The Master was born in Guiji, a son of the Wang family. He studied under Master Zhenbai (White Purity), the Venerable Shan, at Daci (Great Kindness) Monastery. He set his mind on investigating Chan. Shortly afterwards he went to visit his friend, Master Deqing. While on a boat, he heard the sound of a gong and had an awakening. He brought it up to Master Yunmen. Master Yunmen said, "The roots you planted in the past have ripened. But you must know that there is still a higher realm. The Master said, "Okay, okay." One day Master Yunmen entered the hall and said, “Put it down.” The Master suddenly experienced complete liberation. He composed a verse: "At midnight, in the cold frost, the moon is suddenly low. When a cultivator reaches that state, his steps falter. Turning back, he steps on and severs the path from which he came. In the dim starlight, the handle of The Dipper falls.” Yunmen expressed his approval. After two years Yunmen entrusted the Dharma to him. In the year of wuchen of the Chongzhen reign period, he became the Abbot of Guoqing Monastery at Dongshan (East Mountain). Next he dwelt at Meishu (Plum Abode), and then he served two terms as Abbot at Xiansheng (Manifest Sage) Monastery. In the year of genchen, he returned to Dongshan. In the summer of the year of renwu, he manifested a slight illness and fasted for over a week. When he was about to pass away, he was still talking and laughing as usual. His body was preserved intact at Xiansheng Monastery.
The name of this Patriarch of the Caodong Sect is Dhyana Master Ermi Mingfu. He was born in Guiji of Zhejiang province. Here the character 會 is pronounced gui, not hui or kuai. You shouldn't say that I'm the one who says it's pronounced that way; this is general knowledge. When you explain things in the future, don't be so roundabout. If you have any learning, you will know how to pronounce it. This is not something that I'm passing down. You shouldn't drag out my name to back it up.
A son of the Wang family. His lay surname was Wang. He studied under Master Zhenbai (White Purity), the Venerable Shan, at Daci (Great Kindness) Monastery. In the beginning he went to study with Dhyana Master Zhenbai, who was living at Daci Monastery. He set his mind on investigating Chan. He resolved to investigate Chan meditation. Shortly afterwards he went to visit his friend, Master Deqing. After a short time, he went to see his fellow cultivator and friend in the Way, Dhyana Master Deqing (Clear Virtue), that is, Great Master Hanshan (Silly Mountain), a renowned monk of great virtue in the Ming dynasty.
While on a boat, he heard the sound of a gong and had an awakening. See how the ancients could become enlightened just by hearing a sound? You should know that he didn't become enlightened solely by hearing a sound. It happened because he usually applied effort in his cultivation. When his cultivation reached the peak of intensity, he might run into something and become enlightened; or bump into something and get enlightened; or he might hear a bird chirping and get enlightened. It's not the sound of the bird chirping, or the sound of the horn, or the sound of bumping or running into something that makes him enlightened. The enlightenment occurs because he has applied effort to the utmost point. At the top of a hundred-foot pole, at a dead-end--he gains new life. Because he was able to be like this, single-mindedly applying effort, when he heard the sound of the gong--bong!--from within the boat--ah!--he got enlightened. "Awakening" means he had a small enlightenment, not a great one.
He brought it up to Master Yunmen. He went to ask Dhyana Master Yunmen about the state he had experienced. What was it all about? Master Yunmen said, "The roots you planted in the past have ripened." He said, "You were a cultivator in your past life. That's why you have had such a state. This is not bad." He gave him some encouragement, but he didn't want him to become self-satisfied, so he added, "But you must know that there is still a higher realm. This is not the ultimate! You haven't reached thorough enlightenment. You should know that above there is still a higher state, where you get to a dead-end and find new life. When things get unbearable, you have to bear them; at the point when you cannot yield, you have to yield. When you cannot eat something, you've got to eat it. You have to take what you cannot take; you have to endure what you find unendurable. Right at the most difficult point, you must not retreat. That's what the higher realm is like. It means you vigorously progress and never retreat. You keep climbing upwards. At the top of a hundred-foot pole, you take another step. That's how you get to a higher state. The Master said, "Okay, okay." He agreed and said, "Yes, yes, yes."
One day Master Yunmen entered the hall and said something that's very commonly said. What were his words of Dharma? He said, "Put it down." He was telling him, "Quickly put it down." With that one rebuke, what happened? The Master was so taken aback that he put everything down.
The Master suddenly experienced complete liberation. What is complete liberation? It means there is nothing whatsoever. Right at that point, with the words "Put it down," he became unaware of his body, mind, or the outside world. He became one with empty space. Although space is great, I am not small. Although a dust mote is tiny, I am not big. The land of a jeweled king appears on the tip of a hair. Sitting inside a mote of dust, one turns the great Dharma wheel. He had that kind of state. Being liberated in body and mind meant that, inside there is no body or mind to order around, and outside there is no world to cling to. All attachments are done away with!
He composed a verse: "At midnight, in the cold frost, the moon is suddenly low." It was very cold. There was frost on the ground, and the snow fell in flurries. The moon was about to set, and there was no light whatsover. But what happened then? When a cultivator reaches that state, his steps falter. When he gets there, he hesitates and cannot go forward. He wants to advance, but doesn't know if there is a road. It's like being at the top of the hundred-foot pole. It's pitch-black in the night; there are no lamps lit. At this point, he thinks, "Oh, I'd better not go. The road ahead will be very difficult to walk!" That's how he hesitates and considers back and forth, not knowing whether to advance or retreat. He doesn't know whether to go forward or back. He doesn't know what he should do. He can't make up his mind.
Turning back, he steps on and severs the path from which he came. He turned around, lifted his foot, and brought it down, breaking it up. Breaking what up? The road from which he came. That is, the path of his birth, the way he was born. But now, this path will eventually lead to his death. The path from which he came is also the path on which he will leave. When he steps through and breaks the path from which he came, then he has nowhere to go either! He neither comes nor goes! At this point he ends birth and death. When he severs the path from which he came and puts an end to birth and death, what happens then?
To be continued