(Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)
‘In the 20th year of the reign of Emperor Daoguang - which is also the 37th (庚子 - Geng Zi) year of the 60-year cycle of the ‘Yellow Calendar’ (黃曆 - Huang Li) - I was one (1) years old.’
The ‘Geng Zi’ year for this cycle corresponds to the Western (solar) year of ‘1840’ - which is confirmed as the 20th year of the reign of Emperor Daoguang. Master Xu Yun states that he was born in this year, and was simultaneously ‘one years old’. How could this be? In traditional Chinese thinking, when a child is born, they are already one year old (as they have spent around that time in the womb). Out of respect, when a person dies, a year is added to their life out of respect, but this does not seem to have happened in Xu Yun’s case. Xu Yun was born in 1840, and was considered one year old at the time. This explains the line in the autobiography, but what is odd is that even in China there is a ‘doubt’ about the exact meaning of this sentence. In the English translation of this autobiography – termed ‘Empty Cloud’ by Charles Luk (1898-1978) - the birth year is given as 1840, and the birthdate as the 29th day of the 7th lunar month – which equates to the Western date of the 26th of August, 1840. It would seem that some people are of the opinion that Master Xu Yun was born in 1839 but chooses to explain his birth under the calendar date of ‘1840’. At least this is the only reasoning I have so far been able to discover. As we are engaged in remembering the 60th anniversary of Xu Yun’s Parinirvanna, it is important that we consider all aspects of his existence and passing.
According to the lunar calendar of China, the date of the 29th day of the 7th month is significant as it is simultaneously the birthday of Master Xu Yun (虚云), and the day on which the birth of Bodhisattva Kṣitigarbha (既是地藏 - Ji Shi De Cang) is also commemorated. When the details of Master Xu Yun’s extraordinarily long-life are looked backed upon, it is true to say that there would be few who would remain ‘unmoved’ by his example, of suffering and dedication. Even when very young, he had no interest in the ordinary (outside) world and often refused to leave the house, but when older he gave-up the life of the householder and extensively traversed the mountains and the waterways. After practicing the Dharma for over a hundred years, all his sufferings were forgotten (and made trivial) compared to the vastness of his realised enlightenment and extent of the power of his physical appearance in the world. Master Xu Yun led others steadfastly to the ‘other shore’, and like the Moon reflected water, he was able to inspire others to penetrate the empty mind ground and perceive that which is beyond all duality.
This article has been written on the 29th day of the 7th lunar month (2008). This day each year is commemorated as the ‘Day of Manifestation’ of the Bodhisattva Kṣitigarbha (a metaphysical appearance ‘free’ of human parents, conception or conventional birth), and the actual ‘birthday’ of Master Xu Yun (1839-1959) - the product of the amorous interaction of his two human-parents. The family of the Venerable Old Monk Xu Yun (虚云老和尚 - Xu Yun Lao He Shang) was originally from the ‘Xiangxiang’ (湘乡) area of Hunan province, situated in central China. Master Xu Yun was born on the 29th day of the 7th lunar month, during the 19th year of the reign of the Qing Dynasty Emperor named ‘Daoguang’ (道光) - which equates to the year ‘1839’. His family name was ‘Xiao’ (萧), and he was given the (ordained) Dharma-Names ‘Gu Yan’ (古岩) - or ‘Ancient Rock’ and ‘De Qing’ (德清) - or ‘Virtuous Clarity’. However, in his 61st year of life (1900-1901), after much travelling and hardship, Master Xu Yun retreated into the remote hills and changed his name to ‘Empty Cloud’ (虚云 - Xu Yun) as a means to escape attention and practice meditation in isolation. According the Chinese lunar calendar, Master Xu Yun left his body on the 12th day of the 9th month, in the year 1959. He passed away in the ‘Reality Thusness’ Temple (真如寺 - Zhen Ru Si), situated on ‘Yun Ju’ (云居) Mountain, in Yongxiu County, Jiangxi province. Master Xu Yun was in his 120th year, and his 101st year as an ‘ordained’ Ch’an Buddhist monk. His relics are preserved at the ‘South Enlightenment’ Temple (南华寺 - Nan Hua Si), situated near Shaoguan City in Guangdong province.
Old Master Xu Yun is acknowledged as legitimately inheriting ALL five Dharma-gates (or ‘lineages’) of the Ch’an School. The five Ch’an gates are 1) Linji lineage (临济宗 - Lin Ji Zong) 2) Caodong lineage (曹洞宗 - Cao Dong Zong) 3) Wei Yang lineage (沩仰宗 - Wei Yang Zong) 4) Yunmen lineage (云门宗 - Yun Men Zong) and 5) Fayan lineage (法眼宗 - Fa Yan Zong). This is why Master Xu Yun is known today as the ‘Ch’an Lineage - Grand Authority’ (禅宗泰斗 - Ch’an Zong Tai Dou). Indeed, throughout his lifetime he has incomparably and greatly contributed to the inheritance and promotion of Ch’an Buddhism.
