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Author of this essay:

Yao Hui Shakya
(Oct 6, 2005)

by Yao Hui Shakya

It is not easy to write about a humble man. I can't relate stirring accounts of heroic exploits or describe splendid appearances in silk brocade and armor. When Master Ming Zhao walks down the streets of Chibi City, no cameras click and nobody sticks a microphone in his face, hoping for a usable sound bite or a pearl of wisdom that might drop from his mouth.

Kids tag along, calling him, "Grandpa Monk." He's raised children of his own and knows how to relate to them. When he first came to the Chibi area of southeast Hubei Province, they called him, "Pumpkin Monk." It was meant to be pejorative. They heard their elders derisively call him that because Chibi is a big pumpkin growing area; and since the vegetable is cheap and stores well, that was all he ever bought. He's a quiet man; but even if he did proclaim his true identity, it wouldn't have made any difference in those days.

The only religion that had found new life in Chibi was Catholicism. There was a time when the area had been a famous center of Buddhist devotion - with many temples dedicated especially to Guan Yin; but the Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution burned every temple and convent building to the ground. Temple lands were seized for commune purposes; and everything that was wrong in the world was blamed on the Buddha. Buddhist priests and nuns were dispersed, and the sutras were forbidden to be uttered. The Little Red Book had to be memorized and the Heart Sutra and the Dharani to the Compassionate One said silently or not at all.

After enough years had passed, Buddhism became a kind of legend, like a fairy tale told to children. A few old-timers did remember the truth; and when they made it their business to discover who this Pumpkin Monk was and what he was trying to do, they spread the word. "Gourds growing independently while on the same vine" is an old Buddhist metaphor for the Buddha Self we share. Recalling this, they planted the seed which they prayed would grow into a vine; and when people began to realize that the Pumpkin Monk was there to restore one of those ancient temples they had talked about in fireside tales, his name changed to Master Pumpkin or, as the kids then began to call him, Grandpa Monk.

Zhao Master Ming Zhao (the 14th Patriarch of Yun Men's Lineage) and Shi Yao Hui pose before the unfinished General's Temple of Jiang Jun Si, Hubei Province

The people remembered also how they once had only pumpkin to eat - and were lucky to get that. They had much more now; but they respected his self-imposed poverty. He limited himself to spending no more than sixty cents a day on his own needs. He used any extra money to buy back land and make bricks.

Even though a man's history does not matter when he is reborn in the Dharma, I'll give a few facts about his past:

Venerable Master Ming Zhao (Xin Jue) was born on August 30, 1939, which would be July 16th in the Lunar Calendar. His name was Li Zi Chuang and his place of birth was Hong An, Hubei Province.

He was the only child of a couple who, in those days, was considered old to have a first child. His mother, a housewife, was well into her thirties, and his father, a Confucian scholar and teacher, was in his forties. For years they had implored their ancestral spirits and the Kitchen god for assistance in having a child. One day, someone whispered to his mother that she might find Guan Yin more helpful. She began to recite the Great Dharani; and the chant's magical way of giving reassurance, of relieving deep tensions, did its work. Her only child was a baby who was born during Japan's invasion of China and who grew into a boy during the Civil War.

Although he was not highly educated he showed a talent for drawing, especially lotus, he was assigned a job repairing trucks used in Huangshi's Rock Mining Factory. His artistic talent finally gained him admittance to an Art College in Huangshi. But then came the Cultural Revolution and he was imprisoned because he came from a traditional scholastic family and his father had been a Confucian scholar. The Red Guards considered such persons as capitalistic enemies of the people and holders of superstition. Not until the "Gang of Four" and their Red Guard supporters were stripped of power was Li Zi Chuang released from prison.

By then his heart's desire was to become a Buddhist monk - but this was impossible since no religious activity was permitted. Instead, he complied with the directive to marry and have a family, the moral and patriotic alternative. Li Zi Chuang and his wife had four children, a son and three daughters.

