Records of the Lives of the High Masters

From the lecture of the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
Translated by Bhiksuni Heng Ch’ih
Revised by Bhiksuni Heng Yin and Sramanerika Heng Chen
Edited by Bhiksu Heng Kuan




High Master Chih Meng, "Wise Hero," was from Yung Chou near Hsin Feng, not far from Peking. From the time he was born he displayed unusual intelligence and propriety. He left the home life when very young to become a Sramanera and cultivated the Dharma-door of reciting and maintaining Sutras.  Day was the same as night; night was the same as day. He never ceased in his cultivation, but studied day and night.

He often heard the Dharma Masters from India talk about the efficacious events which took place during the Buddha's life on earth, and he was especially inspired by the various accounts of how the Buddha subdued demons.  The one, which moved him most, was the account of how the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree, defeated the demons, and accomplished the Way. He realized that for those who go ahead and walk it, a journey of a thousand miles is but a step, and that if you look into it, the passing of ten thousand years is but a day. Based on that realization, he made the decision to visit all the efficacious places connected with the events of Sakyamuni Buddha's life.

In the sixth year of the reign of Hung Shih of the Ch'in dynasty (404 A.D.) he announced his journey. "I plan to travel to India to visit all the holy places connected with the life of Sakyamuni Buddha. Would you like to go?"

"Oh, yes," came the replies.

"Do you want to go?"


"I would like to go."

"I'd be happy to..." came the replies, over and over, until fifteen people had volunteered to accompany him.

He set out from Ch'ang An for India. At that time transportation was very primitive (he made his journey even before Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang of the T'ang dynasty), and before they had even reached Hsin Chiang on the western border of China they had forded thirty-six treacherous rivers. No sooner had they finished these dangerous crossings than they found themselves struggling through the shifting sands of a 700 to 800 li arid desert region.  It would have been very easy to die of starvation or thirst; and yet they did not die. No pilgrims before them had ever experienced difficulties as severe as those, which they experienced.

Eventually they reached Kucha and then Khotan, and as they passed through they observed the customs of these various countries. From Khotan they traveled west more than 2000 it until they came to the Himalayas. By that time the party of 15 had diminished to six. Nine had been unable to endure the hardships and had turned back before reaching India.

Dharma Master Chih Meng and the five remaining members of his party were determined to go on, and continued another 1700 li until they reached the country of Pataliputra. In that country one member of the party named Chu Tao Sung died and Dharma Master Chih Meng prepared a grave to bury him, only to find that his corpse had disappeared without a trace. Whether it was stolen by someone or eaten by vultures is not known, but it was simply nowhere to be found, so they had to go on.

The party of five continued across the Himalayas until they reached Hsin T'ou River and the country of Kashmir which, at that time, was inhabited by 500 arhats who were always on the go. While the party was staying at Anavatapta Lake one of the Arhats encountered Dharma Master Chih Meng and was overjoyed. "Where have you come from?" he wanted to know.

"What place is this?" Dharma Master Chih Meng asked in reply, and the Arhat spoke Dharma for him. There, Dharma Master Chih Meng found many of Sakyamuni Buddha's relics, including a stone pitcher the Buddha had used, and the Buddha's bowl, which was violet in color and emitted a light both day and night. Dharma Master Chih Meng used incense and flowers to make offerings to the Buddha's bowl, and lifting it reverently over his head, made a vow that in every life he would make offerings to the Triple Jewel, leave the home life, cultivate the Way, and seek the Great Vehicle Dharma.

As he held the bowl aloft and made his vow he noticed the bowl became alternately light and heavy. When it was heavy it was so heavy he could barely hold it up over his head, but when it was light it seemed as if there were nothing there at all. This inconceivable response caused him to be even more deeply determined to cultivate the Way.

From there the party went south some 1,500 li to Kapilavastu where Master Meng respectfully made offerings to the Buddha's hair, teeth, and the bones of his cowl-like crown. Whenever he encountered a relic of the Buddha he would spend the entire day making offerings to it and paying his respects.

