophecy in the Chan Master's verse was about to be fulfilled. When you write two dots beneath the word "gift" you get the word "Qin," the name of Prime Minister Qin Kuai. Yue Fei was executed at Fengbo Pagoda.
Qin Kuai asked the executioner what Yue Fei's final words had been. The executioner said, "I heard him say, have met my end today, only because I didn't heed the advice of Chan Master Daoyue of Gold Mountain.'" Qin Kuai flew into a rage and ordered Heli to hurry to Gold Mountain Monastery and arrest Master Daoyue. But the day before, while in Chan samadhi, Master Daoyue had foreseen this situation and had written another verse, which said,
Heli is coming from the South,
but I am going to the West.
If my strength in the Dharma were not sufficient,
I would surely have fallen into the villain's hands.
After he wrote this verse, he entered the stillness of Nirvana. When Heli reached the temple the next day, Master Daoyue had already entered Nirvana.
This story proves that when you have perfected the skill of Chan meditation, you can control your own birth and death. You can go off to rebirth at any time you choose. You are in control of the process, and it is a very natural matter. Chan Masters of the past all possessed this ability. They could be born and die as they wished. In the Tang Dynasty there was a Chan Master named Deng Yinfeng (Hidden Summit) who entered Nirvana while standing on his head. The contemporary monk, the Living Buddha of Gold Mountain, entered Nirvana while standing up. Due to their skill in Chan meditation, they could come and go as they pleased, without any restrictions.
A talk given during a Chan session in December, 1980