Shao Yun’s Recollections of Master Xu Yun

‘Dharma master Shao Yun was born in the Anhui province of eastern China in 1938. His family name was Huang (黄). Whilst in his school years, he developed an interest in Buddhist studies and read books upon the subject of the three treasures. At the age of around 19 years old (in 1956/57), he travelled to Yunjushan (Jiangxi), and encountered master Xu Yun living at Zhen Ru Monastery – the old master at this time was 117 years old. Xu Yun was in the midst of re-building the substantial monastic grounds, so that the holy area could re-capture some of the spiritual glories the site had held during the Tang and Song Dynasties. Master Xu Yun enquired as to why Shao Yun wanted to be a Ch’an monk – and the young man answered that he wanted to become a Buddha. Xu Yun was over-joyed to hear this response and immediately received him as a disciple and personally arranged for the ordination. Xu Yun gave him two Dharma names; the first was ‘Xuan De’ (宣德), or ‘Propagate Virtue’, and the second was ‘Shao Yun’ (绍云), or ‘Continues Speech’. Despite the country ofChinaexperiencing an ever chaotic political and cultural situation, Xu Yun had managed, through the example of spiritual power, to turn Zhen Ru into an oasis of Buddhist wisdom and peace. The impression received from reading Xu Yun’s autobiography is that through sheer strength of character, and despite the odds being stacked firmly against him, nevertheless, he managed to create Dharmically significant worlds within situations that were otherwise hopelessly lost. The young monk Shao Yun walked into one of these places, and has recently recorded his recollections of the experience of living life with master Xu Yun during his final years – in a speech given to Hong Kong Buddhists. Once Shao Yun had settled down to monastic life, and had gotten use to the life of a Ch’an monk, he eventually became Xu Yun’s attendant, watching over the old monk and assisting with the necessary every day duties that such a post entails. What follows is a translation from the original Chinese document entitled ‘绍云法师; 虚云老和尚神通示现’, or ‘Dharma Master Shao Yun; The Manifestation of the Monk Xu Yun’s Unhindered Spiritual Power’. Shao Yun describes the old monk Xu Yun in the following way;’

Xu Yun’s Letter to Chiang Kai-shek

‘In the early months of 1943 (when Xu Yun was in his 104th year), he had a conversation with the Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975) regarding the Buddhist teachings (Dharma), the philosophical principles of materialism and idealism, and the theology of Christianity. Thirteen years earlier, Chiang Kai-shek had converted to (Methodist) Christianity in 1929, and since that time had believed that China’s future could be moulded and directed from principles contained within the Bible itself, and this belief influenced policies such as the ‘Three Principles of the People’ and the ‘New Life Movement.’ ‘

The Implications of Ch’an Meditation

‘The sutras lead the aspirant toward enlightenment at their own pace, whilst Ch’an, in its more direct method demands that the obvious is realised here and now, and its nature not endlessly talked around. The Ch’an masters use the language of the ‘uncreate’. This is the use of ordinary conditioned human language, in a manner that does not allow for the usual conditioning to operate, and thus deprives the intellectual mind of the fuel needed to create more delusive thought. This language manifests the ‘real’ in an non-dualistic and absolute manner and can not be understood with a mere shallow cleverness. Its impact is often decisive and is designed to take the practitioner through the three gates of entry into nirvana; namely ‘voidness’, ‘formlessness’, and ‘inactivity’. Voidness empties the mind of the idea of self and others; formlessness wipes out the notion of externals, and inactivity puts a stop to all worldly activities, whilst appearing in the world – in numerous and diverse circumstances – to act as a bodhisattva and deliver all living beings from suffering.’

Scholar Cen Xue Lu (1882-1963) – Xu Yun’s Editor.

‘Cen Xue Lu led an extraordinary life. He was directly involved within the Nationalist political and military movement that sought to end the imperial order and establish a modernisation of China very much in the Western model. He developed a reputation for sound and accurate scholarship, and later in his life became very interested in the Buddhist religion. He participated directly in the war against Japanese imperial aggression inHong Kong, and after 1949 assisted in the preservation of the Xu Yun biographical text. His diligence in the task of developing it allowed a Chinese readership to remember and learn about Xu Yun – at a time when Chinese traditional culture was being destroyed. This text, when translated into English (and other European languages) swept through a receptive Western world, bringing the life of Xu Yun to a new audience. Cen Xue Lu not only edited the Xu Yun text, but also protected it from external attack. His contribution to the preservation of Xu Yun’s memory is pivotal and vital. Without Cen Xue Lu’s presence in the world, it is unlikely that the Xu Yun text would have survived as it has to the present day. In this achievement, Cen Xue Lu should be remembered with respect.’

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