Abbot of Cloud Perch Monastery and Collecting the Jade Buddha
My Seventy-Seventh Year 1916 – 1917
I wanted to bring back to China the Jade Buddha which Upasika Gao had given to me a few years before, so I went back to the South Seas for it. Hearing that the many tribes in the area were Buddhist, we just walked there, eventually reaching Rangoon, where I paid my respects to the Great Golden Pagoda. From there I went to Mr Gao’s house. I also gave Sutra lectures at the Dragon Flower or Long Hua Monastery. Then I boarded a boat to Singapore. When the boat docked a police officer announced, ‘We are arresting all revolutionaries on behalf of our friend, the President of the Republic of China, to help him to restore monarchy. All Chinese on board must be interrogated before disembarking’. They took hundreds of passengers off for interrogation to the police station; all were set free except for our group of six monks. They suspected us of being members of the Gwo Min Dang. Taken prisoner, we were tied up and beaten. They left us out in the hot sun. We were not allowed any movement and if we moved we got another beating. They gave us no food or drink, nor were we allowed to go to the toilet. This started at 6am and lasted until 8pm. Later, one of my students, Xiang Hongshen, and Mr Dong, a company manager, heard about this. They came to the police station and guaranteed that we were not revolutionaries, paying $5000 bail for each of us. We were then freed after our finger prints had been taken. We then had an invitation to Xiang Hongxheng’s warehouse. There we were kept right over the New Year holiday and then given help to get the Jade Buddha back to Yunnan.
My Seventy-Eighth Year 1917-1918
That spring we set off from the Kwan Yin Pavilion with the Jade Buddha. We had arranged to pay eight laborers once we arrived back at Chicken Foot Mountain. Our caravan trudged over rugged mountain tracks for several weeks. Then, one day the laborers put the Buddha down – they thought that it was stuffed full of paper money, gold and gems. They demanded pay several times greater than the agreed amount. I tried as best I could to calm them down. However, they got very noisy and aggressive, but it was obviously no good trying to reason with them. Then, looking at a big rock by the side of the trail, I smiled and asked, ‘Which weighs the most, the rock or the Buddha Statue?’ Together they replied, ‘The rock is two or three times heavier than the Buddha Statue’. Then, using both of my hands, I lifted the rock more than one foot off the ground. Astonished and speechless, they stuck out their tongues in amazement. Then they said, ‘Old Master, you really are a living Buddha’. The argument had ceased and after reaching Chicken Foot Mountain I rewarded them with a generous amount of money several times the original fee. Knowing that I was never strong enough to move the rock alone, I put it down to ‘Divine Assistance’. Then I went to the Precious Mountain or Bao Shan Monasteries to lecture on the Sutras.
My Seventy-Ninth Year 1918 -1919
The Governor Tang Jiyao had ordered the Binquan magistrate to come to the mountain together with his personal representative. They had a letter inviting me to Kunming. Refusing their offer of a military escort with a sudan chair, I just took my hat and staff and walked to the provincial capital with my student, Cultivation Complete, or Xiu Yuan. Then, at Chuxiong we ran into some warlords’ men who searched me and found the Governor’s letter of invitation. They wanted to beat and interrogate me. I said, ‘There is no need to beat me. Let me see your chief’. They took me to Yang-Tianfu and Wu-Wuxian. When they saw me they asked, ‘Who are you?’ I said, ‘A Chicken Foot monk’. They asked why I was going to Kunming. I replied that I was to perform some Buddhist ceremonies. When asked why, I explained it was to pray for the people’s welfare and an end to disasters. Mr Wu then said, ‘You have dealings with the Governor who is a bandit and a bad man’. I replied that it is hard to say if a man is good or not. ‘Why?’ I was asked what I meant so I replied that, ‘Looking at men’s good side they are all good, looking at their faults they are all bad’. ‘What do you mean?’ I was asked. I said, ’If you and Tang work together for the people’s benefit and all your men also do likewise, they are all good guys. However, if you and Tang are prejudiced and look at each other as bad, you will fight and people will suffer greatly. Uninvolved people will be dragged in to follow one side or the other. You will all then be bad and will become bandits. Both Wu and Tang started laughing. Wu said, ‘You’re right. What do you suggest?’ I said, ‘I think you should call a cease-fire’. ‘Do you want me to surrender?’ ‘No, not like that,’ I said, ‘but by calling for a cease-fire, all the country’s good men like you would only work for peace and would drop your prejudices. Wouldn’t that be a good thing?’ Wu then asked, ‘How do I start?’ I said, ‘With Tang’. Wu replied ‘With him! We only want revenge because he killed and detained many of my men.’ I said, ‘Please don’t get me wrong. What I mean is that Tang has the power to make real peace as he has a position in the central government. With regards to all the men killed, I am now going to Kunming especially to hold a Dharma meeting for all who have been killed in the fighting. Regarding prisoners, I will discuss with Governor Tang an amnesty which will help them. If you do not listen to what I say, the fighting will not stop and your future is not certain at all. Both you and Tang have means but he greatly outnumbers you. He also has the funding and access to reinforcements from the central government. I don’t ask for you to surrender. I have only come due to causes & conditions. Although I am only a monk with no power, I can use my tongue to help a cease-fire, thus helping the country and its people’. Deeply affected, Yang and Wu then asked me to negotiate for them. I told them that I was not qualified but that I would pass on their words to Tang. After consultation, they decided (1) the release of all their men held prisoner (2) the armies to be disbanded (3) to retain rank (4) to retain control of their own regiments (5) the past would be forgotten (6) everybody would be treated equally. I replied, ‘I feel Tang will agree when I talk with him. An official reply will be delivered to you from one of his top men’. ‘We thank you for your trouble,’ they said. ‘We are so sorry to have given you this trouble and really are so thankful to you’. ‘It’s nothing,’ I said, ‘as I was just happening to pass this way’. Yang and Wu then detained me to talk with them that evening. They wanted me to stay a few days but as I had no time I said goodbye the next morning. They gave an order for some of their men to escort me with food and carts which I refused – I just took some food. Around half a mile down the road a few men were kneeling down and they put their heads on the ground as I approached. I saw that they were the same guys who had beaten me the day before. They were crying and begged for forgiveness. I asked them to stop evil and to do only good deeds from now. Weeping they left. When I arrived at Kunming, Governor Tang had sent officials to greet me. He came to meet me at Yuan Tong monastery that evening. He said, ‘We haven’t met for a few years. Since then, my grandmother, father, brother and wife died one after another. It’s so distressing. Also, the place is infested with bandits who harm the locals everywhere in Yunnan. Because the spirits of the dead need comfort I want to do three things: first, to ask for Buddha protection, to avoid calamities and to pray for all killed; second, here at Yuan Tong I want to convert this small temple into a large monastery to spread the Buddha’s teaching. Lastly, I want to start a university to educate young people. Anybody can help set up the university but I need you to help me in the other things.’ I told him he had the mind of a Bodhisattva. I also said that I would be happy to perform the ceremonies, which were short and simple, but there were other good masters to help build a large monastery, though Yuan Tong was too small for this plan. He agreed with me, and then asked how to do the ceremonies for the dead. I told him, ‘Mind and Buddha are one thing. Because you request Buddhist ceremonies for the dead, I would like to suggest three things to you: stop the slaughter of animals at this time; second, call for an amnesty; lastly, help all those suffering people. Tang replied that he could do the first and the last but an amnesty was not within his power and that he would have to consult with the Ministry of Justice. Replying, I said, ‘The country now has so many problems that the central government cannot cope. If you can pull off this amnesty you will receive a divine blessing for the whole country’. After that, he nodded in agreement. Then I told him about the two bandits, Yang and Wu, whom I had run into on the way there. I suggested pardon for all his men who were still prisoners to help convert them to peace. Tang liked this and started to arrange it straight away. At the end of the year Upasakas, Ou Yang, Jing Wu and Lu Quiyi came to Kunming to collect money for the Shanghai Dharma study centre. As they were also staying at the Yuan Tong temple I asked them to lecture on the Mahayana Samparigraha Sastras. I stayed in Kunming for the New Year holiday.
My Eightieth Year 1919 -1920
In Kunming that spring, at the temple of ‘Lost Patriarchs’, the seven shrines were set up for the ‘Liberation Rite of Water and Land’ (A large, complicated and expensive ceremony first originated by the Master’s ancestor, Emperor Liang Wu Di, after he had a dream. It is thought to assist the dead.) An amnesty was proclaimed and the killing of animals for food was stopped. Two officials were dispatched to the warlords, Yang and Wu, to discuss peace and a post as commanders. From then on, they remained loyal to the government. Quite amazingly, when we started the ceremony the flames on the candles transformed into the shape of lotus flowers, literally dazzling our eyes. The devotees crowded around to watch. Just before the meeting’s 49th day, there appeared in the clouds above us jewelled banners and canopies. The whole city’s population witnessed this. They came to bow and pay respect. After the Dharma meeting I was invited to the governor’s house. There I chanted sutras for the dead in his family. He again saw auspicious signs that made him a firm believer in the Buddha Dharma and his entire household also became converts to the Buddha.
