THE BODHI SEAL OF THE PATRIARCHS

By the Venerable Master Hsuan-hua
Translated by Bhiksu Heng SureEdited by Bhiksuni Heng Chíih

GREAT MASTER NIEN CHíUN OF THE MING DYNASTY
WHO LEFT A "FLESH-BODY" AT LOTUS HALL TEMPLE IN NAN HSIUNG

Text:

      The Masterís posthumous name was Chih Yi (The Wisdom of Unity) and he was called Nien Ch'un (Mindful of Purity.) He was son of the Kuo family of Tai Ho county in Chiang Hsi Province.

His mother dreamt of a white lotus flower and became pregnant. The Master was born during the middle of the night on the nineteenth day of the eleventh lunar month, if was the Ting Hsi year of the Wan Li reign period of the Ming (A.D. 1588). As he was born an auspicious radiance filled the room.  From his early youth he did not associate with girls nor did he eat meat or dairy foods.

At ten years of age he had already understood the inner meanings of the Buddhist sutras. His name was announced as a chin shih scholar at age 18. As an official he served in the positions of Censor and Magistrate for Kuangtung and Kweichou provinces.

At age 25, forsaking political off ice, he embraced the Path and left the home-life. He went to Cinnabar Cloud Mountain and shaved his head and took up the robe of a monk under the guidance of Dhyana Master Ta Su. He was very obedient to his teacher, Master Ta Su, who was the "Dharma-pulse" (the patriarch of the Wei-Yang sect of the Ch'an school at that time.)

The Master received the precepts from Great Master Lotus Pool at Cloud-Rest Mountain. He then went out seeking instruction for ten years and discovered his own mind ground. He cultivated both Ch'an and the Pure Land methods. His attainment was certified by both Tz'u Po and Han Shan, who acclaimed him as the "pillar of the Dharma." In the sixth year of the T'ien Ch'i reign period he built Lotus Hall Temple and he excavated four pools for "liberating life." At this time he exclusively cultivated the Pure Land method and he habitually recited the name of Amitabha 100,000 times each day. He also established Turtle Mountain Temple, Green Bamboo Temple, and Candana Grove. In all he created four Way-places and gave them to the assembly of monks and nuns. His career in cultivation was widely known near and far and his fame rivaled that of Great Master Lotus Pool.

In the Hsu Chih reign period of the Ch'ing Dynasty, at noon of the 13th day of the seventh lunar month of the Chih Ch'i cyclical year, although the Master was not ill, he announced his departure to the Assembly.

"Work hard! Propagate the Buddhadharma!" he said, and sitting upright, he recited the Buddha's name and left this world. His age was 73 years and his tenure as a monk lasted 48 years, during which he saved countless persons.

One hundred days after his death, his body appeared as if it were still alive. A fragrant vapor persisted near his body and did not disperse. The Honorable Mr. Luo, governor of the province and the local gentry were all men of good faith and they decided to preserve his "flesh-body" and offer it to the Lotus Hall Temple. From that time until the present, over these past 300 years he has not changed: his body still seems alive.

While a layperson he wrote a book of directives for public servants called The Green Conch Collection. His works on the Dharma Include On Cultivating Both Ch'an and the Pure Land and Pure Land Poetry, both of which were widely read.

Commentary:

The time was the Ming Dynasty. Nan Hsiung is a place in Chiang Hsi where the Lotus Hall Temple was located. Nien Ch'un is the name of this Great Master. His sobriquet was Chih Yi, and his Dharma name was Nien Ch'un. The phrase "Flesh body" means that after he died, his body did not decay. He seemed just like a living person. Why did his body not decay? Because he had no outflows. While he was alive he was able to cultivate his energy, essence, and spirit to the point that his energies did not flow out and he left a "flesh body." The posthumous name of the Great Master Nien Ch'un was Chih Yi.  As for the meaning of his two names' Ch'un (Purity) is Yi (Unity) and Yi is Ch'un. Purity is identical with Unity. Chih (Wisdom) is Nien (Mindfulness) and Nien is Chih. Wisdom is identical with Mindfulness. So his two names mean the same thing, only the words are different.

He was a son of the Kuo family from T'ai Ho county of Chiang Hsi province. His mother dreamt at night and it wasn't of her boyfriend. She saw a white lotus flower in her dreams and was suddenly with child. Now would you consider this extraordinary or not? She became pregnant from her dream. He was born in the Ting Hai year of the Ming Dynasty's Wan Li reign period. It was the eleventh (winter or tung) lunar month on the nineteenth day at the hour of midnight (A.D. 1588) As soon as he was born there was a radiant light which filled the room of his family home.  When he was young he didn't look for a girlfriend. He wasn't like ordinary people, you see, he was quite outstanding. He rose above the crowd. This does not mean he was outstanding in the matter of taking drugs, he really understood the proper way to be. He wasn't like most young men who must at all costs find a girlfriend or like most girls who simply must land a boyfriend; he was pure--he did not run with the common lot.

He was not the average child. He did not eat meat, nor did he eat fish. He even avoided milk and dairy products. At age ten he understood the Buddhist sutras. The "inner text" mentioned here refers to Buddhist sutras.  At age eighteen he was recognized as a chin shih scholar of the first rank.  He served as an official in the role of Tu Yu Shih, "Metropolitan Censor" which is the title of a high government post. He was also the magistrate of Kuangtung and Kuanghsi, two places in China. At age twenty five he tired of corruption in official life and saw that his life lived in that way had no real meaning and he ended his career as a government public servant and left the home-life to become a monk.

