The Record of Water and Mirror
Turning Back Heaven


Translation and Commentary by Disciple Bhiksu Heng Ching


When the Japanese invaded the three northern provinces and falsely established the country of Manchukuo, they set up the Emperor K'ang Te, who had been Hs'uan Tsung, last emperor of the Ch'ing dynasty. In the court there was an official named Hsi Ch'a who was plotted against and suspected of disloyalty. He was taken to be tried, and being terrified, he decided to kill himself. He was holding a gun to his head and was about to pull the trigger when he suddenly saw an ascetic monk standing in front of him who said, "The suspicions against you will soon be resolved; do not kill yourself and you will certainly be able to benefit the people."

When this vision occurred for the third time, the minister asked the Master his name and address. The Master replied that he was from Ping Fang Chan in Shuang Ch'eng county of Chi Lin Province, that he was the Abbot of Three Conditions Monastery, and that his name was Ch'ang Jen.

Shortly after this incident, the suspicions against Hsi Ch'a were dropped and he was cleared of all charges. He traveled to Shuang Ch'eng county, investigated and found that there was, in fact, a Great Master Ch'ang Jen. He went to thank the Master personally and left the temple a plaque, which read, "The Influence of Filial Piety" for a permanent momento. The number of people, military, civil, and scholarly, who were influenced by this and who came to take refuge was uncountable.

      In the twenty-eighth year of the Republic (1939) the Master went to Shang Fang Mountain near Peking to receive the transmission of Dharma from Old Master Ch'ing Ch'ih.


      Shang Fang Mountain Temple was opened by Avatamsaka Bodhisattva whose work there disturbed the local dragons. Angry with him, they put all the water in the neighborhood in a large tank like cart and moved away, thus leaving the mountain totally dry. Avatamsaka Bodhisattva then stabbed the water tank with a large spear and punctured seventy-two holes in it, from each of which water poured out and drilled into the ground. This is the origin of the seventy-two springs of Shang Fang Mountain.

The Dharma transmission that occasioned Master Ch'ang Jen's trio to Peking was the formal transmission of the Dharma lineage. Without this transmission one cannot be an abbot or ascend the high seat.

Although the Master had built a temple and was a renowned cultivator, he still had not ascended the seat and could not do so until he had received the Dharma transmission. When he returned from Peking, so many people came to the temple that six large tents had to be erected to shelter them all. In each of these tents lectures and Dharma meetings were held. Among the visitors on that occasion was the head of the nearby Japanese military camp, who attended with a large number of officers.


When the Master returned to the temple he ascended the Dharma seat in the great hall on the seventeenth day of the third month, his birthday. On that occasion laymen gathered from more than a thousand miles around to extend congratulations. There were over five thousand great officials and other notable persons. The commander of the Japanese camp also came to pay his respects and bow.


      When the commander and his party-arrived, everyone expected the Master to show the representatives of the severe occupying government some degree of deference. But he remained seated where he was, eyes closed and paid them no heed at all. His behavior not only did not bring about the anger of the commander, as everyone had expected, but even caused him to praise the Master and say that there was certainly no one like him back home.


The area of P'ing Fang Chan and the military camp were restricted areas through which no one was allowed to pass; on this occasion they were opened to traffic because of the great number of people. This was an unusual event, which was quite remarkable at that time. I (the author) was present and composed a verse of congratulations which says,

Hungry ghosts with throats as dry as fire drink in Vajra Bodhi Sea as if it were sweet dew.

“Great was the filial virtue of Shun which moved the very


            The elephants plowed his fields, the birds weeded his crops.

            The Master’s filiality is even greater now;

            The gods all rejoice, the Buddhas smile.”


