Long before the time of his death in 1959 at the venerable age of 120 on Mount Yun-ju, Jiangxi Province, Master Xu-yun’s name was known and revered in every Chinese Buddhist temple and household, having become something of a living legend in his own time. His life and example has aroused the same mixture of awe and inspiration in the minds of Chinese Buddhists as does a Milarepa for the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, remarkable in view of the fact that Xu-yun lived well into our own era, tangibly displaying those spiritual powers that we must otherwise divine by looking back through the mists of time to the great Chan adepts of the Tang, Song and Ming Dynasties. They were great men whose example still inspires many today, but in many cases, we have scant details as to their lives as individuals, outside their recorded dialogues or talks of instruction.
My 56th year (1895/96) : Abbot Yue-Iang of the Gaomin Monastery at Yangzhou came to Jiu-hua and informed us that one of his patrons by the name of Zhu had promised to give financial support for twelve weeks of meditation, including the current four weeks. He also informed us that the old Master Fa-ren of Chi-shan had returned to his monastery and that he hoped all of us would go there to assist him in supervising the meditation weeks. When the opening date drew near, I was asked to leave the mountain fírst. When I reached Digang Harbour at Da-tong, I walked following the river bank. The river was rising and I wanted to cross it but the boatman asked me for six coins; as 1 was penniless, the boat left without me. Walking on, I suddenly slipped and fell into the water and thus bobbed on the current for one day and night until I drifted to Cai-shi Jetty, where a fisherman caught me in his nets by chance.
As I wore a monk’ s robe, he called a monk from Bao-ji Temple who recognised me as we had previously stayed together at the Jin-shan Monastery.He was frightened for my life and exclaimed, ‘This is Master De-qing!’ (ie. Xu-yun, ordained as De-qing). I was subsequently carried to the temple where I was revived. As a result of the battering which I had received in the swift current, I bled from the mouth, nose, anus and genital organ.
After a few days’ stay at Bao-ji Temple, I went on to the Gao-min Monastery. When I saw the director of duties (karmadana) there, he saw that I looked pale and thin, and asked if I was well, I replied that I was not. He then called on Abbot Yue-Iang who, after inquiring about Mount Jiu-hua where I had been, immediately asked me to take up a temporary post at the forthcoming meditation-weeks. I politely declined his request, saying nothing about my fall into the water, asking only that I be allowed to attend the meditation meeting.
According to Gao-min Monastery’s rules of discipline, to reject a post given by the Abbot was regarded as an affront to the whole monastic community. Thus, I was found to be an offender and punished by being beaten with a wooden ruler. While I willingly accepted this punishment, it did aggravate my illness. I bled continuously and also passed drops of seminal fluid in my urine. Waiting for my end, I sat firmly in the meditation hall day and night with increasing zeal. In the pure single-mindedness of my meditation, I forgot all about my body and twenty days later, my illness vanished completely.
When the Abbot of Cai-shi Jetty carne with an offering of garments for the assembly, he was reassured and delighted to see that my appearance was radiant. He then spoke of my fall into the water and all the monks held me in great esteem. I was thus spared the trouble of working in the hall and could continue my meditation.
Henceforth, with all my thoughts brought to an abrupt halt, my practice-took effect throughout day and night. My steps were as swift as if I were flying in the air. One evening after the set meditation period, I opened my eyes and suddenly perceived a great brightness similar to broad daylight wherein everything inside and outside the monastery was discernible to me.