In Manchuria (northeastern China), there is a range of mountains called the Changbai (Eternally White) Mountains. They are so named that because they are covered with snow all year around. At the foot of these mountains is a county named Shuangcheng (Twin Cities), because there is one city in the eastern part of the county and one in the western part. My home was in these mountains in Manchuria. When you first enter the mountains, there is a famous mountain called Shaodazihu, which is the end of the Changbai Mountains. The end of the Changbai range falls into Shuangcheng County. That’s why the county is so culturally advanced and has produced many great people. In the last hundred years, twenty or thirty great ministers and generals have come from Shuangcheng County. Cardinal Yubin was also from Shuangcheng County.
The earliest memory I have is of my mother telling me about various things that happened in the past. However, those things are all unreal, and I don’t want to bring them up again.
Ever since birth, I had some bad habits, such as liking to cry. When I was born, I cried for several days straight. Since people worked all day and were kept awake by my crying at night, they ended up very tired. Finally I stopped crying, probably because I was worn out after crying for so many days. Everyone else was tired too, so we all went to sleep. While we were fast asleep, a thief came and plundered our house. Basically we were a very poor family, but he stole whatever was worth any money. After that, I didn’t cry anymore. Probably the reason I cried was that I was unhappy about something－that’s why most children cry.
In my father’s family, there were five boys and I am not sure how many girls. In my family, there were five boys and three girls. Since I was the youngest child, my parents loved me most and spoiled me until I became a very strange child. All day long I would just sit there. I could sit for a whole day without talking. I didn’t like to talk. I preferred silence. One thing that’s different about me is that I have never liked to gossip about other people. In fact, I never say anything casually. I’ve been that way ever since I was little. If something is not true, I will not say it. I simply cannot tell a lie.
When I was little I didn’t like to be with other kids. I was a loner. I didn’t like to play with the others. The only thing I knew how to do then was cry. I could cry continuously for one, two, or three days and nights. If anyone made me upset, I would cry. And when I cried, I cried as if I were ready to die. I refused to eat. I knew that if I refused to eat and cried as if I didn’t want to live, my parents’ hearts would soften and they would give in to me. That’s how bad I was. All I knew is that I didn’t want to talk, and I didn’t want to play. I was a really dull kid. I didn’t understand anything people said, and I never paid attention to what they did. I was totally out of it, like an idiot. How stupid was I? I remember once, before I learned to walk, I was having a crawling race with another kid. When the other kid couldn’t keep up with me, he bit down on my heel. It hurt, and I cried. I should have known to retaliate, but I didn’t even know enough to do that. All I could was cry. Now that I think of it, I was really stupid.
Ever since I was born, I have had a tough temper and a stubborn streak. No matter what it was, I would rather break than bend and yield a little. Being so obstinate, of course I was a real tyrant when I was little. How tyrannical was I? When I was seven or eight years old, I wanted to be the king. When all the neighborhood kids were playing together, I wanted to boss them around. They all had to take orders from me. If they didn’t, I would beat them up until they gave in.
I also liked to play Robin Hood. Whenever I saw any of the kids being bullied or treated unfairly, whether it was in the front village or the back village, I would fight for justice on his behalf, not caring if I died. I considered it a great glory to give up my life for a friend. And so whenever I saw unjustice, I would go to the rescue. Even though I was on the side of justice, sometimes the kids wouldn’t respect me and would fight back. Even though I was young, I was a brave fighter. At the age of ten, I would tackle twenty-year-olds, even though they were much bigger than me. Since I wasn’t afraid of death, I would fight until I was bruised and bleeding and covered with wounds. I didn’t care－I was simply determined to defeat my opponent. That’s how stubborn I was. I was terribly rebellious and disobedient to my parents. I caused so much mischief outside that people would come to my home to complain. I gave my parents a lot of trouble.
When I was with kids of the same age as me, what did I do? I set myself up as the king. Take a look: even as a child, I had the ambition of being the king! I piled up a dirt mound and then sat on top of it－it was my throne－and told the other kids to bow to me and say “Long live your Majesty!” No one ever expected such a person as me to end up believing in the Buddha.
My home was in a poor rural village. Even though Harbin was the most culturally developed part of Manchuria, Shuangcheng County was the most developed part of Harbin, and my native town of Lalin was the most developed part of Shuangcheng County, I was still very ignorant and unlearned. My house was about a hundred paces from the nearest neighbor. It was an isolated farmer’s thatched mud cottage, rather old and rundown. Growing up in this environment, I had never seen or even heard of children dying. I may have seen a child being born, but I was too young to remember. But I had never seen a dead child.
One time when I was around eleven or twelve, I was playing in a field with some other kids. We came across a child wrapped inside a straw bundle. Its eyes were closed and it wasn’t breathing. This was something new to me. Thinking the child was asleep, I called to him to come play with us. The other children said, “He’s dead. What are you calling him for?” Even though I was already eleven or twelve at the time, I didn’t understand the meaning of death. I was too embarrassed to ask the other kids, so when I returned home I asked my mother. I told her, “Today I saw a child wrapped in straw, sleeping in the field. When I asked the other kids what was wrong with him, they said he was dead. What does that mean? Why did he have to die?” That’s how ignorant I was－at eleven or twelve I didn’t understand the meaning of death. From this you can see that I had very little contact with people.
My mother replied, “Everyone must die. Some die sooner than others. Some die old, others die young. When children die, people may bundle them up in straw and leave them in the fields. Some die of old age, some of disease. People die in many different ways.” I thought, “If we all have to die, then what’s the point of living? It’s meaningless!” “Isn’t there a way to escape death? What can I do to avoid dying?” I asked. I felt that dying was really pointless. My mother didn’t know how to answer me.
There was a relative at our home named Lin Li, who said, “You don’t want to die? That’s easy enough.” “How is it easy?” I asked. He said, “You have to leave home and cultivate the Way; that is the only method. Either become a Buddhist monk and practice to achieve Buddhahood, or become a Taoist and practice to achieve immortality. Then you won’t die.” Learning that the only way to escape death is to cultivate the Way, I asked my mother for permission to leave the home-life. She said, “Your wish to leave the home-life is a good one, and I cannot stop you. However, you should not leave home right away. When I die, you may do whatever you wish. But while I am alive, you should stay at home with me.” I agreed to wait.
When I was little, I was a very unfilial child. I didn’t follow the rules. I had a big temper and loved to get into fights. I always fought with children who were older than me. Before I turned twelve, I lived on fighting. If I didn’t fight for day, I would go without food that day. And I loved to eat good food. If someone had something good to eat but didn’t share it with me－it didn’t matter whether it was at home or outside－I would fight for my share. I was greedy; I sought for things; I selfishly thought only of benefiting myself; and I even found ways to lie.
This continued until I turned twelve. One day, I suddenly realized how incredibly naughty and unruly I was. It seemed pointless to be like that－so wild and rebellious. I felt sorry for being so unfilial to my parents. I also felt sorry for behaving so badly towards my friends and relatives. I felt great shame and remorse. At the age of twelve, I knew that everything I had done in the past was wrong, but that I could make a fresh start. And so I turned over a new leaf. I changed my faults and turned towards goodness, and resolved to refrain from all evil and practice all good deeds. I did not know anything about the Buddhist precepts, which “stop evil and prevent mistakes.” Nevertheless, what I was doing was in accord with the precepts.
I intuitively knew that if I wanted to cultivate, I had to do many meritorious deeds to foster blessings and virtue. Otherwise, it would be easy to become possessed by a demon. If I wanted to become a better person, I had to start by being filial to my parents. Without anyone telling me to do this, I wanted to repay my parents’ kindness. I made up my mind to confess my faults in front of my parents. I decided to bow to them to seek their forgiveness.
The first time I bowed to my parents, they were shocked. “What are you doing?” they demanded. “It isn’t New Year’s or some special holiday. Why are you bowing to us?”
“Father and Mother,” I said, “you have raised me for twelve years. I have been most unfilial and I have given you much trouble and worry. In all these years, I have never listened to you, but have stubbornly followed my own will. I have not been a good son. From today onwards I will change my stubbornness and my bad habits. I will be filial to you from now on.” My parents wept as they listened. “Please don’t cry. I will bow to you in repentance every day, and I will not be so rebellious.”
“You don’t have to bow,” said my father. “It will be enough just to listen to us and do what you are told. If you keep bowing to us, we will feel embarrassed.” Even though they asked me not to bow, I was still so obstinate that no one could stop me from doing what I wanted to do. And so from that time on I bowed to my father and mother every day.
After bowing to my parents for a while, it occurred to me that besides my parents, there were others in the world who were good to me. There are five main sources of kindness we should repay, namely: heaven, earth, the national leader, our parents, and our teachers. Living in this world, I am sheltered by the heavens and supported by the earth. To repay their kindness, I made three bows to heaven and three to earth. I also made three bows to the national leader to repay his kindness. In monarchic times the Chinese people considered themselves indebted to the emperor, and this idea carried into the era of the Republic. Since I was neither attending school nor cultivating the Way, I had no teacher. Yet I knew that if I wanted to leave home, I would need a teacher. If I went to school, I would also need a teacher. Therefore, with the utmost sincerity and respect, I bowed to my teacher in advance. I certainly didn’t want to be unfilial to my teacher. At that time I didn’t really know about heavenly lords, earthly rulers, or human leaders. But I had heard people talk about heaven, earth, the national leader, parents, and teachers being the five sources of kindness, so I bowed three times to heaven, three times to earth, three times to the national leader, three times to my father, three times to my mother, and three times to my teacher.
Can you imagine a person bowing to his teacher even before he has met him? And so after I left the home-life, I never lost my temper at those who were elder to me. Whether they were right or not, whether they were good to me or not, I never got mad at them. Yet now I must undergo this retribution: my disciples get mad at me all day long. It’s gotten to the point that I have to bow to my disciples. Since I’ve already opened the door, in the future I will bow to any disciple who gets angry at me. There’s no other way. I can’t use force to oppress people. Since I lack virtue, I can only use this method of someone who has no abilities.
After an interval, I still felt I wasn’t doing enough, so I started bowing to the sages of the past and present. Having heard that sages are wise from birth and that they benefit people, I thought I should thank them. And so I bowed to the great sages and worthies. Then I reflected that I should also bow to virtuous people, in order to thank them for doing good deeds and rescuing people. Later I also added to my list loyal ministers, filial children, great people, wise scholars, brave heroes, and faithful husbands and wives. I bowed to Lord Guan Yu, to General Yue Fei, and to just about every renowned figure in history. In general, I bowed to all the good people in the world. They could influence me to avoid doing any evil and to practice all good deeds, and to be an upright and good person with a clear conscience. That’s why I wanted to bow to them in gratitude.
In this way, I increased the number of bows. Later on, I also bowed to the most evil people as well. Whatever I do, I like to do it on a grand scale. I bowed to bad people, hoping they would mend their ways and become good, bring forth the resolve for Bodhi, and attain the Buddha Way.
I had been bowing to the great sages and worthies, great virtuous ones, great filial sons and daughters, and great heroes, but then I thought, “What about the big evil-doers, the big bad guys, and the big outcasts? What about them?” And so I began bowing to them as well. Other people bow to the great Buddhas and great Bodhisattvas, but I very foolishly thought of the big evil-doers and the bad guys. These people are very pitiful, because the longer they turn in the six paths of rebirth, the farther they get from the Buddha Way. So I wished to transfer merit to them, hoping they would reform and renew themselves and become good.
Later, I thought I should also show respect to ordinary people of all nationalities, because in the past I might have mistreated them in some way. As a result I began bowing to all of the living beings in the world, including ants and mosquitoes. Why did I bow to them? I figured that I have also been an ant, a mosquito, and other kinds of creatures in the past. Now that I am a human being, I can’t forget about my old friends. When I bowed to them, I thought: “I am paying respect to you, because I used to be an ant and a mosquito myself.” I identified with the smallest beings and felt that I ought to guide them to quickly accomplish Buddhahood. Those were the reasons I bowed.
I kept increasing my bows until I was making 833 bows each time, which took me two and a half hours. I bowed outside the house in the open air. Every morning before the others got up, I would go outside and bow my “superstitious” bows. At night after everyone had gone to sleep, I again went outside to bow. I had no real reason for bowing like this; I simply didn’t want people to know.
Think it over: if I wasn’t foolish, why would I bow so many bows every day, rain or shine? No one had told me to bow these superstitious, senseless bows. Wind, rain, thunder, and snow couldn’t stop me. I bowed regardless of the weather. I didn’t care if the rain drenched me. When it snowed, I continued bowing, putting my bare hands on the snow-covered ground. Why did I do this? It was to show my sincerity. I was sincere to the point of foolishness.
For more than ten years, I bowed two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening, making eight hundred and thirty-some bows twice a day. I was bowing four hours a day. I wanted to decrease the bowing time and do some other things, so I condensed the eight hundred thirty-some bows to five bows.
