RECORD OF THE HIGH MASTERS
THE GREAT MANTRA MASTER
Continued from issue 47
From the lectures of the Venerable Master Hua1
Translated by Disciple Bhiksuni Heng Yin
The High Master Fa Ts'an2 was a native of central India. When he was six years old his father died and his widowed mother supported herself and her son by weaving woolen blankets. When she heard of the fame of the High Master Buddhayasas who was receiving offerings from the great officials of the court, and even from the King, she thought, "It's difficult to keep my son alive. Perhaps I should send him to a monastery to leave home. He will be well taken care of, and in the future, if he receives offerings anything like those received by Master Buddhayasas, I, as his mother, certainly won't starve to death."
After Fa Ts'an left home under Buddhayasas, he studied the Small Vehicle teachings and read and recited a great many Sutras. As a Sramanera, or novice, he was entirely different from his peers. None of them could compare with him in wisdom or loftiness of character.
At that time, he met the Great Vehicle Dhyana Master Pal T'ou and debated with him for 100 days. Fa Ts'an was defeated and asked Dhyana Master Pai T'ou, "Do you have any Sutras I could read?"
Dhyana Master Pai T'ou gave him a copy of the Nirvana Sutra, arid when Fa Ts'an read it, he realized that his Own realm was the size of a puddle, or like that of one sitting at the bottom of a well, looking up at the sky. He knew that his wisdom was incomplete and that the Small Vehicle was not correct and so he gathered his fellow students, all novices, together and they bowed to Dhyana Master Pai T'ou, seeking repentance. After that, Master Fa Ts'an studied the Great Vehicle and read over 2,000,000 words of Great Vehicle Sutras.
Fa Ts'an's brother happened to be an expert elephant trainer, and, when the King's favorite white-eared elephant refused to listen to him, Fa Ts'an's brother killed it. The enraged King put him to death, and issued an edict saying that anyone who so much as looked at the corpse would be put to death along with all three groups of relatives, that is, those of his own family, and those of his father's family, and those of his mother's. So no one dared to look at it, except Fa Ts'an who cried because it was his brother and because he wanted to bury the corpse. He went ahead and buried it, and the King threatened to kill him, but Fa Ts'an said, "You killed my brother according to the Law, and I buried him because he was my relative. This 1s certainly no infringement upon moral duty."
Hearing this the King noticed that Fa Ts'an's bearing was calm and undisturbed. "The Bhiksu doesn't fear death," he thought, "he certainly must have virtue.” Very well, we won't kill him," and he made offerings to Fa Ts'an instead.
Fa Ts'an was especially good at reciting mantras. His recitation was efficacious to the point that, if you were sick and he recited a mantra, you immediately got well. All unlucky affairs became auspicious, and because of this he was known as "The Great Mantra Master."
Once he accompanied the King to the mountains on a hunting expedition. As there was no water in the area, the King said, "I am really thirsty. I wish I had some water." Fa Ts'an secretly recited a mantra and told the Dragon King to send some water. Strangely enough, water started to flow from the dry rocks. Fa Ts'an said to the King, "Your Way virtue and benevolence towards the citizens is so great that you have caused water to flow from the rocks." Actually, it was Master Fa Ts'an's mantra that caused the water to flow, but he wanted to "give the King a high hat."
The King put the high hat on, and thought it quite comfortable. The story of the water spread to the surrounding countries and everyone admired and respected the King. "His virtue is so lofty," they said, "that he caused water to flow from the barren rocks," and everyone wanted to be his friend.
The King made generous offerings to Dharma Master Fa Ts'an, and Fa Ts'an's mother was not disappointed. However, after a time, the King forgot about him and became distant from him. Master Fa Ts'an thought, "I really shouldn't stay here and wait for offerings. I should leave."
He traveled to Kashmir where there were many students of the Small Vehicle. Feeling no particular affinity for them, he then went to Kucha where he propagated the Teaching widely, converted many people, and gained a large following. Then he decided to go to China, and traveled to Hsi Liang, the present day Hsin Chiang, where the ruler Chu Ch'u Meng Hsun had established the Pei Liang Kingdom in Liang Chou at the beginning of the 5th century. The King was especially respectful toward Master Fa Ts'an and made offerings to him, and so Master Fa Ts'an stayed there and taught the Dharma.
Because Master Fa Ts'an could recite mantras, he was able to see ghosts. On one occasion he said to Meng Hsun, "Many epidemic ghosts have come into the area."
Meng Hsun said, "I don't believe you. If I see one, then I'll believe."
"Alright," said Master Fa Ts'an, "take a look." Sure enough, Meng Hsun saw a ghost and was nearly frightened out of his wits. Fa Ts'an recited a mantra for three days and the ghosts finally left. Many people of the country saw them. Epidemic ghosts spread a deadly sickness; once you catch it, you die right away. When the ghosts left, everyone knew it was because of Master Fa Ts'an's merit and virtue.
Meng Hsun had sent his son Using Kuo to fight Mu Mo, and Hsing Kuo was taken prisoner. Before long, the country of Mu Mo was leveled by Ho Lien, and, in the fighting, Hsing Kuo was slain.
