The Venerable Master was a native
of Shuangcheng County, near the city of Harbin in the Heilongjiang
Province. His hometown is on the Songhuajiang Plain, below the
Zhangkuangcai Ridge of the Manchurian Changbaishan Range. The Master
was born on the sixteenth day of the third month in 1918, in a rural
village of the western section of the Huangqi district in Manchuria.
At the age of eight or nine, the
Venerable Master’s mother became ill and needed to see a doctor. Upon
hearing of my grandfather’s reputation, the Master came all the way to
Liuzhengwei Village, over twenty Chinese miles away from his home. My
grandfather was a herb doctor who was well-known within the hundred
miles radius of Shuangcheng County. He helped poor people, devoted
himself to public service, and gave generous support to charity.
Friends and relatives called my grandfather “Good Man Pan.” He was the
head of the entire Pan family of thirty-two households at that time. He
was a good friend of the chairman of the Virtue Society, Wang Fengyi
(commonly known as Good Man Wang.)
After the Master came to my home,
he became good friends with my father, Pan Yizhen, who was a year
younger than he. I have six uncles, three of them older than my father
and three younger. My grandfather had two sons—my father and my first
uncle; my second granduncle had one son—my fifth uncle; and my first
granduncle had four sons—my second, third, sixth, and seventh uncles.
The Master was the leader of the children at that time. As long as the
Master was there, my uncles would not dare to bully my father. So,
whenever the Master came to my home, my father would not let him leave.
After some time, the Master and my grandfather became confidants. My
grandfather wanted the children to learn to read and write, so he hired
a private tutor. No one wanted to study except my father, and he
invited the Master to join him. Before long, the Master had memorized
the Chinese classics, the Thousand Character Essay and the Hundred
Surnames. The Master was endowed with exceptional intelligence and
wisdom. He was tall and polite. My grandfather treated him as an
honored guest and allowed the Master to watch as he treated patients
with acupuncture or wrote prescriptions. The Master also admired my
grandfather’s character—his humaneness, righteousness, propriety,
wisdom, trustworthiness—and his skill in managing the family, as well
as our house rules. The Master often said that men should till the
fields while women take care of the household chores and take turns
cooking, making tea, carrying water, and feeding the chickens and
ducks. Every one has his or her share of duties, and each is
responsible for himself or herself.
The Master often got together with
my father to match couplets or to write calligraphy. They studied the
Four Books, the Five Classics, and the Historical Records. My
grandfather came to respect the Master more and more. At the age of
fourteen or fifteen, the Master demonstrated a remarkable ability to
memorize such texts as the works of Confucius and Mencius. He also
learned to use the most difficult dictionary, the Great Kangxi. People
who wanted to find names for their children would come to the Master.
My family is Manchurian. According
to the Manchurian custom, a child would be given a name and a piece of
land before birth. My first uncle was already married at that time, and
my grandfather asked the Master to give names for my generation. The
Lin, Sen, Yan, Tao, Guo, Yao, Liang
Girls: Zhen, Fen,
Hua, Ling, Min, Kun, Li
When the Master learned that I was
named Xiumin, he was quite pleased.
The Master had considerable
influence on my father. They both knew how to play the flute. Their
favorite piece was a Chinese folk song called “The Shepherd Su Wu,” a
song that urged people to be faithful to their country. The Master
could also play the two-stringed Chinese violin, and he was so
proficient at Chinese chess that he never lost a game.
I cannot remember how long it has
been since my family became Buddhist, but my grandfather always
listened to and followed the Master’s advice. Our family worshipped the
Buddhas as well as our ancestors. We were taught to respect our
teachers and the elderly, and to be proper and polite. As punishment
for making mistakes, we were made to kneel.
The Master was especially busy
during the Chinese New Year. People would ask him to write spring
couplets, and he never disappointed them. Grandfather, an old
cultivator and a good man, was very hospitable. When friends and
relatives came by, he would ask the Master to be there to receive them.
Grandfather admired the Master not only for his intelligence and
wisdom, but also for his filial piety toward his parents. Sometimes,
the Master would travel over twenty Chinese miles in one day just to go
home to greet his mother and bow to her. His relatives and neighbors
called him “Filial Son Bai.” The Master guided my father to teach the
younger nieces and nephews Chinese. Later they started a free school.
The family objected to this, saying, “When we have sufficient grain to
support the family for three years, there’s no need for you to make a
living by teaching.” Nevertheless, Grandfather supported the Master and
my father. When he went to Harbin to treat patients, he would buy a lot
of books and notebooks for the school.
One day, the Master accompanied
Grandfather as he drove an oxcart loaded with millet and newly
harvested rice to make offerings to the Abbot of Sanyuan (Three
Conditions) Monastery, Dharma Master Changzhi. When the Master went
into the monastery, he chatted with the Abbot as if they were old
friends. It seemed that they knew each other from past lives. They
engaged in some Chan banter that Grandfather could not understand.
The Master was well-versed in the
scriptures of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. He was talented at
painting, and he also understood the theory of music. He even took
Father with him to investigate geomancy. Later the Master and Father
joined the Virtue Society of Manchuria. My father’s sister also joined
with them. The Master often asked about this aunt of mine.