The first bow is to the eternally dwelling Buddhas, Dharma, and Sangha pervading empty space and the Dharma Realm in the ten directions and the three periods of time. The second and third bows are also to the Triple Jewel of the Buddhas, the Dharma and the Sangha. Whom do I bow to on the fourth bow? I bow to the great sages, great worthies, great filial sons and daughters, great virtuous ones, great heroes, and great scholars, and all other beings in the past, present, and future throughout empty space and the Dharma Realm, including great evil-doers and great bad guys. This includes my good friends the mosquitoes and my good friends the ants. I also bow to them. Who knows how many mosquitoes and ants I killed throughout countless eons in the past? Now I feel truly sorry toward them and toward all living beings, for I do not know how many of them I have killed in past lives. Now I feel I should bow to them to compensate for my offenses. I hope they will not bear a grudge against me.
I often joke with people and say, “You are bowing to me now, but actually I’ve bowed to each of you in the past. You may not know it consciously, but perhaps in your heart you know. Therefore, you are simply returning my bows! That’s why I can neither accept nor refuse your bows.” That’s the fourth bow.
On the fifth bow, I bow to the Pratimoksha, the precepts, spoken by the Buddhas of the past, present, and future throughout the ten directions of the Dharma Realm. The Buddha’s precepts guide me on the path to Buddhahood. The kindness and benefit of the precepts is infinite and boundless.
This is how I always bow. I don’t think there is anyone in the world as stupid as I am. Everyone is smarter than I am, and they don’t think much of my way of thinking and acting. They think I am very pitiful. Not only laypeople, but even left-home people look down on me and boycott me. If you have faith in me, you should realize that you are taking a big loss. On the other hand, it might not be a loss, because by learning to be kind and humble, you can create affinities with everyone, and that’s a positive thing.
When I was little, I dreamed I was walking on a road which was gutted with holes like those of a sieve. They were very deep holes, and if I wasn’t careful I could slip and fall into one of them. When I walked past the holes onto a safe, smooth highway, I glanced back and saw a great many people following me－old and young, people of all ages and nationalities. I wonder if that’s the road I’m walking on now.
I was born in a destitute family, and we had to work to get our daily meals. It was a beggar’s life. That’s why I nicknamed myself "Mendicant." You see, at such a young age I was already calling myself a mendicant. We owned a little plot of land that was just big enough to support us through the year. That’s why I didn’t go to school when I was young.
When I was thirteen or fourteen, I could cut double the amount of grain that my brother, who was five years older than me, could cut. For example, if he could cut three rows of sorghum, I could cut six. Sorghum is pretty tough to cut, especially for someone as young and small as I was. But I had my method, and I knew how to use my strength. Actually, I didn’t use much strength. Sorghum grows very tall, but I would grab a big bunch of stalks and then stretch my arm as far as I could reach and cut through the whole bunch in one cut. None of the adults could cut as much as I could. No one taught me this method. I watched the way they did it, but I didn’t follow their way. I had my own way, and I could cut more than they could.
I also did business then. For example, if each person invests five thousand dollars, then three people should invest fifteen thousand. But when I invested my share, the other two didn’t. They just wanted to make money, so they used up the five thousand that I invested without putting in any money of their own. Most people would sue their partners if this happened to them, but I didn’t want to fight with them. I was always willing to suffer a loss. I didn’t care about getting advantages. I’m still that way now. I think taking a loss in order to benefit others is the very best thing. That’s why I often refer to myself as a stupid person. I’m willing to do the things that others wouldn’t do. I’m really very stupid!
I didn’t have a chance to go to school when I was young. Prior to leaving the home-life, I went in search of someone who could teach me the way to end birth and death. There were many cults and non-Buddhist religions in northern China, and I visited them all. I’m familiar with all their doctrines. For example, there was a sect called the Door of Principles (Limen) that exclusively recites one line of mantra. When their High Master sits there receiving bows from people, he recites in his mind the single phrase, “Na mo he la dan nuo duo la ye ye.” That’s the teaching of Limen. They put on airs, sitting up there on their Dharma seats. The one in the middle is called the “leader” and those on either side are called “helpers.” The three of them sit there, just like in the ceremony for feeding ghosts with flaming mouths. Their representatives transmit a secret Dharma. They tell people to hold their hand out and then they write the words “Guan shi yin pu sa” (Guanshiyin Bodhisattva) on it. Then they “seal” it and tell the people to recite “Guan shi yin pu sa” in their minds, but not out loud. And the people are forbidden to transmit the Dharma to anyone, even to their own parents, spouse, or children. They call it the "Five Character True Words" and instruct people:
Close your mouth, hide the tongue.
Let the tip of the tongue touch the roof of the mouth.
Keep reciting with the mind,
And the Dharma will manifest.
It sounds very mysterious. Mainly this sect advocates abstaining from alcohol and smoking, so it’s known as the “Society for Prohibiting Smoking and Alcohol” and also the “Representative Association.” It’s been flourishing in China for the last hundred years. The whole “religion” is based on the one phrase, “Na mo he la dan nuo duo la ye ye,” that the “Dharma Masters” recite. I’ve been to all these cults and know what they’re about. I also attended Catholic Mass and Christian Sabbath. I wanted to study the teachings of every religion－Confucianism, the Taoism of Lao Zi, Buddhism, Islam－I investigated them all.
At the age of fifteen, I studied for half a year at the village school. I remember school started on the tenth of the third lunar month and ended on the thirteenth of the eight month. In winter the Japanese came and there was no school. I studied for two full years when I was sixteen and seventeen, and so altogether I received two and a half years of schooling.
At first I was slow to learn－incredibly dull. I couldn’t remember my lessons no matter how many times I read them. Since I had heard my mother recite The Hundred Surnames at home, I could memorize it right away. But I had never read or heard The Three Character Classic before. I would study the first few lines:
People at their birth are by nature good.
Their natures are close to the Way,
But their habits take them away from it.
If there is laxness in teaching them,
Their natures will change.
The way to teach them is to be single-minded.
But no matter how I tried, I couldn’t memorize them. In those days, studying consisted mainly of memorizing lessons. Whenever you memorized a passage to the point that you could rattle it off easily without thinking, you would go to the teacher, give him your book, and then turn around with your back to him and recite from memory. Well, I had finally memorized the lines very clearly, but as soon as I turned my back to the teacher, my mind blanked out and I couldn’t even think of the first word. It was just that strange!
So you see? If you try to teach children to study well, it’s very difficult for them. But when it comes to less noble things, they are really smart. No one needs to teach them. I remember watching people gamble when I was little. There’s a cardgame called Heavenly Nine, which uses thirty-two cards and has four players. The biggest combination was a pair of “heaven,” a pair of “earth,” and a pair of “people.” There’s also an “emperor” and “three singles and six sets.” It took me only five minutes to remember what the thirty-two cards looked like, and when I returned home I made a very pretty set of my own. Take a look! When it came to studying, I was a hopeless case. People tried to teach me to study, but I always failed and forgot my lessons. Yet when I saw these cards, no teacher had to explain them to me, but I committed them to memory in five minutes!
Why did I forget my lessons? I was really puzzled. This had gone on for many days. I wondered, “What’s going on? How come I remember it so well when I’m on the kang (brickbed), but forget everything as soon as I get down from it? Is it that I haven’t bowed to the sages?” No, I had already made many bows to the sages, even before I entered school. So that wasn’t a valid reason. I looked into it some more and finally discovered that it was because of fear. I was afraid that if I made a mistake in reciting, the teacher would bop me over the head with his big pipe. And so, as soon as I went to the teacher, it was like seeing King Yama. All my concentration fled, and I forgot everything I’d memorized. All I could think was: “Is the pipe going to come down on my head?” Once I understood, I was no longer afraid. If I was in for a beating, so be it! What was there to fear? From then on, I maintained my concentration both on the brickbed and on the floor. I could remember everything I read without forgetting a single word.
After being in school and looking into this problem for a month, I found the path to studying. Once I entered the door, so to speak, everything became easier. Not only could I memorize things quickly, but I never forget them afterwards. When I began The Great Learning, at first I was very slow, but after a while my study progressed rapidly. What I covered in one day, others could not cover in twenty days. How could I do this? It was because I had discovered the secret to studying. I simply used single-minded concentration－I have no other method but this. When I studied, I didn’t think about other things－such as eating, drinking, wearing nice clothes, or living in a nice place. I had no random thoughts at all. What was the extent of my concentration? I’ll tell you, this is a most wonderful method. When I studied, people could be putting on a play, beating drums, blowing trumpets, playing flutes, or ringing bells beside me, but I wouldn’t hear them. Actually I could hear them if I wanted to, but I could also tell my mind not to pursue those sounds. I could control my mind and keep it from running after external states. Once I set my mind to studying, I didn’t think of anything else. In that way, I mastered what I studied very quickly.
In the beginning, I might read a lesson thirty times without understanding it. But once I discovered the method, once I could concentrate my mind, it was really wonderful. After reading it once, I would remember most of it. After the second time, I remembered the whole thing. By the third time through, I would never forget it. Seeing that I could memorize anything after reading it twice, my teacher praised me, saying, “From the looks of you, I would never have thought you were so intelligent. You really are a lot like Yan Hui. Even though you don’t look smart, you have a marvelous memory.” I became proud, thinking, “How could I compare to Yan Hui? Anyways, I don’t want to be like Yan Hui. He was so intelligent that he ended up dying young. If I’m like him, won’t I die young too?” I gave myself an arrogant nickname: “Like-a-Fool.” Basically, there’s no difference between a long life and a short life. If you’re afraid your life will be short, then you are attached to the mark of a life span. If you would like to have a long life, you’re even more attached to the mark of a life span. That’s why I don’t want to be short-lived like Yan Hui, and I don’t want to be long-lived like Peng Zu [the Methusaleh of China].
I was quite mischievous in school. When we had to match couplets, probably twenty-five of the thirty-some students in our class asked me to write matches for them. I imitated their handwriting and helped them write couplets. I remember once the teacher gave the first line: “The goose flies through the air.” I wrote a match for my classmate: "The deer roams in the hills." When the teacher saw it, he looked at my classmate and asked, “Did you write this?” “Yes,” said my classmate. The teacher said, “I never would have thought you could come up with such a good match.” It was pretty funny.
Once I knew the secret to studying, I read the Standards for Students. The first few lines give the major themes:
These standards for students are guidelines
Handed down to us by the sages.
First be filial and fraternal,
Next be careful and honest.
Cherish all living beings,
And draw near to good-hearted people.
Whatever energy you have left
Should be devoted to study.
These are rules for students and disciples, as well as for sons, daughters, and brothers and sisters. These rules are teachings left by sages. The sages teach us first of all to be filial to our parents and respectful to our brothers and elders. Secondly, we should accord with worldly conventions and be cautious in our speech and behavior. We should speak seriously and in earnest. We should regard all beings with universal kindness. Then, if we have any spare time, we should learn more literary Prajna. The next lines are even more clear:
When father and mother are calling,
Answer them right away.
When they give you instructions,
Obey without hesitation.
When your parents instruct you,
Respectfully do as you’re told.
When your parents scold you,
You should compliantly accept it.
In the winter make sure they are warm.
In the summer make sure they are cool.
Each morning cheerfully greet them.
At night wish your parents a pleasant rest.
Before going out, tell your parents.
Let them know when you return.
Dwell in a fixed place
And finish what you begin.
When I read this book, I thought it was wonderful, for it sets forth clearly the principles of how to be a good person. I would memorize my lessons as I walked. Keeping my eyes on the road, I recited the text from memory both with my mouth and in my mind. If it was a new lesson, I would recite it over and over. If it was an old lesson, I would review it once or twice every day. That way, once I finished a lesson, I would never forget it. That’s on the road.
I also memorized on the pillow. When I went to bed, I reviewed my lessons. After reviewing them, I would ask myself: “The sages handed down these teachings as standards for those of later generations to follow. Can I follow these standards? Can I emulate the sages?” That’s how I grasped the intent of the teachings. I would say: “Okay, I’m going to apply this sentence in my life. I’m really going to do it.” No matter what I studied, I would ask myself if I would act or speak that way. I would treat the text as if I were speaking it myself, and then I’d be able to remember it. I would take every passage and use it as a standard to measure my own life and behavior.
I had three places for studying: on the pillow, on the road, and on the toilet. I studied the fastest in the toilet. Even though you’re only in the toilet for a short time, it’s a great place to study. You can remember what you couldn’t remember before. Why? You have samadhi. If you single-mindedly concentrate on your studies and have no other thoughts, you’ll be able to remember everything. That way the time you spend there won’t go by in vain.
Once you understand the three “on’s,” you should also know:
When you’re pursuing your studies,
On three places focus attention:
Your mind, your eyes, and your mouth.
It’s essential to have faith and understanding.
You look at the book with your eyes, think about it with your mind, and read it with your mouth. They are three, yet one; one, and yet three. The mind, eyes, and mouth work together.
Once I discovered this method, studying no longer presented any difficulty. Many children are very smart, but once they leave their books, they forget their studies. I, however, became one with my books, so I studied and memorized them very quickly. Those were my experiences with studying. I did not find the Four Books and Five Classics difficult to study either. After reading through them once, I was able to remember them.
