Abbot of Cloud Perch Monastery or the Flower Pavilion. Kunming.
My Eighty-Third Year 1922 -1923
That spring the Flower Pavilion monastery was reconstructed. At Emerald Bird Mountain, which lies to the west of Kunming, is a lake. King Asoka’s second son visited the place and saw a flock of Emerald Phoenix. This determined him to live there and practise the Buddha Dharma and so he became enlightened – hence the mountain’s name and he is known as ‘The Spirit of the Emerald Bird’. In the Yuan dynasty (1280-1367) a temple was built there by the flat- sided peaks. Later, Chan Master Xuan Feng, an enlightened student of Zhong Feng (1263-1323), constructed the Complete Enlightenment or Yuan Jue Temple. Later it was renamed after all the flowers that grew on the mountain around the Flower Pavilion. A couple of years previously, when the foreigners in Yunnan almost bought it, I had blocked the sale by persuading Governor Tang to buy it. That’s when I was asked to become its Abbot. During the renovation we dug up an undated ancient stele which read ‘Cloud Perch’ or ‘Yun Xi’. It was put at the top of the Ocean Meeting or Hai Hui Stupa where the ashes of dead Buddhist followers were stored. Chen Xiaofu swapped his own flower garden for the old Victory Cause or Sheng Yin Monastery site; it was used as a forestry college as we wanted to rebuild the Flower Pavilion’s second temple’s main hall and dormitories. A new temple was also constructed at the foot of the mountain called Recruiting Issue or Zhao Di Temple. The village there also took this name. Behind the mountain was thick forest where we collected firewood. One day a parcel was discovered. Inside were gold and silver coins worth more than $20,000. I thought we could use it as a relief fund and give it to the local government, but the others wanted to use it as money to help the financially struggling monastery. I told them, ‘Our rules state that we monks are not allowed to claim others’ money. We were already wrong in picking up the parcel. If we keep it, it would be an ‘offence’. You can donate in your own name to make merit, however I do not dare to keep this lost money for our Monastery’. The others were in agreement so we gave the parcel to the government for relief work. Yunnan province was then suffering from a drought that had started the year before and the people who had died from diphtheria could not be counted. Every single person from the top of the army to the ordinary peasant remembered Governor Tang’s high virtue and invited him back again to run the province. He came to the Monastery to ask for rain. I set up an offering table and three days later it rained and rained, the first time for five months. Diphtheria was still rampant. Governor Tang said, ‘They say snow can halt the diphtheria epidemic. But this is near the end of spring so how could it snow?’ In reply I again set up an offering table and asked him to pray for snow. He also fasted and I lead the chanting with all my heart. The next day we had over one foot of snow and the diphtheria epidemic was over. Everybody there praised the inconceivable Buddha Dharma. (Kunming’s weather is some of the mildest in China. It is situated at 1,900 metres above sea level but it sometimes does have these freak snow storms.)
My Eighty-Fourth Year 1923 -1924
We dug the foundations for the Stupa for the ashes of cremated Buddhists. Then, digging more than ten feet deep, we found a coffin. On it was written, ‘Miss Li, died 1525′. Her complexion was as if still alive. We cremated the body which transformed into flames looking like lotus flowers. Her ashes were interned with the other Buddhists. The other tombs were also exhumed and the remains cremated and kept in the Stupa. One of the tombs was that of a monk Master Way Bright or Dao Ming (1821-1850), he had been sent to the Monastery by his parents. After becoming ordained he made his practice both repentance and Buddha name recitation. His legs were disabled (by rickets). One evening he had a dream in which he was asked to bath by Kwan Yin Bodhisattva, and after that his legs felt very comfortable. In the morning he could get out of bed like everybody else and he could now walk properly. His own self-wisdom had also opened up; he kept chanting ‘Kwan Yin Pu Sa’ for the rest of his life. His coffin lid had been marked by white ants; they had eaten a clear seven-storied pagoda pattern into it. This showed his excellent practice.
