Sacred Places In China
Early Buddhism in Hwang Mei.
IT is probably not generally known, that in Hwang Mei Hsien, Hupeh, Buddhism found a most fruitful field in the early centuries of the Christian era. That long range of mountains north of Kiukiang is even now yet teeming with temples of more than ordinary fame. Thousands of pilgrims from many provinces visit these sacred shrines every autumn. The lamentable cries and moanings made by these pilgrims, when they prepare for starting on this pilgrimage, are not soon forgotten by those who spent the hot September nights in Central China cities. That their petitions may be answered, they take upon themselves the best vows, even promising not to look at a vain woman, while on the way to the temples.
The natural features of this granite mountain range are quite sufficiently interesting to explain why it was sought by devout devotees of early Buddhism. In some parts it is extremely rough and lies in such a rugged tumbled chaos, as scarcely to admit of classification. Although the general aspect is one of sheer desolation and barrenness, it must not be supposed that there is no fertility to be found. There are many rich valleys and pleasant little rivulets, fringed with verdure here and there, watering the rice fields far up the winding valleys; even the barest and most stony hillsides are seldom without vegetation.
The Fourth Patriarch's Monastery is situated at the upper end of one of these delightful valleys. Approaching it from the plain below, nothing is seen of it, until the bridge, spanning the Pi Yu, crystal stream, has been crossed, when the temple comes in view, standing in a large natural amphitheater,
opening toward the south. By a remarkable coincidence, nature has here greatly aided the imagination and the credulous superstition of the Chinese mind. Two rugged spurs of mountains, supposed to be dragons, and as irregular as this fictitious animal can be, fighting for the Chu "Pearl," a little knoll in the open amphitheater, is certainly all that could be required, from the Chinese point of view, to make this a charming situation.
High up on a formidable mountain citadel, west of this monastery, stands a little temple, now in charge of a Taoist recluse. This temple is built over a natural cave in which, during the T'ang Dynasty, the Goddess of Mercy dwelt. When Hwang Ch'ao, the rebel, came to her abode in search of believers in her religion, she leaped across the deep ravine, which separated her from the monastery, and lit upon a solid granite rock, where her foot left an impress about three inches deep. Near by this footprint the place is seen where she rested. Rain and snow, frost and heat, drought and dampness of more than twelve hundred years have been unable to wash away the stain which the tears of the infuriated goddess left upon this granite rock.
The founder of this monastery, Tao Hsin, was born in Honan during the Northern Chou Dynasty in the reign of Ta Hsiang, A.D. 580. The Emperor, having heard of his precociousness and later of his virtues, sent him upon several occasions fine garments and invitations to come to the capital, but he always refused to accept the presents and declined to appear at court. When he was threatened with death if he persisted in his refusal, he calmly offered his head to the envoy. The Emperor, hearing that no Imperial consideration could induce him to improve his condition, left him in peace and built for him the Pi Lu Ta, a rafterless octangular temple. Approaching the monastery, this temple-tower is seen standing on the back of the dragon, which forms the left side of the amphitheater. That this structure was built in the
TEMPLE OVER THE CAVE WHERE THE GODDESS OF MERCY DWELLS.
TOMBS OF BUDDHIST PRIESTS.
sixth century is quite credible; for it clearly shows age. The tooth of time has so deeply set its mark upon it, that its masonry resembles, in age, the rocks of the surrounding hills. No wood was used except for the two doors, one large front door and a small one at the east, which have, however, long since disappeared. Only one corner of the tower is shown on the photograph, the annex to the east is of modern work. In this temple the Patriarch lived and died in the latter part of the seventh century. Seven years after his death the doors burst open of their own accord, and it was seen that the body had not decayed. When the Emperor heard of this, he promoted him to a god among the deities of the Chinese Pantheon. In the Ming Dynasty, the fourth year of the Emperor Wu Tsung, A.D. 1520, it was seen that a flame of fire issued from his head and consumed his body. It is now replaced by a copper image, enshrined in the monastery within an inaccessible shrine. A dim light is kept burning before his gloomy, dismal altar.
In front of the main temple of this monastery stands a large cypress tree with the limbs grown downward, a strange freak of nature. The story told about it is that Hung Jen came to the Fourth Patriarch and desired to be instructed by him in the doctrine. The Patriarch replied, "You are too old now, you will have to wait for a new cycle." Thereupon the future successor of the Patriarchate pushed the small end of his staff into the ground and departed. The staff grew, and the result is the inverted cypress tree. Last year it died, root and branch. A telling illustration indeed of the once apparently flourishing and present decayed condition of this monastery and its inmates. The tree had not grown high. How could it with all its limbs turned down toward the earth! The marvel to us is that it grew as high as it did. What a struggle for life it must have had! And so the marvel to us is how such a class of men as the Buddhist mendicants are, lazy, filthy, ignorant parasites, have been able to maintain
their position as leaders of a religion among a people so enlightened as the Chinese. A consciousness of extreme dearth of religious life among the people and no hope for improvement, or else no perception of spiritual need, is the only explanation why such leaders have been endured.