Finally he arrived at the Bodhi tree where the Buddha had defeated the demons, and also saw the demon subduing Buddha image. He was inexpressibly happy and used his robe to wipe the image clean before he reverently made offerings to it. As he journeyed in this way he saw many of the Buddha's relics.

In addition to visiting the Buddha's relics he went to the capital city where King Asoka had reigned and saw the gigantic Buddha pagoda. There he met a Brahman named Lo Yueh Teung who was solely occupied with propagation of the Buddhadharma, and whose entire household believed in the Buddha.  Consequently, the Brahman was greatly trusted by the King.

When the Brahman met Master Meng he asked him, "Is there any Great Vehicle Buddhadharma in China?"

Master Chih Meng emphatically replied, "The study of Great Vehicle Buddhism is carried on throughout China."

"Very rare. Very rare," replied the Brahman, "certainly Bodhisattvas have gone to China to spread the Buddhadharma and that accounts for the flourishing of Great Vehicle Buddhism there." The Brahman gave Dharma Master Chih Meng many Buddhist Sutras, which he carried back to China.

In the cyclical year Chia Tzu Dharma Master Chih Meng set out to return to China. Three members of the party died on the road, so only he and one Tan Tsuan Chu returned to Liang Chou.

When he reached Liang Chou he made a collection from the Nirvana Sutra in 20 volumes which he had brought back with him. In the 14th year of the Yuan Chai reign period of the Sung dynasty (437 A.D.) he went to Szechuan and in the seventh month of the 16th year, two years later, he had finished writing a book about all the experiences he had on his travels through the various countries. In the last year of the Yuan Chia period he completed the stillness. 

Dharma Master Chih Meng was highly influential in the spread of Buddhism in China. 



Indian Dhyana Master Kalayasas, "Timely Repute," was stubborn by nature, very tough, and had a fierce temper. I'm afraid his temper was even greater than mine, because although I talk of beating you, I haven't yet done it, but this Dharma Master didn't even forewarn his disciples. When they broke the rules he just started swinging. He was so severe that it was extremely difficult to study under him.

In addition, he was practically devoid of desire, because from birth on, his self-nature was very pure. He had penetrated the Tripitaka--the sutras, sastras, and vinaya, and understood them all, but what he concentrated on in his practice was Ch'an. When we have a Ch'an session we sit and walk alternately for seven days, but he would sit for seven days straight without getting up from his seat. We find it painful and unpleasant to sit still for even an hour, let alone seven days. Not only could he sit for seven, 14, 21, or 49 days straight, but during that time he paid no attention to the time, because he would be making use of "proper receptivity," that is, samadhi, going to other places to teach and transform living beings. While sitting in one place, having entered samadhi, he would go to other countries to teach living beings. Many people while dreaming or in an ordinary waking State would suddenly see the Master appear before them, hear him speak a few sentences of Dharma, and then see him disappear. In samadhi he sat unmoving, and yet simultaneously went everywhere to teach beings.

Can you imagine how much samadhi power this Dharma Master had?  Compared with what people can do today, he is incomparable. Now after only an hour of sitting all of you are bent over out of shape. How can you possibly be said to have any courage at all? What significance is there in that? When you compare yourself to Dhyana Master Kalayasas, aren't you ashamed? You should be so ashamed that you feel like dying.

Dhyana Master Kalayasas traveled all around India propagating the principles of the Dhyana (Ch'an) School, and then he heard that the Great Vehicle Buddhadharma was flourishing in China. Heedless of the ten thousand li journey, he set out for China and went to Nanking (arrived in 424 A.D.).  Emperor Wen of the Sung dynasty greatly respected and believed in Master Kalayasas, and invited him to reside at Tao Lin Sublime Abode. Dhyana Master Pao Chih, who ate two pigeons every day for lunch, also greatly respected Master Kalayasas, and went to study with him and investigate the Dhyana (Ch'an) Dharma under his guidance.

