Having read the biographical sketch of Yelyu Chu Cai by the Venerable Master in Reflections in Waters and Mirrors, I knew that he had his place in Buddhism. Recently, I came across the name of this elder while reading the history of Buddhism and I felt a sense of familiarity. I have rephrased some excerpts of the history and added some of my own commentary for the enjoyment of fellow readers.
Yelyu Chu Cai, also known as Upasaka Zhan Ran ("Profound and Calm"), served as a minister for Genghis Khan and Ogade (who succeeded Genghis Khan and carried on his westward expansion). When Dhyana Master Xing Xiu visited Yelyu, he was astonished by the minister's frugal lifestyle and meals of vegetable roots. Not only that, but the minister spared no effort in his support of Buddhism. Let me tell a few anecdotes.
During the westward expedition of the Yuan army, someone suggested, "There are monks on Five Peaks Mountain who are skilled in the use of mantras and martial arts. We ought to draft them into the army." Minister Yelyu replied, "The disciples of Shakyamuni practice compassion and forbearance and are strictly prohibited from killing. They would rather commit suicide to uphold humaneness, than to break the precept against killing. Even if they were drafted into the military, they would be of no use."
Another time, the county magistrate Xiao Shouzhong submitted a petition which read, "Shramanas [Buddhist monks] are exempt from both military service and compulsory labor in government service. They use up the wealth of the nation without providing any service. They should be eliminated." The minister replied, "People's lives are governed by divine destiny. Each person's fate is their own, whether they have long or short lives, rich or poor. No one can take their life from them. Some people toil arduously, yet still cannot get their three daily meals. Others enjoy abundant clothing and food, and everything goes according to their wishes. Even one as wise as Kong Ming [Zhu-Ge Liang, the military strategist for Liu Bei during the Three Kingdoms Period] was unable to realize his dream of obtaining sovereign rule of China. Even one as mighty as Xiang Yu, the Great Lord, ended up killing himself by the Wu River. The myriad creatures live and die by the grace of heaven. How is it that you cannot bear the existence of Shramanas when heaven allows them to exist? Is that not being narrow-minded?"
I would like to add a few lines to Minister Yelyu's answer: "Although the Shramana does no compulsory labor, he has already toiled for society. He rises early and retires late, practicing the Way day and night. Before he attains the Way, he teaches and transforms beings in one locale, quelling the urge of worldly people to kill, lessening the violence in the world, and nurturing people's wholesome intentions. After he attains the Way, he is able to teach and transform beings in all ten directions, bringing peace and stability to the nation and invisibly rescuing beings from hardship and calamity. Shramanas take little from society, yet contribute a great deal. Because they don't boast about their virtue and practices, one should not be prejudiced in judging them."
Buddhism has suffered various adversities and calamities since ancient times. The three emperors named Wu, one emperor named Zong, and one Mao Zedong were not the only ones who made it hard for the Sangha. If the members of the Sangha had genuinely practiced well, they could have overcome those disasters; since that was not the case, they courted disaster and suffered wave after wave of calamity.