The person who benefitted me the most was my last teacher, Jintang Guo, also known as Ru Fen (“Like Fen”). He was a xiu cai (a graduate of the first degree) from Shandong province. He probably wanted to model himself after Ziyi Guo of the Tang dynasty, who was also known as Yangwang Fen. That’s why he called himself “Like Fen.” This teacher was very learned, although his calligraphy was not that good. Seeing that I was a fast learner, he would explain for me whatever text I happened to be studying. Once I understood his explanation, the text was even easier to study. For example, there’s the “Report on the Letter to Ren Shaoqing,” which has about 2,300 characters and is one of the longest classical texts. My teacher had memorized it in one night. He told me how quickly he had mastered this text, as if challenging me to see how fast I could learn it. That was after lunch, when we had a one hour nap period. During that hour, I read the essay twice and memorized it. When I recited it to my teacher the next day, he was shocked, “You... I studied it for one night, but you mastered it in an hour!” Although the essay was difficult, I was very concentrated. You see? Instead of taking a nap, I studied the essay.
You won’t believe this, but I had a classmate who had studied for fifteen years. I only studied for two and a half years, but I was ahead of him by two books. I studied the Four Books and Five Classics, seven of the eight volumes of ancient literature, and fifteen or sixteen medical texts. By the time I was eighteen there was nothing left for me to study. Few ordinary doctors had studied as many books as I had. I had studied medicine, divination with the Book of Changes, and physiognomy, but I didn’t practice any of these; I wasn’t an expert at them. I knew how to tell fortunes based on people’s date and time of birth, but I didn’t do it, because it isn’t ultimate. Even though the results are true enough, they are only a detour on the path.
I had studied so many medical texts because my father had wanted me to practice medicine, knowing that doctors made a good living. By the time I finished my studies, I knew how to treat sick people. I had an understanding of all the various diseases, because my teacher was also a doctor, and he asked me to help him take the pulse of his patients. However, I didn’t dare to be a doctor. Even though I was very poor, I didn’t wish to make money. I detested money. I thought it was filthy and unclean, especially if it was obtained in an improper manner. I thought, if I cure ninety-nine and a half out of one hundred patients, but harm half a life, how could I ever face that person? That’s why I didn’t become a doctor. These were my experiences in studying.
I relate these experiences to illustrate that no matter what we do, we should concentrate on it and not have idle thoughts. You have to concentrate in order to accomplish something. If you don’t concentrate, then no matter how intelligent you are, you won’t succeed.
In the ancient state of Qi, there was a master chess player named Yi Qiu who had two disciples. One disciple made moves exactly the way his teacher instructed him to, and he also became a master chess player who won every game. The other disciple learned to play chess on the one hand, but indulged in idle thoughts on the other. For example, he thought: “Look! There’s a flock of geese flying overhead. With a single arrow, I could shoot down that big goose in the lead.” Because he was distracted by such thoughts, his skill in chess deteriorated with each passing day. “With one wrong move, you lose the whole chess game.” Studying Buddhism also takes concentration. We shouldn’t be like the second disciple of the chess master. When some people bow to the Buddha, they pray, “Buddha, protect me. Let my business prosper so I can get rich quick! Then I’ll be able to repay you!” If you pray like that, the Buddha won’t pay any attention. Why? You’re not bowing to the Buddha, you’re bowing to your own selfishness! You bow to the Buddha, hoping to get rich. Bowing to the Buddha isn’t gambling, nor is it a chess game. This is a shallow principle, but we can ponder it well. In studying the Buddhadharma, we have to be totally sincere.
When I first began to cultivate, I read the Earth Store Sutra and the Lotus Sutra. In the winter of my fifteenth year, I saw the three rolls of the Earth Store Sutra for the first time. It was in three volumes, I believe. I had never read a Sutra before. I think it was at the Elder Miaolian’s place that I first saw the Sutra. He had written it by hand and then printed it. He had been a hanlin scholar and an official in the former Qing dynasty. He had quite a few good roots. He was probably a xiucai and then an official in Hangzhou. When he went to Hangzhou, he wore civilian clothes and went to visit a medium. No one recognized him or knew that he was a local official. He hadn’t officially assumed his post yet, because he had come several days early. Since he had nothing better to do, he went to attend this session with the medium. These mediums are part of a cult that is neither Taoist nor Buddhist. Some are real, others are not. As soon as he walked in, the medium announced his arrival and told him to follow orders. He was astonished because the medium called his name－Zhang Hancheng－even though no one knew him there. He knelt there to accept instructions. The instructions were: “You were very filial in your previous life; that’s why you have become an official in this life. You should be an honest official. Don’t be corrupted by bribes. Do a good job.” He broke into a sweat and thought, “This is really strange! The medium has just told me my past.”
He went back and went to sleep. He had been an opium smoker, but now he didn’t want to smoke anymore. After resting for several days, he got up, collected his pipes and opium, and went to West Lake. Everyone thought he was going to have a smoking spree on West Lake. When he got to the middle of the lake, he threw his pipes and opium into the lake. After he quit smoking opium, he learned Buddhism and eventually left the home-life. He had a pretty good foundation in Confucianism and his calligraphy was also good. As I said before, he was a xiucai and a hanlin scholar.
I obtained a copy of the Sutra he had written, and I took it back to recite. When I recited the Sutra all the way through, I would light a long stick of incense known as “vigorous incense” in northern China. It burned for exactly two hours. I would kneel there and recite the Sutra slowly, and when I finished, the incense would also finish burning. I would recite the entire Sutra once every day at noon. After a while, my knees broke open and bled because I knelt on the brick floor without any cushions. There were cushions, but I didn’t use them even when my knees broke open. That’s how foolishly stubborn I was. I continued reciting and paid no attention to my knees. “Break open if you want, I don’t care” was my attitude. It’s hard to describe that first experience reciting the Earth Store Sutra. There was a sense of purity and refreshing comfort in body and mind.
Now I take a look at all of you sitting there. The bench is already padded, yet you insist on adding another cushion. When you kneel on the ground, you have to have a cushion for your knees. You can’t endure even a little hardship. You are all much more intelligent than your teacher. I was so foolish then that I didn’t want a cushion. I wanted my knees to break open and bleed. I felt it was right. Not to mention letting them break open and bleed, you can’t even bear to let your pampered knees take a little pain. This just shows that you are much smarter than your teacher.
I remember long ago, I would read the Dharma Flower Sutra until my eyes bled. Why did they bleed? Because I didn’t sleep for many days. I just knelt and read the Sutra. The more I read it the more I wanted to read it and recite it. I forgot about eating and sleeping. When my eyes started to bleed, I didin’t notice, until the blood fell on the text. Then I knew, “Oh, those aren’t tears, that’s blood!” Since my eyes were acting up like that, I had to rest. That’s how I read the Dharma Flower Sutra.
You say, “Dharma Master, you are really too stupid.”
Right. If I was as intelligent as you, my eyes wouldn’t have bled.
Perhaps you are laughing to yourself, “That’s right. That’s the way it is.”
You may be more intelligent than me, but you are still my disciples. No matter how smart you are, you are still studying with me.
I remember in the past, I read a lot of Sutras like that until my eyes bled. But you shouldn’t think that I was always a Dharma Master. I have done everything. I was an emperor, and a minister, all kinds of things. I remember it, more or less. That’s why I’m not interested in being an emperor or a politician, or even a wheel-turning sage king. It’s too much trouble. Everything is a lot of trouble. Students have the troubles of students, workers have the troubles of workers, business people have business troubles, officials have official troubles, and monks have monks’ troubles. However, if you know how to do what you’re doing, the troubles don’t present any problem. If you can turn the state around, it’s not troublesome. Take things in stride.
Adversity moves the Way.
Yielding carries the function of the Way.
Anything you cannot let go of becomes a trouble. Once you let go of it, it’s no longer troublesome. Being able to put it down means saying, “Everything’s okay, no problem.” If you can do that, you’ll be a wonderful person.
When I was studying, I also had my share of trouble. At first when I learned very slowly, everyone looked down on me, saying, “We’ve never seen such a dullard. He can’t even memorize eight lines from the Three Character Classic.” Once I got the hang of it, I learned very fast. Learning fast is a good thing, but it also has its troubles. No one thought much of me when I was a slow learner, but when I became a quick learner, some people were jealous or envious. My teacher, who didn’t know how to be a teacher, praised me in front of my classmates, saying, “In my fifty or sixty years of teaching, I’ve never had such a capable student as this. He will certainly do great things in the future.” As soon as he praised me like that, the trouble came. What trouble? Girls. I think everyone understands what I mean. I don’t have to explain, because everyone is an expert in this area. You didn’t laugh at all while I talked for so long, but now everyone is laughing. I’m sure you all know what my girl classmate had in mind. My teacher had said I would do great things, and she wanted to see what kind of great things I could do.
When I got down from the brickbed to recite my lesson, the girl gave me a kick. I didn’t know what she was up to. Even though I was sixteen, I knew nothing about romance. I didn’t understand the mentality of girls. I glared at her and furiously said, “You want me to beat you up?” The girl ran away in fright, and I thought I’d gotten rid of that trouble. Guess what? She sent a matchmaker to my house to speak with my mother. The matchmaker said they didn’t want anything－no money or gifts－simply my mother’s agreement. My mother was overjoyed. When I returned home, she told me, “Your classmate sent a matchmaker over saying her family didn’t want anything except our permission. They were willing to send their daughter over with no conditions.”
“Did you agree?” I asked.
“I waited for you to come home so I could ask you,” my mother replied.
“At least you had enough sense not to make the decision on your own. If you had given your agreement today, I would be leaving home tomorrow.”
My mother said, “You must not leave home.”
I said, “If you don’t want me to leave home, then don’t promise this girl anything.”
“Fine,” said my mother.
That’s how I got rid of the trouble I encountered when I was sixteen.
When the Mukden Incident of September 18, 1931, occurred, I was still young and didn’t understand very much. I didn’t have any sense of what “country” and “family” were. Later when the Japanese attacked China and went about murdering and setting fires, destroying the Chinese people, I felt it was totally unjust. What right did they have to lay waste to China? I wanted to join the revolution to drive the Japanese out so that the Chinese people could once again live in peace and safety. However, in the end I failed to carry out my resolve. I wasn’t able to reverse the tides of destiny. I didn’t hate the Japanese, because I knew hatred was useless. I only tried to think of ways to counteract them. My idea was to attack them with fire. Since they belonged to the element fire, I would fight fire with fire, for example, setting fire to their dwellings. I wanted to write articles to stir up a revolution, but I didn’t succeed. Later I chose to walk the path of monkhood. My lifelong regret after I became a monk was that I wasn’t able to fulfill my patriotic duty. Since I wasn’t able to sweat and toil for the sake of my country, I decided to rise above worldly affairs and propagate the Buddha’s teachings.
I had predicted the surrender of the Japanese five years before it happened. Based on the theory of the five elements, I predicted that their presence in China would weaken and then disappear by that time. After the Japanese surrendered, when the central government had not accepted the island of Guang and the Communists had not yet taken control, there were many, many ghosts, demons, and weird beings on the streets of China. Some of the “people” walking on the streets were actually ghosts and freaks, but no one recognized them. There was no government and there were no laws at that time, so it was total anarchy. Witch doctors and spirit mediums were widespread. They were basically demons wreaking havoc. Luckily there were still people who recited the Shurangama Mantra, so even though the demons made an appearance, they didn’t do any great mischief. Anarchic times are not pleasant at all. At that time all the ghosts, demons, and weird beings came out, because there was no one to watch over them. Most people weren’t aware of these things, but I saw very clearly what was going on. I have tasted the flavor of anarchy.
As a young child, I didn’t even know how to speak slowly－that’s how dull I was. I was no better than a mute. I sat at home every day, not wanting to play with other kids. When I joined the Virtue Society at sixteen, I practiced speaking every day and gradually learned to lecture in public. Then I studied Buddhism and taught the Dharma to others, explaining as much as I understood. I participated in many activities in the Buddhist society as well. Despite my youth, I was eager to serve Buddhism. And so at the age of sixteen I went to a temple to lecture on the Sixth Patriarch Sutra. After reading this Sutra, I wrote a couplet which says:
Although sudden and gradual are not the same,
When the work is complete, they are one: why divide
north and south?
Holy and common differ temporarily, but
Their basic nature is the same. Don’t argue about
east and west.
I also lectured on other short Sutras such as the Vajra Sutra and the Amitabha Sutra, and taught people the Buddhadharma. Even though I was not fully literate myself, I was willing to lecture. There were so many illiterate people in China, and if I didn’t teach them as much as I knew, they would never understand what Buddhism was about. At sixteen, I took it upon myself to propagate Buddhism. And so, after so many years of practice, I can now speak and lecture a little bit.