Then, as China's political situation normalized and religion was once again tolerated, Li Zi Chuang was able to support his family by going around the country creating religious paintings and statues. It was while he worked in the restoration of Wuhan's famous Huangshi House that he received his first formal education in Buddhism. His teacher was the Venerable Master Chang Ming who, like VM Ben Huan of Guangzhou's Guangxiao Temple and VM Fo Yuan of Yun Men, is one of the few great Buddhist masters alive in China today. VM Chang Ming was particularly famous for his beautiful calligraphy. Before he began to write he would meditate for more than an hour, and then, while still in a state of transcendence, he would pick up his brush.

Xin Jue Fo Yuan Grandmaster Fo Yuan, 13th Patriarch of Yun Men (Ummon) Lineage, shares a pleasant moment with Master Ming Zhao. Venerable Master Hsu Yun revived the Yun Men Lineage, anointing Fo Yuan as 13th Patriarch. The "robe and bowl" was passed to Master Ming Zhao, making him 14th Patriarch of Yun Men (Ummon). (All Zen Buddhists in the Ming - Yao sequence are of the Yun Men lineage.)

In 1983, VM Chang Ming gave Li Zi Chuang the Dharma name, Wu Huan, which means "Understands Illusions."

In 1989, his children now grown and independent and his wife having sadly succumbed to heart disease, Wu Huan retreated to Bao Tong Temple in Wuhan, Hubei, and became, finally, a novice monk.

In 1999, he had his head formally shaved at Hubei's Tong Cheng Yin Quan Temple. Vinaya Master Yi Zheng gave him the Dharma name Xin Jue, which means "Enlightened Heart." He underwent the traditional head scarring by incense burning - a practice begun in antiquity to insure that if a priest's body was ever found by someone who did not otherwise recognize his clerical status, he would be accorded funereal rights proper to a Buddhist clergyman. And also, to express his particular gratitude to VM Ben Huan, he observed the custom, hallowed in the Orient, of writing sutras in his own blood. Hsu Yun, Ben Huan, and other Buddhist notables throughout Asia have performed this act of personal sacrifice to the Dharma. When VM Fo Yuan, who had known Xin Jue for some three years, learned of this expression of his personal commitment, he wrote the following poem, which I have tried to render in English:

The Surangama Sutra of Buddha's Profound Teachings
Testifies to the true nature and thoughts that resides in even the subtlest dust

The illusions of sound and form cloud the path to life and death
May this blood-written sutra point out the way to the truth.

VM Fo Yuan is a disciple of Hsu Yun who named him the holder of the Yun Men Lineage - the 13th Patriarch of this Chan lineage which had been lost after the Southern Song Dynasty. VM Fo Yuan is revered in China and throughout the Zen Buddhist world for his selfless action during the Cultural Revolution. When the Red Guards entered Nan Hua Temple and used their rifle butts to smash the mummified remains of Hui Neng, the 6th Patriarch of Chan Buddhism, Fo Yuan defied them and gathered all the broken parts, preserving them until they could later be reassembled.

In 2001, Xin Jue was named Abbot of Xi Fo (Buddha of the West) Temple in Hubei; and on May 6th, 2004, he was asked to go to Chibi City, on the Yangtze River in Southeast Hubei Province, to investigate the possibility of restoring Jiang Jun ("General's") Temple in the Yang Lou Cave township, some sixteen miles south of Chibi city. The Yang Lou Cave area was once world-famous because of the high quality tea grown there and also for the purity of the water in nearby Guan Yin Well - which, when used for brewing, even increased the deliciousness of the tea grown there.

When Xin Jue journeyed to Yang Lou Cave he discovered that only a single Ming-Qing Dynasty street remained of the once-thriving town of 40,000 inhabitants. There were once a hundred prosperous shops on five streets; but now the ancient buildings were confined to a quarter-mile square area. Nevertheless, the green-stone paved street, with the doorways of its 500 year old buildings carved with dragons and phoenixes and its roofs curved and decorated in the ancient fashion, is fascinating and of special interest to students of medieval Chinese culture. But as to Buddhist practitioners, all that Xin Jue could find were a few old upasakas who were devoted to Tibetan forms of worship. Still, as he left the ruined site of Jiang Jun Temple and walked about, visiting the ruined sites of the once-lovely Lotus Temple (Fu Rong Si) and the Little Yuan Temple (Xiao Yuan Si), he heard the voice of an Interior command. He would devote his life to the restoration of Jiang Jun Si. Immediately he set out to raise funds to rebuild the ancient temple complex.

