Records of the Lives of the High Masters

By Tripitaka Master Hua
Translated by Bhiksuni Heng Ch’ih


Dharma Master Dharmamitra was a native of Kashmir. As a child he was extremely happy to see members, of the Sangha, especially when he saw one of them reciting a sutra. Whenever he encountered a member of the Sangha reciting a sutra he would kneel down and listen, and when the Sangha member bowed to the Buddha, he would join in and bow too and would be extremely happy. Even when he was very small he went to the monastery every day to play, but this play consisted of bowing to the Buddhas and reciting sutras. His father and mother watched him and thought, "This is very strange behavior for a child."

"All the boy does is go to the monastery and bow to the Buddha, recite sutras, and imitate people who have left the home life," they said to each other.

By age seven he was keenly intelligent and had developed such a liking for the Buddhadharma that his parents allowed him to leave the home life. In Kashmir at that time there were many sages who had given proof to the holy fruit, and so Dharmamitra met many bright-eyed teachers, many learned advisors, and his cultivation was built on a firm foundation.

He did not cultivate like ordinary people who haphazardly apply effort one day, but not the next. He never wasted his time. He didn't rest day or night, but recited sutras, recollected the Buddha's name, and bowed to the Buddha until he was so tired he couldn't go on, and then he sat and practiced dhyana. He might have dosed off occasionally, but would soon rouse himself to continue his practice of the Buddhadharma. Since he didn't make distinctions between day and night in his cultivation of the Buddhadharma, his practice was so sincere that he was able to develop great wisdom. By the time he; was age 18 he was speaking Dharma, and offering wonderfully subtle explanations of the principles of the teachings.

Dharma Master Flourishing Dharma had a peculiar appearance. From birth his eyebrows: had grown together in one continuous line above his eyes, and because of this strange characteristic he was called Dhyana Master Connected Eyebrows. His resolve was firm and his determination great, he was intent upon propagating the Buddhadharma throughout the world. He went to more than twenty countries during his life to spread the Dharma and teach living beings.

One day his travels to propagate the Dharma brought him to Kucha. The day before his arrival the King of Kucha had a dream, in which a god told him, "Tomorrow a person of great blessings and virtue will come to your country. You should make vast offerings and, plant fields of blessings before this virtuous person."

When the King awoke he could remember the dream vividly and knew that it had been an extraordinary one. He ordered his customs officials to pay special attention and watch for any particularly unusual person who might come into the country. He ordered that any, such immigration be brought to his immediate attention via pony express. In those days there were no telegrams, so urgent messages were carried by horseback. Using this method, a messenger could travel an immense distance in a day simply by changing horses after every so many miles at a dead run--never slowing down for anything               

When Dharma Master Dharmamitra reached the border, the customs officers informed the pony express. He in turn raced to inform the King, who assumed the monk must be the virtuous person referred to in his dream. The king immediately set out to meet him, travelling about 10 miles beyond the city walls, and personally invited the Dharma Master to the palace where a vegetarian feast attended by the ministers and officials of state was offered in his honor. Then the King himself received the five precepts from Dhyana Master Dharmamitra, and made offerings of food, clothing, bedding, and medicines. But basically Dhyana Master Dharmamitra was not interested in good food, fine clothes, pleasant surroundings, or many offerings. He was very independent, not fettered by anything, and decided to stay only one night in that country and leave the following day.

That night the god appeared once again to the King and said, "Did you know that the one of great virtue is preparing to leave? That is the extent of the fields of merit and virtue you can plant."

When the King awoke from his dream, his ministers of protocol confirmed that Dharmamitra was preparing to leave. He quickly called together all his ministers and officials and led them to kneel before the Dhyana Master to beg him to stay. In spite of their sincere pleas, Dharmamitra would not change his plans. No matter how they wished to restrain him, it was to no avail. "My causes and conditions here with you are sufficient," he said, and could not be detained.