I also knew how to recite the Great Compassion Mantra in those days. The first time I saw the Great Compassion Mantra, I was extremely delighted. I started reading it when I boarded the train. When I got off the train half an hour later, I could recite it from memory. Then I learned the Forty-two Hands and Eyes. After cultivating them for several years, I began curing people’s illnesses. Using the Great Compassion Mantra and the Forty-two Hands and Eyes, I was able to cure any illness.
In my life I have never been afraid of anything. I don’t fear wild beasts, heavenly or earthly demons, spirit or ghost demons, or even human demons. Why not? It’s because I am not afraid of death. I remember that as a young student of Buddhism, thinking that I had enough samadhi, I became arrogant and made a wild statement. I said, “Everyone is afraid of demons, but I’m not. Demons are afraid of me! Heaven demons, earth demons, spirit, ghost, and human demons－I’m not afraid of any demons at all.” Guess what happened after I said that? A demon of sickness came.
And when it came, it was I who feared the demon, not the other way around. When the sickness came, my body wouldn’t listen to orders－I couldn’t even walk around or sit up. I was so sick that I lay on the bed from morning to night, unable to eat or drink. I thought, “I spoke foolishly, and now a demon of sickness has found me and there is nothing I can do.” I was seventeen or eighteen at the time.
I was so sick I went into a coma and was on the verge of death. Suddenly I saw the three Filial Sons of the Wang Family of Manchuria. Two of them, a Buddhist Bhikshu and a Taoist Master, had left the home-life, and the third was an elderly layman. They came and took me out to play. As soon as we went out the door, our feet left the ground and we rode the clouds and drove the wind. We took off from the roof of the house and when I looked down, the house was already very small and I could see a lot of people.
We met a lot of people and traveled everywhere, to all the scenic spots in China and all the temples, on Mount Wutai, Mount Emei, Mount Jiuhua, Mount Putuo, and others. We also visited foreign lands and saw people who had blond hair and blue eyes. It was like a movie, scene after scene quickly passed. Frame after frame, we actually went to those places. We saw many sights and heard many things.
When we returned, I opened the front door and saw myself lying on the bed inside the house. “How can this be?” I thought, and as soon as I was aware that there were two of me, the two changed into one. My mother and father were at my bedside watching me. When they saw me begin to breathe again, they cried, “He’s alive! He hasn’t died!” “What are they talking about?” I wondered. Then I discovered I was lying on the bed unable to move, and remembered I was sick. My parents told me I had been unconscious for seven or eight days. They had thought I was dead.
After this experience, I considered myself a “living dead person,” one who had been born again. After that, I never spoke recklessly. I did not claim to fear no demons, because I knew the demon of sickness was too powerful for me to overcome. Now, I also advise all of you never to brag that you don’t fear anything, because if you do, something will happen to make you afraid. Nor should you say that you fear everything. In general don’t make such claims. Talking in that way is useless.
Another strange thing happened to me at that time. I began to feel that I had some real skill in cultivation. When I was in Manchuria, before I became sick, I was active in the Virtue Society. What did I do there? I was one of the leaders. We would lecture on morality, humaneness, and righteousness, and exhort people to do good deeds. When I exhorted others to do good, did I do good deeds myself? Yes, I did even more good deeds myself. I didn’t preach without practicing. One day I read an article about the virtuous behavior of a man named Zhang Yaxuan. The article said that a woman named Yu (the niece of Zhang Xueliang’s wife) had become infatuated with Zhang Yaxuan and knelt in front of him hysterically demanding that he marry her. Zhang Yaxuan, seeing that it was not a good situation, gently persuaded her to give up her wish.
When I read this article while sitting beneath a tree, I admired his conduct and immediately made a vow: “Heaven, I will definitely emulate the conduct of Zhang Yaxuan.” I regretted the statement as soon as I said it. I thought, “Why would I want something like that to happen to me? It was stupid of me to say that.” I felt that my vow was wrong. What happened then? It’s very strange, but that very evening, a woman demon came. The room that served as the office of the Virtue Society was used as a women’s dormitory at night. The brick beds (which we use in northern China) in the women’s dorm were separated from those in the adjacent men’s dorm by a wooden wall with a gap at the bottom. She reached her hand through the gap and tried some hanky-panky. I thought, “This is inconceivable. I made a vow to imitate Zhang Yaxuan today, and now a demon has come to test me to see if I can really do it.” What did I do? I ignored her, and then she stopped making advances. From this, I know that if we make vows, the Bodhisattvas will come to test us. We should never make arrogant statements.
Another time, I had a dream in which I was staying in a house with two women, one in her fifties or sixties, the other in her twenties. I was sleeping on a brickbed on the north side of the house, and they were on one at the south side. At night, when I was neither asleep nor fully awake, the young woman came to the north side, embraced me, and started dragging me towards her brickbed. I knew she was up to no good. “What are you doing? What are you doing?” I shouted. There was no answer and I thought, “She’s probably not a human!” Then I recited, “Homage to the Greatly Compassionate Bodhisattva Guanyin.” As soon as I recited, everything disappeared and I woke up. But the portion of my body that she embraced ached for a week. You may say it was real, but then everything disappeared; say it’s unreal, but the aching was there. That was another experience I had.
I didn’t attend school until I was fifteen. It is one of my greatest regrets that I was not able to receive a proper education. Thus I was very eager to promote education. After attending school for two and a half years, at the age of eighteen I began a free school in my own home. I didn’t collect tuition, but taught the students for free, teaching them what I myself had learned and studied in school.
I was teaching in a culturally undeveloped area in the mountains, and I called the school “Toad Hall.” In the autumn, the toads would crawl under the rocks. If you turned up a rock, you would see lots of little toads. It is said that these toads were used for imperial tributes. I taught over thirty students, spending day after day with them. Why did I volunteer to teach them? Was it a honorable position being the leader of the kids? No. Since it had been difficult for me to study, I sympathized with other children who didn’t have the opportunity to go to school. I knew that poor families couldn’t afford to send their children to school. At that time in China, education was not widespread and the literacy rate was extremely low. I hoped all the young people could have the opportunity to go to school and receive an adequate education. That’s why I started a tuition-free private school and worked without pay teaching those illiterate children.
I also thought to myself, “Why is the world going bad? It’s because of money. Money has deluded the members of every profession and every line of work.” That’s why I taught without asking for pay. I thought a teacher should teach for the sake of educating students, not for the sake of money, fame, or benefit. I wanted to promote the idea of free education－students don’t pay tuition, and teachers don’t ask for a salary. Only then can teachers show that they are devoted to teaching rather than to making money. Since my family hadn’t been able to pay for my schooling, I knew that the children of other poor families had no money either. That’s why I didn’t collect any tuition or material fees. I supplied the books, brushes, and ink. I didn’t want children to be unable to study because of lack of money.
During that period, there was an epidemic going around called “Sheep’s Hair Lumps.” The disease may have been due in part to the climate. Many adults came down with it and grew blisters on their body－seven in the front and eight in the back. The blisters were about the size of matchstick heads, and would collapse if you poked them with a matchstick. If you pricked them with a needle, there was really sheep’s hair inside. If the sick person’s blisters were pricked and bloodletting was done, the person would get well. Recovery was very rapid if the sick person received the proper treatment. However, if no one treated the disease by pricking the blisters, the person would die in three days. That’s how lethal a disease it was.
When I was teaching, in a single day over ten of my students came down with the “sheep’s hair lumps.” I had learned to treat the disease after watching others do it, and so I was able to cure my students very quickly. But when one of my favorite students, named Li Youyi, who was intelligent, well-behaved, and a good student in every respect, came down with the disease, I was a little worried and the fire rose in me. When fire rises, it’s easy to catch the disease. After I finished pricking this student’s blisters, he went home and recovered. But then I fell sick and was in terrible pain. Seeing the little blisters on my chest, I knew I had “sheep’s hair lumps.”
I couldn’t prick my own blisters and cure myself, and no one else knew how to treat the disease. Then I lost my temper and declared, “Guanshiyin Bodhisattva, I want to help the people of the world. You shouldn’t let me get sick like this! If I really cannot contribute anything to Buddhism, I might as well die right now. I won’t treat myself or find anyone to treat me; I’ll just wait for death.” I could have taught the others how to prick the blisters, but I was sick and in no condition to go and call someone else. I thought, “I have offered my life to Buddhism. If Buddhism has no use for me, I might as well die! If Buddhism still needs me, then I will get well without treatment.”
My head hurt so badly it felt like it would split into two, but I paid no attention. I patiently bore the pain and fell asleep. As I slept, I stopped breathing and woke up gasping for air. Something was stuck in my throat and I couldn’t breathe. I coughed forcefully, and up came a dozen or so lumps of sheep’s hair－it really looked like sheep’s hair! As soon as I spit them out, I recovered－without treatment. From this, I knew that I could still do a little work for Buddhism. I knew then my life truly belonged to Buddhism.
Afterwards, my mother became sick and was confined to bed. I continued teaching on the one hand, and tended to my mother’s sickness on the other. I don’t know what her sickness was, but for over half a year she could neither walk nor turn over in bed. I helped her go to the bathroom, prepared her food, and did everything for her. My mother’s body had a foul odor because she was old and sick, but I didn’t mind the smell at all. I exhausted my strength and did my very best to take care of her. Although I was a young man, there was no one else who could take care of her. I searched everywhere and found a lot of good doctors to treat my mother, but none of them could cure her. During this period (my eighteenth year) I often fasted－sometimes for seven days, or for eighteen or thirty-six days. While fasting, I continued to teach in school. Why did I fast? It was to show my extreme sincerity in praying for my mother’s recovery.
At that time there was a spirit called the Fox Immortal at White Cloud River (Baiyunhe) who bestowed medicine upon those who prayed to him. People came from over a thousand miles away to seek medicine from the spirit. When the Japanese had their base there, the Fox Immortal also dwelt in the barracks, but later it chased the troops away. The Japanese army had secretly built an electrically run oil cauldron near their base, and they shipped Chinese prisoners in by the trainload to be boiled in it. It’s not known how many people they boiled to death.
Probably the Fox Immortal was upset by what was happening. He transformed himself into a white-haired old man and walked into the area. The Japanese chased after him carrying their guns, but he ran into their armory and blew it up. After two such explosions, the Japanese knew they couldn’t stay there any longer and so they moved out. That’s how powerful the Fox Immortal was.
After the Japanese left, the Fox Immortal began giving medicine to those who sought it. All one had to do was go to his place, set out a bowl with a red cloth over it, and make a request. Whatever medicine one prayed for would appear in the bowl. I went to the Fox Immortal seeking medicine for my mother. I set out the bowl, knelt down, asked for help, and waited. I knelt for three days and three nights, but no medicine appeared in the bowl. Later, after I left the home-life, the Fox Immortal possessed one of my relatives and sought to take refuge with me. When he identified himself as the Fox Immortal of White Cloud River, I said, “When I went to seek your help, you didn’t give me any medicine. How can you have the gall to ask to take refuge with me?” The Fox Immortal said, “When you were kneeling there, I couldn’t give the medicine to you because I was blinded by a golden light.”
Having failed to obtain medicine from the Fox Immortal, I went to the herbal shop myself and bought some medicinal herbs and decocted them for my mother. But she still didn’t get well. Not long after that, on the ninth day of the third lunar month, my mother died.
I didn’t have a single penny on the day she died. My whole family was destitute. Despite our poverty, I taught school for free. That’s the kind of stupid person I was. I didn’t know how to benefit myself, but only wanted to help others. I’m not boasting about my virtue－my temperament really is that way－I only wish to renounce myself to help others.
When my mother died, I summoned my brothers, but only my third elder brother came. I said to him, “What kind of coffin should we buy for our mother?”
“How can we buy a coffin when we’re so poor?” he asked. “We can’t even afford our meals, much less a coffin.”
“Then what should we do?” I asked.
“Just nail a few boards together and make a box to bury her in!” said my brother.
“It doesn’t seem right,” I said. “She raised so many sons and daughters, and yet she doesn’t even have a coffin for her burial.” I said I would go take a look on the streets.
I went into the town of Lalin to buy a coffin. Since I had been a supervisor at the Virtue Society before I left home, I knew some people in town. I went to see Mr. Tian, who sold coffins. He was known for being a sharp dealer. As soon as he saw me, he said, “Have you come to buy a coffin?”
“I don’t have any money right now. Will you let me buy one on credit?”
“Fine,” he said. “Pay me back whenever you have money.” So the coffin was taken care of, and I made arrangements to ship it home. As I was about to leave, Mr. Tian handed me three hundred dollars, saying, “If you don’t have money to buy a coffin, then for sure you won’t have the money to hold a funeral. Take this money and pay me back when you can.” I knew he had faith in me, and so I accepted the money. Three hundred dollars was quite a sum in those days. It would be equivalent to 30,000 Hong Kong dollars nowadays. Everything was very cheap in those days (forty or fifty years ago), and there was no inflation.
