Chicken Foot Mountain, Yunnan Province
My 66th year 1907 1908
In the spring I received an invitation from the Abbot of Stone Bell Monastery to transmit the precepts to over eight hundred people. After this I set off to collect money to restore Chicken Foot Mountain. When I got to Tai Bing Monastery at South Sky or Nantian, in Yunnan province, I gave lectures on the Amitabha Sutra. Whilst there several hundred people became my disciples. Then, walking on mountainous tracks through tribal areas, I reached Burma, arriving at Mandalay. However, I had contracted malaria on route and it was getting serious. I managed to make it to Kwan Yin Monastery at Willow Cave or Liu Dong. A Chinese monk, Still Suchness or Ding Ru, lived there. I bowed to him but I was just ignored, so I went to the meditation hall and sat. Later that day, during the evening chanting, he took the leading position (wei nar) during the chanting, whilst I took the job on the drum and suspension bell. At the end of the repentance and reform section, he shouted, ‘Kill, Kill, Kill!’ and then, making three final prostrations, he left the hall. The next morning, after the chanting he once more shouted, ‘Kill, Kill, Kill!’. I wondered about him and so stayed on to learn more. For breakfast, lunch and supper he had food with garlic, onions and milk. (Chinese Buddhist monks and nuns are not allowed to eat garlic, leeks, chives, spring onions or onions, and Master Xu Yun was a vegan.) So I ate nothing, kept quiet and only drank water. He knew the reason so asked for me to be fed rice and congee without garlic, onions or milk, so that now I could eat. A week later he invited me to tea, so I asked him, ‘Why do you chant ‘Kill, Kill, Kill!’?’ He said, ‘Kill the foreigners. I am from Hunan province. My father was an army officer. After he died I went to the mountain island, Pu To Shan, and learnt the Buddhist teachings. I took refuge with Master Zhu Chan who taught me painting. Ten years before that I had been on a boat journey from Hong Kong to Singapore. I was treated very badly by some foreigners then and it was so unbearable that I will never forgive them as long as I live. I now sell paintings that are treasured by the locals so I have had an easy life for the last ten years. Most monks who pass by here are proud and pompous. Rare is it to find somebody such as you, so untroubled and at such peace with the whole world. This is why I am telling you my true story.’ He refused to stop his hatred towards foreigners despite my having tried to persuade him to treat everybody equally. Slowly recovering from my malaria I went to leave but he insisted on keeping me there. I then told him about how I was collecting money to rebuild my new monastery. He donated money and provisions and then bought me a train ticket to Rangoon, and telegraphed Upasika (the title for a lay man who has taken the Buddhist precepts) Gao Wang Bang to meet me at the station. The monk, Still Suchness, was so polite, wishing me good luck as I left. Soon after arriving at Rangoon train station I was meet by Upasika Gao Wang Bang and all of his family. Superintendent Xing Yuan and monks from the Dragon Flower Monastery were also there to meet me. I was put up at Mr Gao’s home and treated as a greatly honoured guest. He then told me that the Venerable Master, Wonderful Lotus or Miao Lian, had been there (he was Empty Cloud’s Higher Ordination Master), saying that he said he had not heard anything about me for a long time. He had been there on pilgrimage to the Golden Pagoda (Swedagon) and a few other places. He said, ‘He is now waiting for you in the Ultimate Bliss or Ji Lou Monastery’. I was then taken to a boat and a telegram was sent to tell them I was on my way. Unfortunately, as the ship docked, one of the passengers on board had died of plague. (The plague, Yersinia Pestis, had broken out in 1894 in Asia. Carried by fleas on rats, it killed up to 80% of those infected. Bacteriologists in Hong Kong were working all that time to try to understand it. Usually, it kills within four to seven days. Symptoms include giddiness, excited wild talking, high temperature, swollen glands and bleeding under the skin. It reached England five years later, in 1910.) So, a yellow Quarantine Flag was hoisted. Over one thousand passengers were quarantined on an open hill. We endured the hot sun during the day and that night it rained. We were given a bowl of rice and two carrots a day to cook for ourselves. A doctor came twice a day to examine us. After one week, half of the passengers were allowed off the hill and then, on the tenth day, everybody was allowed to go except for me. Left alone on the hill, I became very impatient. I was so miserable and ill, and I could no longer eat. A doctor came on the eighteenth day and he then sent me to an empty house. I was happy to be sent there. There was an old watchman there whom I questioned. Sighing he told me, ‘This room is for the dying. You were sent for a post mortem’. I explained that