A number of myths dominate the Western intellectual landscape regarding the history and practice of Chinese Buddhism. Many of these myths are even perpetuated within Japanese scholarship upon the subject. Eurocentric bias, cultural misidentification and blatant racism are often to blame. However, China is a vast country which continues to manifest its own culture (and destiny) regardless of the nonsense said about it in the surrounding countries. Within Chinese Buddhism, for instance, it is not uncommon to find examples of Buddhist nuns and monks ‘dying’ whilst a) sat uptight in the cross-legged meditation posture, and b) to continue hold this posture unassisted after the physical dying process has finished. Indeed, there are many famous examples of this kind in China today, with even ‘enlightened’ lay-people being able to perform this feat!
Moreover, even within modern China, for the devout Buddhist the ability to ‘leave the body’ in this manner is seen to be of great spiritual significance (similar to the shocking examples of the Vietnamese Buddhist monastics in the 1960s – who possessed the spiritual maturity and ability ‘not to move’ during the process of setting-fire to themselves in protest to US and Catholic interference in their country). Chinese Buddhism is often thought to have inherited this practice not from India (where some people believe it never existed), but rather from the very similar (if not identical) Daoist practice. This entire procedure is referred to as ‘Seated Transformation’ (坐化 - Zuo Hua) and involves the departing practitioner to retain the meditation posture with full and clear psychological awareness – whilst the breath is slowly brought to a standstill. This process functions through the conscious awareness integrating into the ‘space’ between each breath – so that the breath is finally left behind.
Situated near to the Indo-China Border is the Indian village of ‘Gue’, located in the Spiti region of the State of Himachal Pradesh in North India. As Indian collaborates with the US intrusion into Chinese territory – this area is used by the Indian government as a staging post for the 14th Dalai Lama and his ‘movement’. However, during 1975, an earthquake struck this area of Northern India and opened an old tomb that contained the mummified body of the Buddhist monk Sangha Tenzin – who was sat upright and very well preserved. In 2004, the local police excavated the tomb and removed the mummy. On discovery, it astonishing to find that the mummy was well preserved, with his skin intact and a crop of hair on his head. The mummy was eventually placed in a temple and is open to the public – despite the area being very remote and difficult to travel to.
This Buddhist monk is said to be around 500-years old and he has a name that is partly Sanskrit (Sangha) and partly Tibetan (Tenzin). He was placed in a ‘stupa’ after he died, and it is this structure that collapsed during the 1975 earthquake. His name was written on the stupa and he appears to have been protecting the area with his spiritual presence. Interestingly, Chinese Buddhist monks were performing this feat over a thousand years prior to this date (c. 1500 CE) with ‘Hui Neng’ (the Sixth Patriarch of Ch’an Buddhism) still sat upright in a temple in Southern China (d. 713 CE)! Even within the Theravada Buddhist tradition of Thailand there are stories of so-called ‘samadhi suicides’ whereby a Buddhist practitioner enters such a profound state of disembodied bliss that they never re-enter their physical bodies again! Hundreds of years later, these bodies are found still sat upright in remote corners of the isolated jungle, and when ‘touched’ usually collapse into piles of dust...
Although the example of ‘Sangha Tenzin’ has attracted all kinds of Western speculations about how he actually managed to ‘mummify’ himself – claiming he starved himself, or ate special food – contradictory processes all apparently carried-out whilst absurdly ‘running’ a lit candle over his body! - the reality is that within Chinese Buddhism (a tradition all but ‘ignored’ by the West) - the ability to leave the body through ‘Zuo Hua’ is carried-out only as a product of advanced spiritual attainment that requires no other ability than to have realised the goal of one’s chosen spiritual path! In other words, to ‘die’ whilst sat upright appears all the way through the Chinese Ch’an literature and is generated through the auspices of ‘spiritual’ will-power alone! There is no trickery involved and examples of naturally dying whilst sat upright is still seen within modern China!
When I access Chinese-language Daoist texts (from China) I notice that the dates for lives lived by the Daoist Masters are often extraordinary long! This is not always the case, but often enough to matter. Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) was not a Daoist - but as a Ch'an Buddhist Master - he lived into his 120th year. By accident, over the years I have found myself minutely researching his life to see if I can find any hint of misunderstanding, mis-recording, omission, or error - and I have found no such thing. In fact, when I extended the search to cross-reference key events of his life with a) well-known world events, and b) the biographies of others - at every single point everything overlaps and interconnects perfectly!
I cannot find an academic 'error' in the construction or the content of Master Xu Yun's biography! Xen Cue Lu (Xu Yun's biographer) - questioned Master Xu Yun a number of times about his birth-date, but each time Master Xu Yun repeated exactly the same (traditional) Chinese birthdate! As a number of Western commentators were pouring scorn on Xu Yun's assumed age (even when he was still alive) - Charles Luk respectfully approached Master Xu Yun to ask about his birthdate, and yet again the time period covering 1839-1840 was given (sometimes Xu Yun's dates are given as '1839-1959' which is correct due to the difference between the traditional Chinese calendar and the Western calendar).
Then, the internal evidence within his biography definitely supports this birthdate - particularly the contents of letters received from the two teenaged girls who briefly lived with him following their marriage. Both had eventually become Buddhist nuns and much later independently stated his birth year as '1840' - confirming that he left home when he was nineteen-years of age (in 1859) to ordain as a Buddhist monk! Again, both women confirmed that the marriage was not consummated.
Adrian Chan-Wyles (釋大道 - Shi Da Dao) is permitted to retain his Buddhist Monastic Dharma-Name within Lay-society by decree of the Government of the People’s Republic of China, and the Chinese Buddhist Association (1992). A Buddhist monastic (and devout lay-practitioner) upholds the highest levels of Vinaya Discipline and Bodhisattva Vows. A Genuine Buddhist ‘Venerates’ the ‘Dao’ (道) as he or she penetrates the ‘Empty Mind-Ground' through meditative insight. A genuine Buddhist is humble, wise and peace-loving – and he or she selflessly serves all in existence in the past, present and the future, and residing within the Ten Directions – whilst retaining a vegetarian- vegan diet. Please be kind to animals!
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