Many people are concerned about how the Venerable Master left. Many of the Master’s disciples came to him to seek responses because they heard the Master had spiritual penetrations. Indeed, during his lifetime there were many inconceivable responses. But as a Buddhist of proper faith, I feel compelled to offer some explanation.
I took refuge with the Master forty-five years ago, when I was eleven years old. According to my understanding, the Venerable Master does not emphasize spiritual penetrations. Whenever people came to seek help from the Master because of illness or difficulty, the Master would always say to them, “Seek help from the Bodhisattvas. Recite Guanshiyin Bodhisattva’s name more often.” Some of his disciples claimed that they could see things. If those disciples were present, the Venerable Master would say to them, “You say you have spiritual penetrations? Then why don’t you take a look at this person?” And those people often would say, “Oh, it’s because of such-and-such causes that he ended up this way.” Then the Master would say, “In that case, you can bow more often to the Bodhisattvas and recite the Buddha’s name more.” Many people didn’t understand that and harbored doubts. “If the Venerable Master can eradicate disasters for other people, why can’t he cure his own illness?” Some people wondered, “Just exactly what kind of illness does the Master have anyway?” It would be difficult to explain in just a few words.
The Venerable Master vowed to stand in for all living beings and take their sufferings. So what illnesses do you think he might have had? He had all kinds of illnesses! But he never mentioned it and he wouldn’t see a doctor either. How can a body that is a combination of the four elements be free from illness forever? Among all the Great Virtuous Ones and High Sanghans, which one has never been ill? Before Shakyamuni Buddha entered Nirvana, he also manifested illness. So we should not be overly concerned about why the Master was ill. Instead, we should remember the most precious and true teaching that the Master gave us:
“Don’t think that spiritual penetrations are all-powerful. Look at me─I
can be ill, too.”
After the Venerable Master manifested illness, many disciples enthusiastically brought people to cure his illness, including quite a few qigong masters and people who claimed to have spiritual penetrations. In order to fulfill his disciples’ wishes, the Master compassionately accepted all the treatments. Even when some people used mysterious methods, he also complied. Later someone gave the Master a kind of medicine that he was not supposed to take, and yet he took it for over ten days. Finally it got to the point that even the people who attended upon the Master couldn’t stand it anymore and asked,
“Venerable Master, how could you take that kind of medicine?” He said,
“Is there a square inch of land where the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas haven’t renounced their lives?” The Venerable Master was trying to gather them all in with compassion.
Strictly speaking, the Master departed without having received any traditional medical treatment during his illness. There is another teaching in this, which is that spiritual penetrations cannot be depended on. Did the people who claimed to have great spiritual penetrations and healing abilities manage to cure the Venerable Master? I told those people to their face,
“If anyone thinks that you can cure the Venerable Master’s illness, it’s a joke. It’s impossible.” A lot of people misunderstood my meaning and thought I didn’t believe in spiritual penetrations. Actually, that’s not the case. One who believes in Buddhism and yet doesn’t believe in spiritual penetrations has believed in Buddhism in vain. It’s certain that spiritual penetrations exist. On the other hand, one who believes that spiritual penetrations, especially fraudulent ones, are all-powerful, has also believed in Buddhism in vain.
Genuine Buddhists must have proper knowledge and proper views. No matter what state they encounter, they should use the Three Dharma Seals to examine the state and see if it is in accord with the Buddhadharma. The Three Dharma Seals are: All activities are impermanent, all dharmas are without self, and Nirvana is quiescence.
(1) All activities are impermanent: As long as there is birth, there is death. Birth, old age, sickness and death are inevitable phenomena. If one insists on using spiritual penetrations to keep a person from getting old and dying, that’s certainly not the Buddhadharma.
(2) All dharmas are without self: The “self” which has form and appearance is composed of the four elements and five skandhas. It does not have any independent existence, so there’s no need to be attached to this
“self.” The Venerable Master can be said to have reached the state of being without self. He is at ease wherever he is. Whatever you ask him to do, he will do.
“Everything is OK.” If you tell him to take medicine, he will take it. If you tell him not to take it, he won’t take it. He will go along with whatever his disciples wish.
(3) Nirvana is quiescence: Since the Venerable Master manifested a human body in this world, he also had to manifest birth, old age, sickness, and death. That was the Buddhadharma. Even Shakyamuni Buddha manifested entering quiescence. If one thought that the Venerable Master would never leave, that wouldn’t have been the Buddhadharma. Although the Master’s flesh body has entered quiescence, his spirit and Dharma-body are neither produced nor extinguished.