I was trying to get to Ultimate Bliss or Ji Lou Monastery. Touched by this, he prepared me some Shen Qu (Chinese medicine made with fermented bran, wheat flower and herbs: good for stomach and gall bladder meridians). Next day, I felt a bit better after taking the second dose. He then said to me, ‘When you hear my warning – I will cough as the doctor returns – try to look as well as possible, but don’t take any of the medication he might give you’. But the doctor soon came and mixed some medicine with water, then forced me to drink it. I had no choice. The watchman was very worried and said, ‘You will die soon. He will come back tomorrow and dissect you. I had given you medicine hoping for the Buddha’s protection’. The following morning, when the watchman returned I was sitting on the ground. Although my eyes were open I had gone temporarily blind. Helping me up, he saw blood where I had been sitting. He then gave me some more medicine and some clean clothes. After cleaning up the floor and sighing he said, ‘Anybody else drinking that doctor’s medicine would have been cut open before he had finished breathing. However, because of the Buddha’s protection your fate is not to die here. At nine o’clock the doctor is due once more. I will cough again as a signal for you to pretend to be well’. The doctor came, then smiling he pointed his finger at me and left. Asking the watchman why the doctor smiled, he told me that it was not my fate to die now. I asked him to give the doctor the money I had received from Upasika Gao. So I quickly gave the old watchman sixty kwai (Chinese currency): forty for the doctor and twenty for himself, which he refused. He said that tomorrow the doctor would be European and could not be bribed, but the day after he would be a Karen and we could pay him off. Later that evening, he returned to say that the Karen doctor had been paid twenty-four kwai for my release. I felt relieved, so thanked the old watchman. After the Karen doctor called, a boat was ordered to take me across the bay. The old watchman helped me aboard. When we docked, a car came and took me to the Guang Fu Hall. There the guest master just left me for two hours because I looked such a mess. My feelings were mixed – happy to have escaped death and sad that I was being ignored by the guest master. Eventually the head monk, an old monk of my acquaintance called Jue Kong, came. I said, ‘I am the humble monk Xu Yun’, prostrating to him I was unable to get up. He helped me up into a chair. He said, ‘We had a telegram from Upasika Gao and we have all been waiting and worrying. What happened to you?’ Then suddenly the hall was crowded with old and young monks. It felt like it was ‘a warm home in spring time’. Soon the old Abbot Wonderful Lotus or Miao Lian also arrived declaring, ‘I have been waiting for your news. I have been worrying daily. I feared you might be in danger. I did wish to return to Tortoise Mountain Monastery in Fujian to start repairs, but as I heard you were on the way here I waited’. We chatted for a long time. I told him the delay was entirely my fault and then I explained what had happened to me. Impressed, everybody begged me to tell the full story. Then everybody bowed with palms pressed together and we all went to the Ultimate Bliss or Ji Luo Monastery. Encouraged by the Abbot to take some medicine, I told him that ‘as I have returned home (my true spiritual home), so my false thinking has ceased. All I need is some rest for a few days’. After that the Abbot noticed that when I sat in meditation it was for several days’ duration each time. He then gave me this warning: ‘The weather here is different from Chinese weather. I worry that sitting for so long might harm you.’ However, I felt that my meditation style was fine. The old Abbot then asked me to lecture on the Lotus Sutra whilst there. He said he was going back to China and asked me that, when I had finished lecturing, I go to Drum Mountain and not return straight to Yunnan as he still had something that he wished to tell me. I took the old Abbot to the dock to catch a ship, and then returned to the monastery to start on the lectures. After the lectures had finished, a few hundred people became my disciples. Then, Buddhists in Malacca invited me to lecture on the Medicine Buddha Sutra at the Quan Yun Monastery. After that, I moved on to Kuala Lumpur where more lay Buddhists asked me to lecture on the Lankavatara Sutra at Spirit Mountain or Ling Shan Monastery. During this period, lecturing in cities in Malaysia, the number of people who chose to become my disciples was over ten thousand. That winter a telegram came from Yunnan. It represented the entire Buddhist community there in that province. It said that the government intended to tax all property owned by the Buddhist monasteries. Also, I received another telegram from Ningbo, sent by Master Ji Chuan and others, urging me to return to China as soon as possible. I stayed on in Kuala Lumpur over the Chinese New Year.