My Eighty-Fifth Year 1924 -1925
All the sixteen stupas on the mountain were repaired that year including the one dedicated to ‘The Seven Ancient Buddhas’. Also, in the Monastery, Buddha statues and the five hundred Arahat statues were all completed. At the Victory Cause Monastery we had cast three Buddha statues for the main hall and clay statues were sculptured for the ‘Western Paradise’ shrine. That spring the monk Zhu Xing passed away after receiving the full precepts. I made a record of his story: The Story of the Chan monk Zhu Sing The monk, Container Practice or Xhu Xing, came from Huili. As a child he was orphaned. He was fostered by a Mr Ceng, later marrying his daughter. They were very poor, with two sons. When I arrived at Chicken Foot Mountain his whole family of eight were working at the Monastery. Then, in 1909, when I returned there with the Tripitaka I transmitted to him the five precepts. The next year, when he was twenty-one, both he and his complete family begged to leave home. (The lower or Samanera ordination) He was deaf, illiterate and he had an ugly face; he worked in the vegetable garden during the day as a kind of hard practice and was dedicated to Kwan Yin Bodhisattva invocation practice in the evening. He also practised sitting meditation and he also tried to read Sutras from time to time. He never asked for any help. He just worked hard at the practice. Then, in 1915, he asked my permission to go and visit some other Chan teachers in other locations. In 1920 I met him again at the Cloud Perch Monastery where he again became a gardener. He could by then read the sutras in the main hall. He also made clothing in his spare time and he made bamboo baskets etc. which he gave away to anybody. He also gave away the extra vegetables to create a good merit. He did not speak unless he needed to. During my stay at the Fallen Heroes or Sheng Yin monastery I saw this wonderful work in the vegetable gardens. That year, as I transmitted the precepts elsewhere on the mountain, he came and asked me to confirm his progress. Then he took the higher precepts (full ordination for a monk). On March 29th, after the noon meditation he put on his formal robes in a courtyard behind the main hall and sat in lotus on a pile of straw. Facing west, he chanted the Buddha’s name with one hand holding and ringing the hand bell and the other hand striking the wooden fish. He then set fire to the straw. The dozens of people staying at the Monastery did not know this, but when they saw the haze of the fire they went to investigate. They saw the monk in the rear courtyard; there, they discovered him sitting on top of the ashes, motionless. The handle of the hand bell and the wooden fish had burnt away but his robes had not been burnt. I was getting ready to transmit the Bodhisattva precepts in September as I got the news, so I was too busy to go down the mountain. But I wrote to two officials, Mr Wong and Mr Zhang, to ask them to see to the funeral for me. On witnessing this unusual event they went and told Governor Tang, and he came with his complete family to have a look. The hand bell was removed from the monk’s hand and then the body collapsed into a heap of ashes. Everybody who saw this was full of praise for the Buddha Dharma. The Governor arranged with the local government for a three day funeral which was attended by several thousand people. Afterwards, he recorded the story which was kept at the provincial library.
My Eighty-Sixth Year 1925 – 1926
That year, the transmission of precepts over, I gave Sutra lectures and then we held one week of Chan meditation. On the Monastery’s land there were a lot of trees that needed felling and I called the villagers to help us. We gave them half of the timber and they were delighted and happy. That year, Governor Tang came to stay with us on the mountain as he had retired when his governorship had been abolished to form a new governing committee.
My Eighty-Seventh Year 1926 -1927
In Yunnan that year, there was a lot of trouble. At harvest time there were soldiers staying in people’s houses and the people were much too frightened to get the crops in. I went to the Army HQ to help. An order was given that no soldiers were to harass villagers when they worked together with the monks. Consequently, a few thousand peasants came and lived at the Temple for safety. At first we ate rice together, then bran and finally there was only water left. The villagers wept as they saw that the monks also endured the same conditions as they did. When things settled down they returned home, promising to wholeheartedly protect the Buddhist Sangha. Since being the Abbot at Cloud Perch Monastery, I had every year transmitted the precepts, lectured on the Sutras and held meditation retreats as usual. During that year’s precept ceremony, the old withered trees to the front of the Monastery came into full bloom with flowers just like lotus buds. And so did all the green vegetables in the garden there. They all seemed to have a standing Buddha in the middle of them. Upasika Zhang Juexian made a record of this event and it was carved on to a stele there.
My Eighty-Eighth Year 1927- 1928
That year I transmitted the precepts as usual, lectured on the Sutras and held a one week meditation retreat. The bell tower was rebuilt and dormitories and extra shrines were completed.
