Upasaka Gunong Fan of Jiaxin County, Zhejiang Province was a teacher of Buddhism as well-known as Wei Nonjiang. The two of them respected each other and were close friends. Elder Fan studied in Japan and was a great scholar of the Dharma Marks (Dharmalakshana) School. Donating his house to be his temple, he looked lightly upon fame and profit and devoted his whole life to giving lectures and editing books on Buddhism. He and Guanru Gao and Liao-ong Yu--three Buddhist scholars of the time--were editors for the Buddhist Bookstore, which published large and small series on various aspects of Buddhism, such as major Sutras, history, biographies, liturgy and ritual. These books, as well as books published elsewhere in the nation, were distributed at the Jinling Printing Center and made it a center of Buddhist culture.
The Elder Fan served as editor-in-chief of the Buddhist Bookstore. He was the one who wrote the answers for the popular column "Questions and Answers on Buddhism" in the bi-weekly Buddhist Magazine put out by the Bookstore. Later the columns were compiled into a large volume Gunong's Questions and Answers on Buddhism.
The Elder Fan founded the Dharma Marks Society under the Xingxin ("Contemplating the Mind") Lotus Society in Cihoubei District, and there he lectured on Consciousness-Only of the Dharma Marks School to a group of intellectuals. His students included Dharma Master Zhihai and Upasakas Xing-gen Yi and Chuan-chuan Zhang, who presently lecture on Dharma Marks at Buddhist academies and to graduate classes, as well as Upasakas Lei Yu, Guopei Xu, and others. Even today, the class on Dharma Marks which is part of the doctrinal studies class at the Shanghai Buddhist Laity Society traces its roots to Elder Fan's Dharma Marks Society. In his final years, the Elder Fan retired to his hometown and cultivated quietly there, returning to the Pure Land practice. I remember once, after the victory in the Sino-Japanese War, the Shanghai Buddhist Youth Society organized a trip to Jiaxing to visit Elder Teacher Fan and to learn from his simple and peaceful life, his lifelong propagation of Dharma, and his lofty practice.
Upasaka Henian Gao of Jiangsu Province was one who spared himself no hardship as he rescued people from calamities. He also visited temples at all the famous mountains, searching for knowledgeable and capable Buddhist elders. During the years of civil war after the founding of the Republic of China, there were continual floods, droughts, battles, famines, and other catastrophes. In the vast areas of northern Jiangsu and the interior of China), nine years out of ten would be plagued by disasters. Shanghai Buddhist and charity groups organized famine relief societies to raise funds, hold food drives, and send volunteers to disaster areas to give relief to the starving victims. The Sino-Foreign Famine Relief Society organized by Upasakas Yiting Wang, Hanzhi Huang, and others and the Tongji Charity House were two of the main groups. Upasakas Ziqiao Zhu and Henian Gao were busy visiting and bringing food and aid to the disaster areas. They were truly compassionate saviors giving relief to and sharing the suffering of those in distress!
The Elder Gao's dauntless spirit in visiting masters and seeking the Dharma is revealed in his work, Travels to Famous Mountains. Upasaka Sanzhao Qian of Cixi once wrote him a poem, "Your vigorous feet could walk a hundred miles; your six senses are undefiled, your mind unwavering." Indeed, he did not go by car or boat, but traveled on foot, toting his own luggage. He was not sightseeing; rather, he was following the Youth Good Wealth's example of visiting a hundred cities and looking into his meditation topic.
I remember two passages in his Travels to Famous Mountains where the strength of his cultivation and his resolve for the Way kept him out of danger. One time was when the Elder Gao had pulled up the bottom of his pants in order to wade across a shallow part of the Yellow River. When he reached the middle of the river, there was a sudden deluge that swept him off his feet. He had no choice but to be carried down the river by the huge waves. At that time, he entered a state of intense and unbroken single-mindedness. After a long time, he sensed that he was no longer moving. He opened his eyes and found himself lying on the opposite bank of the river. Another time he was walking deep in the mountains. He could not mountains. He could not find any house or village where he could spend the night, so finally he settled in a mountain cave and sat in lotus posture for the night. In the middle of the night he suddenly smelled a strong stench coming from behind, and then he felt as if light were shining on him. When he glanced back, he found that the light came from the two lantern-like eyes of a huge python! Without the slightest fear, he continued to concentrate his mind until daybreak, when he got up to resume his trip. Upasaka Henian Gao founded the Pure Land Hall in the town of Liuzhuang in Dafeng County of northern Jiangsu for unmarried women and widows to cultivate the Pure Land practice. He raised funds to provide for those who were poor and in need. He did this more than half a century before the recent establishment of Pure Land Elders' Homes in Buddhist circles. It's a pity the place was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. The Elder Gao's relative and old friend, Upasaka Qin Sun, and the local laypeople have rebuilt the Liuzhuang Pure Land Hall at its original site, and now over thirty laypeople live there and peacefully cultivate. The virtuous elder's grace continues to purify and transform the mundane surroundings!
In his final years, the Elder Gao retired to Kulong Mountain, Suzhou, to quietly cultivate. In the early fifties, the Shanghai Buddhist Youth Society sponsored a pilgrimage to well-known temples in Suzhou, including a special trip to Kulong Mountain to pay respects to the Elder Upasaka Gao. The Shanghai Buddhist Youth Society organized many trips to visit and pay respects to virtuous and eminent masters at various temples; such Buddhist activities are worth promoting.
Here I'd like to mention my own point of view on esoteric practices. Although it's easy to obtain spiritual penetrations by cultivating esoteric dharmas, if one does not understand that all dharmas are empty and that all living beings possess the Buddha nature of True Suchness, which is the source of all wisdom and spiritual penetrations, one may easily go astray by showing off one's powers, getting involved in contests of Dharma, or violating the moral precepts. There are strict requirements for esoteric practices; if one cultivates according to the Dharma, one can obtain great benefit. However, there are many who claim to be living Buddhas and use esoteric dharmas to cheat people out of their money so they themselves can get rich. Students should be extra careful in choosing a teacher. There are three kinds of spiritual penetrations: those that are certified to, those that are attained through cultivation, and those that come as a reward for cultivation in past lives. The latter two kinds can also be attained by gods, demons, immortals, ghosts, spirits, non-Buddhist practitioners, and ordinary people, yet they may also be lost at any time, so they are nothing special. It is only after view and thought delusions are ended and one attains all six penetrations, including the extinction of outflows, that one achieves the spiritual penetrations certified to by those at and above the level of Arhatship, which will never be lost. Esoteric practice is not for everyone. Those who are not "mature vessels" will not succeed at it. Accomplishing Buddhahood in this life is easy to talk about, but for cultivators in the Dharma-ending Age the Pure Land practice is the most reliable. "As long as one has faith, makes vows, and practices, one can certainly be reborn in the West." "Take Prajna as one's guide, recitation of the Buddha's name as one's practice, and the Pure Land as one's refuge." This is an easy practice that will soon get you to your destination!