The Living Buddha’s Dharma name was Miao-Shan (wonderful goodness). His lay surname was Dong. He was from Zhongnan Mountain in Shanxi Province. His family was well off but his father passed away when the Living Buddha was still very young. He realized the truth of impermanence and entered the monastic life at the age of twenty. The following year, he was ordained at Gold Mountain Monastery and went there to live. He was brave and vigorous in cultivating both Chan and the Secret Teachings. The extraordinary events associated with him are too numerous to count. His room was bare; he wore the same robe in both summer and winter. He walked lightly without making the slightest noise. Venomous insects could not harm him; no hardship daunted him. He gave away everything he had and delighted in doing good deeds. He had no interest in fame or being praised for his achievements. He contended with no one and excelled in being patient when humiliated. He bowed to monks whenever he saw them. (He embodied the spirit of Never Slighting Bodhisattva. He would recite the Buddha’s name on the mountaintop late at night and his voice would reach to the heavens.) He used ‘prajna soup’ to treat people’s illnesses. Anyone who had affinities with him would be cured. He was born in the eighth year of Emperor Guangxu in the Qing Dynasty and entered perfect stillness at the Great Golden Stupa [Rangoon, Burma] in 1933. He lived to be fifty-four years old, having been in monastic robes for thirty-four years. He was a holy monk with genuine cultivation and enlightenment.
The ‘Gold Mountain’ here refers not to Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco, but rather to Jiangtian (River Sky) Monastery of Zhenjiang in China. Why is it called Gold Mountain? When Venerable Fa Hai (Dharma Sea) of the Tang Dynasty, was still a shramanera [novice monk], he was studying Chan at Mount Wei in Hunan Province. As he arrived at Zhenjiang, he discovered a mountain in the middle of Yangzi River. At the time, this mountain was not yet known as Gold Mountain; perhaps it was called River Mountain or Sea Mountain. Since Chan Master Fa Hai lived on the mountain, the Elder Master of Mount Wei gave him eight and a half cents. Before Master Fa Hai set off, he told him, “You should settle down wherever you end up when you use up the eight and a half cents I gave you. As long as you still have money, you should continue to travel.”
Master Fa Hai set out on his journey from Mount Wei in Hunan Province. He did not dare to use the money at all. He tried to survive on donations everywhere he went. When it was time to eat, he would beg for alms, as he was reluctant to use the eight and a half cents. When he wanted to go up to the mountains from the Yangzi River, he needed to take a ferry across the river. The ferryman’s fare was exactly eight and a half cents — no more and no less. At that point, all the money was used up. Master Fa Hai thus settled down at Gold Mountain, which had nothing at all except some trees and rocks. No one was around. He eventually found a cave and lived there. There were probably monkeys in the cave. Hence, one could deduce that this place was not short of fruits, tree roots or leaves. Since he had no more money, he planned to survive by chewing leaves in order to cultivate. At night, he saw light shining from the cave. Upon investigation, he found several crocks of gold, which had been stored there by unknown people. Perhaps the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas or ghosts had kept the gold there; nobody knew. In any event, after he came across these crocks of gold, he used the gold to build Jiangtian Monastery. Due to the discovery of the gold in the cave, this place was renamed “Gold Mountain”.
The Living Buddha of Gold Mountain’s Jiangtian Monastery was from Zhongnan Mountain in Shanxi Province. His lay surname was Dong. His father was fairly wealthy, well known and had some power in the Zhongnan Mountain area. After his father passed away, he felt that life was too impermanent. Even rich, healthy people died. Subsequently, he left the home life at the age of twenty. The next year, he was ordained. Following ordination, he went to Zhenjiang Province’s Jiangtian Monastery, which specialized in Chan meditation and investigating the topic, “Who is reciting the Buddha’s name?” He stayed there for a long time, learning Chan and recitation of the Buddha’s name. However, he recited the Buddha’s name differently from everyone else. He would recite, “Who is reciting the Buddha’s name? Who is reciting Amitabha Buddha? Who is reciting Amitabha Buddha?” He lived there for a couple of decades and cultivated very vigorously. There were many mysterious happenings and countless miracles.
