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The Coming into Being of Worlds

Chapter Four


Then Universal Worthy Bodhisattva, wishing to restate these principles, received the Buddhas’ awesome spiritual power, contemplated the ten directions, and spoke verses.  

The vast sea of ksetras, a boundless expanse,
Comes into being from pure karma.
Varied in adornment and location,
They completely pervade the ten directions.  

Precious, blazing clouds, infinite in hue and form,
Magnificently adorn in more ways than one.
Constantly appearing in the ten directions’ seas of ksetras,
Their wondrous sounds everywhere pronounce the Dharma.  


Then Universal Worthy Bodhisattva, the Bodhisattva of Great Conduct, wishing to restate these principles as expressed in the previous prose section and elaborate upon them, received the Buddhas’ awesome spiritual power, universally contemplated beings’ causes and conditions throughout the ten directions and spoke verses.

The vast sea of ksetras, a boundless expanse, / Comes into being from pure karma. The seas of all Buddhas’ lands are unfathomable, uncountably many. It is because of the pure karma of beings and also from the power of the vows of all Buddhas that all of these lands come into being. Varied in adornment and location, they may be suspended in space or located upon myriad jewels. They completely pervade the ten directions. There are Buddhalands everywhere th roughout space and the Dharma Realm.

In these worlds precious, blazing clouds, infinite in hue and form, / Magnificently adorn in more ways than one. These clouds are brought into being by the Six Paramitas and myriad practices of a Bodhisattva. The numerous, different adornments and all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are constantly appearing in the ten directions’ seas of ksetras, and their wondrous sounds everywhere pronounce the Dharma.

* * *

Today I’ve thought of a Taoist story from China that I will tell you. Although it’s not a Buddhist story, it is not outside the scope of Buddhism. All religions are included within Buddhism; none are outside of it. Those who slander or defame Buddhism are still included within it. They still fall within the principles of the Buddha’s teaching, because the doctrines of the Buddhadharma pervade the ten directions of the Dharma Realm and the three periods of time. Whether or not you believe in the Buddha, you are included within Buddhism.

Therefore, we can discuss the principles of Taoism. Everyone ought to know that Lao Zi was a transformation of the Venerable Mahakashyapa, one of the Buddha’s foremost disciples who specialized in dhutanga or ascetic practices. I’m not saying that the Lao Zi was Venerable Mahakashyapa himself, but that he was a transformation body sent by him.

Confucius was a transformation of Water Moon Youth, who was also a disciple of the Buddha. Yan Hui [Confucius’ disciple] was also a transformation body. These people went to China to blaze a trail for Great Vehicle Buddhism. They sent transformation bodies there to establish Taoism and Confucianism and p repare the way for Buddhism. That’s why some people say Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism are really one and the same. This is partially true . However, Taoism and Confucianism don’t completely penetrate the principles of Buddhism, but deal with them only at a superficial level.

The story I want to tell took place in Shanxi province in China. During the last years of the Southern Song dynasty (13th century), there was a wealthy landlord by the name of Wang Zhe. He graduated from the military academy. He had a wife and son, and came from a very wealthy family. One day there was a big snowfall, and two very poor beggars dressed in rags showed up at his door. Seeing them, Wang Zhe was filled with pity, and he invited them inside saying, “You shall beg on the streets no more! You can live here, and I will support you for the rest of your lives.” He was very courteous to them, despite their being beggars, as he urged them to stay. The beggars, however, were very strange people. They said to him, “We’re used to being poor. We don’t want to stay here and eat up all your food. It is our wish to undergo hardship; we will stay only a few days.”

And so the two beggars remained with Wang Zhe for perhaps a month. Although each day they prepared to depart, their host pressed them to stay a few days longer. Finally they informed him decisively that they were really leaving. Wang Zhe said, “So be it. I’ll see you off.” Now he had intended to see them as far as the gate or perhaps just a few steps down the path, but when he began to walk down the road with them, something very strange happened. It was like the time Shakyamuni Buddha took Sundarananda for what seemed a short walk, but as soon as they took a few steps, they had already traveled several miles. Suddenly Wang Zhe and the two beggars were on a bridge several miles from town. One of the beggars brought out a wine-gourd and said, “At our parting we invite you to have a cup of wine. We had a lot of wine at your place, so today it is our turn to treat you. When Wang Zhe had drunk three cups of the rather heady wine, one of the beggars said, “Now we must go. We will meet again, if you are here on this bridge next year on the third day of the third month. Farewell until then.” And the two of them continued on down the road.

Wang Zhe was so drunk that he passed out on the bridge. Meanwhile his family and the townspeople were looking everywhere for him, thinking something had happened to him. They finally found him on the bridge and carried him home. When he became conscious again, he said, “I took only a couple of steps--how could I suddenly have been as far as the bridge? Those two beggars were surely immortals! Face-to-face with those two immortals, I didn’t recognize them--how pathetic!” He had a bit of an awakening at that time. He thought, “Well, I’ll get another chance next year on the third day of the third month. I’ll be there to meet them again on the bridge.” From that day on he didn’t go anywhere. His wife wouldn’t let him out of the door because of the time when he was found dead-drunk on the public bridge.