“All appearances are false. If one sees all appearances as non-appearances, one sees the Thus Come One.” So don’t be too attached to the Venerable Master’s flesh body. Nor should you lose faith in the Buddhadharma just because spiritual penetrations are not all-powerful─ basically, spiritual penetrations are not ultimate. In learning from the Buddha, what we want to learn is the way the Buddha activated the wisdom of the inherent nature, returned to the origin of the nature, and attained ultimate liberation. Everything else is secondary. If one applies effort on what is secondary and forgets the true goal of studying Buddhism, then one has certainly missed the point.
Sometimes when a lofty Sanghan or a greatly virtuous one completes the stillness, there are some auspicious portents. Perhaps some sharira will be left. But from my understanding of the Venerable Master’s character, none of this may happen. So we should be psychologically prepared. As early as the end of 1990, when the Venerable Master was first hospitalized in San Francisco, he said,
“Everyone thinks when that someone with cultivation leaves, a rare fragrance will fill the room. But when I leave, it may stink to high heaven.”
At the end of last year (1994) when the Master gave instructions on what to do after he was gone, he also mentioned,
“I came from empty space, and I shall return to empty space.” When he came, he didn’t bring anything with him. When he left, he didn’t want to leave anything for his disciples to fight over. After the cremation, which was to take place one week or seven weeks after his departure, he didn’t want anyone to build him a stupa or a memorial hall. He only wanted his ashes to be scattered in the air─he didn’t want to leave any traces behind. The Venerable Master spoke the Dharma for several decades, just to tell us this true Dharma─“Don’t be attached to anything!” Don’t be attached to any person or any dharma.
“Attachment to True Suchness is also deviant.” So if the Master doesn’t leave anything or manifest any auspicious sign, your faith in the Venerable Master shouldn’t be swayed, and you certainly shouldn’t lose faith in Buddhism.
Throughout history, there hasn’t been any fixed way for the Patriarchs to depart from this world. Some of them manifested auspicious states. Others didn’t. Some of them departed in their dwelling, while others departed with one hand grabbing a tree branch. The Second Patriarch Hui Ke was beheaded. Great Master Han Shan passed away because of a tumor on his back. So we cannot judge whether or not a person is a greatly virtuous one or lofty Sanghan by the way he manifested the stillness. Rather, we should judge the state of his cultivation according to his day-to-day practice, his words and conduct, and his teachings.
The Venerable Master practiced ascetism throughout his life, renouncing himself for the sake of others. In order to propagate the Dharma to benefit living beings, he was willing to give up his own life. Everyone witnessed that kind of spirit in him. The Elder Master Hsu Yun had revived several Chan sects that had fallen into decline, each time selecting a person to receive the transmission of Dharma. After reviving the Wei-Yang Sect, the Elder Master Hsu Yun transmitted the Dharma to the Venerable Master, making him the Ninth Patriarch of the Wei-Yang Sect.
Today I wrote a matching couplet on the blackboard next to the Venerable Master’s picture in his memory: “The sect of Wei Yang is the mind-transmission from Magic Mountain. A Bodhisattva transformed from the Dharma came back to the Saha World.” That was just to explain the Venerable Master’s lineage and teaching. What Dharma did Elder Master Hsu Yun transmit to the Venerable Master? It was the Dharma-lineage of the mind-to-mind transmission done on Ling Peak with a smile. As for who the Venerable Master was, I don’t have the power of knowing past lives, so I don’t know whether he was a Bodhisattva come again. Only the Venerable Master knew whether or not he was a Bodhisattva. But we can positively say that he was Bodhisattva based on his resolve, his compassion, and his spirit of benefiting living beings. Many people believe that the Venerable Master was a Bodhisattva who came back to this world, and that within forty-nine days he will wake up. If that turns out to be the case, then everyone will be happy, including myself. I’m the first one to hope this will happen. But if the opposite happens, then we should follow along with the conditions.
As it is said, “The Buddhadharma is here in the world. Enlightenment is not apart from the world.” In worldly dharma, there are birth, old age, sickness, and death. When Buddhas and Bodhisattvas appear in the world, they also manifest birth, old age, sickness, and death. If we insist on seeing some spectacular phenomena, then it’s not the Buddhadharma. As long as there is a flesh body, it will be afflicted with illness. When illness occurs, medical treatment is needed. It is recorded in the Sutras that once when an old Bhikshu was ill, Shakyamuni Buddha personally attended upon him and gave him medicine. With his spiritual penetrations, the Buddha could have instantly cured anyone’s illness. Why did he go through all the trouble of preparing medicine? That proves that in everything we do, we should accord with conditions.