The numerous people who lived at Jiangtian Monastery depended on the alms he received, which he gave as offerings to the entire temple. Many people believed in him. When the monastery ran out of rice, he would go out and come back with rice. When there was no more firewood, he would bring back firewood from outside. However, he had no personal belongings in his own room. Whether it was summer or winter, he wore only one robe. If he had money, he would give it away to others. He wanted nothing for himself.
He sought neither fame nor benefit, unlike ordinary people, who would publicize any good deeds they had done and never forget any good turn done to others. Genuine people are true at all times; everything they do is real and they find joy in doing kind deeds. If they have an opportunity to do someone a good turn, they rejoice. They are not like some people who only do superficial good deeds. In others’ presence, they pretend to be busy. When no one is around, they chat or even take a nap. However, the Living Buddha had the spirit and conduct of “not cheating even in a dark room, and not feeling embarrassed to live in a poor dwelling.” He did not do anything when alone in a dark room that would later give him a guilty conscience. Even in the most hidden places, he would not violate rules. These were his special qualities.
Throughout his life, the Living Buddha of the Gold Mountain was never harmed by poisonous insects. Poisonous insects refer not only to mosquitoes or ants but scorpions, centipedes and venomous snakes, none of which would bite him. He could toy with the scorpions, centipedes or poisonous insects like he was playing with his friends. He was not the least bit afraid of any poisonous spiders, snakes—even two-headed snakes, or three or four headed snakes. In his life, many unusual events happened because of him.
One time in Hubei, nine people wanted to take refuge with him because they had heard of the Living Buddha’s virtue and his ability to cure people. Nine people treated him to a meal. When they ate, the Living Buddha shut the door behind him and said, “Those who want to take the refuge, kneel down and open your mouth.” He then mixed his saliva and phlegm and prepared to feed it to these people. Among these nine people, only one man by the surname of Jia ate the mixture, and this man was the only one the Living Buddha took as a disciple. Therefore, this disciple was called Bodhisattva Jia [Jia can mean “false” in Chinese].
He would give away anything that was offered to him. He never took these offerings as his personal belongings. He especially enjoyed doing good deeds and helping others. After he had helped others, he would not seek fame or take the credit. He never liked to contend with others. Regardless of how people mistreated him, he never held a grudge. He was able to be patient to the utmost degree when subjected to humiliation. When he saw monastics, he would respectfully bow to them, embodying the spirit of Never Slighting Bodhisattva, who never looked down on living beings. In the middle of the night, when he lived at the Gold Mountain, he would climb up to the mountain peak and recite the Buddha’s name sonorously. His voice was so resonant that it reached to the heavens. Every recitation of the Buddha’s name entered the eighth consciousness of all those who were sleeping.
He used “prajna soup” to treat people’s illnesses. The recipe of this ‘prajna soup’ included his saliva, phlegm or even the water he used to wash his feet. Strangely enough, if people had affinities with him or had faith in him, they would be cured as soon as they drank this soup. There are too many stories about him that one could hardly recount them all.
In short, he could do whatever others could not do. He was not afraid of any hardship at all. The more difficult things were, the happier he felt. You could say that he was truly able to “endure what others cannot endure; yield what others cannot yield; eat what others cannot eat; practice what others cannot practice; do what others cannot do.”
He was born on the eighth year of Emperor Guangxu in the Qing Dynasty and entered the perfect stillness in 1935 at the Great Golden Stupa of Rangoon, Burma. He lived to be fifty-four years old. Legend has it that in order to commemorate him, the roads in Rangoon were expanded three feet in width. I have not investigated further into this to determine its truth. Chan Master Miao-Shan (Wonderful Goodness) was truly a worthy monk with real practice and realization. However, not many people knew about him then.
To be continued