The Emperor Shun, one of the earliest Chinese emperors, was renowned for his filial piety. His father wished to kill him and contrived all sorts of devious plans to do so, including setting his son to work in a granary which was then set aflame. Shun, two straw hats in hand, parachuted to safety from the roof. When sent to clean out a well on the family property. Shun suddenly found his younger brother dropping an enormous boulder down on him.  Shun avoided drowning through the intervention of a local spirit who led him through an underground watercourse connected with the well. He emerged unharmed, unknown to his murderous father and brother, and returned to his home. Hsiang, under the impression that his brother was safely drowned at the bottom of the well, rushed home and said to his father, "Let my parents have the oxen and sheep, let them have his storehouses and granaries. I shall have his shield and spear, I shall have his lute, his bow shall be mine, my two sister's in law shall attend upon my couch." Hsiang rushed to his brother's house to claim his prizes and found Shun sitting calmly playing the lute.  Shun the Filial, although he knew what his brother was up to, greeted him quite cordially. This quality in his character moved heaven and earth to help Shun in his daily work. When he plowed his fields wild elephants came voluntarily under yoke to draw the plow. When weeds sprouted, birds flew in from the wilds and weeded the field.


      Two youths came to the Dharma assembly with a box of over ten fresh peaches, which had an unusually sweet flavor. Since it was the dead of winter, a time when there are no peaches to be had, everyone remarked that they must have been a gift from heavenly immortals.


No one had even seen the two youths before, and no one saw them again after they left. Some of those present ran after the boys to invite them to stay, but they had disappeared.


After he had ascended the high seat and the congratulations were over, it was decided to establish a monastery to increase the dwellings for the sangha in order to accommodate large numbers from the ten directions. A great deal of money was required to establish a place for the permanently dwelling.  One wealthy merchant wished to establish it by himself, but the Master put him off agreeably and said, "In a Bodhimandala of the Ten Directions there must be donors from the ten directions who give and plant blessings.  Therefore I wish to go around and beg from every dwelling. As it is said, 'Accumulated foxhair armpits make a coat'. The plans and power of the many establish a city and plant virtuous roots for the ages."


This proverb might be rendered in English as 'Accumulated ermine tails make a coat'. In both cases the fur in question is extremely soft, warm and beautiful yet constitutes only a small portion of a small creature. A coat made of the inch long piece of fine pelt found in the armpit of a fox requires an enormous number of pelts. So, too, in his begging, the Master wanted to accumulate small quantities from as many donors as possible rather than take a large amount from one person.


Thus the Master and I went from door to door begging, not passing by the poor and going only to the rich, not passing by the lowly and soliciting only from the wealthy, but with great and equal compassion crossing over living beings.

I recall that in Tung Ching Tsuo village a family named Chang raised extremely fierce wolf-like dogs, which everyone in the village feared as if they were tigers. No one dared visit that family. When the Master and I reached the door on our begging round the dogs behaved like lambs, wagging their tails in welcome, which astounded everyone.

One time we reached the Wu Family village on our rounds and went to the home of Wu Wen Hui. The Master and I chatted and discussed the amount we had obtained which, when counted, was found to be quite large. The Master was proud of himself and felt rather smug and content saying that everything which had been given was a result of people's having heard of the fame of the Filial Son, that because of this they were all rushing after him to fling money, and it was not through the help of anyone else that this had happened.  From this time on I remained silent and did not say one word, and thereby showed my criticism. At eight o'clock that morning we went soliciting with over ten of the town leaders and elders as well as a number of other honorable people. We stopped at every door until eleven o' clock, when we returned to the Wu house for lunch.

When the money was calculated it was found to total scarcely twenty-four dollars, the smallest amount ever recorded. I laughed and said to the Master "Now, Abbot, where has the light of the Filial Son Wang gone?"

The Master replied, "You should no longer keep silent. I know that I spoke wrongly and that in fact the donations were all a result of 'borrowing your light'. I hope that you will put forth the appearance of a vast and long tongue and we will work hard together." I replied, "All right."


For details on the "vast and long tongue", see Vajra Bodhi Sea #9, page 15 and page 20 footnote number 43.


There was, at that time a carpenter named Chang to whom I said, "When our temple is being constructed you should aid with ten days of carpentry.  How about it?" He agreed and I asked, "What is your daily wage?"

"Twelve dollars," he replied.

I said, "It will be sufficient if you merely aid with four days worth of wages."

"But I don't have that," he answered.

