Speaking of this, I remember there was an eminent monk during the time of the Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty in China. What was his name? He was Dhyana Master Bao Zhi, or otherwise known as Patriarch Zhi Gong. He was probably born from bird parents. Why? His fingers, unlike those of a human being, resembled the claws of a bird, specifically those of an eagle. Where did he get such hands? He was born in a bird’s nest. When he was born, someone heard a child crying in the bird nest. He went up there to take a look and found a baby boy with hands like a bird’s claws. He was raised by that person and later renounced the householder’s life to become a monk. After entering monastic life, he became enlightened, realized the Way and attained spiritual powers. How great were his spiritual powers?
He ate meat but not just any kind of meat; he only ate pigeons. He would eat two of them everyday. He didn’t eat pigeons that were already dead. He would get live pigeons, which were then killed and stir-fried. He would consume two of them each day. The cook thought that since the Patriarch liked to eat pigeons, they must be very tasty. One day, the cook took two bites of pigeon meat before serving it to Patriarch Zhi Gong. As soon as Patriarch Zhi Gong finished eating the meat, he asked the cook, “Who secretly ate my pigeons?”
“No one,” replied the cook.
“If no one ate them, how come there isn’t enough meat to these pigeons?”
“Nobody ate it! I am not lying!” the cook insisted.
Patriarch Zhi Gong said, “You say you’re not lying. Fine, just take a look!” As soon as he finished speaking, he spat out two pigeons from his mouth. One flew away and the other one was flopping on the floor because it couldn’t fly with only one wing. “Take a look! Didn’t you eat one of the wings?” From this incident, the cook realized that even though the Master ate pigeons, he had the spiritual power to resurrect them. In fact, his spiritual powers were greater than those of Jesus Christ. Jesus carried the cross and was resurrected three days after his death. This event was seen by a spirit. However, in Zhi Gong’s case, when he spat the pigeons from his mouth, the birds came alive and this was witnessed by an actual person. Since he had the ability to bring pigeons back to life after eating them, he could eat pigeons everyday. These were Zhi Gong’s spiritual skills. If you have his spiritual powers, you can also eat pigeons, and not only pigeons but any kind of meat you wish. If you can’t make the beings you eat come back to life, then don’t show off your spiritual powers.
Since we don’t have the great spiritual powers of Patriarch Zhi Gong, we should control ourselves and not be greedy for tasty food. Speaking about this, I also remember another story about the Patriarch Zhi Gong. At that time, the Buddhadharma was widely practiced. When people had weddings, funerals or newborn babies, they would invite monks to recite the Sutras for them. Regardless what kind of event it was, they invited monks to recite the Sutras to turn misfortune into auspiciousness. That was the tradition back then.
At that time, there was a wealthy person whose son was getting married. The wedding reception was held at this man’s own home. They invited Patriarch Zhi Gong to recite the Sutras, give a blessing, and chant mantras to bestow luck. Patriarch Zhi Gong went along and complied with their wishes.
However, as soon as he arrived at the entrance and looked around, he said:
“How strange! How bizarre!” What was so strange and bizarre?
“The grandson marries the grandmother.” He saw that the grandson and the grandmother were getting married. Why was that? When the grandson was born, the grandmother was sick and couldn’t let go of her attachment to her grandson. She said, “I can let go of my sons and daughters but not my grandson. You see, he is so little. What is he going to do in the future? Who is going to take care of him?” At the very moment she was thinking about this matter, she passed away. After her death she went before King Yama and he said, “Oh, you love your grandson so much? Fine. Go back and be his wife.” So she was reborn as a girl and when she came of age, her grandson chose her as his wife. The grandmother thought this was the best thing. As a result, she returned happily and was reborn as a woman. When the grandson grew up, he married this woman. This is why he said,
“How strange! How bizarre!”
He looked around and saw the high brick beds (kang), which were used in Northern China. He said, “Pigs and sheep are on the seat.” He saw that the pigs and sheep that they had eaten in the past, were now reborn as humans. They had come as guests to congratulate them.
