The Venerable Hsu Yun


“One of the stories I like to tell in this regard is a tale of Venerable Master Hsüan Hua’s teacher. Master Hua was the abbot of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. He was the person who gave us the land where our monastery is situated, and he and Ajahn Sumedho were very good friends. Master Hua’s teacher, Venerable Master Hsü Yün, was the patriarch of all five lineages of Buddhism in China and was very highly respected. He was the head of the Ch’an lineage, the sutra lineage, the mantra lineage, the Vinaya lineage, and the esoteric lineage. It’s no secret that different sects tend to argue with each other. Yet he was so indisputably pure and skilled that everyone wanted him to be the head. When the Red Chinese took over, they were trying to wipe out religion altogether and so he became a very obvious target. The Chinese army attacked his monastery when he was about 110 years old. They beat him with wooden clubs until he was a bloody heap on the ground and left him for dead. Even though he had broken bones and damaged organs, he recovered. The news of his survival spread around the area.

A while later the Red Army came back and used iron bars to beat him until he was a complete mess. This frail old man was really smashed up and seriously injured, and yet he still didn’t die. His disciples were nursing him and trying to help heal his deep and serious wounds. All of them were amazed that he was still alive. Needless to say, he had incredible meditative powers, so his disciples were convinced that he was sustaining his life energy for them. They believed that the master realized the feeling of grief they would have when he died because they were all very devoted to him. And so they implored him: “Please, don’t stay alive just for our sakes. We’re very touched that you would endure the weeks and weeks of pain and misery because of not wanting to leave us grief stricken. But if it’s time for you to die, we would prefer that you just let yourself go peacefully instead of enduring all this agony.” And he said, “What I’m doing is not for you. It’s true I’m keeping myself alive, but it’s not for your sake, it’s for the soldiers. If I died as a result of their beatings, the karmic retribution for those who attacked me would be so great, I couldn’t bear to be responsible for that.” After that, the army left him alone. He survived and even taught retreats again. The books Ch’an and Zen Training, translated by Charles Luk, are from the Dharma talks that he gave at a retreat four years later. He died when he was 120. He had made a vow to be a monk for one hundred years.”

~ Ajahn Amaro