Part Eight Passing into Stillness
On December 4, 1994, when the Master was sent to the hospital for over-exhaustion, he said,
I want to tell you what to do after I’m gone. All of you should prepare yourselves psychologically. I may depart at any time. Nothing is fixed... Every person has a time for coming and a time for going. Don’t be sad. Act the same way that you do in ordinary times.
After the sincere and repeated pleas of the fourfold assembly of disciples, the Master stayed in the world for another six months. When the Master had suffered to the ultimate in bearing the karma of living beings, he said,
“I wouldn‘t even lift a finger to help myself as I lie on this bed.”
“I’m like two people right now. One is still going about saving living beings. But as for this person here, I won’t pay any attention to him. I won’t help myself.”
Alas for living beings’ scarce blessings! The Master still entered the stillness at 3:15 p.m. on June 7, 1995. The ninth patriarch of the Weiyang Sect entered Nirvana, and the heir of Venerable Hsu Yun became part of Buddhist history.
Some people wonder why, having such lofty achievement, the Master manifested illness before he passed away. Actually the answer is very simple. All the eminent and great monks through the generations have had their reasons for manifesting certain conditions before they die. As recounted in the Sixth Patriarch Sutra, when the Sixth Patriarch was still alive there were people who wanted to kill him; after he died someone wanted to chop off his head and take it home to make offerings to it. When Patriarch Bodhidharma went to China, six attempts were made to poison and kill him. The Twenty-fourth Indian Patriarch, Aryasimha, was beheaded by imperial order. Before Great Master Hsuan Tsang died, he tripped and fell, then became ill and was confined to his bed. He remarked, “All my afflictions, emotions, and evil karma from beginningless time, by virtue of this slight illness, are now obliterated. I should therefore be happy.” His teacher, Venerable Shilabhadra, master of debate, became seriously ill in his old age and was in so much in pain that he wanted to commit suicide. Later Guanshiyin Bodhisattva came to him in a dream and said, “In the past you were a king who brought great suffering upon living beings. That’s why you have received this retribution.” Guanshiyin Bodhisattva advised him, “Sincerely repent, patiently endure the suffering, and diligently expound the Sutras and treatises, and then your offenses will naturally be wiped out.” Before the Master passed into stillness, he also composed a verse regarding his sickness:
I linger on, breathing with difficulty as I live out the remainder of my life,
Embroiled in the sufferings of old age and disease.
Every day I take my meals as if I were swallowing poison.
At night I lie on the sickbed like a stiff worm.
I often run into the ghosts of impermanence in my dreams;
But when I wake up, I can't find a god who can save me.
Don't you know that life passes in the space of a breath?
Hurry back to the city of pure and ultimate bliss!
Up to the time of his passing, on June 7, the Master’s health showed no improvement. Nor were there any auspicious portents or miracles. In that way, without leaving any traces, he embodied the Dharma of causes and conditions: formation, dwelling, decay, and emptiness; and birth, old age, sickness and death. The Master healed the sicknesses of countless living beings during his lifetime, yet he paid no attention to his own sickness. He chose the most painful way to go--dying of sickness.
We know that Dhyana Master Mazu Daoyi had great spiritual penetrations and saved countless people. His influence spread throughout the country. He had 84 great disciples, and yet he himself was constantly ill. When we think of the Bodhisattva spirit of these great masters, we are moved to endless praise!
Then there was the Venerable Hsu Yun, who lived to be 120 and was a heroic personage in the Chan School. His life included ten ordeals, forty-eight rare events and countless miracles. When he was 112, he was sold by his disciples, and robbed and tortured by Communist officials. He died and revived several times, after being beaten with a metal club until he was bleeding and his bones and tendons were broken.
Great Master Hanshan Zibo, who left behind an undecaying flesh body, also underwent harsh torture and died from a tumor on his back. Venerable Guangqin, an eminent monk of his time, also manifested illness in 1978, and a Dharma Master in his temple said, "The Venerable One said that he would manifest illness when he died, because there's so much suffering in the Saha World; how could he bear to waste his time?" Venerable Guangqin was right. "There's so much suffering in the Saha World; how could we bear to waste our time here?"
Someone once asked Venerable Guangqin, "If someone has very high attainment in cultivation, and yet dies in sickness or from an accident, is it because of his fixed karma, which is difficult to avert?" The Venerable One said, "You could say it's his fixed karma which is hard to avert, but you could also see him as repaying karmic debts. Only someone with attainment in cultivation will encounter this kind of suffering and tribulation. It is precisely the merit and virtue from his cultivation which allows him to settle everything once and for all this time."
There are a few verses about the Venerable Master that I feel are worth savoring and which contain profound meaning, so I have quoted them below:
The old monk came in leisure, with nothing to do.
He played hide-and-go-seek and lay on the sickbed.
In viewing existence, contemplate emptiness; emptiness is not empty.
In diagnosing the illness, one seeks the source; the source is not the source.
These lines clearly give explain the Master's manifestation of illness. As I said before, the patriarchs and great masters have all had their causes and conditions in teaching living beings in the Saha World. We should evaluate a person's accomplishments by considering his lifelong practice of the Bodhisattva path, his compassion in saving living beings, and his contributions to Buddhism. We should not judge a person solely on miracles or auspicious omens. After the Venerable Master's cremation, over 10,000 pieces of sharira were found (including sharira clusters and twelve teeth sharira), in a range of colors, including white, brown, green, blue, black, and purple. There were many sharira formed on the bones, gleaming like jade, extremely rare. This shows the Venerable Master's inconceivable merit accrued from giving over 10,000 lectures on the Sutras and from never telling a lie in his entire life.
To be continued