When someone is sick, we should treat him as a sick person and give him medical treatment. When a doctor cures a patient, it is also due to aid of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. “The Dharma does not arise alone; it is produced from states. The Way does not manifest by itself; it responds to conditions.” Bodhisattvas will respond to prayers, but they will not perform magic for no reason. Medical treatment is an aiding condition. If you recite the Buddha’s name often, then when you are sick you will naturally meet a good doctor. When the doctor is inspired, he will naturally give you the right medicine. So when a doctor cures an illness, that’s also the Buddhadharma. If the doctor has diagnosed that the illness is terminal, then you can rely on reciting the Buddha’s name and stop seeking medical help. For example, Great Master Han Shan, Great Master Hong Yi, and certain other virtuous cultivators suffered chronic illnesses. When their illnesses occurred, they also took medicine and sought treatment like ordinary people. It was only when the time came for them to leave that they put everything down and single-mindedly recited the Buddha’s name to seek rebirth in the Pure Land.
If auspicious portents are seen during the Venerable Master’s cremation or there are sharira, of course that will be nice. But if there is nothing, that doesn’t mean anything either. It makes no difference to me whether or not there are auspicious portents or sharira. I’m sure there are many people who would not accept my theory, because most people, even though they believe in Buddhism, still seek and have attachments. If someone claims that he can teach people a certain mantra to cure illnesses or cultivate some Dharma to open their Heavenly Eye and attain spiritual penetrations, everyone will flock to him. If I were to tell you that the Dharma Seal of the Great Vehicle is: “The Real Mark is without marks,” which is the idea of
“no understanding and no attaining” mentioned in the Heart Sutra, I’m afraid it would be difficult for people to accept.
When the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas cultivate on the cause ground, they never seek to attain any state, nor are they greedy for any state. The state of not having any state is the highest state. It’s a pity that not many people can comprehend this kind of Real Mark. That’s why Shakyamuni Buddha said with a sigh, “In the Saha World, the world of five turbidities, it’s very rare that someone is able to believe, accept, and practice this true and actual Dharma which is hard to believe.” According to what Guanyin Bodhisattva says in the Heart Sutra, in terms of the stages of cultivation, one must be above the level of a Bodhisattva in order to reach the state of “non-attainment.” As it is said, “Because nothing is attained, the Bodhisattva, through reliance on Prajna Paramita, is unimpeded in his mind. Because there is no impediment, he is not afraid, and he leaves distorted dream-thinking far behind. Ultimately, Nirvana!” The Arhats, Hearers, Condition-Enlightened Ones, and Solitarily Enlightened Ones of the Two Vehicles are still far from the state of non-attainment. They still have the marks of the Dharmas of Arhats, Hearers, Condition-Enlightened Ones, and Solitarily Enlightened Ones. They still have those Dharmas to attain. They have to go one step further and sweep away all dharmas, empty all marks, and certify to perfect Bodhi, returning to the state of non-attainment. Only then will they have succeeded in their cultivation and perfected Buddhahood.
On the path of going from an ordinary person’s position to the position of a Sage, one must sweep away all thoughts of seeking fame, seeking benefit, seeking Dharma, and seeking states. When one reaches the point where there is nothing at all, one has reached the highest state. If the Venerable Master doesn’t leave anything at all, that is also his way of speaking the Dharma according to the situation. With proper faith in Buddhism, we should “rely on the meaning, not on the words; rely on wisdom, not on consciousness; rely on the ultimate meaning, not on a non-ultimate meaning; rely on the Dharma, not on people.” If in believing Buddhism we place all our hopes in a single person, for example if we believe in Buddhism because of the states that the Venerable Master had, then our attitude won’t be able to pass the test. It’s just as now that the Venerable Master has manifested illness and departed, those people who believed in Buddhism because of the Master’s spiritual penetrations are bound to be disappointed. Actually, their belief was in the Master, not in Buddhism.
By manifesting illness and passing away, the Master has given us a very good chance to reflect. Each person should ask himself,
“Do I truly believe in Buddhism? Do I rely on wisdom and not on consciousness? Do I rely on the Dharma and not on some individual?” Don’t misunderstand and think that I don’t believe in the Venerable Master or in spiritual penetrations. It is precisely because I believe in the Master and in the existence of spiritual penetrations that I speak this way. It cannot be denied that the Venerable Master’s wonderful spiritual responses have drawn many people into Buddhism. However, if we don’t wish to cause the Venerable Master to keep undergoing birth and death so that he can teach and rescue us, we must make efforts to advance on our own. We shouldn’t linger in the state of conditioned dharmas and keep using effort on things that have an appearance.