My Sixty-Seventh Year 1906 – 1907
That spring I left by ship for China. On the way the ship docked in Taiwan and I visited Magic Spring or Ling Quan Monastery. The ship next docked in Japan where I visited a few Buddhist Monasteries. I had wanted to set up a Chinese/Japanese Buddhist Association there but, because of the political situation where Chinese monks were closely followed in Japan and Japanese priests could not travel to China, this humble monk failed. In March the boat docked at Shanghai where I met Master Ji Chuan and other members from the Buddhist Association. Then I went straight to Beijing with our petition to hand into the government. I stayed at the Good Worthy or Xian Ling Monastery. We were welcomed by the Director of Buddhist Affairs, the Master Peaceful Dharma or Fa An, and some other monks. At that time, The Prince Su Shan Qi (Minister of the Interior, 1907-11, lived 1863-1921) asked me to explain and transmit the Buddhist precepts to his wife. Then other princes and high officials called on me to help frame and present our petition. I already knew these members of the Imperial family and the Mandarins (from the time when we had fled together from Beijing west to Xian in 1900). As these protectors of the Dharma were all helpful, there were no problems. Responding to our petition, an Imperial Decree was given ‘that all of the taxes on monasteries and their properties were to be abolished and that they must be protected’. Then, staying on in Beijing, I spent time with the Dharma protectors and explained that no copy of the Buddhist Cannon or Tripitaka had been presented to Yunnan province since the Ching Dynasty had been founded. I pointed out that it would be good if such a province so far from the capital could receive the benefit of the Dharma. This was endorsed by Prince Su who helped to get the Minister of the Interior to present the Emperor with a petition. On June 6th, the petition was presented and an Imperial Decree was issued on July 20th:
Imperial Decree the 32nd year of Emperor Guang Zu’s Reign
The Emperor takes delight in presenting the complete Imperial Tripitaka to Ying Xiang Monastery on Bao Yu summit of Chicken Foot Mountain, Yunnan Province. Additionally, the title ‘Grand Master of the Buddha’s Compassion and Vast Dharma’ is awarded to Venerable Master Xu Yun. Also, a purple kessa (see the about us page on this site for a photo of it), a bowl, a tin staff, a jade seal, an ‘As you Wish’ sceptre and a imperial sedan chair. Xu Yun is now ordered to return to Chicken Foot Mountain to transmit the Buddhist precepts for the benefit of both the nation and its citizens. The Interior Minister is called to present these gifts to Master Xu Yun and to explain this decree. Then Master Xu Yun is to return to the Mountain as its guardian and to propagate the Buddha Dharma. All officers and residents in the area are ordered to obey this Decree and to protect the monasteries and any irreverent behaviour is forbidden.) So my application for the entire Buddhist Cannon or Tripikata was successful. I received a letter from Drum Mountain written by Master Wonderful Lotus or Miao Lian. It said that ‘whilst taking the Tripitaka to Yunnan you must pass through Amoy or Xiamen. Please leave it there so you can come straight here to Drum Mountain to see me’. I was helped very much by friends of the Dharma to transport the large Buddhist cannon from Beijing to Shanghai and then Amoy. The year was nearly over so I stayed in Beijing to pass the New Year there.
My Sixty-Eight Year 1907 – 1908
That January, Masters Wen Ji and Chuan Dao helped me to travel from Shanghai to Amoy with the Tripitaka. When I got there I received a telegram informing us that Master Wonderful Lotus or Miao Lien had passed away on Drum or Gu Mountain. Monks from all the Amoy monasteries had gone to Drum Mountain for the funeral and cremation ceremony. A stupa for his relics was held in a small hall awaiting a decision on where to site it. I went straight to Drum Mountain to supervise the pagoda’s construction and to head the ceremonies. I was so busy, but on April 10th the pagoda’s construction was complete. But there was non stop torrential rain for fifteen days. It made everybody anxious. On May 8th, after transmitting the Bodhisattva precepts, the rain stopped. On the 9th the weather was good and so a large number of people came. On the 10th the Stupa containing my Ordination Master Wonderful Lotus’s ashes was entombed in the pagoda. There, on an open terrace with one hundred tables of food offerings, everybody congregated for Sutra recitation. After prayers the food conversion mantra (Na mo sa wa ta to yeh do. Wa lu chih ti an. San po la san po la hung) was chanted and a sudden whirlwind levitated all of the food offerings up off the tables. Simultaneously a bright red light beam shone up out of the Stupa to the top of the pagoda. Everybody gave praise for such rare things. After the entombment ceremony torrential rain again fell as we returned to the Monastery. Only half of the Sharia and ashes had been sent to the Stupa. The other half were taken to Penang’s Ultimate Bliss or Ji Luo monastery. I personally saw these two special events which happened as I was performing rituals. This is why it is said ‘Responses from rituals are mysterious’. I knew almost nothing about the life or practice of Master Wonderful Lotus. He did not favour any technique but concentrated on repairing run down monasteries. He liked to meet and convert to Buddhism all who came to stay in them. After he had ordained me there had been almost no contact. His last meeting with me seemed to indicate that he had had a premonition of the date of his death. I felt as though I had not done enough to repay him. I only tell my story here; you must draw your own conclusions.