My Eighty-First Year 1920 -1921
That spring I was again requested by Governor Tang to hold another ‘Liberation of Water and Land’ ceremony for the dead. Afterwards I also gave lectures on the Sutras. There was a monastery called the Flower Pavilion or Hua Ting Monastery on Western Hill at Kunming, set in a beautiful location. However the resident monks had let it go to rack and ruin. Now they wished to sell it to some Europeans for a club house. They had already got planning permission for this. Saddened, I had a word with Governor Tang. I asked him to preserve this special place. After hearing me, he talked in secret with other officials, including Wang Juiling and Zhang Juexian, who invited me to a vegetarian banquet. Then they handed me an invitation, written on red paper, to become the new Abbot of the Flower Pavilion Monastery. They asked three times and then I agreed. Later that year Zhang Juexian brought a goose and a gander for ‘Releasing Life’ at Cloud Perch or Yun Xi Monastery. They asked me to teach them the refuge verses and the birds silently bowed whilst I recited them. Afterwards, they both stood up straight and seemed happy, and then they followed the monks to the main hall to listen to sutra recitation. This went on for three years and when the monks walked in procession they followed. They were loved by all at the monastery. One day the goose went to the main hall’s door, standing still for a while and then went in circumambulation of the hall three times. Then, soon after looking up at the Buddha statues she died. Her feathers remained fresh after being placed in a box to be buried. Bereaved, the gander did not stop from cackling, and then he refused food and would not swim. He just stood at the front of the main hall looking at the statues of the Buddha. Soon after he spread his wings and died. He was also placed in a box and buried together with his mate.
(Cen Xue Lu comments here: ‘That autumn Gu-Binzhen, the Yunnan army commander, planned to overthrow Governor Tang who still commanded twenty regiments. Tang, respecting the Master, asked him what to do. The master said, “You may have won over the people’s hearts but you have not got the army on board. If a fight starts, nobody can win. Our neighbours will take advantage and invade Yunnan. You should go away now and come back when things cool down”. Tang resigned and handed over to Gu Binzhen. He then he went to Hong Kong. Ten years ago the master told me this.’)
My Eighty-Second Year 1921 – 1922
So that spring Gu Binzhen became the new governor of Yunnan Province. From February until August it rained nonstop; boats sailed in the capital Kunming’s streets. Daily at the city’s gate tower, the clouds were shot at with big guns in an attempt to stop the rain. After August the rain stopped and then a hot drought began. In the autumn there was a diphtheria epidemic which killed several thousand people. That winter in the river bed there was only dust. This was unprecedented in Yunnan. I was staying at that time at the Flower Pavilion Temple with likeminded practitioners. Everything had come to a halt. One day I went to the city. Returning that afternoon I took a rest underneath a tree. There, I discovered a parcel. Inside were gold, jade bracelets, gold hairpins, earrings and a watch. Also, there were 8,000 Yunnan dollars, together with more than $10,000 in other currency. Waiting there for somebody to come and claim it I sat on into the sunset. Then, as I was still far from the Flower Pavilion Temple I took the parcel and walked back. I thought that I would return to the tree next day and put a notice in the local newspaper to try and find the owner. Then, just as I got to the foot of the mountain and was just starting to cross the lake, I saw a girl jump into the water. I jumped in to try and save her as she was drowning. Refusing my help she put up a struggle, determined to end her life. I managed to force her out of the water. Then I compelled her to go back to the temple. It was dark when we got there. She was given dry clothes but she refused any food. She was unable to speak for a while but then she eventually told us that she was eighteen and born in Yunnan. She came from Changsha. She said she was the only child of a Mr and Mrs Zhu, Chinese medicine shop owners in Fuchun Street. Then she told us her story. One day, Divisional Commander Sun stopped at their home. He said he was single and asked permission for marriage. Believing this, her parents accepted but later found out he was already married. She had been cheated and it was too late to do anything. The cruel first wife often beat her. Her parents were frightened of Commander Sun’s power. His parents tried to help but it was no use. ‘I lost the will to live,’ she said. ‘I took a lot of valuables with the idea of escaping to Chicken Foot Mountain to find Master Empty Cloud and ordain as a nun.’ She had walked for two days. Because she was frightened that men sent by her husband would catch up with her and because she did not know the road, she had panicked, ran and lost her parcel. She felt that there was no other way but to end her life. Asking her about the lost parcel’s contents, she confirmed what I had found. Comforting her, I asked an assistant to explain the three fold refuge formula to the girl. The next day I contacted both the families, Zhu and Sun. Both families had more than a dozen members. I called them to the Temple and taught them about Buddhism. Then, kneeling before the Buddha statue, Commander Sun with his first wife embraced each other, weeping and vowing repentance. Everybody was deeply touched and all of them, both old and young, stayed on at the Temple for three days, receiving the precepts and converting to Buddhism