“The six kinds of close relatives are cooking in the pot.” The six kinds of close kin refer to maternal and paternal relatives, such as brothers, sisters, and so forth. Those who had been their close relatives were reborn as pigs and now being cooked in the pots. This is why he said,
“The six kinds of close relatives are cooking in the pot.”
He saw a little girl chewing on a porkchop and said,
“The daughter eats the mother’s flesh.” The pork chop that the girl was eating was her own mother who had died and been reborn as a pig. She was actually eating the flesh of her own mother!
“The drum the son beats upon is made of his father’s skin.” When he observed the musicians in the band, he saw that the drummer was hitting a drum made of donkey-hide. His father had died and had been reborn as a donkey. The donkey had been slaughtered and its hide tanned. Now the drummer was actually beating his own father’s skin!
“People gather together to celebrate.” Everyone who came was saying, “Congratulations!” and “Best wishes!”
“However, I see that this is actually suffering.” Thus, hearing of this event, we should quickly wake up. We should be vegetarians and recite the Buddha’s name so that we don’t accumulate so much animosity and hatred from living beings.
Mencius said, “Seeing it alive, I can’t bear to see it die. Hearing its sound, I can’t bear to devour its flesh. Therefore, a superior person always stays far away from the kitchen.” This means that when we see any creatures while they are alive, we can’t bear to consume their flesh. For this reason, the sage and virtuous superior person stays away from the kitchen and the chef who cooks meat. Therefore, during this time when the world is not at peace, we should eat vegetarian food. Reciting the Buddha’s name also helps this world. Why? If you don’t consume meat, there will be no hatred and enmity between living beings. Consequently, the disasters in the world will decrease and people’s suffering will disappear. When there is no suffering, there will be happiness.
Regarding what I said today, “If it’s the Path, go forward; if not, retreat from it.” Also, “Select the good and follow it. Take what is unwholesome and change it.” In short, everyone should work hard and advance instead of regressing. Strike up your spirit for Buddhism and be courageous and vigorous until you become a Buddha in the future.
As for vegetarianism, I am not sure if vegetarian food tastes good or not. Now there is another story about a person who knew the name King Yama. When he received an invitation from King Yama, he was not able to return home. Since he was a Dharma Master specializing in explaining the Sutras, he was clever and possessed some wisdom. He asked, “When I explain the Sutras, celestial flowers rain down from the heavens and golden lotuses well forth from the earth. King Yama, am I still under your control?” King Yama responded, “Of course! Although celestial flowers may rain down from the heavens and the ground may bring forth golden lotuses, you still have not ended birth and death. So, I have come here today to invite you to the courts down below for a vegetarian meal.” Dharma Master Shen Guang asked again, “Who is not under your control and not bound by you?”
King Yama of the Ten Courts told him, “Who is not under our control? It is the black-faced monk whose two teeth you knocked out with your beads. He is not under our control because he is the Twenty-eighth Patriarch from the West. He is a sage who has realized the Spiritual Path. We have no power over him at all.” At this point, Shen Guang said, “Since he has ended birth and death, I can learn from him. I am not going to accept this invitation you have just sent me. After I have studied with him, we can meet and discuss this issue again.” Originally, the Yamas of the Ten Courts are impartial and incorruptible and give no personal favors. However, this time was different. He said, “ All right. Go ahead and do as you wish!” What would you guess Shen Guang did? Wearing one sock and one shoe, he anxiously raced off to find Bodhidharma.
Shen Guang went searching for Bodhidharma. At the same time, Bodhidharma encountered something strange while walking down the road. This was an important event. He met a parrot who recognized that Bodhidharma was a certified holy sage. He said to the Patriarch Bodhidharma, “Mind from the west, Mind from the west, please be compassionate and teach me how to escape from this cage!” The parrot said, “Since you are from India and a Patriarch who has received the Buddha’s mind transmission, please be compassionate. I have been confined by my master and have lived in this cage for too long. I’m unable to get free. Please compassionately teach me a way to escape this bird cage so that I can fly freely in the sky and go wherever I wish. Please be compassionate.”
To be continued