Dhyana Master Dharmamitra went on to Tun Huang, China, passing through the shifting sands of the vast, desolate desert. It was a difficult journey. When he arrived at Tun Huang, he leveled the earth and built a sublime abode around which he planted a thousand palm trees and enhanced the grounds with flower gardens and pools. For thousands of miles around, members of the Sangha and laymen gathered at this Bodhimanda to cultivate and Dhyana Master Dharmamitra taught and transformed many Chinese people.

After the completion of the Tun Huang community, however, he moved on to Liang Chou, the present day Hsin Chiang. There he build another sublime abode where sramanas from 10,000 miles around came to meet the Master and cultivate Ch'an.

Dhyana Master Dharmamitra promoted the principles and methods of the Ch'an school in all his teaching, and when he heard that the Buddhadharma was flourishing in Nanking, in Sung Chou, he once again set out to spread this teaching. In the first year of the Yuan Chia period of the Sung dynasty (424 A.D.) he went from Hsia Chiang to Szechwan and from there he traveled to Ching Chou, near Hupei. He dwelled in Ch'ang Sha Monastery and built another large Ch'an hall which could house a thousand people. There, a miraculous event occurred, similar to what happened when K'ang Seng Hui (See VBS #15, p. 35) sought for sarira.

Dhyana Master Dharmamitra had heard about how K'ang Seng Hui had obtained sarira at that place, so he and his disciples also set up a Dharma platform and prayed for the Buddha's Sarira to appear. They didn't have to pass through three weeks, as had their predecessor, for after one week's time they heard a loud "BUNG" in the pan and lifted out a Sarira which constantly emitted light. This miraculous response caused the four assemblies of disciples to have deeper faith in him. Everyone realized that what had occurred was an especially rare and auspicious event, and as a result, everyone became very sincere in cultivation. During that period over a hundred people became enlightened.

Afterwards, Dharma Master Dharmamitra went from Ching Chou eastward to Nanking, where he stopped first for a time at Chung Hsing Monastery, and then shortly after went on to Chi Huan Monastery to live. By that time the Dhyana Master's reputation as a Ch'an Master who possessed great Way-virtue had spread far and wide, and multitudes drew near to him to listen to him speak sutras and explain Dharma. He was invited to the lands of Wei, Sung, Chin, and many others. He went to Nanking, where the Emperor extended a personal invitation to him to receive offerings at the palace. The royal family received the three refuges and five precepts from him, and as a result the Buddhadharma flourished during that period. Buddhism was so popular that Dhyana Master Dharmamitra could be seen by appointment only, in order to handle the heavy volume of people who wished to pay their respects or ask for instruction. His time was in such demand that it was difficult to arrange a meeting with him.

At Chi Huan Monastery he translated the Ch'an Sutra, the Ch'an Dharma, the Essentials of the Ch'an Dharma, the Samantabhadra Contemplation, and the Empty Space Store Contemplation. (He is credited with seven works in the Taisho Tripitaka: T.277, T.407, T.409, T.S64, T.619, T.814, and T.S22.) He taught the Dharma of reflecting on Ch'an, and for thousands of miles around, people wrote letters asking him to come and teach them. Everyone referred to him as the Great Dhyana Master.

At that time there was an official living in Ping Sang called Meng Yi who believed in the Buddhadharma and governed men by means of its principles. When he heard of the great fame of this Dhyana Master, he invited him to his province to propagate the Buddhadharma. At that particular location in China, belief in shamanism prevailed. Shamans are individuals who are possessed by ghosts, and thus have magical powers. The ghosts would talk through the person, and the person thereby seemed to know everything. People mistook this for a display of spiritual powers, and thus many were caused to believe in shamanism. All the shaman had to do was say a few lucky words about someone—for instance, if a couple had a newborn infant, he would say, "This child will quickly grow up to be strong and tall and will live a hundred years," --and that was enough to influence people to believe in him.

