SEAL OF THE PATRIARCHS:
Nanching a woman named Chu heard the sound of a small child's cries
coming from an eagle's nest, went searching, and got him out. At age
seven he left home. Later he came to Wan Mountain in the province of Tse
Ch'uan at Chien Shui ("sword water"), a treacherous area of
the Yang Tze River. He was commonly known as "The Noble Chih".
His face was rectangular and gleamed like a mirror, reflecting the faces
of those who came before him. His hands and feet looked like bird's
claws, and he ate minced fish. He would spit the fish meat back into the
water where it would once again become living fish.
The Emperor Wu instructed a monk named Seng Yu to paint the Master's portrait. The Venerable One scratched open his face with his talons, and from the gashes, one after another, emerged the twelve faces of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva—too extremely beautiful to paint!
In the 13th year of the Reign period T'ien Chen (ca. 515 A.D.), he went unexpectedly to the Emperor to announce his departure. The Emperor was alarmed and asked, "How long will I live?" The Noble Chih smiled and did not reply. He merely drew his finger across his throat and left. Returning to his temple, he lit one candle and gave it to a secretary named Wu Ch'ing. Ch'ing made this known to the Emperor who lamented, "Does the Great Master have nothing further to leave? Inform me of his death as soon as it happens." Afterward the Emperor sponsored the construction of a five-story Stupa. On the day of his burial the Master was seen standing among the clouds.
forth from an eagle's nest,
made strange tracks impossible to fathom.
open his face
body was disclosed.
remains an image of purple sandlewood
what is more a standard of rules.
stood alone above the clouds
his traces in the void!
—Chinese text below—
This ominous gesture was probably the Master's prophecy of the Emperor's subsequent death by starvation. In a past life the Emperor Wu had been a cultivator. Annoyed by a pesky monkey, he locked it in a cave. After a time he forgot about it, and the monkey died of starvation. In a later life, the cultivator had accumulated blessings enough to become emperor, but bandits, with the monkey reborn as their leader, locked him in a tower and left him to starve.