Fifteen li east of this monastery, in a valley even more beautiful and fertile than the one just described, richly watered by mountain streams, is the Temple of the Great Sun.
The founder of this temple was Sung Ming I, born in the Kwangtung province during the Eastern Tsin Dynasty, the fifth year of the Emperor T'ai Yuan, A.D. 381. He was, the incarnation of a dragon, who came to his virgin mother in a dream asking to be nursed. Her name was Sing. In the reign of Sung An he received the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. But when in office he found more pleasure in reading sacred books and charts than in his official duties. At an uprising among the people he resigned his position, hung his official seal in the judgment hall and gave himself to wandering about in the country, visiting temples. Traveling through Kiangsi, on a hot summer day, he was famishing of thirst. As he passed a man working in the field, he asked for some tea. The man replied, "I have no time, the sun will soon be down, and I must finish this work to-day." Said Sung to him, "If you will bring me some tea I will place my staff in the earth, and so long as it is there the sun will not go down." When he had refreshed himself with tea he walked off, leaving the staff standing in its place. The farmer, busy with his work, had not noticed the length of the day, until a neighbor came and spoke about the fixed sun; hearing of the reason he cut down the staff, and the spell was broken. Such is the story told and firmly believed by the people. In his journeyings he came to Hwang Mei. While there two young men associated themselves with him to be instructed by him in sacred learning. At this time a long
TOMB OF THE MOTHER OF THE FIFTH PATRIARCH
drought set in, and the people were in great need of water. He made his appearance before the people and announced that in seven days it would rain. So it did. And all the pools and streams were bountifully filled. After this he retired into seclusion, and lived in a mountain cave. When another drought came the people said to the Hwang Mei official, "Do nothing, but go up to the man living in the cave." The official went, and found him so intensely interesting that he forgot all about his own errand, and they began to write poetry and play chess. When he came out of the cave, behold, everything had changed. He knew no one, and no one knew him, nor could he even find his way back to Hwang Mei. Ages had come and gone; centuries had passed. So he returned to the cave and told Sung about it. While consulting together, sitting on a rock near the cave, they both with the rock ascended to heaven. On the stone, where last their feet rested, their footprints can yet be seen, also a chessboard carved into a stone in the cave. In the Temple of the Great Sun his image in life-size is the chief idol. Here, as in many other places in China, the people seemed to have more faith in this local deity than they have in the Buddhist gods. In connection with this temple, far up in the mountain in a quiet little nook, stands a plain little building, neatly kept, housing a large image of Sung Ming I. The old hermit in charge of this enviable little trust cultivates for his living a few little rice fields. But he has a pathetic story to tell, when we expressed our delight in finding such a cool retreat on a hot summer day. "Ah yes," said he, "what is joy to one brings sorrow to another; a few days ago, the last day in August, frost injured our rice crop."
Leaving the Great Sun Temple, we traveled across a range of most varied scenery. Having walked a distance of fifty li, and at an altitude of about three thousand feet, we suddenly came upon a large open valley, like a basin in the mountain top, surrounded by thickly wooded hills. Here nature
had indeed been lavish in spending its beauty and glory, and here is located
THE OLD PATRIARCH'S MONASTERY.
No wonder that the Patriarch was charmed with this situation at first sight. The story of his life was told us as follows: He was a native from Mid-India, born during the Chou Dynasty, in the reign of the Emperor Wei Lei, 425 B.C. From birth his left hand was clenched into a fist, until his mother for the first time took him to the idol, when his hand opened, so that he could fold his hands respectfully in worship, whereupon he became deeply interested in idols. Being an unusually precocious boy, he read widely until he came across the Buddhist Canon, and forthwith embraced that religion. After long and patient contemplation he came to China, and on his way north he met the sainted priest, Ta Mo, at the Lu Mountains near Kiukiang. The name of the place is called Ho Shang Fen, that is, the place where the priests separated. Ta Mo had come from Southern India, and was the last of the Western and the first of the Eastern Patriarchs of Buddhism. Ta Mo asked him how old he was. He replied, "My age is eight hundred years." "So," said Ta Mo, "I have been looking for a man of great age, you may be the Old Patriarch," and gave him the robe and bowl of the Patriarchate. After this conference at the foot of the Lu Mountains, the Old Patriarch crossed the swollen Yangtze, and chose the Hwang Mei district as his field of labor. Having set his heart upon the location for a temple, but finding no wood to build with, he went to Lung Ping, on the Yangtze River, where a merchant had a large raft of wood. Said he to the merchant, "May I sink this raft?" The merchant replied, "If you can sink that raft I will give it to you." The raft disappeared, and came up again in that high mountain valley. In like miraculous way his daily needs were supplied. When he had no rice, out of a little hole in a rock
BRIDGE OVER THE Pi Yu--THE CRYSTAL STREAM.
