The Lion Hut of Empty Cloud.
Eric Johns, W. Wales March 2016
In October 2013, while on retreat at Zhen Ru Chan Monastery 真如禅寺, in China, I met Chan Master Wu Xuan 悟宣 who lives near the Lion Hut 狮子茅棚 and he said he would guide me there. In October 2015, I went to Gu Guan Yin Chan Monastery 古观音禅寺, near Xian City, where he is abbot. The Lion Hut was built by Master Empty Cloud 虚云 (1840 -1959) in 1900, who had gone up there to live, in seclusion. Here is the relevant passage from my web site in his own words www.emptycloud.net
My 61st year 1900 -1901
In May, the Boxer Rebellion got out of control. The Empress Dowager had secretly ordered the assassination of the Japanese and German ambassadors. On the 17th, she issued a declaration of war on the foreigners. A month later, western armies marched right into Beijing. The Princes and ministers, who were also staying at Beijing, Bubbling Spring Monastery, urged me to flee with them to Xian. Panic was widespread in the city and the Emperor and Empress fled with their entourage, running day and night, day and night they ran for their lives. There had not even been enough time to pack any food. The dignity usually shown to the Son of Heaven was forgotten. At Fubing, we were met by General Chen Chuanxuan 传宣, with his army from Jangsu 江苏Province, and were escorted through the great wall, at Yun Men 云门 pass. The Emperor met a monk there, aged124; he gave him some thin yellow cloth to make a robe. The Emperor then and ordered a gate of dedication to be erected.
Marching on westward, we found a severe famine in Bingyang. Some locals gave the Emperor and Empress Taro and sweet potato leaves to eat, which they said they were delicious. After that, they stayed in General Chen’s compound in Xian City.
During this period, people were so desperate they even ate the dead bodies found on the streets. The Imperial government tried to help by banning cannibalism, and setting up eight free food distribution centres. Food was also sent to the towns and villages in the countryside, around the city.
At the Reclining Dragon卧龙 Monastery, I was invited by General Chen to pray for rain and snow to help end the long drought. Afterwards, the Abbot Dong Xia 冬夏 asked me to stay on. However, as there was so much hustle and bustle, I secretly left. Then in October, I once more climbed the Zhong Nan Mountain 终南山 to build a thatched hut and live in seclusion. There in the remote stillness, behind Jai Wu Tai’s summit, I found the Lion Cave. It was at this time, to avoid any uninvited visitors, I changed my Dharma name from De Ching, to Xu Yun 虚云 or “Empty Cloud”. As there was no water, I melted snow, and ate wild vegetables.
At that time, a few other hermit monks also lived on the mountain. On Broken Rock or Poshi peak was Master Benchang 本昌, Master Miaoyuan or 妙圆 was at Guan Di Temple, and in the Wuhua 五华
cave lived Master Dao Ming 道明. Also living separately, in thatched huts on the back of the mountain, were Masters; Miaoyuan 妙圆，Xuyuan修圆 and Qingshan 青山. Master Blue Mountain or Qingshan was from Hunan and, he was greatly respected by the monks on the Zhong Nan Mountain. He lived not so far from me and we often visited each other. I planted a vegetable garden with plenty of potatoes.
In September 1901, I had a visit from three Monks; Fucheng 復成, Yuexia 月霞 and Liaochen了塵 who unexpectedly arrived one day. They were very surprised to find me there and said, “We hadn’t heard of you for many years, who would have expected to find you here?” Laughing, I replied with a searching Chan question “Let’s not worry about here, how is it there?” After greetings, I cooked taro (potatoes) for them. Then we went to the Broken Rock peak, where Master Yuexia told me, “On Chi Mountain the Old Master Faren法仁 is lecturing on the Lotus Sutra, at the Gui Yuan Monastery 歸元寺, in Hangyang. He does not like the noisy environment, so he asked me to look for a new place for him in the north. That is why we came here.”
That winter, Master Blue Mountain asked me to go to Xian, to get his shopping. On the way back, there was a heavy snow fall. Close to his new thatched hut I slipped off the path, falling into deep snow, and shouted for help. Master Yiquan 一全 came from a nearby hut with a rope and rescued me. My robes were soaked through and it was now dark but I thought more heavy snow would block my path and so I pushed on to Master Blue Mountain’s hut. Arriving there, he saw me and laughed teasingly at the state I was in, saying that I was useless. Nodding, in agreement I smiled and hurried on up back to the Lion Hut, to pass the New Year.
My 62nd year 1901-1902
All that spring and summer, I lived in my stone walled, thatched hut alone. My mind and body felt pure and clear. The Mountains were all covered with snow, and the severe cold got right into your bones. One day, I was cooking taro in a cauldron. While waiting for it to cook, I sat in the lotus posture, slipping into a deep Samadhi state, quite unintentionally I totally forgot all about my surroundings and there, far above the red dust of the world, I slipped away from the realm of people.
My 63rd year 1902-1903
The hermits, who lived nearby, were surprised I had not been seen for a while; so they came to the Lion Hut to wish me a Happy New Year. When they arrived, they noticed tiger paw prints in the snow.
On entering, they saw me sitting in a deep Samadhi. By ringing a small bell in my ear they invited me out of my meditation. They asked me if I had eaten and I replied, “I have not, but the taro should be well cooked by now”. Lifting the lid, we saw half an inch of mould growing on the cold taro. Master Fuchung was so surprised and said, “Surely, you must have been in Samadhi for a couple of weeks!” We melted some ice and cooked some more taro, eating until we were all full. After, we shared a few jokes before parting.
In the days that followed, I received visits, from both monks and laymen, who came from far and wide, day and night. One night, I stole away, with just a backpack, to find some peace and quiet.
The climb up
The 22nd Oct, 2015.
One of Master Wu Xuan’s students drove us to a small mountain village. We crossed a stream and started the assent, steep at first, becoming an actual climb over boulders. It wasn’t long before we met Master Benxu 本旭,
the resident monk, on his way down. He easily understood every word of my poor Mandarin and his replies were easy to understand.
In my excitement, I pushed ahead of the others. On the mountain path, I passed a few hermit’s huts as well as vegetable gardens, monks, nuns, laywomen and laymen. I sipped water, from the mountain stream, on my way up. When I reached the hut, I was sweating heavily, after about two hours of difficult and dangerous climbing.
I introduced myself to the other resident Monk. His presence was quite radiant, but ordinary and down to earth. He expressed absolutely no surprise at a foreigner suddenly turning up alone. It seemed quite normal to him. I told him my dream had come true, after the 40 years since I had first learnt about the Lion Hut. He invited me inside and offered me a seat. He also had the ability to understand every word of my poor Mandarin.
He then started giving acupuncture to one of the two women who were staying up there, with a young boy, so I went back outside and sat in meditation until the others arrived. We had brought a picnic lunch up with us, as well as vegetables, to give the residents. We stayed there for a few hours, soaking up the amazingly tranquil remote atmosphere, eating, chatting and taking photos. Finally, we held a short Buddhist ceremony. Reluctantly, I found it was time to leave, wishing I could have stayed the night, or longer, maybe next time.