Once the monk Chao Zhou wanted to make a pilgrimage to Wutai Mountain. When his fellow cultivator found out, he sent him a verse: “Which place in the green mountains is not a Bodhimanda? What need is there to take a staff and travel to pay homage at Cool and Clear Mountain? Even if golden fur is seen in the clouds, when one looks closely, it’s not really auspicious.” The meaning of the verse is, what place is not a good place for cultivation. Must you go to Wutai Mountain in order to see Manjushri Bodhisattva? Even if you were to go there and see the auspicious sign of the golden-furred lion that Manjushri Bodhisattva rides appear in the clouds, if you view it with Proper Dharma Vision, it’s not really an auspicious sign. “Auspicious” has a double meaning here. Manjushri Bodhisattva’s name is also “Wonderfully Auspicious,” so the verse can also mean, “What you see may not really be Manjushri Bodhisattva.” That’s because “the Dharma nature is not a state of the consciousness.” It’s not something that can be understood by the six consciousnesses produced between the six sense organs and six sense objects.
Therefore, when regarded with Proper Dharma Vision, attachment to any state is not a good thing. In this modern, scientifically advanced age, in order to propagate the Dharma, we must first plant the roots of the Buddhadharma among the intellectuals. The best way to enable intellectuals to accept the Dharma is to explain the truths of Buddhism. This is much better than discussing those other unimportant, conditioned, and non-ultimate matters.
In order to perpetuate the Buddha’s proper Dharma, we must preserve the Buddha’s true body and sharira. The Buddha’s true body does not refer to his body with thirty-two special marks; rather, it refers to the truths spoken by the Buddha. The Buddha’s sharira refer not to the relics of his body after creation, but to his spirit. Material things, even if they are as solid and precious as the Buddha’s sharira, will eventually perish. How many of the sharira that the Buddha left at the time are still around today? Yet the truths spoken by the Buddha and the Buddha’s spirit are the same today as they were in the past. They will also be the same tomorrow, a million years from now, and even limitless great eons in the future. Thus, they are the Buddha’s true sharira. A true disciple of the Buddha is one who can carry on the Buddha’s true sharira. Likewise, a true disciple of the Venerable Master is one who can follow and propagate the Master’s teachings and spirit. If one stubbornly clings to the Master’s flesh body and thinks that the Master will never depart, it’s to be feared that one will fall into the state described by the Vajra Sutra, “If one sees me in form or seeks me in sound, one walks a deviant path and cannot see the Thus Come One.” Then it wouldn’t be the Buddhadharma.
There is a way to keep the Venerable Master in the world forever. If we can propagate the Venerable Master’s teachings and spirit and pass them on to future generations, then the Master will live forever in the heart of every Buddhist disciple. That’s the true way to respect the Master. If we can do that, then as disciples of the Venerable Master we will have no cause for remorse.
The sect of Wei Yang is the mind-transmission from Magic Mountain.
A Bodhisattva transformed from the Dharma came back to the Saha World
Without going, without coming, and without attaching,
he propagated and transformed in the void, according with the conditions.
With compassion, with vows, with virtue,
he acted as a vessel for crossing over living beings.
He wore the precept sash at all times and ate one meal a day at noon,
honoring the Buddha’s instructions.
His mind always tallied with the Way,
and he sat up all night long, upholding the pure regulations.
TRANSLATION OF SCRIPTURES
The Buddha, out of great kindness,
spoke the Dharma with the same sound,
yet the Dharma is actually devoid of Dharma
The Venerable Master Hua had a vast vow to translate the scriptures into many languages, but in the midst of language, they are apart from language.
To ascend high, one must start from low.
The vast proclamation of the wonderful Dharma begins with extending knowledge and eradicating desires.
To travel afar, one must begin from nearby.
The ultimate virtue that invisibly transforms begins with children being filial and parents being kind.
PROPAGATING THE DHARMA TO BENEFIT LIVING BEINGS
Saving living beings, turning the Dharma wheel,
and advocating the six guidelines,
one ascends to the shore of enlightenment.
Proclaiming the Tripitaka, propagating the Buddha’s teachings,
and taking refuge in the Real Mark of the One Vehicle, one enters Nirvana.
VIEWS ON RELIGION
People’s roots may be gradual or sudden, but the Dharma is one.
Those of the great, middle,
and small vehicles are all gathered in and transformed.
Teachings may be partial or perfect, but goodness is not dual.
The paths of gods, immortals, and spirits are all encompassed in harmony.