My Eighty-Ninth Year 1928 -1929
That year I went to collect contributions in Hong Kong for new Buddha statues with Upasika Wang Juiling. Gwandong Province’s Governor General, Chen Zhenru, sent his representative to meet me. He then invited me to Canton where we went together, staying at the Yi Yang old people’s home. Then, together with the Governor, we went to Neng Ren Monastery on White Cloud or Bai Yun Mountain, where he asked me to become Abbot of the South Flower or Nan Hua Monastery (The Monastery of the sixth Chan Patriarch). I declined his invitation. I went instead to Xiamen and Fuchow, ending up on Drum Mountain to give some lectures on the Sutras. I next went on to the King Asoka Monastery near Ningbo, worshiping the relics there. Then I made another pilgrimage to Pu To Mountain, meeting Master Wen Zhi. After that, I went to the Reclining Dragon or Long Hua Monastery in Shanghai. There I learnt that the Abbot Da Gong on Drum Mountain had died the autumn before. I stayed on there to pass the New Year holiday.
My Ninetieth Year 1929 -1930
I left Shanghai in January, to go back to Drum Mountain. There the Minister of the Navy, Yang Shuzhuang, and the Chairman of Fujian Province together with Fang Shengdao, the outgoing chairman, and other dignitaries and officials collectively invited me to become Abbot of Drum Mountain (with a formal invitation handwritten on red paper). Thinking of my Master and the place I had had my head shaved at ordination, I felt that I must accept this and I did.
My Ninety-First Year 1930 -1931
The year before, I had improved the Monastery’s organisation. I got Master Yun Zhi to help as the director of duties or Wei Na. In January I transmitted the precepts and lectured on the Brahma Net Sutra (Bodhisattva precepts) to the whole Monastery. Situated in the Abbot’s quarters, there in the courtyard were a couple of very old feathery palm trees, thought to be a thousand years old, planted in the Tang Dynasty. They had grown exceptionally slowly, sprouting only a couple of new leaves a year. They were both then about ten feet high, having never flowered before. It is said it takes one thousand years for them to bloom. Well, they were in full bloom when I transmitted the precepts. People came from far and wide and filled the Monastery to get a good look. At that time Master Wen Zhi had the story carved into a stone Stele.
My Ninety-Second Year 1931 -1932
Continuing on as Abbot, I transmitted precepts and inaugurated the ‘Precept College’, and re-built Bing Qu, Xi Lin & Yun Wo Temples.
My Ninety-Third Year 1932 -1933
That spring, whilst we held the transition of precepts meeting, a strange old man with a white beard and white hair walked straight into the Abbot’s quarters and knelt before me, requesting the precepts. After asking, he then told us he was from Nan Tai and was named Mr Yang. There was a monk from Nan Tai, called Miao Xhong, who said to me that he had never met this man before. When we had finished transmitting the Bodhisattva precepts we gave out the certificates but old Mr Yang had vanished. Later, when master Miao Zhong went back to the Dragon King Temple at Nan Tai he saw a statue just like the old Mr Yang and it also had the certificate in its hand. All over Nan Tai everybody declared that the Dragon King had received the Bodhisattva precept transmission. Also at that time, a 66 year old man, Upasika Zhang Yudao, a former academic in the Ching Dynasty, came for full ordination to the Monastery. He was then given the Dharma name Investigating Root or Guan Ben. I invited him to catalog the Drum Mountain Sutra collection and all the other manuscripts. After the precept meeting I invited the old Master, Compassion Boat or Ci Xhou, to lecture on the four part precepts in the Dharma Hall. I also invited Masters Xin Dao and Yin Shun (later a very famous master in Taiwan) to teach the new novice monks in the new Precept College.
My Ninety-Fourth Year 1933 -1934
That spring, I invited Master Respond Compassion or Tin Ci to lecture on the Brahma Net Sutra as we transmitted the precepts. In January, the Japanese army took control of the Shan Hai Pass. Everybody was worried and a state of alert was called by our army. All the monasteries closed their doors and only ours still let in the many monks who came by boat. We had one thousand or so monks staying with us on Drum Mountain. We were able to feed all of them with congee in the morning and rice for lunch (there was no supper) despite our limited stocks. In July, we finished the pond for releasing life. Upasika Zheng Qinqiao bought a flock of geese for release; amongst it was an unusual gander who must have weighed 16 pounds. Every time the wooden fish was sounded he spread his wings and stretched out his neck. He stared at the Buddha statue in the Main Hall all day long. He died around a month later, standing upright in front of the Buddha statue. Upasika Zheng, amazed, requested that he have a Buddhist cremation. During this, it was noted that there was no smell. We built a common grave for the ashes of animals and birds to use after cremation. (The Master made enemies during this time because of his reforms. Evil monks started a fire & even tried to poison him. They tried to destroy his reputation but failed. The Master did not report it to the local government but they found out & arrested six monks. The Master then tried to excuse them.)