Bodhi Seal of the Patriarchs

DHYANA MASTER TAO CHI OF THE SOUTHERN SUNG DYNASTY

 

--Composed by the Venerable Master Hua

--Translated by Disciple Bhiksu Heng Ching

The Master was from T'ien T'ai County. His father, Li Mao Ch'un, and his mother, whose maiden name was Wang, lived in seclusion, for although they were wealthy, they preferred living quietly to seeking after name and further profit. They were still childless in their forties, and following custom they prayed to the Buddha for a son. They did this at Ling Yin 'Monastery, and while they were praying in the Hall of the Five Hundred Arhats, the image of one of those five hundred, Elephant-Dragon Arhat, fell off its seat. After this event the child was conceived. On the day of his birth, his mother dreamt that she swallowed the sun just before the child was born.
When he was eighteen years old, Chi Tien left the home life at Ling Yin Temple at West Lake in Hangchou where he received the mind-seal of his Master, Yuan Hsia T'ang. When his Master was about to enter extinction he waited for Tao Chi (another name for Chi Tien) to arrive, and only then died.  When everyone else began to weep at the Master's death, Master Chi just set to laughing and bouncing about all over the room. While the assembly scolded him for his behavior, he made the arrangements to see his Master off to the Pure Land. Later on he lived at Ch'ing Ts'e Monastery. Although he had left home at Ling Yin, all the monks there disliked him intensely because he was always drunk and eating dog meat. Eventually they threw him out.

While he was still at Ling Yin, the Great Compassion Pavilion was destroyed by fire. The manager knew that although no one in the temple could stand Tao Chi, all the wealthy lay people believed in him since he cured their illnesses by such unusual means as taking a drop of sweat from his armpit and giving it as medicine, which produced an instant cure. Master Chi declined a request to solicit funds from his lay followers, and so the manager invited all of the patrons to a great banquet at which they were to subscribe to the reconstruction of the burnt hall. Before the banquet, however, Master Chi instructed the lay people to give only one small coin each. At the end of the banquet, the manager found that not only did he not have enough to reconstruct the building; he hadn't even received enough to cover the meal. The lay people were naturally slightly ill at ease over this, and so the Master invited them to a second banquet and told them that they could give whatever they liked, a remark which elicited such a flood of donations that ten halls could have been built to replace the destroyed one.

Once when a temple was being built, he was given the job of buying wood for construction. He went to Szu Ch'uan, on the other side of China, to purchase supplies, and told the lumberyard to drop the whole lot in the river. Back where construction was going on a well suddenly appeared in the ground out of which wood began to erupt board after board. Soon so much had accumulated that there was no room to store it, and the manager shouted out, "ENOUGH!" whereupon the flow of wood stopped instantly. In fact, there remained one board, which stopped halfway out of the water. The well took its name, Yu Mu Ching, "wood-giving-well", from this event, and the one board, which remained stuck, can still be seen just where it stopped.

Anyone who is able to manifest such powers and do the deeds of Arhats can carry on and disobey the rules. If one is unable to do so, he must maintain all the rules of training. When the Master was living at Ching Tse Monastery, he would go out drinking at night and come rolling home unable to walk a straight line. He would fall asleep in the kitchen, in front of the Buddha images, or anywhere else he happened to find convenient.

He had two disciples who used to rob from the rich and give to the poor. Once he told them that they ought to leave home and prepared to shave their heads by dunking them in a huge cauldron of boiling water. Terrified, they ran off.

Absolutely no one understood what he was up to although afterwards people sometimes came to realize what he had been saying. He was often found in brothels and bars, totally drunk. He never worried that people would speak ill of him or spread slanderous stories about his behavior; even though others did not, he understood quite well just what he was up to. Before his extinction he said the following verse,

"For sixty years I've been a wolf,

The eastern wall bumps the west.

I'm packing up. I'm going back,

Old water and the sky still blue."

After his death a monk met him at the foot of Six Harmonies Mountain in Hangchou where the Master passed on the following letter:

"Once there was an arrow before my face,

And even now my bones and hair are chilled. Others have yet to recognize this face

I'll make it back to T'ien T'ai and have a go again."

The Master was one of the five hundred Arhats of T'ien T'ai, the place where Avalokitesvara and the Arhats had a contest in which one was to bridge a deep chasm while the others made a pagoda. Avalokitesvara bent the peaks of two mountains together while the 500 Arhats stole all the bricks from the chimneys in T'ien T'ai County to make their stupa. For this reason you will find that there are no chimney bricks in that area even to this day. The contest had been undertaken with the understanding that whichever party had finished the work by cockcrow would be declared winner. As soon as Avalokitesvara had bent the peaks together, he set to crowing like a rooster and caused all the other roosters to join in. The Pagoda of the Five Hundred Arhats remains unfinished even now.

Because the Master was so outrageous, because he wanted to sleep when others meditated and meditate while others slept, because he relieved himself when the others were eating, occasionally on the floor of the dining hall, everyone was displeased with him. Consequently his eulogy says,

      Exasperating the world,

      Deceiving Heaven and Earth,

      Dumping the model vessel,

      Might he be one unbound?

      Around Ling Yin and Tien Tai

            Everyone knows his name.