Elder Upasaka Tianxi Chen
lived in the village at the rear of the Xinglong Canal, in the
southwest of the city of Harbin. I met the Elder Upasaka when
I was in Manchuria. People called him Good Man Chen because he liked to
help others, especially the poor. His home was in the rear village of
the Xinglong Canal, and I often visited and stayed there. During the
period when I was a novice monk, I often dropped by his house on my way
to Harbin, and his family would always ask me to stay for a few days.
One year his house was haunted by
a demon. How did it happen? The demon possessed one of the men, who
began raving all day long about wanting to set the house on fire.
Upasaka Cheng was alarmed by this, and so he hitched up his carriage
and came to our temple looking for the Abbot. It was New Year’s Eve. He
asked the Abbot to exorcise the demon, but the Abbot couldn’t handle it
and asked me to go take care of it.
“What makes you think I’m
willing to take care of other people’s business?” I asked.
“Elder Upasaka Cheng has given our
temple a lot of support. He’s having some trouble at home now, and you
ought to go take a look,” said the Abbot.
When I walked into his home, the
possessed man was standing on the north side of the room. I sat on the
brick-bed on the south side. The man covered his eyes with his hands
and peeked at me through his fingers. Someone asked him why he was
doing that, and he said, “It’s too bright! I can’t open my eyes.” After
looking for a while, he ran out of the house, and with him the demon
also left and no longer threatened to burn down the house. Now,
wouldn’t you say that was a haunted house?
I was about twenty-two at the
time, or perhaps twenty-one or twenty-three. After that incident,
Upasaka Cheng always treated me with great deference whenever I visited
his home. I was just a young novice dressed in tattered robes who had
newly entered the monastic life, but he would always keep bowing to me.
His immediate family, his grandchildren, and many of his other
relatives took refuge with me. I had no choice but to accept them as
The Elder Upsaka would never have
expected that I would write this short essay in his memory. I have been
away from China for such a long time, and these people that I am now
remembering have all passed away. And so I have written about
them to express my feelings and to commemorate them. I have written two
short essays in memory of Jinhua Li and Tianxi Chen so that their good
example can encourage everyone, and so that their merit and virtue will
not be forgotten.
Tianxi Cheng and Jinhua Li were
relatives. Because of this, Li Jinhua’s faith in the Abbot of the
temple, Great Master Changren, influenced Tianxi Cheng to believe in
him as well. Since they were very close to the Abbot, I also came to
know them. That’s why I have written these commemorative essays. I
might not have written them if they were still alive. I write about
people only after they have died and only if I think they are worth
writing about. I try to be conscientious in this matter.
Jinhua Li lived in the village at
the front of Xinglong Canal, and Tianxi Chen lived in the rear village.
He served as the president of the Virtue
Society of Shanghao, Harbin, and was known as Good Man Cheng. As a
youth, he led a carefree and dissipated life. He was rather
unruly, a profligate. He ate, drank, womanized, and gambled—he did just
about everything. People gave him the name “Sharp-headed Cheng,”
meaning his head was like a sharp point. In Northern China we have the
expression “pointed head.” Do you know what it means? Probably none of
you are familiar with it. [Note: It means someone is always trying to
get the best deal—a sharp dealer.] He was quite dissipated and fond of
women, and so he had both a wife and a mistress. Later on, his wife and
his mistress both came to believe in the Buddha and were very sincere
Buddhists. His mistress also had deep faith in me.
His mother was a widow. She
gave birth to her son when she was quite young. Later, wishing
to repay his parents’ kindness, he reformed and attended upon his
mother very filially. As a child, he was very naughty.
When he grew older and understood more, he became very filial and
obedient to his mother. After he changed and became good, he was eager
to do charitable deeds. He joined the Virtue Society and was later
elected to be the president. He was serving as the president of the
society when I met him. Everyone called him Good Man Cheng. He used to
be “Evil Man Cheng,” but he reformed and became Good Man Cheng.
“Sharp-headed Cheng” became a person who was willing to take losses.
So, you see, Buddhism can really change a person. It can help people to
put their past behind them and make a new start in life. That’s why I
have written this little essay about him.
He rejoiced in doing good
and in giving to others. He became a vegetarian and took refuge with
the Buddha. He liked to do good deeds and was very generous.
He took refuge with the Triple Jewel and ate only vegetarian food. He
joined the Virtue Society, conducted himself properly, and was both a
model philanthropist and a devoted Buddhist. He was a model
for those who liked to perform charitable deeds. Moreover, he was a
sincere Buddhist. He was a good parent and a capable head of
the household. He raised and taught his son well and managed
the household so skillfully that their family grew rich. Since
he commanded the respect and support of the public, he was elected as
president of the Virtue Society of Shanghao. Since he was both
wealthy and kindhearted, people nominated and elected him to be
president of the Shanghao Virtue Society in south Harbin.
A verse in praise says:
Although people have a
wholesome nature at birth,
habits that obscure their
conscience and wisdom.
taught her son to take the proper
be filial to his mother, he
himself to helping the society
And used his
sincere faith in Buddhism to
integrity was like a cedar canoe in
the ice and snow;
virtue brought the boat of compassion to
the other shore.
Although people have a
wholesome nature at birth, / They develop habits that obscure their
conscience and wisdom. Although people are basically good when
they are born, their consciences and wisdom gradually get buried under
their bad habits.
The widow taught her son
to take the proper path. His widowed mother guided him to
walk upon the right path. Determined to be filial to his
mother, he reformed radically. As a young boy he was very
naughty, but as he became more mature, he made up his mind to be a good
son. He got rid of all his past bad habits.
He devoted himself to
helping the society / And used his sincere faith in Buddhism to
influence the Chinese people. He worked enthusiastically for
the benefit of society. He taught and influenced the people of China by
lecturing on morality, humaneness, and righteousness at the Virtue
His pure integrity was
like a cedar canoe in the ice and snow; / His virtue brought the boat
of compassion to the other shore. Being filial and being a
widow are not easy things to do. The ice and snow represent the cold.
The compassionate boat is an analogy for the Virtue Society. At the
society, he performed all kinds of meritorious deeds and laid a
foundation for sailing to the other shore.