Chibi had a reputation for being a high crime city. In the absence of religious instruction and guidance, many people had turned to fortune telling and gambling. Everyone was obsessed with material goods and was willing to risk hard earned wages on foolish games of chance. Many families were impoverished and deeply in debt. Missionaries had come to bring Christianity to the people. Many of the citizens, however, still clung to old atheistic viewpoints and called any religious figure "a living devil." Xin Jue's first days there were not pleasant ones. He was mocked and treated disrespectfully until word of his mission reached the ears of the old Chan Buddhists. It was then that the Pumpkin Monk became Master Pumpkin and began to be treated kindly by everyone.

Through his tireless efforts, in Guang Dong Province and elsewhere, Xin Jue managed to raise enough money to rebuild one of the temples - the temple dedicated to the Tang Dynasty general, Lei Wan Chun, who died in battle in defense of the suffering people.

And then, in March, 2005, on the birthday of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva's birthday, in the early morning hours, Xin Jue was awakened by someone knocking on his door. When he answered it he found VM Fo Yuan standing there. "I have come to make you the 14th Holder of the Yun Men Lineage," said VM Fo Yuan. Xin Jue knelt and wept as VM Fo Yuan pronounced his new name: Ming Zhao, which means "Brilliant Clarity."

Despite this extraordinary honor, our beloved Master has remained the same selfless monk that he was when he first entered Buddhist service. He is completely detached from all material things - only one goal exists in his mind - the restoration of the Jiang Jun Temple complex.

I can personally attest to a few incidents which speak volumes about his character: A kindly benefactor in the city of Shenzhen gave him a digital camera so that he could photograph the stages of the project's completion. But shortly after he received this gift, in conversation with another temple's master, he learned that this master had just started an internet website and lamented that he had no suitable camera to put photographs on his website. He needed a digital camera, he said. Master Ming Zhao produced the camera, "Like this one?" he asked. When he was told that this indeed was the perfect camera, he gave it to the astonished man. "Your work is important now," said Master Ming Zhao, adding, "but I have no website." (He does now... http://spaces.msn.com/members/generaltemple/ and I invite anyone who reads Chinese or who would like to see many photographs of the project to visit the website.)

On another occasion, while I accompanied him on a plane trip to Wuhan, Hubei,
a security agent stopped us as we attempted to board the airplane. Master had an old pair of scissors that he always carried with him. The security agent, expecting an argument, told him that he could not board the plane with the scissors. Master simply looked at the scissors and whispered, "Good bye, old friend. I'll miss you," and handed the scissors to the speechless agent.

At the one rebuilt Jiang Jun temple, there is a little room attached for the temple caretaker's use. In this room there is only a single cot to sleep on. Rather than spend money on another cot, Master Ming Zhao gives the cot to any visiting guest and spreads a mat on the floor for himself. It is humility like this that people notice but find difficult to describe.

He owns nothing and considers himself rich beyond calculation because with every passing day he is able to give the Dharma to someone.

And the man who is called Grandpa Monk by kids and Master Pumpkin by the vegetable sellers who supply him with his sixty cents per day meals is still the man who is the 14th Holder of Yun Men (Ummon) Lineage, Master Ming Zhao.

I'll conclude with a comment that Master Ming Zhao made to me recently. He said that when he described to VM Fo Yuan the work that his American disciple, Ming Zhen Shakya, was doing on the internet, Master Fo Yuan smiled happily and expressed his gratitude that she was still active in Buddhist service. He extended his best wishes to her and to all the Yao descendants of the Yun Men lineage.

And finally, as a post script, I'd like once again to ask anyone who cares to help in the restoration of this ancient Buddhist temple complex in Hubei Province, to please contact me. The offer to have the name of any one who donates to this cause inscribed on the temple bell still holds.

In the Dharma, I remain,
Most sincerely ,
Barry Tse, (Yao Hui Shakya).

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