On Cloud Abode Mountain
Masters 118th year. 1957-1958
Master Shao Yun continues;
In the first month of 1957, the old Master suffered from a serious illness. When local government ministers from Yongxiu (less than one hour’s drive from the monastery) came to visit him, they saw how bad he was and sent for a car to take him to Nanchang hospital (just over one hour’s drive by car). At first he was unwilling to go, but they insisted and so he reluctantly agreed. At the hospital he was examined and a blood sample was taken. The hospital staff were very surprised and said, ‘We have heard that this monk is more than one hundred years old but his blood sample is like that of a young teenager. We have never before seen an old person with blood like his’. After some more tests, they said that the old monk’s blood was unusually pure. The Master stayed on in the hospital for four days before returning to the mountain.
Master Empty Cloud also told us that during his life he hardly ever took a bath, so we wondered how he felt on hot summer days. He did sweat sometimes when it was hot, but he was reluctant to change his clothing even when encouraged to do so. When he did change his clothes, there was no bad smell at all. He wore the cotton monks socks which he changed once every month, or every two weeks, and these did not smell either. The old Buddhist Master was truly not the same as an ordinary person. Instead he had a life just like the ancient sages of the past.
Often at noon the Master would take a rest, when he would fall asleep and snore. Once we heard him snoring we would quietly sneak out, taking some of his fruit with us which we would eat outside. But after he woke up he would scold us for every item we had taken. We asked him how it was that a moment ago he was fast asleep and then suddenly awake and already knowing what we had been doing. He said, “Your minds are still under delusion. I know this, and that you take things out to eat. How could I not know about it?” After Master Empty Cloud said this we knew that he was really enlightened and that he possessed a broad expansive awareness. Whether he slept or was awake he really “knew” what was happening all around him at all times.
We asked Master Empty Cloud about this story. Master Jie Chen of the Gaomin Si or High Heaven Monastery had heard that the Master was in a solitary retreat and went to visit him. He had intended to start a debate about the Chan teaching. Master Empty Cloud listened whilst Master Jie Chen spoke for a long time and then he said, “You speak very well from your intellect but you have not yet realised your mind or put an end to birth and death. Don’t talk any more but sit and meditate with me”. So the Master sat for seven days and nights without moving while Master Jie Chen suffered pain in both of his legs and his mind was not at ease. He could only manage half a day of sitting meditation without moving. Every day Master Jie Chen walked around the motionless meditating Master Empty Cloud. This lasted for seven days and nights until Empty Cloud emerged from his deep meditation. Then Jie Chen asked, “When you are in meditation, is there self-awareness, or no self-awareness? If there is no awareness, isn’t it just like stagnant water where no dragon can hide?” Empty Cloud then said to him, “If you want to know about Chan with the intellect, the Dharma will not be understood for it is only through the realisation of enlightenment that Chan can really be properly experienced. The Mind Ground is naturally pure and clean. Because of not knowing this, the path toward enlightenment is not followed and a pure “doubt” (about your mind) can never be generated. When the mind is realised, even a pin can be heard as it drops to the ground. When I was meditating I was fully aware that you were walking around me. I know because wisdom does not distinguish between one being and another. This is not a dry wisdom. The pure mind is equal everywhere and never ceases in its compassionate function. The last seven days passed like a finger snap to me because my mind is concentrated fully upon its own essence. Chan is clear and bright and never without wisdom and compassion. A pure doubt, when focussed correctly, pushes through the surface layers of delusion and consciousness so that the Mind Ground can be clearly and completely realised. This is the powerful method of Chan”. After that time, Master Jie Chen followed Master Empty Cloud, holding him in great esteem.
One evening the two of them spent the night in a deserted, isolated temple. Master Xu Yun went to sleep but Master Jie Chen was bitten by fleas which he picked off his leg and threw to the ground. Master Empty Cloud heard the fleas’ cries and the next morning he told Master Jie Chen about it. Master Jie Chen was surprised and thought that this amazing ability was a by-product of the Master’s advanced spiritual purity.
In 1957, a fire started on the mountain at the Heaven’s Suchness Monastery or Tian Ru Si. Many people ran to help put out the fire. Master Empty Cloud asked us to follow him so that we could also help. He put on a short robe and walked very briskly in front of us. As we were about to ascend the mountain, Empty Cloud disappeared and then suddenly reappeared standing on top of a large rock some distance away from us. We asked him how it was that one moment he was standing near us whilst the next moment he was so far away. Empty Cloud replied that we should all hurry to the fire. We did not understand how he could move so fast or far ahead.
At that time Master Xu Yun would lecture in the meditation hall most evenings. When the time came for him to teach the Dharma, incense would be lit and the smoke and fragrance would fill the air. At that time the crows that lived there would gather around the hall and listen to him teaching. Sometimes there would be so many of them on the path between his hut and the meditation hall that we would have to move them out of the way with a stick to avoid treading on them. When he finished the lecture and returned to his hut, the crows would return to their nests.
