Chan Master Sheng Yen (cont)

Zhang Caiwei

In 1949, China was in chaos. After much deliberation, Changjin changed his name to Zhang Caiwei and took refuge in the army and left for Taiwan. Yet as a soldier, Zhang Caiwei never for a day forgot that he had been a monk; he never wavered in his conviction that he would once again take up his monastic robes and return to the path to enlightenment.

In the army, the young Zhang Caiwei closely observed life in the lay world and wondered about the origins of life. Eventually, his mind was totally immersed in a great ball of doubt. Then chance brought Zhang to meet Master Lingyuan, a lineage disciple of Master Xuyun. The night of their meeting, under Master Lingyuan's guidance, Zhang Caiwei had a powerful experience. Describing the experience, Master Sheng Yen says: "It was as if my life suddenly exploded out of the tin can in which I had imprisoned it." He had experienced his first enlightenment.

Sheng Yen

In 1960 Zhang Caiwei re-entered monastic life under Master Dongchu at the Buddhist Culture Center in Peitou, Taipei, taking the Dharma name Sheng Yen. The Ven. Master Dongchu was a disciple of Master Taixu. "There was a certain master, Dongchu, whom I sensed to be an extraordinary individual. He did not lecture, nor did he give people instruction in practice. Seeking neither fame nor followers, he was widely known and respected. His speech was unusual and had a startling effect on people. [...] Under his tutelage, he constantly harassed me. For example, after telling me to move my things into one room, he would later tell me to move to another room. Then he would tell me to move back in again. Once, he told me to seal off a door and to open a new one in another wall. I had to haul the bricks by foot from a distant kiln up to the monastery. We normally used a gas stove, but my master often sent me to the mountains to gather a special kind of firewood that he liked to brew his tea over. I would constantly be scolded for cutting the wood too small or too large. I had many experiences of this kind. In my practice it was much the same. When I asked him how to practice, he would tell me to meditate. But after a few days he would quote a famous master, saying, 'You can't make a mirror by polishing a brick, and you can't become a Buddha by sitting.' So he ordered me to do prostrations. Then, after several days, he would say 'This is nothing but a dog eating shit off the floor. Read sutras!' After I read for a couple of weeks, he would scold me again, saying that the patriarchs thought the sutras good only for cleaning sores. He would say, 'You're smart. Write an essay.' When I showed him an essay he would tear it up saying, 'These are all stolen ideas.' Then he would challenge me to use my own wisdom and say original things. All these arbitrary things were actually his way of training me. Whatever I did was wrong even if he had just told me to do it."

Guo Gu Two years after becoming Master Dongchu's disciple, Sheng Yen went into solitary retreat at Chao Yuan Monastery (1961-1968). "Six years passed very quickly; I had little sense of time. I hadn't accomplished what I had hoped to, but others persistently urged me to return, so I left the mountains. Returning to Taipei, I still felt inadequate. I thought that to teach Buddha Dharma in this age, I needed a modern education and a degree." So in 1969, on the strength of his works on Buddhism published during his retreat, he was admitted to Rissho University, Japan and earned a doctorate in Buddhist Literature in 1975. "During this period I visited various masters of Zen and esoteric Buddhism. I received the greatest influence from Bantetsugu Roshi, a disciple of Harada Roshi. I attended several winter-long retreats at his temple in Tohoku. Being in northern Japan, the temple had a very harsh environment. Moreover, the master seemed inclined to give me an especially hard time and constantly had his assistants beat me. Of the people there I had by far the most education, and he would say, 'You scholars have a lot of selfish attachments and vexations. Your obstructions are heavy.' "

In 1975 Sheng Yen formally received transmission received transmission from Chan Master Dongchu in the Caodong (Jp. Soto) tradition of Chan and in 1978 he received transmission from Chan Master Lingyuan of the Linji (Jp. Rinzai) tradition of Chan, becoming the second generation descendant of Chan Master Xuyun, the greatest contemporary patriarch and reviver of Chan Buddhism.

Read more

Join Our Mailing List and Follow us
Join our Mailing List Find us on Facebook