When he was 17 with his mind set on leaving the world, his father arranged for him to marry two young women – one surnamed ‘Tian’ (田) and the other surnamed ‘Tan’ (谭) - but Master Xu Yun ignored them and continued his life of living quietly and meditating in isolated parts of the house. In this way he retained the purity of his mind, heart and body with no impurity of any kind. With every thought he directed his attention toward the Buddha without fail. At 19 years old he bid farewell to his two ‘wives’, and quietly left the family home to head into the hills in search of Buddhist ordination. He eventually reached the ‘Bubbling Spring’ Temple (涌泉寺 - Yong Qi Si), where, at the age of 20 years old, he received full Bodhisattva Vow and Vinaya Discipline Ordination from Venerable Old Master Miaolian (妙莲老和尚 - Miao Lian Lao He Shang).
The Old Venerable Xu Yun dedicated his lifetime to self-cultivation and worked very hard to purify his mind and body, and to attain full enlightenment. He lived alone on top of mountains and deep within caves for several years. As he sat in meditation radiating peace and compassion, the wild animals were not afraid of him, and he lived next to wolves and tigers with no fear whatsoever. When thirsty he drank rain water or dew, and when hungry he ate wild pine cones and whatever vegetables grew around him. When his practice was well-established, he visited the four great (holy) mountains in search of instruction and to share his extensive knowledge, wisdom and experience. At forty years old, Master Xu Yun decided to go on a pilgrimage to Mount Wutai (五台山 - Wu Tai Shan) – prostrating after every third step – in atonement for the pain and suffering his birth and life had caused his parents culminating at the ‘Dharma Culture Temple’ (法华寺 - Fa Hua Si) situated on Mount Putou (普陀山 - Pu Tou Shan). After years of travelling and suffering from hunger, cold, snow, heat and disease, Master Xu Yun finally arrived at Mount Wutai. At least twice on the journey he was in terrible and desperate danger, but was rescued on each occasion by the timely intervention of the Bodhisattva Manjushri (文殊菩萨 - Wen Shu Pu Sa), whose compassionate function is to rescue people in distress whilst adopting various incarnations and disguises.
Even when Master Xu Yun was 95 years old (in 1934/1935) he was still working hard (and making light of discomfort) when he repaired the ‘Southern Culture Temple’ (南华寺 - Nan Hua Si) of the 6th Patriarch Hui Neng (惠能) situated in ‘Caoxi’ (曹溪) in Guangdong province. The 6th Patriarch Hui Neng left his body in 713 CE and he has remained sat-upright in the cross-legged meditation posture ever since. He also repaired a resurgent temple at Yun Men (云门) also in Guangdong province. It is believed that Master Xu Yun practiced Ch’an meditation in at least 15 different temples and holy places. He inherited the ‘Five Houses’ (五宗 - Wu Zong) of the Ch’an School (禅门 - Ch’an Men) and single-handedly rejuvenated life back into the lineages of the Six Great Patriarchs (六大祖庭 - Liu Da Zu Ting) of the Ch’an tradition. In 1953, he was promoted to be the Honorary President of the Chinese Buddhist Association. Throughout his life, Master Xu Yun often endured that which no ordinary person could (or should) endure. After his illness during the ‘Yun Men Incident’, Master Xu Yun dictated his autobiography to his nearest disciples. When asked to write a poem as a short over-view of his life, Master Xu Yun wrote:
‘Witnessing 5 emperors and 4 dynasties, continuously experiencing the 10 vicissitudes of life.
Immense suffering is the normal human condition, without a doubt all life is impermanent.’
The ‘Five Emperors’ are: 1) ‘Daoguang’ (道光), 2) ‘Xianfeng’ (咸丰), 3) ‘Tongzhi’ (同治), 4) ‘Guangxu’ (光绪) and 5) ‘Xuantong’ (宣统). The Four Dynasties are the: a) Qing (Manchu) Dynasty, b) Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, c) Republic of China and d) People’s Republic of China. The ‘10 vicissitudes’ of life are: I) born in a fleshy-sack, ii) hungry and covered in snow, iii) life-threatening dysentery, iv) bleeding from the mouth, v) falling into water and nearly drowning, vi) serious illness, vii) suspended by a rope in water, viii) abdomen cut-open, ix) whole body paralysed like dead wood and x) whole body beaten. Having lived into his 120th year of life, obviously there are many, many interesting and wonderful stories associated with his practice, experience and adventures. Collections to access include ‘Empty Cloud Dharma Master Autobiography’ (虚云法师年谱 - Xu Yun Fa Shi Nian Pu), and the popular TV-Series in Mainland China entitled ‘One Hundred Year of Empty Cloud’ (百年虚云 - Bai Nian Xu Yun). With regard to the latter, many who watch are reduced to tears to witness the selfless attitude and conduct of Master Xu Yun!
©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2019.
Original Chinese Language Text: http://baijiahao.baidu.com/s?id=1643153104898406572&wfr=spider&for=pc