He went to Cinnabar Cloud Mountain where there was a monk named Ch'an Master Ta Su. He shaved his head and adopted the dark clothes of the priesthood. He was very filial to his teacher, Ta Su, who had received the transmission of the Wei Yang School's lineage. He received the precepts at Hangchow's Cloud-rest Temple, where the Great Master Lotus Pool transmitted them. You have all heard of the Great Master Lotus Pool before, haven't you?  Even tigers took refuge with him. The tigers went to beg on his behalf even though before they had been beasts who ate human flesh. Master Nien Ch'un went everywhere to study the Way. He investigated the Buddhadharma for ten years. He understood the "mind-ground Dharma-door." This means he was enlightened. He investigated Ch'an and the Pure Land methods, which means he sat in meditation and recited the Buddha's name. At that time there was an enlightened Ch'an Master whose name was Tz'u Pai, and Han Shan was another enlightened monk who lived during that period. Those two both verified his attainment and they said that he could serve as the Dharma's "pillar and post" or "ridgepole," that he was a pillar of the Dharma. In the sixth year of the Ming Dynasty's Tien Ch'i reign period he established Lotus Hall Temple and he created four pools for "liberating life." He concentrated on his cultivation of the Pure Land Dharma-method. Every day he recited 100,000 repetitions of the Buddha Amitabha's name. He then made a monastery called AO Shan Ssu (Turtle Mountain), and a Ch'ing Lien An (Green Lotus Temple), and the Candana Grove, these four temples. He provided a place for cultivators to live. Far and near, people heard of his progress along the Path. His fame at that time rivaled that of Great Master Lotus Pool.

      During the Ch'ing dynasty cyclical year Yi Hai, during the Tung Chih reign period, in the seventh month on the 13th at noon, he had no disease but he simply said to the assembly, "Work hard. Propagate the Buddhadharma." Having spoken those words, he sat down and departed from the world. He just sat there, recited the name of Amita Buddha and went off to rebirth. His age was 73 by worldly reckoning and his left-home years-totaled 48. In other words, he became a left-home person at the age of 25. While he was alive he took many people across. After he died, one hundred days passed, and he seemed just as if he were still alive. Around his body there was a constant, fragrant vapor. A local official named Luo and the gentry class of the area were men of wholesome faith and they offered his flesh-body up to Lotus Hall Temple. Until the present, Until the present, for these last 300 years heís been as he always was. While he was a public servant he authored a book of admonitions called The Green Conch Collection. As a monk he wrote the record On Cultivating Both Ch'an and the Pure Land and a book of Pure Land Poetry. These books were widely read.

Text:

A praise written in his honor says:

He set the earth in order

And everywhere was spring

Momentous works and changes:

He brought life to withered limbs.

Amitabha! Just one phrase

Forms vanish into Void.

His adamantine body rests

Immortal as his name.

Commentary:

This Dharma Master's coming was just like a breath of pleasant air, like a pleasant breeze. Everything became like springtime. Great indeed, are the transformations of heaven and earth, that they have the ability to bring forth-such a Sage. He was able to cause withered trees to sprout branches and leaves. With the voicing of a single recitation of Amitabha, the four elements vanished: no earth, no water, no fire, and no wind. They all vanished! What this means is that before you die, if you can behave and look as if you are already dead, and if you have nothing that you feel is worthy of holding on to, then when you die, it will be no problem. But if you have not done this before you die, when that time comes, the things that you couldn't put down will not go with you to death. You won't be able to take them along and it will be painful. No one can avoid the question of death. Most people are afraid to think of death, afraid to say the word "death." But even if you are afraid of death, you will die just the same. You most certainly will die. However, there is dying and then there is dying. If you cultivate then you can be free to come and go as you please. When it comes time for you to die, you can be quite independent. And it won't hurt. If you don't cultivate, then when it comes time for you to die you will undergo pain.

He cultivated and obtained a vajra indestructible body. Everyone looked up to him with great respect. He was free to come and go amid birth and death. If you can cultivate to this stage it is really excellent. Look at Bhiksuni Wu Chin Tsang, she also cultivated and left behind a flesh-body. At Nan Hua Monastery there is a temple called Wu Chin An (Inexhaustible Temple) and it is where you can find the flesh body of Bhiksuni Wu Chin Tsang. So you see, Bhiksunis can also cultivate and obtain flesh-bodies. This is not a case that women can't do it, it's not unfair like that.

Text:

His mother dreamt of white lotuses in bloom

The patriarch was born.

At midnight, come to mundane lands

He shed bright light.

A child of ten, he knew the Buddhist sutras

The canon's subtle lore.

At eighteen, honored as a peerless scholar

And Censor of the realm.

He cast off fame and grasped the dark-hued sash

To propagate the Law.

He left the world to cultivate the Way

And claim the Sage's goal.

His vajra body, ever-solid,

Rests in Lotus Hall.

0 modern people, follow his example!

How can you delay?

Commentary:

His mother saw a white lotus blossom in her dreams and he was born. At night while the sky was dark, he was born and at that time, the sky turned as bright as day, there was so much light.

He understood the Buddhadharma at the age of ten, and he penetrated the sutrasí meanings. He understood the Buddhadharma at the age of ten and then at the age of twenty he won the scholarís rank of chin shih. Later he became the municipal censor. Eventually he decided not to be a politician any longer. He went to be a monk instead. He felt that serving in the government was meaningless and he wished to cultivate the Dharma and become a Buddha. He said, "I wonít wait." He did not say to himself, "Iíll wait until tomorrow to cultivate, at least Iíll hold off a while." When the ghost of impermanence comes heíll take you away. Even if you are waiting around, he wonít wait for you. Do you believe me or donít you?