"It is in your pocket," I said, and lo and behold exactly forty—eight dollars were in his pocket, not a penny more or less. The carpenter could not overcome his astonishment at how very strange this was. In the Chinese custom married women are fond of auspicious talk, and many women with young children brought them before the Master to ask whether or not the child would grow up well. The Master replied to all of them that this would be the case.  Privately I asked him, "Abbot, do you really know whether or not those children will be easily brought up? Why do you say that they will be easily raised?"

The Master replied, "I say so because their mothers like to hear such talk."

"Once," I said, "someone asked this question and you said that the child would be easily raised yet it died within three days."

"What," he asked, "would be a perfect answer?"

"The next time this question is posed, have them ask me."

One day someone came with a baby and asked the usual question. I replied, "If you want to know whether your child will be easily raised you must ask yourself. If, for example, the child should have a long life and be very talented, but you, his parent, lead a totally dissolute life, you may well do deeds, which will cut off that child’s life and my auspicious prediction would not be realized. If, on the other hand, the child were to have a short life and I were to tell you so, but you were to constantly examine yourself and do meritorious deeds, you would increase his life span. You would also say that my words were not auspicious. You must seek this answer in yourself. Do not look for it outside."

In Harbin we encountered a foreign Catholic Priest who said, "The Buddhist practice of bowing before images is a superstitious one. What benefit does it have?"

I answered, "What benefit is there in your not bowing before images?"

He said, "We are not superstitious!"

"The Buddhist practice of bowing to the Buddha," I replied, "diminishes ones habits of self-importance, pride, and arrogance, it is also a good physical exercise. Is there anything more beneficial than this? Besides, what you call superstition (confused belief) is just an ordinary word. The great error is not confused belief but belief in the confused. Those of confused belief are common people and, although they are confused, they still are able to have a thought of seeking faith in the right Dharma. In the future they will undoubtedly become Buddhas. Although those of outside ways may believe, theirs is a case of the blind leading the blind into an improper path. Those who are confused and unawakened do deeds and undergo the retribution, which is unspeakably bitter. They seek escape but are unable to attain it."


An example of such arrogance and confused belief is the Catholic habit of calling priests “father”. Father to no one at all, they arrogantly assume parental authority over all their-parishioners, at best leading them to rebirth in the heavens, from which they will again fall. What is more, anyone can call himself ‘father’. This does not have as much principle as saying, “I’m god,” or, “I’m god’s father”.


In addition to these, there are those who are confused and do not believe. These are confused heavenly demons, who fall into the retinue of the Demon King where they believe in the proper Dharma even less. Their suffering and sorrow is even more unlimited. There are also those who believe and are not confused. These are the sages and worthies. Because of belief in the proper Dharma, they obtain enlightenment as the result of the constant light of prajna illumines and smashes confused darkness and they attain the result of the highest expedient device.

Although Hiroshima was blasted by the atomic bomb, and the Japanese unconditionally surrendered, the misfortunes of the Chinese people were not yet over. The Northeast was invaded by the Russians who stole, burned and killed, set up roadblocks and robbed. There was no evil, which they did not do.

I was accompanying the Abbot who was returning to the temple carrying over a million dollars when we encountered a number of Russian soldiers who stopped us for inspection. There was nothing, which could be done to repel them. The Abbot placed his palms together and said the name of ten thousand merits, Namo Amitabha Buddha, without cease. Consequently he was not even the least bit harmed by those brigands. When we reached the temple I brought up the point that the situation was in turmoil and not peaceful, and that we should stop the work of this journey to wait for a later opportunity. The Abbot said, "No."

I replied, "I will no longer take part in this fund raising campaign."

From then on I roamed around teaching those with whom I had affinity.  The Great Master continued to be girt with the armor of vigor, being a good field of merit for living beings. After completing the temple he went to Peking and attained perfect stillness while seated at Nien Hua Temple. He was seventy-two years old and his monastic age was twenty-two.


Announcement to the Honored Elder Ones

The Sino-American Buddhist Association invites the elder members of our society (of at least sixty years of age) to come to Gold Mountain Dhyana Monastery and join the members of the Association in a vegetarian meal.  These meals are served daily; the only requirement is that those wishing to attend arrive or call in to the temple before 9 A.M.

What easier way is there to plant good roots, derive wealth and honor, and lengthen life, than by eating vegetarian food?