Then I boarded a boat bound for the ‘Kwan Yin Tower’ at Dan Na. There I gave lectures on the Heart Sutra. Then I boarded a boat bound for Thailand. As there was no vegetarian food I sat in lotus posture for most of the time. A western man was watching me and then came over and asked me in Chinese where I was going to. I replied, ‘Yunnan’. He then invited me to his cabin for some milk and cakes. I politely had to say no (as the Master was a vegan). Then he asked, ‘Where are you based in Yunnan?’ I said, ‘On Cock’s Foot Mountain at Ying Xiang’. In reply he said, ‘There, the monastic discipline has a very high standard’. ‘Why did you go there?’ I asked. He went on to tell me that he was the British Consul for Thengyue and Kunming in Yunnan and he liked visiting monasteries. Then he asked me why I had left China. I said that I was taking the Tripitaka to Yunnan. As I did not have enough money for this I had gone to Kuala Lumpur to solicit donations on route. He then asked me if I had any official documents. Showing him the documents and donation book, he then wrote down a three thousand Chinese dollar donation (approximately six months of his wages). This was a very remarkable meeting. Then he asked me to eat rice and vegetables together with him. After the boat docked in Thailand we said goodbye. I went to stay at Long Kan Monastery. There I lectured on the Ti Tsang Wang or Earth Store Bodhisattva Sutra and it was during this time that the British Consul came to give me the three thousand Chinese dollars he had pledged. I needed tens of thousands of Chinese dollars to build the Hall to contain the Tripitaka on Cock’s Foot Mountain. His was the first substantial donation. After concluding lectures on the Heart Sutra I went on to lecture on the Universal Gateway Chapter from the Lotus Sutra to a few hundred people. Then, sitting in meditation, once again I slipped into an unplanned Samadhi, forgetting about the lectures. I sat unmoving for nine days. News spread. The King of Thailand came with his ministers and lay people to pay reverence. I came out of this deep Samadhi state and continued with my lectures. The King then asked me to go to his palace to recite sutras once again. Afterwards he gave me many offerings, and then he asked me if he could become a personal disciple of mine. Several thousand others also asked and became my students. The Samadhi experience which had lasted nine days had left my legs numb and it was hard to walk. Soon I could hardly move and could not even hold chopsticks so I had to be fed by others. Both Western and Chinese doctors were called and they tried giving medicine, acupuncture and burning moxia but nothing helped. I could not see and could only just whisper, and there was nothing else anybody could do. I, however, stayed unconcerned as I had already let go of attachment to my physical body. There was a banker’s draft sewn inside the folded collar of my robe and nobody knew. If I died, the Tripitaka could not be taken to Yunnan or the hall to keep it in be built. I cried and prayed to Mahyakasyapa( the first patriarch of the Chan sect & the Buddha’s senior disciple) to help me. Master Wonderful Perfection or Miao Yuan who had lived on the Zhong Nan Mountain with me was there and saw my lips move and the tears in my eyes. He came over and listened closely. I asked for tea to stimulate me so that I could continue the prayers to Mahyakasyapa. After the tea I fell asleep. I had a dream about an old man who resembled Mahyakasyapa sitting next to my bed. He told me, ‘Monk, keep the precepts and use your folded robe and begging bowl as a pillow and everything will be fine’. I did this and the vision faded. I sweated all over and felt happiness beyond description. My speech was returning so I asked Master Miao Yuan to pray at the Protector of the Dharma or Wei To’s Shrine for a prescription. He was given a prescription of just bat faeces and Mu Jieh (Chinese herbal medicine which clears the liver meridian and helps the eyes). After taking this I could soon see and speak once more. Then Miao Yuan prayed for another prescription which was red lentils and rice porridge and nothing else. Two days later I was regaining movement. Then a third prescription was given – just red lentil soup. After that, I could manage to stool. It was as black as lacquer. Little by little, I recovered and gradually I was getting up, and then walking again. This illness had lasted over three weeks and I gave thanks to all who had helped me. Miao Yuan had so kindly nursed me day and night. It was all very moving. I went to the shrine of Wei To to thank him. I made a vow to him that each time I rebuilt a monastery, a shrine to him would also be built there. I then used the fortune telling sticks myself this time, several shakes of them, and they predicted good fortune was on the way. Having recovered, I resumed lectures, this time on ‘The awakening of Faith Shastra’. After this, Masters Good Reverence or Shan Jin and Precious Moon or Bao Yue came from Penang to take me back to the Ultimate Bliss Monastery. The King of Thailand came with his ministers and many Buddhists to see me off. They donated a huge sum of money and gifts. The King also gave 4,500 acres of land which I handed to Ultimate Bliss Monastery. I asked its Abbot Shan Jin to build a rubber factory on it to generate money to help everybody there. I stayed on the factory site over the New Year.