When Meng Hsun heard that his son had been killed, he was enraged. "All my life I believed in the Buddha and yet I haven't received any response. Why hasn't the Buddha protected my son?" Then he issued an edict ordering all Bhiksus under the age of 50 to return to lay life. Those over 50 could remain Bhiksus.
Previously, he had had a large stone image carved in rock, a large image over 70 feet high, in memory of his mother. When he was about to issue the edict, the statue wept; tears fell from its eyes and snot ran out of its nose. When they saw this, Fa Ts'an and the Emperor spoke together. "You shouldn't do things this way," Fa Ts'an said, "it's not that the Dharma hasn't done anything for you. Your son's death was a matter of cause and effect. It couldn't be avoided." Meng Hsun decided not to issue the order and instead helped to propagate Dharma.
When General Ts'ao Ts'ao in the country of Wei heard that Dharma Master Fa Ts'an was as wise as National Master Kumarajiva and as accomplished in spiritual penetrations as Master F'o T'u Teng, he dispatched a party to bring Master Fa Ts'an back to Wei. Meng Hsun was told that unless he agreed, Wei would go to war. But Meng Hsun was too fond of Master Fa Ts'an to part with him. Several years passed without war, and then Wei sent the official Li Hsun to request that the Master Fa Ts'an come to Wei. At this time prodigious offerings were made to Meng Hsun with the hope of obtaining the Master. Meng Hsun invited the Wei official Li Hsun to eat, and during the meal said to him, "No matter what, I'll never let you have Master Fa Ts'an. He's my teacher. Before I would allow him to leave. I'd let you watch the two of us die together. I can't let him go."
Official Li Hsun said, "The Emperor has been so good to you. He's allowed you to be king and sent you many gifts. He wishes that the Master Fa Ts'an visit Wei, but you've lost your head over a foreigner? If I were you, I wouldn't do things that way. The Emperor has been very good to you. You really should let Master Fa Ts'an go."
"Never!" said Meng Hsun. "He's the most important person in my country and I can't let him go." On the one hand Meng Hsun feared the country of Wei but on the other hand he couldn't bear to part with Dharma Master Fa Ts'an. More time passed, and Dharma Master Fa Ts'an, who had previously returned to India for a year, wanted to go back to India again. Meng Hsun became angry and did not want him to go anywhere at all.
Master Fa Ts'an wept when he left and said to everyone, "My karmic obstacles have found me, and they are such that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas cannot rescue me. I wanted to teach the final portion of the Nirvana sutra, but now I have to stop," and he departed.
Meng Hsun was so angry that he sent a gang of assassins after him. They killed him and recovered all of the valuable offerings Meng Hsun had given him. Fa Ts'an was just 49 years old when he died. After his death, Meng Hsun's attendants saw a ghost holding a sword standing at Meng Hsun's side every day. Not long afterwards in the fourth month of that year, Meng Hsun died.
Before Master Fa Ts'an died, Dharma Master Tao Chin had requested Master Fa Ts'an to transmit the Bodhisattva precepts to him. Master Fa Ts'an said, "Go and repent first." Tao Chin returned and bowed to the Buddha in repentance for seven days and seven nights. On the eighth day, he went to see Master Fa Ts'an again. This time, Master Fa Ts'an was really angry, and scolded him soundly. Tao Chin said, "My karmic obstacles must be too heavy and so the Master won't transmit the precepts to me." He returned, and for three years he cultivated Dhyana concentration and sought repentance. At the end of three years he had a dream in which he saw Sakyamuni Buddha and all the Bodhisattvas of the ten directions come to transmit the precepts to him. He was not the only one who had this dream. Over ten people had the same dream.
He went to inform Master Fa Ts'an, and as he approached the Master, at a distance of perhaps thirty feet, Fa Ts'an stood up and shouted "Good indeed! Good indeed! You've already got the precepts! Although you have obtained them, I will certify them for you." They went before the Buddha images and Master Fa Ts'an transmitted the Bodhisattva precepts to Master Tao Chin.
On the very day Tao Chin had the dream, far off in Ch'ang An, the Western Capital, Master Tao Lang also had the same dream. Although Tao Lang was actually older than Tao Chin, he called Tao Chin his superior and took a lesser position to him. Everyone thought these affairs most extraordinary, and because of them, many people received the precepts from the Master Tao Chin. These are the general events in the life of Master Fa Ts'an.
1 Adapted from the Kao Seng Chuan, T. 2059, p.325c.
2 Dharmaksema (?) 385-433 (var.436.) The Taisho Tripitaka lists thirteen translations to his credit, the most important being that of the Mahaparinirvanasutra (T. 374). which formed the basis for the Nirvana School in China. See Kenneth Ch'en, Buddhism in China, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J. 1964, p.88.
3 See V.B.S. #23, p.1
4 See V.B.S. #24, p.1
The Sino-American Buddhist Association, Gold Mountain Dhyana Monastery, and the Vajra Bodhi Sea Publication Society will sponsor the Buddha's Birthday Celebration this year, and cordially invite all Buddhists to attend the anniversary of the birth of our original teacher, Sakyamuni Buddha. The holiday falls on Monday, April 29th this year and the major celebrations and ceremonies will take place on Sunday, April 28th.
SET THIS DAY ASIDE NOW!