Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hsu Yun, Lai Guo, and Chinese Chan Buddhism

It is not often known in the West, especially with all the Dalai Lama Hoopla, but in fact one of the founders of the PRC-run Chinese Buddhist Association was, in fact, a legit, real-life, legendary dyed in the wool Chan Buddhist, Hsu Yun. This was despite the fact that like many Buddhists, Hsu Yun was mistreated and tortured by the Communists at that time.

Both Hsu Yun and Lai Guo (whose Dharma heirs were also mistreated or killed) are today both revered as ancestors at temples such as Wolong-si.

Master Lai-Guo was one of the great masters of the early twentieth century. He preside over Gao Min Monastery during one of the most difficult times in China, yet he was able to maintain all the rules of a traditional Chan "Forest" Monastery. He refused to hold any non-Chan-related activities (Fo Shi), the traditional way monasteries generate income. Often the monks only had rice bran to eat. Once, on Buddha's Birthday, they had no food to offer so they boiled hot water, offered it to the Buddha, drank some themselves, and went back to meditate.

Master Lai-Guo passed away in the early 1950s, a few years after China's "liberation". The lineage was passed to his disciple Master Chan-Hui, who was later classified as a "Rightist". I never found out what happened to Master Chan-Hui. Perhaps he was beaten to death. (Master Hsu-Yun was severely beaten during this time, and his only written work, an annotated Surangama Sutra, was burned. A few of his disciples were executed after being classified as a "Rightist").

During the Cultural Revolution, Gao-Min Monastery was bitterly attacked. All was destroyed including the famous Chan hall where numerous masters became enlightened and which housed five “Flesh Body Bodhisattvas” (Ro Shen Pu Sa i.e. “whole body relics”). Like Master De-Lin told us, “Gao Min Monastery had disappeared.” The place was turned into a sweater factory. Only the old mountain gate, a gift from Emperor Kang-Xi, survived, perhaps because it was made of stone and would be too difficult to destroy. During the revolution, despite the enormous destruction, many things were spared because they were far away, made of stone, covered by pictures of Mao, or protected by monks willing to burn themselves to scare away the mobs.

In 1985, several years after the revolution ended, in accordance with Deng Xiaoping’s “Reform and Open” policy, the local government decided to restore Gao Min Monastery. Elder Master De-Lin was invited to take care of business. He was already 72 years old. “People retire in their 50s. I started working in my 70s,” he said.

It does appear that some of Hsu Yun's teachings survive, however, thanks to Charles Luk.  Reading these teachings one does indeed find strong parallels with Rinzai teaching from Japan.

That Lai Guo and Hsu Yun are revered in China today amongst Buddhists is certainly true, and yes, at Wolong-si, there are people, ordinary people who are learning Buddhism again.


Adam said...

On Barbara's blog, you mentioned something about temples rooted in the Hsu-Yun/Laiguo Chan tradition. When I googled that, you blog and a couple of other blogs came up. Could you point me in the right direction? I found the Boundless Way center, do you know of anything North of Olympia?

Mumon said...

Hi Adam,
I just saw this comment. I will make another post to follow-up.

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