Remembering Master Xu Yun on the 59th Anniversary of his Death (2018)

Great Master Xu Yun (虚云大师) [1840-1959]
Around August 1953, Ch’an Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) attended a meeting in Beijing of hundreds of representatives of the various Buddhist groups from around China (a gathering initiated by the Communist Party of China – the new government since 1949 – designed to reform the Chinese Buddhist Association). Master Xu Yun demanded that the Vinaya Discipline be integrated into China’s secular law so that Buddhist monks and nuns had to ‘legally’ adhere to the Buddha’s discipline in a correct and pure manner. The intention was that this intended policy would prevent false, fake or corrupt individuals entering the Buddhist monastic tradition and bringing shame upon it (by not living a ‘pure’ life), or cause trouble for the lay community by stealing from it and bringing trouble down upon it from the authorities.

Master Xu Yun developed this policy as a response to a group of decadent Chinese monks returning from Japan with wives and children, who claimed that Japanese culture (which allowed Buddhist monks and nuns to marry, drank wine and eat meat) was superior to China’s Buddhist culture, and that modern China should copy Japan and ‘abolish’ the Buddha’s Vinaya Discipline. Master Xu Yun had lived through the Imperial Japanese invasion and occupation of China in the 1930’s and 1940’s – and had experienced first-hand the war crimes and atrocities that the Japanese troops had inflicted upon the men, women and children of China. Master Xu Yun – after listening to this nonsense – smacked his hand down on the table and demanded that the ‘new’ Chinese government formally recognise the Vinaya Discipline infront of Zhou Enlai who looked at Mao Zedong. Mao Zedong nodded his approval and the law was changed in favour of Master Xu Yun’s reform.

This episode was witnessed by and is common knowledge in China, but is omitted from the version of Xu Yun’s biography in the West entitled ‘Empty Cloud’ (translated into English by Charles Luk), as its Chinese language compiler and editor – Cen Xue Lu – was an ardent Nationalist who added disinformation here and there (such as Chinese Buddhist temples being destroyed, or that monks and nuns had been forced back into lay life – allegations that carry no historical weight), and left-out well-known facts that painted the new ‘Communist government in a good light. Infact, in Cen Xue Lu’s Chinese language biography he readily admits that the Nationalist government (that he worked for) routinely demolished Daoist and Buddhist temples to clear land for modern buildings well before the Communists came to power in 1949. Cen Xue Lu distanced himself from these destructive policies only after he had first met Master Xu Yun and became his disciple.

In 1928, the Nationalist government ruthlessly destroyed the famous Shaolin Temple in Henan – the birth place of Ch’an Buddhism in China – and yet Cen Xue Lu has Master Xu Yun saying ‘nothing’ about this atrocity in ‘Empty Cloud’! Cen Xue Lu implies that the Communist government initiated this destructive policy when it was a prior and well established Nationalist policy supported by the Western imperialist presence (as it assisted the colonial policy of destroying indigenous Chinese culture).  The same odd policy of displacing information occurs with Cen Xue Lu’s treatment of Tibet, and his assertion that Master Xu Yun was ‘beaten up’ just prior to travelling to the Buddhist meeting mentioned above. In his biography Master Xu Yun simply states that ‘misfortune’ befell him – which is usually taken to mean that he was referring to an illness he suffered. Cen Xue Lu was careful not to put words into Master Xu Yun’s mouth, but his editing leaves a lot to be desired.

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