One day in early June 1957, Master Xu Yun suddenly wanted to go to the Five Old Peaks or Wulaofeng to look around. So five monks and myself made a small sedan seat out of an old rattan chair and two bamboo poles so that the old Master could be carried, three teams of two people taking it in turn to carry him. We set off at 9am. The sky was clear and the sun was already very hot. We were all worried about the old Master’s health and were apprehensive that he might be harmed by the sun with such a difficult climb. Strangely, when we set off, the crows began to fly over us and gave us shade so we did not have to worry about the sun. The crows followed us all the way to the Five Old Peaks and, after Empty Cloud got out of the chair, the crows landed all around and looked at him, crying out as they did so. He stayed up there on the Five Old Peaks for a while looking around. Then, as soon as we lifted the chair to leave, the crows flew up into the sky and resumed their task of protecting Master Empty Cloud from the scorching sun. They did not leave us until we had all safely returned to his cow shed. Then they all just flew away. The Master then said, “Today you were worried that the sun would be too hot?” The six of us who had carried the Master had to stop ourselves from laughing. We told the Master, “Your presence inspired the crows to form a shady canopy to protect you from the sun so the heat was not as bad as we thought it would be”. One day Empty Cloud’s cow shed caught fire and this damaged the kitchen wall at the end of the building. It had to be shored up with two supports while the dirt wall was hammered back into place. Then, just as the wall was being repaired, dark clouds appeared in the sky. Those doing the repairs were worried that if the rain came too soon the mud wall would collapse as it had not had time to fully dry out and solidify. The four workers saw Empty Cloud sitting in the doorway and went up to him. The leader of the group knelt down and asked the Master whether he could stop the rain from falling on the repaired wall as it had not yet fully set dry. Empty Cloud looked up at the sky but remained silent. Then he got up and went back into his room. In a short time, the storm started, blowing strong winds and heavy rain to the west of the hut. The rain fell about five feet from the wall and continued for around an hour. Although the rain dripped from the roof and around the hut, not a drop of rain touched the newly repaired wall. After the storm was over, the four workmen were so happy they ran up to the Master and made bows of gratitude and thanks. Master Empty Cloud just remained silent. In mid-May 1957, the rice paddy fields had just been planted with seedlings and then the area suffered from several days of very heavy and continuous rain fall. The mountain became flooded and the Anyao or Peaceful Joy Bridge was swept away. The mountain streams burst their banks and the mud and stones threatened to slide down on to the paddy fields. Around lunch time Master Empty Cloud was seen by Master Hongqing walking along in the wind and rain wearing only his robe and straw sandals towards the paddy fields, so he ran after Empty Cloud taking an umbrella along. Strangely, when Master Hongqing caught up he saw that instead of the flood water flowing down into the paddy fields, it was actually flowing away from the area, toward the east side of the mountain. Even stranger than this, the flood waters appeared to be flowing upward rather than downhill. That was how the new seedlings escaped from being buried by the mud or swept away by the flood water. Empty Cloud then walked to the Fo-yin or Buddha Seal Bridge and just stood there. Master Hongqing caught up with him and asked why he had gone into such a great storm on his own, taking such a risk. Empty Cloud said, “I am not as important as the many acres of rice fields that are vulnerable and at risk of being swept away by the floods. These fields need protecting”. We saw that the old Master’s robe had very few drops of rain on it and that only his straw sandals were wet. When an enlightened Master walks through a storm, even the water seems to give way. Whether walking, standing, sitting or lying, Empty Cloud was always dignified. He moved swiftly like the wind. He stood tall like a tree. He sat up just like a bell. And he lay down neatly like a bow placed on the ground. When he walked he had an elegant and dignified stride with his hands hanging down by his side. He used to say, “When the mind follows the correct Dharma, the body is aligned and not crooked. A straight body has a shadow that is not bent. In other words, a dignified upright body casts a straight shadow. This is because the mind is continuous and straight”. He also personally ordained many thousands of people and had probably over one million students in both China and many other countries during his long life. These included high ranking members of the Communist Government, the Imperial family and The King of Thailand.
Masters 119th year. 1958-1958
Later, the local government opened a forestry department on the mountain which confiscated the surrounding cultivated fields. They also confiscated the Master’s cow shed and drove him out. He telegraphed the government in Beijing and it was returned, so then the forestry commission held a grudge against him and gave him much hassle soon afterwards. In June, the new forestry commission cancelled the 1953 agricultural contract and sent a few dozen men to reclaim all the land. Master Empty Cloud once again got in touch with the central government but the political situation at the time was getting out of control and the Master was forced to give back the land. On September 15th 1959 the chief of police, Zhang Jianmin, came with his officers to the Master’s cow shed to search it, then dug up the ground outside. They found nothing incriminating; however they took all the documents and letters from the Beijing government and also the account books and other paperwork. They refused to return them despite repeated requests. On October 16th the Master called everybody to a meeting in the main hall to tell them what had happened. Then the old Master suddenly become very ill and he could no longer prostrate in front of the Buddha statue without help. Everybody could see that he would not live for much longer.