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The Record of Water and Mirror Turning Back Heaven

By Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua
Translation and Commentary by Disciple Bhiksu Heng Ching

The text of Water and Mirror, although not formally divided into chapters, is broken into a number of essays. Now begins a long and detailed biography of the Great Master Ch'ang Jen(常仁). To modern readers, many of these tales will seem like fiction. Be assured that they are not. The Buddhadharma is truly wonderful and what we call miracles are its daily fare, its regular and ordinary occurrences. We, who are given to total disbelief of everything that is not scientifically proven, must remember that the essence of the scientific method is in experimentation and testing. Until we have experimented with and tested the detailed directions set down by the ancients, we have no ground from which to criticize. The practices of Buddhism out of which these "miracles" grow, are fully as rigorous a discipline as nuclear physics, perhaps even more so since they deal with penetrating the processes of our mind a thoughts to discover what lies on the other side of the duality of consciousness and unconsciousness.

Thus it is that among those who have fulfilled the instructions of the ancients we find both the Great Master Ch'ang Jen,who was practically illiterate, and the great and learned Master, the Venerable Hsu Yun(虛雲). What have they in common? Literary master or untutored farmer, they share a common understanding of the Buddha-nature essential to all beings. This understanding is not dependent on written words and language and is not distilled in books. It ultimately is found in only one place--in the mind of each of us. Deeply hidden, it awaits the time when we have done work required to remove the coverings so that it will manifest as the full enlightenment of the Buddhas. Illiterate or learned master, the final result lies in the work and how it is applied.

In cultivation of the Buddhadharma, as in anything else, it is essential for the beginner to follow the instructions of a teacher. After one has learned the basic essentials and inner workings of his craft, he may then apply them on his own. The final result, however, is an outgrowth of the first basic instruction. Flowers can only grow from seeds which have been planted. If one is receiving instruction in worldly skills, such as those of the cobbler, the mechanic, or the pipe fitter, he will always remember the basic teaching he received even in his later years as a master of his craft. Any true apprentice or disciple will, on coming to the position where he teaches others, admit his debt to his own instructor. Thus it is that an important part of Buddhist literature is the biography of eminent Bhiksus.

Besides the personal debt owed by a student to his teacher, there is an equally important reason for writing a biography. We must not only respect the debt to our teachers, but must also acknowledge the source of his teaching, and trace the lineage of teachers back through the ages to unquestioned Patriarchs and ultimately to the Buddha. We cannot casually establish schools and sects at whim and claim that they represent the orthodox Buddhadharma. The ultimate experience of enlightenment is, of course, attained by individuals and not by parties or schools. However, even in the Buddha's time on earth, those who attained to any of the fruits of the path invariably were certified by one of unquestioned authority, if not by the Buddha himself.

There are further reasons for introducing the biographies of eminent Bhiksus. Plutarch said, "Admirable actions can produce, even in the minds of those who only read about them, an eagerness which may lead them to imitate them. He who busies himself in mean occupations is his own evidence that he does not care for what is really good. The bare account of noble deeds can make us admire and long to follow the doer of them. Moral good is a practical stimulus; it is no sooner seen than it inspires an impulse to follow it."



The Great Master Ch'ang native of Chi Lin(吉林)Province, Shuang Ch'eng(雙城)County, Cheng Huang Ch'i Sz T'Zun(正黃旗四屯)Village and was born in the final years of the Ch'ing(清)Dynasty.

Chi Lin is one of the three northeast provinces of Manchuria. Shuang Ch'eng (Twin Cities County) is located at a particularly rare conflux of mountains and rivers. The flow of the White Mountains and the Black Dragon River, called "Wind and Water(風水)" by the Chinese, is such that they manifest magical conditions in the landscape. It is commonly known that merchants from the county are the most successful, soldiers the bravest, crops the finest, and cultivators the highest. It was here that the Master was born towards the end of the last dynasty of Imperial China.

He had not learned to read, yet his natural ability was simple and honest, and he obtained special benefits from heaven. At the age of 18 he heard of Yang Yi's(楊一)practice of filial piety and decided to bow at dawn and dusk to his parents.

Bowing refers to the full formal bow in which all five limbs, the head being reckoned as the fifth, are placed on the floor. It is called "knocking the head" or K'ou T'ou(叩頭)and does not have any pejorative implications in China where it is used to show the utmost respect. In bowing we take the most humble of positions in order to elevate the one to whom we bow to the highest stature. This custom serves as an excellent curb to arrogance, but is not well established in the U.S. In fact, the custom of bowing before symbols of the Buddha bothers many Americans who, one feels sure, would love to hurl charges of idolatry were it not too quaint to do so. Their objection is not that we bow to the Buddha. It is that we do not bow to them.

The Great Master worked and gave his money to his father who was addicted to opium. Whenever his father smoked, the Master personally stood by and served him, offering service which was not remiss, yet his father still maintained the sickness of opium confusion. He smoked and then slept for an indeterminate length of time. The Master waited for him to awaken before he himself went to bed.

One day his father awoke and feeling great shame said, "I smoke and then sleep while you stand in attendance unable to go to bed. What is more, during the day you work. This has been going on for much too long already. Certainly it will harm you. I now firmly solve to give up my opium addiction."

The Master replied, "Please do not do that. Although your son has no ability, he works vigorously and can still provide what is necessary for smoking expenses."

"Your filial thoughts are very good," his father said. "I just cannot bear to see you undergo so much suffering. If you do not accord with my intent to stop smoking, then you are no longer my son." The Master did not dare again reprove him.

The Great Master Ch'ang Jen, whose lay name was Wang Fu Jen(王復仁), is one of the great paragons of filial virtue in modern times. How can it be then, that he attended faithfully on his drug addicted father and, moreover, worked in order to support his habit? Certainly such conduct, while according with the wishes of the father, was harmful to him, and in fact was like assuring him a regular supply of poison. What kind of filial son is it who refrains from teaching his father the error of his ways?

Such reasoning is well based, and its objections well founded. However, we must note how discussions like this take place among human beings. Too often the dictates of reason and logic fall prey to the harsh grappling of emotional states. There is nothing either unusual or even remarkable in this. We are living creatures of a most ordinary sort and although the tendency towards wisdom and reason exist in us it must be carefully and deliberately nurtured. Our desire to order the universe in a rational way more often than not turns into tornadoes of temper.

Had the Master tried to talk his father out of his habit, there might well have occurred an emotional scene and the father, in his anger, might have only become more set in his ways out of spite for his son's impertinence. Instead, the master merely showed his own behavior in a faithful and filial way. When his father smoked, he stood to one side watching to respond to the old man's slightest wish. When the father "nodded off" for periods of a few minutes to several hours, the son remained standing, awaiting permission to retire. Many were the times when he would stand all night only to be relieved in time to go to work in the fields. Not once did he complain during this time. His own silent example of patience and faithful service had no visible effect in a day or two, but taken together over a long period, it moved his father as no amount of nagging or moral sermonizing could have done.

Such filial conduct can truly be called "great", since it is based on the great model of heaven and earth. Heaven and earth produce and nourish all living things and stand quietly waiting, and through their silent patience all great things come about. Slowly and silently pebbles accumulate; the vast weight and power of a huge mountain range appears. Great strength and powerful influence come, not through brief flurries of activity, but through constant perseverance.


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