I was shocked to hear the news of the Venerable Master’s completion of stillness on June 7. I kept thinking:
“It can’t be! How could he leave us so soon?” Then there was a hectic period. The Master’s body was kept in the mortuary for a week and Los Angeles disciples had the opportunity to gaze upon it. Then on June 16, the Master’s body was moved back to the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. The cremation ceremony was held on July 28, and the ashes were scattered in the skies, following the Master’s instructions, on the morning of the twenty-ninth. Watching the Venerable Master’s ashes scattered from the hot-air balloon and drifting in the air, I was even more at a loss. What deep melancholy! A great monk of this age has left us all.
The depth of the Venerable Master’s cultivation is not something that we can fathom. However, we can be sure of one thing: The Master had control over his own birth and death. I never expected that he would choose the most painful and difficult way of leaving--manifesting illness─in order to teach us. In the past, Chan Master Mazu Daoyi did the same. Under his teaching, eighty-four Good Knowing Advisors were produced. He was known for beating and shouting, and for scaring everyone away. His spiritual penetrations were extensive, and he taught countless people. Despite all of this, he was constantly suffering from illness. Thinking of this makes me sick at heart.
My interactions and conversations with the Venerable Master appear in my mind, scene after scene. In early 1986, when Dharma Master Haideng came to America, I remember the Venerable Master saying at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas,
“I have deep affinities with him!” The Master then made a trip south to visit his old friend. Four or five of us were hurriedly cleaned up the reception room at Gold Wheel Monastery. As I was in the process of moving a small round table from the corner to the middle of the room, the Venerable Master noticed and came over to help me. I hastily said,
“Master, it’s okay! It’s not heavy. I can do it myself.” The Master said,
“It’s no matter! It’s easier to do things when there are more people!” And so we moved the table together. The Venerable Master’s willingness to do everything himself set a very good example for those who only ordered other people around but never did anything themselves.
When Dharma Master Haideng arrived, he and the Master chatted about the days when they were together at Nanhua Monastery studying under the Elder Master Hsu Yun. Those of us who were present listened with great interest. The Venerable Master told of a child at Nanhua Monastery who took twenty-one days to memorize the Shurangama Sutra and another twenty-one days to memorize the Dharma Flower Sutra. (The Master called him a child, but how old was he? It’s not known.) This is truly inconceivable. Who knows where this child prodigy is now? When Great Master Zhizhe left the home-life at eighteen, his teacher gave him three Sutras─the Dharma Flower Sutra, the Sutra of Limitless Meanings, and the Sutra of the Contemplation of Universal Worthy. In a mere twenty days, he had them thoroughly committed to memory. His teacher didn’t know quite how to teach him.
The Venerable Master and Dharma Master Haideng also recounted that once, in the afternoon of the fifteenth day of the first lunar month [a holiday on which Chinese people eat small round dumplings of rice flour], an old woman who seemed to be in great suffering and distress brought a large basin of dumplings and offered them to the Sangha. The Elder Master Hsu invited his left-home disciples to eat. But everyone there maintained the practice of not eating after noon. Showing no expression on their faces, the monks just sat quietly without making any move to eat. Seeing this, the Elder Hsu himself picked up a spoon and proceeded to eat the entire basinful of dumplings. The Elder Hsu had gone to Nanhua Monastery to live when he was ninety-five. For someone nearly a hundred years old, even one bowl of dumplings would have been difficult to eat, for they are not easy to digest, how much the more an entire basin of them! He also maintained the practice of not eating after noon, yet he ate them for the sake of fulfilling one person’s wish. Truly a difficult deed!
Dharma Master Haideng had practiced martial arts since early childhood, and his skill was very great. It is said that he had mastered the skill of standing on his finger and of running swiftly without touching the ground. He could pass his finger through a sandbag, and do a handstand supported only by his index and middle fingers. People who met him always asked him to perform, and the compassionate Master Haideng always granted their request, despite the suffering it caused him. Once, a fellow cultivator was about to travel abroad for an indefinite time and lamented only that he had never heard the Dharma Flower Sutra explained. The Dharma Flower Sutra was Master Haideng’s favorite, and when he heard this, he invited that person to his cave in the mountains and explained the Sutra to him. The two of them sat for three days and nights without getting up. One happily explained the Sutra and the other happily listened. Due to the dampness of the cave, Master Haideng’s right hand began trembling when he came out of the cave, and for that reason he could not practice handstands anymore. When the Venerable Master heard this, he grasped Master Haideng’s right hand and aided it for a long time. Then he said,
“Stay at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas for a period, and your hand will soon get well!” We were truly moved by the Venerable Master’s concern for his fellow cultivator.
Master Haideng kept praising the Venerable Master, saying it was truly inconceivable that the Master had lectured on the
Avatamsaka Sutra for nine years. He also said the Venerable Master’s entire body would turn into sharira (relics after cremation). The Venerable Master’s reply inspired reflection:
“My sharira will be as numerous as particles of dirt.” The Master’s tone of voice and the way he moved his hands when he said that are still very clearly imprinted in my memory.
Master Haideng commented that despite being over a hundred years old, the Elder Master Hsu continued to do everything himself without relying on others. As soon as it was light outside, he would go work in the fields; and only when it was dark would he stop working and retire to his room. There was a certain bridge that he had to cross regularly. The bridge was very scantily made with bamboo sticks. Master Haideng said that even though he had the skill of
“flying over the grass” (walking without touching the ground), he didn’t dare to walk on that bridge after dark. However, he had seen Elder Master Hsu, with his bag slung over his shoulder, ambling in a carefree and without a trace of fear over the precarious bridge in pitch-dark, when one couldn’t even see the fingers of one’s own extended hand. This sight convinced him that mastering all those martial arts was not as good as concentrating on cultivation.
That evening, Master Haideng lectured on the Chapter of the Past Life of Wonderful Adornment King in the
Dharma Flower Sutra. When he finished the lecture and left the Dharma-seat, the Venerable Master led the assembly to bow to him in gratitude.
Last year (1994), someone from mainland China paid a visit to the Venerable Master and mentioned that Dharma Master Haideng had been misunderstood in various ways and in the end had died from medical mistreatment. He had left the home-life as a pure youth and had practiced martial arts since childhood. When a hard lump of flesh had swelled up on his dantian (lower abdomen), the doctor said it was a tumor and insisted on performing surgery. During the operation, he bled uncontrollably and died. Yet he never uttered a single complaint. Hearing this account, the Venerable Master said,
“He and I both received the Dharma from the Elder Master Hsu. He truly was one who was unmoved by slander and praise, and who was vigorous in favorable as well as adverse states.” This statement could also describe Master Haideng’s whole life.
The above has been an account of the Venerable Master’s relationship with Dharma Master Haideng. I believe that from this, we can see the exemplary words and conduct of lofty and greatly virtuous Sanghans. Their every word and deed is a worthy example for future generations to follow.
The Dharma Transmission Verse of Shikhin Buddha
The wholesome dharmas we create are basically illusory.
The evil deeds we commit are also illusory.
The body is like a clump of foam, the mind like the wind.
They are illusory transformations, with no root and no reality.
The Dharma Transmission Verse of Vipashyin Buddha
We take the four elements as our body.
The mind basically is unreal; it exists only due to states.
If the states before us do not exist, the mind does not exist either.
Offenses and blessings are like illusions which arise and perish.