The next year, however, on the third day of the third month, he quietly slipped out and made his way to the bridge outside town, hoping to meet the two beggars. And there they were, waiting for him. Overjoyed, Wang Zhe ran up to them and knelt before them, exclaiming, “I’m so happy to see you, divine immortals! Please teach me without delay how to cultivate and put an end to birth and death!”

One of the beggars said, “Oh! So you recognize us now, eh? Fine, we will transmit the teachings to you.”

They taught Wang Zhe various methods of cultivating concentration; how to regulate his breath; how to “smelt the cinnabar”; and they taught him that method. Wang Zhe then respectfully asked what their real names were, and they replied that they were Zhong and Lü, the former being Han Zhong Li and the latter being Lü Dongbin, two of the Eight Immortals of Taoism. Lü Dongbin was the disciple of Zhong Liquan. When Wang Zhe heard their names, he thought, “Oh, so the two great immortals Zhong and Lü have come to teach me.”

When Wang Zhe returned home to his wife and son, he found that domestic squalor wasn’t at all conducive to cultivation of the Way. So what do you think he did? He feigned insanity. Whenever he saw people he would try to hit or bite them, or he would laugh and cry hysterically. He was only pretending, though, and wasn’t really insane. When his wife saw what a state he was in, she had him locked up in a little room. No one dared come near him for fear of some crazy outburst from him. In seclusion like this, he was finally able to concentrate on his meditation.

For twelve years he diligently worked at it, until he finally attained a certain degree of enlightenment. In his contemplation he knew that he had disciples in Shandong province. So using his spiritual penetrations, he left his little room in Shanxi and went to Tonghai county in Shandong province. He went to the home of the richest man in the district, Ma Yu. Ma Yu and his wife, Sun Yuanzhen were over forty years of age but had no children. Wang Zhe contemplated their causes and conditions and saw that these two people should be the first to be taught. He thought for a while about how to do so, and finally decided that since his two teachers had manifested as beggars to teach him, he would also pose as a beggar to teach Ma Yu and his wife.

Disguised as a beggar in tattered clothes, he appeared at their doorstep to beg. He went there once a day every day for six months, but neither Ma Yu nor his wife even said a single word to him. His disciples didn’t recognize their teacher. Since they paid no attention to him, he had no way to teach them. Although this teacher was compassionate, he was also embarrassed. He probably still had an ego left, so although he had spiritual powers, he was attached to the thought, “I have spiritual powers.”

One day Ma Yu returned home dispirited and depressed. His wife said to him, “What is the matter with you today? What are you troubled about?” He replied, “We are both over forty years old and have no children to carry on after we die. Who will take over all of my wealth?”

His wife said to him, “There is something we should do. Even if we had sons and daughters we would still have to undergo much suffering. We should cultivate the Way to put an end to it. We are so wealthy, surely we can find a virtuous and wise teacher to teach us how to cultivate and realize our work in the Way, to put an end to birth and death.”

Ma Yu stared speechlessly at his wife for a moment and then said, “You must be dreaming! Cultivating the Way is a very difficult undertaking, easy to talk about but hard to do. Who has really realized the Way? How many really become immortals? This is really some fantasy you’re having! Why don’t you just ascend to the Heaven of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception while you’re about it?”

His wife said, “No, I mean it. We can find a wise teacher to help us.”

Ma Yu retorted, “A wise teacher? Do you see any around here? Where could we possibly find a truly wise teacher to study with?”

“You know, that beggar who comes every day...He’s quite unusual. He has the look of virtue about him. I think he can help us. It’s certainly worth a try.”

Ma Yu liked his wife’s proposal and said, “Alright, I’ll speak to him about it the next time he comes.” When Wang Zhe (who later changed his name to Wang Chongyang) came by Ma Yu’s house, Ma Yu called out rather disrespectfully, “Hey old man, don’t go begging anymore. Come and stay with us. You don’t have to live so miserably. We’ll give you plenty of food and a nice place for you to stay.”

“Keep your nice house and nice food for yourself,” retorted the beggar. “I don’t want them. I prefer my alms, and I’ll live where I please.”

Ma Yu had not expected the old beggar to reject his offer. He went back and said to his wife, “You say that old man’s a virtuous teacher? Well, he just turned down my offer to stay in our home.”

His wife said, “You must have put it wrongly, otherwise how could he refuse?”

“Why don’t you try talking to him?” said Ma Yu.

The wife went to the old man and said, “Sir, we know that you are a cultivator of true virtue. We would like to invite you to live in our home and teach us to cultivate. Please be compassionate and accept our offer.”

“Why do you want to study with me?” asked the old man.

“You have the appearance of someone who is truly free and at ease,” replied the wife. “We think very highly of you.”

“If you know that I am free and at ease,” said the old man, “why don’t you be free and at ease yourself?”