My Sixty-Ninth Year 1908 – 1909
In the spring, together with Master Wholesome Rejoice I went to the Kwan Yin Monastery which he had built in Selangor. Then we went back to the Ultimate Bliss Monastery. There I began a new series of Sutra lectures: ‘The Awakening of Faith’, Samanthabhadras’s ‘Conduct and Vows’ and the conclusion of the ‘Flower Adornment Sutra’. On the way a huge number of people had become my disciples and all of my time was spent receiving visitors. At the conclusion of lectures at Ultimate Bliss Monastery, I went into isolation (a sealed room) for meditation, passing the New Year there.
My Seventieth Year 1909 – 1910
Upasika Gao Wan Bing was there to meet us when we arrived in Rangoon. I stayed at his house for just over one month. Then we went together to Mandalay. In Rangoon, Mr Gao had bought a jade statue of the Buddha Shakyamuni in a reclining posture. He wished to contribute it to Zhu Sheng Monastery. After the boat journey to Xin Jei, I stopped at the Kwan Yin Hall to hire pack horses to take the Tripitaka and jade reclining Buddha statue back to Cock’s Foot Mountain. More than three hundred horses were needed to carry the Tripitaka, but the statue was too heavy for horses to carry. As we could not find men to carry it with us we had to leave it at the Kwan Yin Pagoda. The idea was to come back for it a few years later. Mr Gao arranged everything. It didn’t matter to him how much money or time was needed. He spent over forty days making all the arrangements. He was the sort of man who would have been almost impossible to replace. The caravan procession consisting of three hundred horses and about one thousand men set off, passing through Tengyue and Xiaguan, on their way to Cock’s Foot Mountain. All along the route, especially in the towns, people thronged to welcome the caravan. After we arrived at The Long Life or Wan Shou Monastery in Tungyue, as I was talking with Zhang Sun Lin, the province’s governor, a brown cow came into the hall and knelt in front of us with tears in her eyes. She was soon followed by her owner Yang Sheng Chang and a few others. Yang was a butcher and told the cow, ‘If you want your life, take refuge in the three jewels (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha)‘. We saw the cow nodding. I then taught the cow the words for taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Then we helped this placid cow get up, as it displayed such human qualities. I took some money from my pocket and offered it to Mr Yang the butcher but, refusing it and being so moved by what had happened, he promised to change his job and asked to become a Buddhist himself. The province’s governor Zhang was very impressed by the way the man had just changed, so helped him get a new job in a shop. All the way to Dali Prefecture there had been no rain but at Er Hai Lake there was thunder and lightning, and mist and waves rolled over the lake. Then there appeared rainbows with cloud formations which transformed the scenery to one of a magic landscape. People said that the lake’s dragon had come to welcome the Tripitaka. The Mandarin Li Jing Xi, the governor of Yunnan and Guizhou provinces, had come with many others who had been sent by an Imperial Order to meet the Tripitaka and to escort it on the last part of the caravan’s route. They personally saw the amazing transformations in the weather and put it down to the power of the Buddha Dharma. After resting for ten days in Dali Prefecture, then journeying on through Zai Guan and Zhao Zhou the caravan finally arrived in Binchuan province. We went straight on to the Zhu Sheng Monastery. The caravan’s journey and its delivery had passed by without a hitch. The trip had been one of peace and goodwill. Not a drop of rain had landed on the precious Tripikata which was now stored safely in the monastery’s main hall. We held an incense offering on the last day of the month. Our petition for the Tripitaka on Cock’s Foot Mountain had been a success.