TEMPLE OF THE GREAT SUN.
rice came. When the needed oil and salt, from another rock oil and salt flowed. Alas, to-day this once renowned monastery shows no such signs of divine favor. A sickly, diseased looking young man, and a silly boy were the only priests in charge. Their merit is certainly not in works of purity and wisdom duly combined, for none of these virtues are found with them. What Ta Mo (the founder of this temple) taught has apparently perpetuated itself, and may account somewhat for the ignorance and apathy of Buddhist priests, viz., that religion is not to be learned from books, but that man should seek and find the Buddha in his own heart. Every department of this great labyrinthian temple shows utter neglect and rapid decay. Even the main altar with Shakyamuni, the god of all gods, Kaskiapa, the god of the future, and Ananda, the god of the past, are in a most dilapidated and pitiable condition.
It may be supposed that with some of these priests there is a desire for spiritual life, but undoubtedly their spiritual conception is of a very inferior order.
From the moment we entered this beautiful place in the mountain top until we took our departure the sacrilegious thought did not leave us, that it would make a most charming summer resort for Westerners. Traveling sixty li farther eastward over rugged hills and through valleys, along steep cliffs and jagged rocks, we came to
THE FIFTH PATRIARCH'S MONASTERY.
The approach to this temple is a broad stone-paved road, rising immediately up from the level plain toward the massive cliff, like a huge altar of some natural temple, encircled by peaks of various shapes and heights. The founder of this monastery is claimed to have been born into this world the second time in the Sui Dynasty, and the second year of Jen Chou, A.D. 603. In his first stage of existence his name
was Hung Jen, and he lived in Hwang Mei, where he was a planter of coniferous trees. He came to Tao Hsin, the Fourth Patriarch of Buddhism, for instruction. "May I yet learn the doctrine?" he asked. "Die, and come again, and I will teach you," replied Tao Hsin. Hung Jen asked, "Where shall I go to die?" "Go until you come to a pond where a maiden named Chou is washing clothes, and there stop," said Tao Hsin. He went, and when he came to the place and saw the woman, he said, "I am an old man, may I stop over night?" The maid replied, "I have a father and brother, ask them." While he yet spake a peach came up out of the water, and the maid ate it and she became his mother. Despised and rejected by her people she was driven away from her home, and with her son reduced to beggary. In dire distress she threw the child into a pond, but he would not sink. Rescued from this watery grave, she nursed him again; but the first seven years of his life he never spoke a word, and was mocked and ridiculed by many; saying, "He has neither father nor name." When his mother brought him the first time to the temple, the bells rang of their own accord. Hearing this he said, 'Now I can learn the doctrine." He went again to Tao Hsin to be instructed. "What is your name?" asked the Patriarch. "I have no name," was the reply. "What! no name?" "No," said he, "I am a Fu, an idol. I am emptiness." Having gained the favor of the Fourth Patriarch, he became his successor.
To the credit of Hwang Mei Buddhism, it may be said that this monastery is in a good state of repair, and favored with an intelligent Abbot. It would indeed have been a pleasure to have spent some time with him. He received us dressed in his priestly robes, and spoke very intelligently. But his embarrassment arose when we asked to have a look at the undecayed body of Hung Jen. The most liberal offer which we could make would not induce him to open the sacred shrine where this deified "Emptiness" rested. As with his
predecessor, so here a dim light is kept burning before his altar.
When the philosophical and abstract teaching on speculative metaphysical subjects, such as the Patriarchs of Buddhism taught their disciples, are taken into account, then we need not be surprised at the indifference of the priests in their habits. Indeed, superficially viewed, the more slovenly they live the more orthodox they might seem in their own eyes. This may be inferred from examples of their doctrine. For instance, when Hung Jen desired to know who should be his successor, Giles tells us that he asked each of his monks to compose a gatha. One of his favorites wrote on a wall:
"Man's body is like the Bodhi trees;
His mind is like a mirror;
And should be constantly cleaned
Lest dust should stick to it."
Lu Hui-neng saw this and came by night and wrote alongside:
"There is no such thing as the Bodhi trees;
There is no such thing as the mirror;
There is nothing, which has a real existence;
How then can dust be attracted?"
This secured for him the robe and bowl of the Patriarchate; for he became the last Patriarch of Buddhism in China, as the doctrine by him was supposed to be well established.
From the above narrative the reader can conclusively notice that the Chinese folklore does not only teem with childish legends, but contains proofs of their implicit faith in miracles; belief in fanciful miracles without the acknowledgment of divine intervention. An unintelligent faith, which has never led them to search for the cause of the accepted wonders.
THE FIFTH PATRIARCH'S TEMPLE.
LAO TSEO--THE OLD PATRIARCH'S TEMPLE.