I returned home on the nineteenth of the third lunar month. I placed my mother’s body in the coffin, hired some musicians, ordered some food, and arranged for people to carry the coffin. The funeral was set for the next day. However, the warm spring winds had melted the winter snow and the roads were muddy and hard to travel. The family burial ground was two or three miles away, and I was worried that it would be very difficult for the pall bearers to transport the coffin on the muddy, slippery roads. That night, I prayed to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and to the Heavenly Lord, saying, “I don’t have many affinities with people or with heaven, but it would be best if either snow fell or the ground froze before dawn.” If an inch of snow covered the ground, or the ground became frozen solid, it would provide traction for easy walking. Strangely enough, the temperature dropped and an inch of snow fell on the frozen ground right before dawn. I knew this was a special response from the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
Over twenty people began sending the coffin to the burial ground as soon as it was light. The cloudy weather made it less tiring to carry to coffin. After the service, the sky cleared and the snow began to melt. As people started to leave, I sat down beside the grave. When people asked why I didn’t leave, I told them I wanted to keep my mother company. I had not told anyone before my mother’s burial of my intention to stay by the grave to observe filial piety. They tried to persuade me to go home, but I was deaf to their pleas. I didn’t feel sad. I just thought, “Mother, even though you’ve passed away, I will keep you company so you won’t be lonely.” I was nineteen then.
A lot of people are curious about what it was like sitting by the grave, so I’ll tell you some more. The first day I sat by the grave, a big test came. The daytime was uneventful, but that evening, a large pack of wolf dogs closed in. These dogs had been trained by the Japanese. They were extremely fierce and were known to eat people. Rich people used them as watch dogs to guard their homes and set them loose at night. These wolf dogs would gather in a pack at night and go on raids, sort of like a guerrilla unit. They moved with military precision. Seeing me sitting there all alone beside the grave, the dogs anticipated making a good meal out of me. There were several dozens of them. They formed a circle around me and started closing in. At first they were fifty or sixty paces away, and they came closer and closer, looking very menacing. The bolder ones led the attack, and the more timid ones brought up the rear. How could I defend myself against a whole pack of wolf dogs? Even fending off one wolf dog would not be easy.
I figured I had only two choices: I could surrender, or I could fight. As for fighting, I was weaponless: I didn’t have a gun, or a hand grenade, or a knife, or even a wooden stick or a bamboo rod. How could I resist the attacking dogs? Then I thought to myself: “I’ll just sit here and pay no attention to the dogs. They can bite me, tear at my flesh, drink my blood. I’m mourning for my mother, and if I die, then so be it.” Under the circumstances, I resigned myself to die. What else could I do? I shut my eyes and waited.
The dogs advanced until they were only thirty paces away. Seeing me sitting there motionless, they dared not advance further. What did they do then? From all sides, the several dozen wolf dogs slunk low to the ground and inched their way in－like a carpet being rolled up. They crept forward cautiously, snarling and growling, getting closer and closer, until they were only ten feet away from me. Then, for no apparent reason, they all started yelping and snapping at each other－this dog bit that one, and that one bit the other one. It was as if someone were beating them. Suddenly the whole pack turned and ran. That was the first day. I passed the test of the dogs and escaped being eaten.
When people try to do good things, their offenses will seek them out. If people want to become Buddhas, they will be tested by demons. Since I was doing a good deed by staying beside my mother’s grave, my karmic creditors were bound to find me. Probably the dogs were my enemies from lives past, and so they came to attack me when I was totally defenseless. I did not resist them (although I didn’t surrender either), and in the end they ran off in defeat. (You could say Manchuria had also put up no resistance to the Japanese army, but it ended up being occupied by the Japanese, so the comparison is not very apt.) Actually, it wasn’t I who caused them to retreat, for I hadn’t made a single move, said a single word, or even so much as breathed on them. They simply started fighting among themselves and then left and never came back.
After the dogs left, mosquitoes came. There shouldn’t have been any mosquitoes in March, but a huge swarm of mosquitoes appeared the second evening. They were big mosquitoes, buzzing noisily and hungry for blood. I thought: “It’s only March, and the weather is still very cold. Where did all these mosquitoes come from? This must be another test－yesterday it was dogs, today it’s mosquitoes.” I could have slapped the mosquitoes, but if I killed them, how could I face up to my mother? And so I said, “You’re all welcome to drink my blood. Please be my guests.” I took off my shirt and bared my upper body. They landed on my body and crawled around, but then flew away without biting. After that, no mosquitoes ever bothered me again. There were many mosquitoes in the wilderness, but I never got bitten even once. Yet the people who came to visit me were bitten so much that they joked, “Ah! So many doctors giving us shots!” That’s how I passed the mosquito test on the second day.
You all think it’s very funny and sounds like a fairytale, but I assure you it wasn’t fun at all. If I hadn’t taken off my shirt and been willing to let them drink their fill, they might not have left me in peace. My thoughts at the time were: “You may drink my blood dry and let me die here, but I won’t seek revenge. And when I become a Buddha, you mosquitoes will be the first ones I take across. I want to be your friends.” And so when the mosquitoes landed on me, they wanted to be my friends, too. They couldn’t bear to drink my blood. I don’t know if this was a response. All I know is that when I offered my blood to them, they didn’t want it anymore. That’s why, after leaving home, I called myself the Mosquito Bhikshu. I often used this penname because my names To Lun and Hsuan Hua gave people a headache. Later I also used the name “Mosquito.” Today I have told you the story behind these nicknames.
Some people think I’m just telling stories. You can think of them as tall tales if you like. I’ll tell you another story. What test was in store for me on the third night? You’ll never guess. It was ants－thousands of them. As I sat there, they crawled on my body and bit me all over. I knew they were either trying to drive me away or testing my sincerity. Again, I showed no resistance. I thought, “You may want to drive me away, but I won’t drive you away.” I relaxed my body and thought, “If you want to crawl onto my head, go ahead. Crawl on my face if you like. You can crawl into my ears, up my nose, into my mouth－wherever you want. I can bear it.” After about half an hour, the ants left. Strange! After that, not a single ant ever came to disturb me. The ants probably saw that they couldn’t take over the territory so they went somewhere else.
From these three incidents, I realized that if we don’t put up any resistance to our enemies－if we can regard our enemies as friends－then they will eventually come to see us as friends too. That’s how I gave myself the penname “Little Ant.” Now you have a little ant and a little mosquito lecturing the Sutra for you. That’s why very few people come to listen; everyone is afraid of being bitten by the mosquito and having the ant mess up their clothes. Those of you who dare to come are willing to be friends with the ants and mosquitoes. I won’t say anymore today, or I might scare you all away!
On the fourth day, the mosquitoes, ants, and dogs were gone, and the rats came. The big ones were as large as cats. I don’t know if they were like the huge rat that fell from the roof in Taiwan, but they were pretty big. At first I thought they were cats, but upon taking a closer look I saw that there were white rats and grayish ones, and rats with poor eyesight that burrowed in the ground in the beanfields. There were also rats called “big-eyed thieves,” because they have large eyes. These rats could jump three feet high in the air. As I sat there, all the rats－too many to count－swarmed over me and tried to jump on my head. Now, I had been powerless to defend myself against the wolf dogs, and I could have killed the ants and mosquitoes but I didn’t. It would have been difficult to fight against the rats because there were so many of them. However, when they tried to jump on my head, I put up my hand to block them. They immediately bit my hand until it bled. Then I thought, “Fine, I won’t resist. Go ahead and bite me.” I left them alone, and about twenty minutes later, they all ran off. That was the test of rats on the fourth day.
On the fifth day, I was surrounded by all kinds of poisonous snakes－big, small, long, and short. Usually snakes were not seen in that area, but that day they all came preparing to bite me. Again I thought, “Go ahead and bite me. If I die, so be it!” But none of them bit me. On the sixth day came a swarm of centipedes out of nowhere. They were three or four inches long. I’ve seen similar ones at Flourishing Compassion Monastery on Lanto Island and Western Bliss Gardens in Hong Kong, but I’d never seen such large centipedes in that part of Manchuria. The grass rustled as they came crawling closer on all sides, menacing me. I thought to myself, “What’s going on here? I’ve been attacked by dogs, mosquitoes, ants, rats, snakes, and now centipedes. Well, no matter what comes, I’ll just let them bite me.” Since there was no fear or hatred in my heart, they dispersed and vanished on their own.
There was something different on the seventh day: a rare fragrance filled the air－a fragrance that was not of this world. After the tumultous first seven days, everything settled down. While I was sitting by the grave, no one had brought me any food and I resigned myself to starving. But after the seventh day, my father came bringing me food. He was in his seventies, and he urged me to go home, crying as he talked. Although I wasn’t really hungry after seven days of not eating, I forced myself to eat. Then I asked my father not to bring me any more food. I said I wouldn’t accept food or other things from my own family. All these things happened to me as I sat beside the grave, but I never encountered any ghosts. Sometimes I ate grass roots and leaves when I felt hungry. Once I found a mushroom and ate it, and for the whole day I wanted to laugh; thus I knew there was a laughter-inducing chemical in the mushroom. That period of living by the grave was one of great hardships.
I built an A-shaped hut out of some branches tied in bundles. When it snowed outside, the inside of the hut would also turn white; when it rained, it was also wet inside. The hut didn’t keep out the wind, snow, or rain. Spending my days reciting Sutras, reciting the Buddha’s name, and sitting in meditation, I developed a great sense of mental peace.
When I read The Romance of the Three Kingdoms in my youth, I cried for three days when I reached the part about Lord Guan being killed. I was sorely grieved that such a loyal and righteous man had to be so brutally murdered. Yet when my own mother died, I didn’t shed tears. I think I probably was too sad to even cry.
While living beside my mother’s grave, I continued to bow. During that time I also left the home-life. My goal in leaving home was to end birth and death, to cut off the endless rounds of birth and death. I had nicknamed myself “Mendicant” as a young child, and now I really was one who lived on alms－a monk. My father did not know of my wish to leave home until I was living beside the grave. My father was an alcoholic who spent all his money on liquor. He would walk nearly two miles to and from town to buy eight ounces of liquor, and he would drink four ounces at a time. After drinking his fill, he would sleep. After I left Manchuria, my father was sick for three days, stopped eating, and then sat up and entered the stillness. I have invited my third eldest brother to America and I’m supporting him now, because I want to repay him for supporting my father. Everything I do is motivated by the wish to be filial. Some people speak about practicing filial piety for a certain number of years, but my filial obligations have no time limit.
In remembrance of my father and mother, I dare not commit any mistakes. If I were to do something wrong, I would be an unfilial son. If you ask me how many years I practiced filial piety, I would answer that I’m still practicing now－I don’t know how many years it has been, but my filial piety has no limit. I wish to be kind to all elderly people. I want to support everyone’s parents, in order to repay everyone’s kindness. People have praised me for my filiality to my parents, but I feel my practice is very imperfect. Therefore, I wish to treat all old folks as my own parents. I contemplate all men as my fathers and all women as my mothers. I truly see all people as my parents in past lives and as future Buddhas. I remember how filial and loyal Yue Wumu (General Yue Fei) was. Before every meal, he would remember the two Song dynasty emperors, and then he would take his meal while shedding tears of gratitude. I especially admire heroes like him; they are the most excellent people in the world. As for me, I am not worthy to be people’s teacher.
When I was practicing filial piety beside my mother’s grave, several times the villagers thought my hut had caught on fire, but when they came, there was no fire. There was also an earthquake one night. I was sitting in dhyana, and everything was empty－there was no self and no others--when suddenly I felt a movement, an agitation. I thought to myself, “Ah, what is this demon that can shake my body this way? Its strength is certainly formidable.” I didn’t realize it was an earthquake. The next day someone came to tell me there had been an earthquake－a very strange earthquake. During it, the well where I sat had spouted fire. This was a water-well, not a volcano, and yet fire had come forth from it. There are many strange things in the world.
I believe someone is thinking, “I’m sure that beneath the well there was a vein of sulphur which fed a volcano, and that is why the well spouted fire.” Maybe that’s the way it was.
One day at dusk, the Sixth Patriarch came. I saw a monk wearing a gray robe, in his fifties or sixties. He explained some principles to me, telling me how to cultivate, and said that in the future I might come to America. He also told me what kind of people I would meet. After saying that, he disappeared. I wasn’t asleep when I saw him, and I found it very strange.
When Japan invaded Manchuria, I was mourning beside my mother’s grave. Meanwhile, somebody told me that the Japanese had seized a lot of Chinese people and put them into labor camps. They didn’t have enough food to eat or clothes to wear and so a lot of people starved to death and froze to death. It was extremely bitter. I pondered this situation and the severity of their plight, and then I made a vow to eat one meal a day. I wished to save my breakfast and dinner for those who didn’t have food to eat. Somebody might say this kind of attitude is very stupid. Well, you can say it’s very stupid because those hungry people might not directly receive the food which I saved. But all of you should know it’s the law of the conservation of matter. The food I didn’t eat will remain in the world. Since it remains in the world, somebody will get to eat it. So I made this vow to eat one meal a day. The Sutra in Forty-two Sections says, “Bhikshus take only one meal a day at noon, pass the night beneath trees, and are careful not to acquire worldly things.” That’s why I vowed to take one meal a day.
