When the Venerable Master returned to Taiwan to propagate the Buddhadharma in 1989, Mr. and Mrs. Wu Boying also joined the group. Several days later, they called together their good friends Doctor Song Rongsong, Mr. and Mrs. Huang Qingyuan, and others in Taipei, and had the idea of meeting with the Venerable Master. Because this was such a rare opportunity, my colleague Huang Qingyuan then called my wife and me and asked us to join them.
One day, the Venerable Master led a group to Jinshan Farm. During the trip, Mr. Wu mentioned that one of the reasons the Venerable Master had come to Taiwan was to accept a house in Liugui offered by Wang Jinping, a member of the Legislative Assembly. The house would be used as a monastery. After a complete renovation, it looked like new and was ready for the Dharma Masters to move in. Mr. Wu went around the house looking at each room. When he opened the door to the bathroom, he was scared stiff by the sight of a large poisonous snake with a tortoise-shell pattern on its skin lying on the floor. He closed the door at once, fearing the snake would come out and harm people. He thought it strange because the bathroom was newly renovated, the windows hadn't been opened, and there was only a covered drain in the tiled floor. How could the snake have gotten in?
Mr. Wu hurried to the
kitchen to get a pair of tongs with which to pick up
the snake. When he returned to the room where the
snake had been and opened the door, it was gone. As
he was puzzling over this, a Dharma Master noticed
his bewildered expression and asked him what was the
matter. Mr. Wu told him about the snake in the room.
The Dharma Master consolingly said, “Wherever the
Venerable Master goes, he is followed by dragons,
gods, and Dharma-protecting spirits. The snake you
saw was really a dragon. It can appear and disappear
at will. Don't be startled. We've long been used to
such things. You don't have to chase it away with
those tongs. Just ignore it.”
Mr. Wu didn't quite believe what he heard, but he couldn't very well argue. He said to us,
“In a little while when we see the Venerable Master, we can ask the Master and see what he says.” Everyone was very surprised and didn't quite know what to think.
At the Jinshan Farm, we bowed and made offerings to the Venerable Master. The Master, who was sitting in full lotus, asked us kindly if we had any questions. He gave very detailed instructions in response to the questions of Doctor Song and Mrs. Huang. Then the Master answered Mr. Wu's question about the snake with a smile:
Have you heard the expression “dragons and snakes mingling together”? This snake was just manifesting a form for you to see, that's all. When I was living in Hong Kong, one day an old friend from my village in Manchuria came to see me. He had taken refuge with me before. We were extremely happy to see each other again in another land. Before he left, I asked him to come often to join the activities in the Way-place, but he said,
“I won't be coming back anymore. The peach tree by the door of the monastery is covered with caterpillars. They scare me to death!” I said to him,
“It's just dragons and snakes mingling! If they scare you, I'll tell them to leave. I promise that when you come tomorrow, you won't see a single one.” The next day when he came to attend the Dharma session, they were indeed all gone. So you see, they are just taking form for you to see. It's no big deal.
Mr. Wu and everyone else listened without really understanding, but didn't know how to ask further. Because there were other guests waiting to see the Venerable Master, we bowed in respect and took our leave.
Was it a dragon? Or a snake? Or a caterpillar? These are all illusions. Is it an illusion on its part or on the part of our own minds? Or is it an illusion within illusions arising from the affinities between it and us? Dragons mingle with snakes, and dragons mingle with caterpillars. Worthies and sages also mingle with ordinary people. The Venerable Master's illusory body has left living beings. Has it died here and been born elsewhere? Or is it that when it is born elsewhere, it is also born here?
His mind is solid and difficult to defeat,
He tends toward Buddha's Bodhi without obstruction.
He resolutely seeks the wondrous path which dispels delusions,
And he travels throughout the Dharma Realm without
mentioning his toil.
Great compassion which widely takes beings across is most
His kind heart pervades everywhere and is equal to space,
Yet he doesn't discriminate between living beings,
With purity like this, he travels in the world.
Chapter on The Merit and Virtue from First Bringing Forth the Mind, the Flower Adornment Sutra