The Master helped Father in
overcoming many difficulties. What touched Grandfather most was an
incident that happened when the Master was twelve years old. The Master
was at our home when a family brought over a patient who had suffered a
heart attack. The chances of the patient recovering were nil, but the
family knelt down and pleaded with my grandfather to do something.
Finally, Grandfather gave in tenderheartedly and treated the patient as
best he could. The patient died just as Grandfather finished placing
the acupuncture needles. Forgetting about how Grandfather had helped
them before, the patient’s relatives wailed bitterly and raised a
ruckus. They demanded that Grandfather make restitution for the life
lost. Grandfather had to buy a coffin for them, and our entire family
plus friends—over forty people in all—had to put on mourning clothes
and attend the funeral. Complaints could be heard throughout the
family. Grandfather was so frustrated that his hair turned gray
overnight and he became seriously ill. The Master consoled Grandfather
by talking to him and bringing him medicine. After Grandfather got
well, he allowed the Master and my father to worship the Buddha. The
two had since become companions in life and death, and they were just
like blood brothers. The Master had been very naive before he turned
twelve, but when he was twelve, he learned about the grave matter of
birth and death.
The Master was well-versed in the
Book of Changes, but he would not use it casually. Once, a relative of
ours lost a pig. The owner threatened to commit suicide as he pleaded
repeatedly for the Master’s help. Finally, the Master used divination
to determine that the pig was hidden in a pile of firewood at another
relative’s house on the west side of the village. However, that
household refused to let people do anything at their house. It was not
until after noon that the household finally granted their permission.
Since there were great piles of things all over the place, the people
did not finish sorting through them until three o’clock in the
afternoon. The missing pig was stuck in a crack between boards, facing
inward. It had several bloody cuts on its body and could not even
squeal. There were many stories like this about the Master’s magical
In the autumn of 1936, the
Master’s mother passed away. The Master borrowed three hundred dollars
to buy a coffin, and he gave his mother a very decent funeral. The
conditions at that time were shocking to many, and the Master was
greatly admired. During the time the Master was practicing filial piety
by his mother’s grave, Father would walk some ten Chinese miles to
bring food to the Master. Sometimes, Father would stay and keep the
The Master went to Three
Conditions Monastery in the Pingfang region in Harbin to shave his head
and bow to the Venerable Changzhi as his teacher. After the Master left
the home-life, he continued his filial practice by his mother’s grave.
Once when Father went to see the him, the Master said, “Please go home.
I have people bringing me food every day.” Who would have guessed that
the Master lived only on icy water and the Avatamsaka Sutra by his
mother’s grave? He cultivated samadhi, worshipped the Buddha, and bowed
in repentance. Not moved by wind or rain, the Master made his eighteen
great vows in front of his mother’s grave.
Sever the conditions of the
Dispel the fear of the five terrors.
Practice the Bodhisattva’s path
And extensively transform all.
After the Master took refuge, left the home-life,
and received the novice precepts, he was moved by neither slander nor
praise. His personal motto was:
Admit your faults more, and
Peaceful, pure, and at ease, you give rise to wisdom.
When Grandfather brought grain
over to Three Conditions Monastery, he invited the Master home. The
first Sutra the Master explained to Grandfather was the Vajra Sutra. It
was followed by the Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva,
the Sutra of Cause and Effect, and others. As a result, Grandfather had
an awakening and wanted to leave the home-life. After considering it
for over a year, he called a family meeting in 1942. Several decisions
were made: (1) a hermitage was to be constructed; (2) the family
business would be passed on to my second uncle; (3) a vegetarian
kitchen would be set up, and my mother would be responsible for
delivering food; and (4) my grandmother would live with my fourth
grandaunt and practice Buddhism.
In the fall of 1943, the hermitage
was constructed. The Master helped to invite the Buddhas. He also
shaved Grandfather’s head. The entire family became Buddhist and began
worshipping the Buddhas and making extensive offerings. During this
period, the Master lived with Grandfather in my home. Together, they
would speak the Dharma and lecture on Sutras for at least half a month
straight, and sometimes for half a year. Grandfather could discuss
everything with the Master. During the time when the Master lived in my
home, he never spoke a word to my mother. However, he often praised my
mother’s good character.
Grandfather was fifty-eight years
old when he left the home life. His legs were rather stiff, and he
could not sit in meditation. My mother could not give a clear account
of how the Master helped Grandfather to sit in meditation. Last year
(1994) I had the chance to ask the Master about it. The Master simply
replied that it was due to my grandfather’s own cultivation of wisdom.
When the Japanese returned
Manchuria to China in 1945, the Master wished to make a journey to pay
respects to the Great Master Hsu Yun, whom he admired greatly, and to
propagate the Buddhadharma. He came to my home to consult with my
father, who discussed the matter with my mother. Grandfather supported
the Master’s decision. Father accompanied the Master all the way to
Xiaohei to see him off, and from there the Master headed for the
Pingfang Region. The Master was setting off on the Bodhi path to
fulfill his eighteen great vows to save all beings.
In the fall of 1948, Grandfather
settled all his affairs and told the family that he was leaving. Then
he sat in full lotus and died. At that time, my family had been split
up, and there was no money for the funeral. Some beggars and relatives
pooled their money and bought Grandfather a coffin inlaid with marble.