I also vowed not to wear padded cotton clothing. During the winters in Manchuria, the temperature often dropped to 33 or 34 degrees below zero. When the temperature dropped to 38 degrees below zero, people would freeze to death. But even in such cold weather, I wore only three layers of clothing. Whether in winter or summer it was always the same, I did not even put on an extra sweater. By my vow I saved the cotton for those who didn’t have clothes to wear. I transferred it to them. Did they obtain benefit from it? This again is a case of the law of conservation of matter. Somebody would use it for sure. From the time I made that vow not to wear padded clothes, I didn’t feel cold even in very chilly weather. Later on, I even went without socks and shoes, and I could walk with bare feet on icy ground at any time. My feet didn’t get frozen.
That reminds me of a funny thing that happened. I had an eighteen-year old fellow student who was a very energetic young man. He saw me walking on the icy ground without wearing socks and shoes, and he wanted to try it out. But he hadn’t taken more than 100 steps when his feet completely froze and then swelled up. He couldn’t endure it any more and hurriedly ran into the temple. It took six months before he was able to walk again. At that time, I was twenty years old, and I could bear the cold, but even though he was younger, he couldn’t. How could I bear it? It had to do with my vow not to wear padded clothes. Since I didn’t wear padded clothes, I didn’t feel cold at all. Since I didn’t eat so much food, I didn’t feel hungry.
Before when I wasn’t eating one meal a day, I had to eat five small bowls of food at each meal, which means a total of fifteen bowls a day. But after I vowed to eat one meal a day, I could manage with three bowls of rice at most. If the bow was a big one, I ate two bowlfuls. If the bowl was a small one, I ate three bowlfuls.
It is not that I put myself on a diet. Actually I feel uncomfortable when I eat too much. And so even though I was eating less, I didn’t feel hungry at all. From this, people should recognize the power of vows. If you make vows, you will be able to fulfill them. This is the story behind why I eat one meal a day.
Most of my disciples also eat one meal a day. Not only do the left-home people eat one meal a day, but a lot of the laypeople also eat one meal a day. They like to learn my stupid method. In this scientific age, they want to use this stupid method to cultivate. You can say that they don’t know how to calculate. But from another viewpoint, they can be said to be calculating very clearly. They give away the food which they don’t eat and save it for other people. This is creating food-affinities with other people. So, I believe they will never starve to death to the ends of time. It is because we’re afraid that we’ll starve that we save some food for future use. The ancients had a saying,
If one decreases the clothes one wears,
One’s blessings will grow.
If one decreases the food one eats,
One’s lifespan will increase.
Because I think that my lifespan will probably not be too long, I want to decrease my intake of food in order to increase my lifespan. Actually this is not true. I’m just joking with you!
We have to follow the Buddha’s instructions to cultivate. The Buddha said, “Bhikshus should eat one meal a day, and sleep each night under a different tree.” They should not dwell for more than three days in the same place, because if they do, people may come to make offerings. But shouldn’t they receive any offerings? They are allowed to accept offerings, but they should not accept the offerings out of greed. Once you live in a place for a long period, Dharma conditions will arise. It is said,
Sitting for a long time, one attains samadhi.
Dwelling for a long time, one develops affinities.
Therefore, unless a Bhikshu has some important matter to attend to, it is better that he travel around. So in China left-home people travelled around everywhere and paid respects at every famous temple. This is called “hiding one’s light.” Not wanting to show off or sell their cultivation, wherever Bhikshus dwelled, they would not stay for over three nights.
When I was practicing filial piety beside my mother’s grave, there was a controversial issue. Some people thought it was right and good, while others thought it was wrong and bad. It was the matter of many villagers making offerings to me of all kinds of food, clothing, and things. There was another Bhikshu who had great spiritual powers. What kind of spiritual powers? The ability to eat. He took only one meal a day, but he had a huge bowl that could hold ten pounds of food, and he could eat three bowlfuls a day. He ate really fast, too, like a hungry ghost! He thought that I probably didn’t have any food to eat living beside the grave, and so one day he sent me a big basket of steamed dumplings. Those dumplings have a colloquial name, which is “inside two and outside eight.”
Dhyana Master Chao Zhou didn’t know what “inside two and outside eight” referred to. At that time he was over eighty years old. One day someone asked him “Do you know what an inside two and outside eight is?” The old monk was unable to answer the question. He knew it was food, but didn’t know the reason behind that name. So he said, “Bring them to me, and I will eat them.” The person had assumed that Master Chao Zhou knew he was talking about steamed dumplings, but actually the monk didn’t know. As a result Master Chao Zhou remorsefully thought, “Here I have been cultivating for such a long time, and I don’t even know the meaning behind the name of this kind of food. What have I been cultivating? A muddled path? I should go out and investigate.”
Although he wanted to go out and study, his eyes were failing, his teeth had fallen out, and his legs had gone into retirement. What could he do? He decided to have a chat with his attendant. He called him in and asked him, “May I borrow something from you?” The attendant thought, “If my master wants something, how can I not lend it to him?” Therefore he said, “Anything that the Venerable Master would like, I am willing to lend him.” Master Chao Zhou said, “As long as you agree to it, that’s fine. You don’t have to ask me what thing I want to borrow. Now run along and go back to sleep.”
The attendant felt this was a rather strange request, but he went back to sleep. The next morning on waking up he took a look in the mirror and just about had a fit! He saw that he now had a long beard and teeth that were falling out; in fact, he looked exactly like the old monk Chao Zhou. He was panic-stricken, “Oh no, this is terrible! How did I come into this body of the old master?” He ran off to find Master Chao Zhou. When he entered the master’s room, he found himself standing there. This terrified him even more, so that he was screaming and yelling, “What’s happening?”
Master Chao Zhou comforted him in a gentle voice, “Don’t stir up a scene. I will return your body to you eventually. You needn’t be afraid. Now you’d better stand in for me as the Abbot, while I go out to investigate a little.”
So Master Chao Zhou went from the south to the north in his investigation. In the northern region, he saw people making steamed dumplings. As they kneaded the dough, they used two fingers to knead the inside of the dumpling, while eight fingers remained outside to shape the exterior of the dumpling. He asked the people, “What is the name of this food?” They answered, “You don’t know what this is called?! This is ‘inside two and outside eight’－steamed dumplings!”
Suddenly Master Chao Zhou understood. There was nothing else to do, so he came home and returned the young body to his attendant, and crept back into his old, weak, and worn body. So it’s said, “Chao Zhou went out to travel at the age of eighty.” However, he didn’t do it in his own body. He traded bodies with his young attendant, because his own body was falling apart and not fit for travel. That’s the story of ‘inside two and outside eight.’
At that time, a Bhikshu sent me a basket of those dumplings, also called “wowotou,” about fifty or sixty of them. This was a Bhikshu who ate one meal a day. He was afraid I would starve to death, so he offered me these dumplings. He probably could have finished them in a day or two, but I ate them slowly and took three weeks to finish them. On the last day, the steamed dumplings had developed long mold, about one and a half inches thick. I didn’t expose them under the sun or let the wind dry them. I was very lazy at that time. After eating, I usually sat there and didn’t pay attention to anything. As a result, the food developed long mold when the weather got hot. At that time I wiped away the mold and ate all the wowotou’s. This kind of food was really hard to eat－it stank even worse than excrement. Even now, thinking of them makes me want to vomit. However, I couldn’t throw them away, because they were offerings made by a left-home person, and I was only a novice. On the other hand, they really tasted terrible. Other people who saw me eating them told me not to eat them, saying I would get sick. “And what if I get sick?” I asked. “Then you won’t be able to cultivate,” they said. “I’m perfectly willing to die, how much the more get sick!” I replied. I had put mind and body down, so I could eat anything, no matter how bad it tasted. I ate them, but nothing happened to me and I didn’t get sick.
While I was practicing filial piety beside the grave, I went to leave the home-life. Before leaving home, I had taken refuge with Great Master Chang Ren, who, despite being illiterate, spoke very elegantly. Great Master Chang Ren was the Abbot of the temple. He had practiced filial piety beside his parents’ graves for six years, during the second three years of which he didn’t eat cooked food and didn’t speak to people. Living at the temple where I left home were forty or fifty Bhikshus, but sometimes as few as a dozen. When I first arrived at the temple, the Abbot was out begging and none of the Bhikshus knew me. “I know the Abbot, and I want to leave the home-life,” I said, and they welcomed me.
After leaving home, I practiced austerities, but not the ones you practice. You type, recite Sutras, and so forth, but in the big rural temple where I lived, there was a lot of outside work to be done. Sweeping the courtyard alone took an hour. My first job was to clean the toilets, which weren’t flush toilets, but pit toilets, and every day the waste had to be removed because the cultivators did not want to smell the odor. They gave this work to me because I had just left home and had not yet cut off my attachment to smells. I did it every day and didn’t mind it too much.
I did various chores at the temple, such as sweeping. When it snowed I got up before everyone else at two o’clock and swept the walkways so that they were clear at four when everyone else got up to go to the Buddha hall and recite Sutras. I did this work for a long time without anyone else knowing.
Although I had loved to fight with people as a child, after leaving home I was often beaten, scolded, and bullied by others. Everyone looked down on me, thinking I was totally incapable. The other monks at the temple took advantage of me, scolded me, and even struck me at times.
When the Abbot returned and saw me he said, “So you have come!”
“Yes,” I said, “I have.”
After I had formally left home, he called a meeting, wishing to elect a head monk, a position second only to the Abbot. When the Abbot retires, the head monk becomes the new Abbot. Among the several dozen monks, the Abbot wanted to choose me. Everyone objected, “He has just left home. How can he be the head monk?”
“Very well,” said the Abbot. “Let’s go before the image of Weitou Bodhisattva and draw names.” Oddly enough (Weitou Bodhisattva must have wanted to give me some work to do), they drew three times and my name came up each time. No one said a word because I had been elected by Weitou Bodhisattva himself. At that time I was still a novice monk.
Later, when the Abbot wanted to make me a manager, I thought, “It’s too much trouble. If he tells me to do it, I won’t touch money. How will he expect me to be the manager then?” So I said, “All right, but I will not touch money. Other people must handle and count it. That is my condition.” That’s how I started holding the precept of not touching money.
Unusual things happened when I held this precept. Whenever I went to the train station near the temple, I didn’t bring money to buy a ticket, because I couldn’t hold money. I would sit and wait for someone who knew me to come and offer to buy me a ticket. If no one came I just waited, but strangely enough, whenever I went to the station, someone would come and ask me where I wanted to go and then buy me a ticket. And so in Manchuria there was a short period during which money and I parted company. I didn’t touch money.
When I was nineteen and still a novice, many people in Manchuria wanted to take refuge with me. Why? They saw that I was different from ordinary people. I walked barefoot in the snow in wintertime, and I wore only three layers of cloth all year round and never wore padded clothing. People saw that I could do this without freezing even when the temperature dropped to 34 or 35 degrees below zero, and so they wanted to take refuge with me.
I didn’t want to accept them as disciples, but they were extremely sincere and knelt in front of me for several hours without getting up. I remember a non-Buddhist teacher named Guan Zhongxi who lived by Beiyin River in Manchuria. He had large knees characteristic of people living near the mountains. His religion was called the Shouyuan Sect, and he had over three thousand disciples. One had to pay a considerable sum to join his religion. Why was that? He had hundreds of treasures for sale at a thousand dollars each. What kind of treasures were they? The treasures existed in name only, and he would explain, “The time is not right and so I can’t give them to you now. When the time comes, the world will change and you will have your treasures.” His three or four thousand disciples all had great faith in him. He was over fifty years old then.
Later, he knew that he could not rely on his business of cheating people. He didn’t have any treasures to protect his own life. Knowing that the time of his own death was approaching, he was afraid that without understanding how to cultivate the Way, he would die in panic and confusion. Therefore, he went to pay visits all around. Whenever he heard that a person had attained the Way, he would call on that person no matter how far away he was, and request instruction on cultivating the Way. Taking his nephew Guan Zhanhai with him, he went around visiting for three years. His surname Guan is the same as that of the warrior Lord Guan, so he is probably Lord Guan’s descendant. After three years, he still had not discovered the Way, and was very anxious. Every day he thought, “Alas, death is upon me, and I still don’t understand how to cultivate. This is terrible!” His nephew planned to remain single and follow him to cultivate. So the two of them became fanatics of the Way.
One day, I went to his home. Strange to say, before I went there, Guan Zhanhai had a dream. In his dream, I had already come to his home and was sitting on his brick bed. He knelt in front of me and begged me to teach him to cultivate the Way. In the dream, he saw me peel a layer of skin from his body, tearing it off with both hands and throwing it on the ground. It was the skin of a pig. He thought, “How could I have a layer of pig skin on my body?” In the dream, he heard me say, “You aren’t vegetarian, and you eat pork. In the future you will have a pig skin on your back.” He was scared stiff and said to me, “Oh no! Pigs are filthy and useless!” Then he woke up.