Think it over: Dhyana Master Pao Chih had such great spiritual penetrations that he could eat two minced pigeons for lunch every day and then spit them back out alive and on the wing, and he chose to cultivate with arid study under Master Kalayasas. From this it must be clear that Dhyana Master Kalayasas was certainly a great good knowing advisor. In cultivation it is essential to find a good knowing advisor. Master Pao Chih was not like the rash of self-styled patriarchs in America: dancing patriarchs, movie-going patriarchs, drug-taking patriarchs, and the like. At that time people knew it was necessary for those who cultivate the Way to draw near to a good and learned advisor. If you try to work on your own it is very easy to go down the wrong road. So Dhyana Master Pao Chih drew near Dhyana Master Kalayasas.

While in Nanking a Dharma Master named Seng Ho asked Dhyana Master Kalayasas to translate The Medicine King and Medicine Superior Contemplation  (T. 1161), and the Limitless Life Contemplation (T. 565). Dhyana Master Kalayasas knew that The Medicine King and Medicine Superior Contemplation contained secret Dharma devices that could change the course of people's karmic obstacles. Through recitation of The Medicine Master Crown-Anointing True Words and then cultivation of the Medicine King and Medicine Superior Contemplation, karmic obstacles could be eradicated. And he knew that The Limitless Life Contemplation is an extremely important practice and a great aid to the penetration of the Pure Land Dharma-door, so he translated these works with meticulous care and paid particular attention to them. After he made these translations he traveled to Szechuan and then later returned to Nanking. Then one day, without any sickness, he completed the stillness (died) at age 60. His practice and his translations make him a meritorious figure in the history of Chinese Buddhism.



Indian Dharma Master Seng-ch'ieh-ta-to, "The Warmth of the Multitude," exclusively cultivated dhyana (Ch'an). He always dwelt in the mountains and sat in stillness, and very often when he was sitting he forgot to eat. It was not that he did not want to eat, but that he forgot to do so. When he realized that he had forgotten to eat, it would already be past midday, and he did not want to break the precepts (he was one who also did not eat after noon), so he would let the day pass without taking food. This happened over and over so that days would go by and he would not eat once. Finally it became such a frequent occurrence that some Dharma protectors came to his aid.

What Dharma protectors?

A flock of birds. When it was time to eat one bird would come with an apple, another would come with an orange, and yet another would arrive with a banana, or anything else that could ward off hunger.

How many birds were there?

There were forty-eight birds. If each bird brought one thing, altogether they could certainly supply enough to fill a person up. At first Master Seng-ch'ieh-ta-to did not realize that the birds were bringing the food for him, and he did not eat it. Soon several days' accumulation of offerings lay on the ground before him untouched. So then the birds stayed with him and also didn't eat. They brought their offerings, set them before him, and if he didn't eat, the birds refused to leave. They stayed there and fasted with him. After a while he remembered how Sakyamuni Buddha ate the honey which some monkeys offered to him and thought, "If the Buddha can receive offerings from monkeys, why can't I accept the offerings of these birds?" Then he took all the things, which the birds had set before him and ate them all. This pleased the forty-eight birds so greatly that they hopped and frolicked. They were so delighted that they performed a dancing spectacular right on the spot, which in turn made the Dharma Master very happy.

The influence of Dhyana Master Kalayasas and Dharma Master Seng-ch’ieh-ta-to caused most of the people who left the home life at that time to take up the cultivation of Ch'an and practice regularly to gain samadhi. Many people became enlightened during that period.



The Indian Dharma Master Seng-ch'ieh-lo-to-to, "Rescuer of the Multitude," traveled from India to China and there he strictly observed many ascetic practices. He did not live indoors, but stayed under trees or in graveyards. Wherever he went he begged for his food. He took up his bowl and went begging, refusing any other kinds of offerings and refraining from becoming involved with people. Even if someone wanted to make friends with him, the Master wouldn't have anything to do with him. The people were extremely respectful of this Dharma Master.

Afterwards he went to Chung Mountain, and on its southern face built a temple and established a retreat called Sung Hsi Monastery. During the years that followed many Indian Dharma Masters came to China and Chinese Dharma Masters came to study the doctrines of the Indian Dhyana (Ch'an) School.   

To be continued


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