When Dharmamitra arrived, however, the customs began to change. His wonderful Dharma transformed the people there, and they came to realize that shamanism was wrong, that it was not orthodox Dharma. As a result of hearing his wonderful Dharma, a whole household would take refuge with the Triple Jewel and renounce their belief in shamanism. Then another household would do the same, and in this way, gradually, the customs and beliefs changed.

Dharmamitra dwelt in Meng Yi's country for three years and then returned to Chung Mountain near Nanking and took up residence in Ting Lin Lower Monastery.  He felt that the Monastery was located too close to sea level, however, so he moved to higher ground and found a piece of land which he likened to two of the mightiest mountains in China, Sung Mountain and Hua Mountain.  With the aid of the people who lived in that area, he built Ting Lin Upper Monastery at that place.  After the Monastery was completed, people from all around drew near the Dhyana Master and crowded around to make offerings to him because they knew he was a Great Learned Advisor. His virtue was such that he attracted myriads of cultivators to him wherever he went.

When he first set out from Kashmir to go to Kucha, the god, king Kapila, a Dharma Protector, came along to protect him.  Half way to Kucha the god king manifested the body of a heavenly general, and informed the Dharma Master that he was going to leave him and return to India.  Dhyana Master Dharmamitra said to him, "Your divine powers and transformations are inexhaustible.  You can have anything you want.  It's all "as you will" and comfortable for you.  Why must you return?  Why can't you come with me?"  After he said that, the good god Dharma protector disappeared, hid his body away once more, and the Dhyana Master continued on his journey.

After many years of travel, when he finally settled at Ting Lin Upper Monastery, he painted a picture of the god Kapila on the wall, and strange as it may seem everyone continually heard the good god and Dharma protector speaking.  When they went before his image to seek for anything they always got a tremendous response.

In the nineteenth year of the Yuan Chia reign (442 A.D.) in the seventh month on the sixth day (lunar) Dharmamitra sat in full lotus and said, "I'm going to leave today." Then he spoke Dharma for those gathered around him, but before he finished speaking, he fell silent and entered nirvana.  He was 87 years old at the time.  His grave still remains on Chung Mountain at Ting Lin Upper Monastery in Nanking.

Do you want to imitate the High Masters?  You should think it over.  Do you want to be a high monk?  Would you rather imitate a low monk?  Do you want to imitate a monk who is neither high nor low?  Do you want to imitate a holy monk?  Do you want to imitate a common monk?  Do you want to imitate a vigorous monk?  Do you want to imitate a lazy monk?  Each of you should consider this.  You should not just listen to these records and let them pass by like wind blowing by your ears.  If you do, then I have spoken in vain.  On the other hand, if you can imitate these high monks, their sounds, their appearances, their cultivation, their samadhi power, their precept power, then you can make them your own and they can serve you as living models.  In this country I believe there are many high monks, many sagely monks, many vigorous monks, many monks with inconceivable spiritual penetrations, because if there are not these, then I fear there will not even be any common monks.  In the beginning of the Proper Dharma in America, you should be leaders of men. Don't consider yourselves useless.  Don't think that if you slack off a little it won't matter.  That's not the way it is.

And as for the laymen, they should be like Vimalakirti and Anathapindada. When I lectured the Vajra Sutra I told how Anathapindada used his own gold to cover the earth and build a monastery.  Be like him. Be like Vimalakirti, who was a layman with spiritual penetrations greater than those of the great Arhats. He was able to out-talk the brilliant Sariputra and others like him. You should use your true heart to protect the Triple Jewel. In this country there must be both laymen and Dharma Masters of this quality.

The End



Records of the Life of the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, Vol. II. The Master’s life in Hong Kong.

The Heart of Perfect Wisdom Sutra, with commentary. The essence of Buddhist wisdom.

Three Steps, One Bow. Two American Buddhist monks’ record of their extraordinary 1,100-mile journey for world peace.