When I showed up at his house the next day, the nephew asked his uncle, “Do you recognize that monk?” His uncle said, “Yes, I knew him before he practiced filial piety beside the grave.” Then the nephew said, “Last night I dreamed that this person came to our house, and now he is actually here.”
His uncle was excited. “Really?” he said. “What did you dream?” After he related the dream, his uncle said, “This person has the Way and he has brought it to our house. The two of us must certainly seek the Way from him.” After talking, they went into the room where I was sitting, closed the door, and knelt before me to request the Way.
“Have you both gone insane?” I said. “What do you want from me? I’m just the same as you. I don’t understand the Way.”
“We know you cultivate filial piety,” they said. The uncle, who knew that I had cultivated filial piety beside my mother’s grave, had wanted to meet me, but had never found the time. He said, “We know you have brought the Way to our home, for my nephew had a dream last night. In the dream, you peeled a pig skin off his body.”
“You’re confused,” I said. “He’s not a pig. How could I peel a pig skin off him?”
“But it’s true,” he said, “and no matter what, you have to teach us how to cultivate!”
“I can’t teach you to cultivate, but if you want to find a teacher, I can help you look.”
“We’ve looked everywhere, but we haven’t found one. Wherever we go it’s always the same. They all have a big reputation, but no genuine skill.”
“I can take you around,” I said. They had wanted to bow to me as their teacher, but I didn’t know if they really had faith in me. I never did anything casually.
I took them to meet Great Master Chang Ren and many other great cultivators. But after meeting with them, they were always dissatisfied. After sending them everywhere for two years, they still insisted on taking me as their teacher. But I was still a novice monk and did not want to take disciples. Finally, they knelt before me and refused to get up. “It’s useless to talk about whether or not I have the Way,” I said. “First learn to sit in full lotus and then I will teach you.”
Then I taught them to sit in lotus posture. I instructed them to sit with their backs erect, not leaning to the front or back, or letting the head droop, but sitting with determination and resolve. They practiced sitting every day.
The nephew had no trouble, but the uncle’s bones were old and he had big kneecaps, which stuck up about fifteen inches in the air when he tried to sit cross-legged. But the uncle kept trying. He pushed his knees down over and over. When I returned after seventy days, I noticed that his knees were swollen. They were so sore, in fact, that he couldn’t even step over a cart rut.
“You shouldn’t sit in full lotus,” I told him. “Are you still practicing?”
“I am,” said the uncle. “My knees are swollen, but I can sit in full lotus.”
“You shouldn’t continue,” I told him. “You won’t be able to bear it.”
“What do you mean?” said the uncle. “I’m about to die and if I don’t practice now, what will I do then? No matter what, I’m going to practice meditation. If I die, that’s another matter, but as long as I’m still alive, I’m going to practice.”
“Do what you like,” I said, and left. When I returned a hundred days later, I noticed that the uncle’s legs were no longer swollen. “You’re not still sitting, are you?” I asked.
Guan Zhongxi smiled. “I can sit in full lotus,” he said, “and no matter how long I sit, it doesn’t hurt and my legs don’t swell.” Then I taught him how to apply effort in meditation. The uncle was incredibly happy and sat in meditation every day. After cultivating for three years, about three months before his death, he gathered his family together and said, “On such and such a day, at such and such a time, I’m going to leave; I’m going to die. The only wish I have is to see my teacher once again. But I don’t know where he is now, and so I cannot see him.” Then on the appointed day, he sat upright in full lotus, and without any illness, he died. That evening, many of the villagers had the same dream; they dreamed that they saw the uncle accompanied by two youths in dark robes, being taken to the West.
The uncle, originally a non-Buddhist, later studied the Proper Dharma and cultivated without fear of pain or suffering. Even if he died, he wanted to practice meditation, and so eventually he had some accomplishment. If he had stopped practicing when his legs swelled up, I don’t think he would have accomplished what he did. Cultivators have to suffer for a time before they can realize infinite happiness. If you can’t bear suffering temporarily, you can’t attain eternal bliss. Guan Zhongxi is a good model for all of us. If we wish to obtain true samadhi and wisdom, to obtain eternal bliss, we must first undergo a period of suffering.
Well, the nephew didn’t die, and one day as we were walking down the road, he suddenly knelt, clutched my sleeve, and begged to become a disciple. I said, “I have no cultivation. What’s the point of taking refuge with me?” He said, “I’m determined to take refuge with you, no matter what.” I brushed him off and left. After walking about a mile, I turned around and saw the boy still kneeling. I returned and saw that he was crying, and so I felt compelled to accept him as a disciple. He was my first disciple. He was truly filial and always thinking of his teacher.
Later I made a vow, because while I had no virtue and was not worthy of being a teacher of others, there were people who sincerely requested to take refuge with me. My vow was neither great nor small. I vowed that if any being who has taken refuge with me－whether human or nonhuman, or a god, dragon, or member of the eightfold division－has not become a Buddha, I will not become a Buddha. I will wait for him or her. This shows my sincerity towards my disciples. How they treat me after taking refuge is of no concern to me. In general, if you practice in accord with the teachings, you will definitely have the chance to become a Buddha. Why did I make such a vow? I feel that if someone takes refuge with me and I fail to help him realize Buddhahood, I have not done my job and am not worthy to be his teacher; I am not even fit to be his disciple. Today I have told you the reasons I made this vow. After you take refuge with me, you must certainly advance vigorously in your practice. Don’t be lax and lazy. Change your faults, reform yourselves, and proceed forward on the Bodhi path. If you fail to cultivate, you will delay your teacher from attaining Buddhahood.
After I failed to start a revolution in my youth, I left the home-life and later went around curing people’s illnesses. Although I had studied the texts on Chinese medicine, I didn’t use my medical knowledge to cure disease. I relied instead on the Shurangama Mantra and the Great Compassion Mantra. I used the Forty-two Hands and Eyes in the Great Compassion Mantra and the thirty-two dharmas in the Shurangama Mantra to subdue the heavenly demons and those of outside ways. I used the power of samadhi to capture and overcome those demonic and weird creatures. In this life alone, I have encountered countless demonic beings who transformationally appear in human form. When most people hear this, they don’t believe it because they aren’t aware of these strange and mysterious phenomena.
I remember there was a time in Manchuria when the Japanese had surrendered, but the Nationalist government had not officially taken power in Harbin, nor had the Communist party completely occupied Manchuria. Many demons, ghosts, and weird creatures appeared in the world at that time. These demonic beings had remained in hiding and had not dared to be so wild when we had a government. But during the period when we had no government, these demonic beings all came out of hiding. I remember one of the most important demons I met at that time was a several thousand year old demon. I will tell you her story now, but don’t be afraid. She doesn’t harm people anymore.
It is said that this big demon leader was a ghost in the Zhou dynasty, which was several thousand years ago. Since I haven’t studied history very thoroughly, I’m not sure if it was three or four thousand years ago. This “As-you-will Demon Woman” did nothing but harm people back in the Zhou dynasty. She did things that transgressed the laws of heaven. Later a person who had spiritual powers shattered her with thunder, but didn’t completely destroy her. She had been a ghost before, but then she cultivated and gathered her scattered energy and spirit back together, perfected her demonic skills, and turned into a demon that was invulnerable to thunder. In the interval when there was no government, she went around causing trouble and taking people’s lives, because she wanted to increase her power and the power of her retinue. Each time she caused a person’s death, the other demons would congratulate her: "You’re really powerful!" It’s similar to how other officials act toward an official who has just been promoted. A demon’s power increases with the number of people it kills, until even ghosts have to follow its orders.
The “As-you-will Demon Woman” had killed ninety-nine people by then, and if she could capture the soul of one more person－killing a hundred people in all－she would become the most powerful demon king, and all the common demons would have to listen to her orders. She would be the leading demon, and all the souls she had captured would become her retinue and would have to obey her. She lacked only one more soul, so she went around looking for a victim. Later when she met me, she took refuge with the Triple Jewel and reformed herself. Thus she’s an example of a demon who took refuge with the Buddha. I could write an entire book on this.
Twenty-seven years ago , on the twelfth day of the second month, I passed through the Zhou family station in Manchuria. In the town there was a Virtue Society whose members met daily for lectures on morality. Since some of the members were my disciples, I would usually stay in the town for a few days when I passed through.
This time I met a Chinese astrologer who cast people’s horoscopes by looking at the eight characters (two for the year, two for the month, two for the day, and two for the hour) of their birth. His horoscopes were very efficacious. He cast my horoscope and said, “You should be an official. Why have you left home? Had you wanted to, you could have been a great official.”
“I haven’t any idea how to be an official,” I said. “But I do know how to be a Buddhist monk, and so I have left home.”
“What a pity,” said the astrologer, and he looked at my hands. “At the very least,” he said, “you could have been a top-ranking imperial scholar.”
“No,” I said. “I couldn’t even have come in last.”
He looked my hands again and said, “Oh, this year something very lucky will happen to change your life!”
“What could that be?” I asked.
“After the tenth of the next month you will be different from now,” he replied.
“Different in what way?”
“Right now, all the people within 1000 li [350 miles] believe in you, but after the tenth of next month, everyone within 10,000 li [3500 miles] will believe in you.”
“How can that be?” I asked.
“When the time comes, you will know,” he said.
Two days later, on the fourteenth or fifteenth of the second month, I went to the village of Xiangbaichi, fourth district, and stayed with my disciple Xia Zunxiang, who was over sixty years old and had a family of over thirty people. He was one of the richest landowners in the area and had never believed in Buddhism or anything else. But when he saw me, he believed in me and wanted to take refuge with me. He and his whole family took refuge, and every time I went to the village I’d stay at his house. His family of over thirty was extremely happy to see me this time. I stayed with them for ten days, and about seventy-two people came to take refuge.
On the twenty-fifth, I set out in Mr. Xia’s cart for Shuangcheng County. Since it was over seventy
li [25 miles] away, we left at three o’clock in the morning.
Although it was early spring, the weather was bitter cold. The driver and the attendant were dressed in fur coats, trousers, and hats. Being very poor, I wore only my usual rag robe made of three layers of thin cotton cloth, trousers made of two layers of cloth, open Arhat sandals with no socks, and a hat shaped like folded palms that didn’t cover my ears. That was the kind of hat that Master Ji Gong wore.
We rode from three in the morning until dawn, reaching the city at seven in the morning. The driver and the attendant thought I would freeze to death, since I was so insufficiently dressed. They had stopped repeatedly to exercise and keep warm, but I had remained in the cart from the beginning of the trip. When we arrived at the eastern gate of Shuangcheng County and I got out of the cart, the driver exclaimed, “Oh, we thought surely you had frozen to death!”
I stayed with friends, Dharma protecting laymen, for more than ten days, and on the ninth of the third month, I returned to Xia Zunxiang’s home in Xiangbaichi. When I arrived, he told me that one of my recent disciples, the daughter of Xia Wenshan, had fallen dangerously ill. She hadn’t eaten or drunk water for six or seven days. She did not speak, and she looked fiercely angry, as if she wanted to beat people.
Then her mother came. “Master,” she said, “my daughter became very ill a few days after taking refuge. She won’t talk, eat, or drink, but just glares and sticks her head on the bed. She doesn’t sleep either. I don’t know what illness she has.”
At that time I was with Han Gangji, who was able to look into people’s past lives and could know their causes and effects. I said to the mother, “I can’t cure her, so it’s useless to ask me. However, my disciple Han Gangji has opened his five eyes and knows people’s past, present, and future affairs. You should ask him.”
Han Gangji had also taken refuge on the twenty-fifth of the second month. At first I had refused to take him as a disciple, because before I had left home, the two of us had been good friends and had worked together in the Virtue Society. After I left home and Han Gangji opened his five eyes, he saw that, life after life, I had always been his teacher. And so he wanted to take refuge with me.
I said, “We’re good friends; how could I take you as a disciple?”
“But if I don’t take refuge with you, I shall certainly fall in this life,” Han Gangji said, and he knelt on the ground and refused to get up.
I was just as determined not to accept him, but after perhaps half an hour, I finally said, “Those who take refuge with me must follow instructions. You have talent; you know the past, present, and future. Is it possible that it has caused you to become arrogant? Will your pride prevent you from obeying my instructions?”
“Master,” he said, “I’ll certainly obey. If you tell me to throw myself into a cauldron of boiling water, I’ll do it. If you tell me to walk on fire, I’ll walk. If I get boiled or burned to death, that’s all right.”
“You’d better be telling the truth,” I said. “If I give you instructions, you can’t ignore them.”
“No matter what it is,” he said, “if you tell me to do it, I will do it, and fear no danger whatsoever.”
And so Han Gangji was one of the seventy-two people who took refuge on the twenty-fifth.
Hearing that one of my disciples was sick, I told Han Gangji, “You can see people’s causes and effects, and you know how to diagnose illnesses. Now my disciple is sick. Take a look at her.”
Han Gangji sat in meditation and made a contemplative examination of the illness. Suddenly his face blanched with terror. “Master,” he said, “we can’t handle this one. It’s beyond our control.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“There’s no way we can subdue this demon,” he said.
“What kind of demon is it?” I asked.
“The demon who is causing the illness is extremely violent and can assume human form to bring chaos into the world and injury to humankind.”
“What makes the demon so fierce?” I asked.
“The demon was a ghost long ago in the Zhou Dynasty,” he said. “Because it didn’t behave properly, a virtuous man with spiritual powers shattered it with thunder. But the ghost’s spirit did not completely disperse, and through gradual cultivation it later fused into a powerful demon that could fly and vanish and appear again, at will. Now it has taken the form of an old woman and it goes around capturing people for its retinue. I don’t think we’re any match for her. We can’t deal with this one.”
“What would happen if we tried?” I asked.
“We might lose our lives as well,” said Han Gangji. He was really scared.
“The demon has refined a magic weapon,” he continued. “It’s an exclusive anti-thunder device: a black hat made out of the thin membranes that cover the bodies of newborn children. When she wears the hat, the thunder cannot hurt her, because thunder has a great aversion to filth.”
Westerners think that thunder has no one controlling it, and while that may be the case for ordinary thunder, there is a special kind of thunder that is used by gods to punish the goblins, demons, and ghosts who wander throughout the world.
In addition to the black hat, which protected her from thunder, she had refined two other magic weapons: two round balls, which were originally the eyeballs from a human corpse. If she put her hat on someone, his soul would fall under her control, and he would become one of her followers. If she hit someone with one of the two round balls, he would immediately die.
Han Gangji saw that she was such a fierce demon and said, “Master, we can’t handle this one.”
“Then what will become of the sick girl?” I asked.
“She will certainly die; there’s no way to help her,” he said.
“I can’t allow her to die. If she weren’t my disciple I’d pay no attention, but she took refuge with me on the twenty-fifth of last month.. If she hadn’t taken refuge with me, I wouldn’t care whether the demon took her life or not. But she took refuge with me, so I can’t allow the demon to take her life. I’ve got to do something.”
“You take care of it, then,” said Han Gangji, “but I’m not going.”
“What?” I said, “When you took refuge, you promised me that you would jump into boiling water or walk on fire if I asked you to. Now it’s not even boiling water or fire; why have you decided to back out? If you’re afraid to go, then you don’t have to be my disciple anymore.”
Han Gangji had nothing to say. He thought it over. “If you appoint some Dharma-protecting gods to take care of me...”
“Don’t shilly-shally!” I said. “If you’re going to go, go. But don’t vacillate!”
He said no more and followed me. When we arrived, the girl was lying on the bed with her head on the pillow and her bottom sticking up in the air; it was an embarrassing sight. Her eyes were as wide as those of a cow, and she glared with rage at me.
I asked the girl’s family, “What is the cause of the illness?”
They told me that seven or eight days earlier, an old woman, about three feet tall and in her fifties, had been sitting beside an isolated grave outside the village. She was wearing a dark blue gown and had braided her hair backwards in two plaits that went up her head in back and hung down across her temples. She was wearing yellow trousers and shoes and holding a black hat, looking quite strange, and she was crying mournfully beside the grave.
Hearing her cries from the road, the elderly Mrs. Xia (who was also my disciple) went to comfort her, saying, “Why are you so sad? Please don’t cry.” What was she crying about? Mrs. Xia heard her crying in a barely audible voice, “Oh my person, oh my person...” She kept looking for her “person.” Mrs. Xia asked her, “Where are you from?”
She said, “Don’t talk to me, I’m a ghost!” Mrs. Xia was so frightened that she left. But the old woman walked behind Mrs. Xia and followed her all the way to the village gate. There must have been a spirit guarding the gate, because the old woman wouldn’t go in. The village was surrounded by a wall and had a gate on each of the four sides. Mrs. Xia went in, but the old woman stayed outside the gate, crying. I think the spirit guarding the gate must have kept her from going in.
At that moment Xia Zunxiang’s horse cart returned to the village. When it reached the gate the horse saw the woman and shied in fright, for horses can recognize things that people cannot see. As the horse cart went careening through the gate, the old woman followed it in. Probably the spirit who guarded the gate had his back turned, and in the confusion, she went sneaking through.
The old woman ran to the house of Mr. Yu Zhongbao and continued to look for her “person.” She looked at Mr. Yu and then ran out of the house onto the street, where she was surrounded by thirty or forty curious onlookers who asked her, “What’s your last name?”
“I don’t have a last name.”
“What’s your first name?” She didn’t have a first name, either. “Where are you from? What are you doing here?” they asked.
“I’m a corpse－a ghost. I’m looking for my ‘person.’“ she said. Because there was such a crowd, they were not afraid when they heard her say she was a ghost. They called her “stupid old woman” because of her crazy talk. They looked at her as if she were a freak. She continued to walk as if in a stupor until she reached the back wall of Xia Wenshan’s estate. She then threw her black hat over the eight-foot dirt wall, and in one jump, leapt right over after it. No one else could have jumped over the wall, but she made it.
“The stupid old woman knows kung fu!” the crowd screeched, and they ran around and went in through the front gate to watch her.
Xia Wenshan’s son Xia Zunquan, who had also taken refuge on the twenty-fourth, ran in the door. “Mama! Mama! The stupid old woman is in our house, but don’t be afraid.”
His mother looked out the window, but saw nothing strange. When she turned around, there was the old woman crawling up on the brick bed. She was halfway on the bed and halfway on the floor, looking for her “person.”
“Whom are you looking for? What do you want?” shouted the mother, but the old woman made no reply.
Seeing the old woman’s strange behavior, the mother said to her daughter, “This woman is really weird. We’d better recite the Great Compassion Mantra.”
When those people had taken refuge, I had taught them to recite the Great Compassion Mantra. I had said to them, “Each of you should learn to recite the Great Compassion Mantra. It will be of great help to you. If you are in danger and distress and you recite it, Guanyin Bodhisattva will protect you.” Since then, many of them had been reciting the Great Compassion Mantra.
The mother and her daughter began immediately to recite the mantra. Just as they recited the first line of the mantra, Na mo he la da nuo duo la ye ye, the old woman slipped to the ground and lay inert, exactly like a corpse.
Seeing that, the family was greatly upset. If somebody were to die in their home, it would not be good.
They went for the sheriff. When the sheriff saw the old woman lying on the floor as if she were dying, he picked her up with one hand and set her outside. Then he took her to the village courthouse for questioning. “Where are you from?” he asked, “and why have you come here?”
“Don’t ask me,” she said. “I’m a corpse. I have no name and no home. I just live wherever I am.”
Frightened by her strange talk and behavior, the sheriff escorted her at pistol point some fifty paces outside the village. But when he returned to the village gate, she was right behind him. The second time he took her seventy paces from the village, but on the way back he discovered that she was following him again. Finally, he and three or four other deputies took her 150 paces outside the village and said, “Get out or get shot!” and they fired two shots in the air.
The old woman fell to the ground in terror, thinking the shots were thunder, which had destroyed her before. This time she didn’t follow them back to the village.
Although the old woman was gone, Xia Wenshan’s daughter, who was seventeen or eighteen at the time, fell sick. After the old woman left their house, the daughter lay on the bed with her head buried in the pillow and and her bottom sticking up in the air. She glared in rage and didn’t speak, nor did she sleep at night. She looked as if she were making bows on the bed. She didn’t eat for seven or eight days. She had been possessed by a demon.
Before we went to Xia Wenshan’s home, I said to Han Gangji, “You said that if we tried to handle the matter we would die. Well, I would rather die than not save one of my disciples. First of all, this sick girl has taken refuge with me. She has been possessed by a demon, and I have to help her out of this trouble. I can’t just stand by and let her die. Secondly, I must save the demon. You say no one can control her, but she has committed so many offenses and harmed so many people that there’s bound to be someone who can subdue her. She’s bound to be punished. If she were to be destroyed, it would be a great pity, for she has cultivated diligently for many years. Even if she has enough power to kill me, I’ll still save her and teach her to be good. Finally, I must save all living beings in the world, and if I don’t subdue her now, in the future many people will be harmed by her. For these three reasons, then, I’m going to work.”
Just then the sheriff happened by and overheard us saying that the old woman was a demon. “No wonder!” he exclaimed. “That’s why I was able to pick her up with one hand, just as if there were nothing there at all. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but now I realize she’s a demon. She was as light as a sheet of paper.”
We then had to find the demon. How did we do that? There are five kinds of dharmas in the Shurangama Mantra. One is the dharma for extinguishing calamities. If you are due to suffer a calamity, you can use this dharma to avert it. There is also the dharma for creating auspiciousness, which turns inauspicious events into auspicious ones. With the dharma of summoning and hooking, you can catch goblins, demons, and ghosts no matter how far away they are. There is also the dharma of subduing and conquering, which allows you to subdue any demon that comes. I employed these dharmas from the Shurangama Mantra to capture the As-You-Will demon woman.
When she entered the room, she had about her an intense and nauseating stench. She came in and tried to put her magic weapon－the black hat－on my head, but couldn’t get it on me. Then she took out her round balls and tried to hit me, but they missed my body.
Both of her magic weapons had failed. Knowing she was finished, she turned to run, but when she first arrived, I had set up an invisible boundary that would trap her no matter where she tried to go. The gods, dragons, and others of the eightfold division of Dharma-protectors watched her from the left, right, front, rear, above, and below. Seeing that she couldn’t get away, she knelt and wept. She said, “I never thought I would meet my subduer today. Please forgive me and let me go.”
“I will certainly let you go, but I can only forgive you if you reform and take refuge with the Triple Jewel,” I said.
She nodded in acquiescence. I then spoke the Dharma for her. I explained the Four Noble Truths, the Twelve Causes and Conditions, and the Six Perfections. She immediately understood, resolved to realize Bodhi, and asked to take refuge with the Triple Jewel. I accepted her and gave her the name “Vajra As-You-Will Maiden.”
I had a small hut then, and I let her stay in there after she took refuge. Later she often followed me around to save people, but her basic make-up was that of a demon, and no matter where she went she emitted an overwhelming stench. The putrid odor didn’t bother me, but it made most people so nauseated that they wanted to vomit. Seeing that it wouldn’t do for her to follow me, I sent her to Leifa Mountain in Jiaohe County, Jilin Province, to cultivate in the Exquisite Cave of the Ten Thousand Saints. She is still there now. She was a great demon leader that I encountered in Manchuria when there was no government in force there.
I have sent many of my strange and unusual disciples there to cultivate, and I have also been there myself. She cultivated vigorously and soon attained spiritual powers and could rescue people. When she rescued them, she didn’t like it to be known, since good done hoping others will know is not true good, and evil done in secret for fear that others will know is truly great evil. Thus, the former demon woman became one of the Buddha’s followers.
Why is the cave called the “Exquisite Cave of the Ten Thousand Saints”? It’s said to be exquisite because it has three entrances, which are mutually visible to each other. It’s like a glass cup, in that one can see in from the outside and out from the inside. The three entrances to the cave are mutually connected. Inside the cave there is a temple made of bricks and lumber that were carried up the steep mountain crags on the backs of goats. One goat could carry two bricks or a piece of lumber at a time. Off the western entrance of the cave, there is another cave called the Cave of Lao Zi. Off the eastern entrance is the Dripping Water Cave, which drips enough water to satisfy a troop of ten thousand men and horses. The cave in the back is called the Cave of Patriarch Ji, named after Ji Xiaotang, a native of Manchuria who, in the Ming Dynasty, subdued five ghosts, one of whom was the Black Fish Spirit. The Black Fish Spirit was a Ming Dynasty official in Beijing called Blackie the Great. His last name was Black, but he wasn’t a human; he was a fish. Ji Xiaotang knew this and was determined to capture him. He knew that “Blackie” would pass by the mountain one day, and so he waited for him. When he passed by, Ji Xiaotang released thunder from the palm of his hand and killed him.
No one actually knows how many caves there are in Leifa Mountain. Each time you count them, the number is different－seventy-two today, seventy-three tomorrow, and maybe seventy the day after that.
A man once went there and saw two old men playing chess in a cave. When he coughed, the two long-bearded men said to themselves, “How did he get here?” and then the stone gate of the entrance closed by itself. The man knelt there seeking the truth from them until he finally died. His grave may still be seen outside the Stone Door Cave. How sincerely he sought for the truth!
There are many spirits and immortals up in the mountain. One was a man named Lee Mingfu, who had mastered kung fu and could run as fast as a monkey. Once I visited the cave at four in the morning and saw him bowing to the Buddha. His hair, which he never washed, was held by a hairpin and matted in a lump that weighed five or six pounds. His facial features－eyes, nose, and mouth－and his body, were very small, but his body was strong. He alone could carry two railroad tracks so heavy that eight ordinary men would be needed to carry one; he would tuck one track under each arm. No one knew how old he was or where he was from. He was one of the strange men I met there.
I was very inspired today, and that’s why I told you these things. These are true stories; I didn’t make them up. Most of you probably don’t believe them. Whether you believe or not is up to you. But I have told you the truth.