“I yearn for purity but have not been able to attain it,” said the wife. “I wish to be free, but freedom is beyond my reach because I don’t know how to cultivate. That’s why we wish to invite the Master to come live with us and teach us. Then our home itself will be a Way-place.”

Wang Chongyang listened to her request and agreed to move into their house. After he had lived there for some time, Ma Yu still had not brought forth the resolve of a Bodhisattva, but was concerned only about his own cultivation and that of his wife. One day Wang Chongyang called Ma Yu to him and said, “Do you know why I came to Tonghai county in Shandong province?” Ma Yu didn’t know. “I came because of you,” Wang Chongyang told him.

“What do you mean?” asked Ma Yu.

“I came for your wealth,” said Wang.

When Ma Yu heard that, he thought, “What is a cultivator doing being greedy for money? He must be a fraud.” He went to his wife and said, “Your virtuous teacher is no cultivator. He’s actually a swindler who’s come for our money.”

His wife said, “No, I think you’re mistaken. He must have spoken like that for a reason. Go and ask him what he wants your wealth for.”

When Ma Yu asked him, Wang replied, “You have so much money. It would be good to offer it to cultivators from the ten directions. You ought to provide cultivators with a place to stay and food to eat so that they can devote themselves to cultivation without having to worry about their livelihood. Wouldn’t that be a good way to use your wealth?”

Ma Yu was in total agreement when he realized that his teacher wanted him to establish a place of practice. Accordingly he made a public announcement that any cultivator who came would be provided with room and board and all their daily needs. When the word spread, people came from far and wide, some to cultivate, and some merely to take advantage of the free food and lodging. Some were destitute families with no means of support; others were bandits hiding from the authorities. There were also elderly folks who had no children to support them. In all, three or four thousand people assembled together to cultivate. Wang Chongyang lectured the texts and explained the teachings to them, teaching them the methods of cultivation. Everyone was captivated and not a single person left. Why didn’t anyone leave? For one, they had good food, good clothing, and a good place to live. They wouldn’t find such conditions anywhere else.

To cultivate the Way, one must have the requisites of good teaching, wealth, companions, and a place. The good teachings guide one in the methods of cultivation. Wealth is needed to provide the practitioner with the necessities of life. One person alone might be able to make it living in a hut and eating wild plants and roots, but when there are a lot of people, there has to be a reliable food supply that provides sufficient nutrition. For example, some people like to have milk or cheese or other dairy products in their diet.

Ten years later, Wang Chongyang suddenly contracted a horrible illness. His body broke out in hideous sores that oozed blood and pus and stank horribly. Probably the free food and clothing no longer seemed so attractive to the three or four thousand disciples. Since their teacher was ill, they became quite scattered and lax. Most of them thought, “Our teacher gave us all those lectures on how to cultivate and end birth and death. Look at him now! He’s like a clay Bodhisattva trying to make it across the river; he can’t even save himself. How could a real cultivator get so sick? Let’s go elsewhere and look for a teacher with real skill.” Thereupon, most of the three to four thousand disciples packed their bags and left.

Only seven disciples stayed behind. They were: Qiu Changchun, Liu Changsheng, Tan Changzhen, Ma Danyang (Ma Yu), Hao Taigu, Wang Yuyang, and Sun Yuanzhen (Sun Bu’er). These seven people took care of their teacher despite the horrible stench of his body. In a short while, the sores healed and his body no longer stank. Then Wang Chongyang said to his disciples, “We are going to make a trip to the south.”

As they traveled south from Shandong province, the seven disciples took turns going out to seek alms. Wang Chongyang would partake of the almsfood collected by every disciple except Qiu Changchun. One time Qiu Changchun went for alms and obtained a lot of manto u s (steamed buns), and he came back eager to offer them to his teacher, whom he knew liked manto u s . But when he offered a plate of manto u s to his teacher, his teacher angrily threw the plate to the ground. This did not upset Qiu, who slowly picked up the manto u s and ate them himself.

At night the disciples all slept in the same room with their teacher. One particularly chilly night, Qiu built a fire because he worried that his teacher would be cold. When his teacher saw this, he was furious and put the fire out with one flap of his sleeve. When the fire was extinguished, smoke filled the room, causing the seven disciples to cough and wheeze. Since they couldn’t meditate inside, they moved outside. Once they started meditating, they were no longer cold.

The next morning, Wang told his disciples, “We’re going home.” And so they returned to Ma Yu’s home. Although Ma Yu and Sun Yuanzhen were husband and wife, they lived in separate rooms in order to make headway in their cultivation. One day Wang Chongyang went into Sun Yuanzhen’s room and said to her, “You must be really lonely here. How can you bear it?” When she heard these words, she thought he was trying to seduce her, and so, in a rage, she tore out of her room and went to complain to her husband.

“Our teacher is a fraud! We’ve been fooled!” she cried.

“What happened?” asked Ma Yu.

“I was meditating in my room,” said the wife, “and our teacher came in and said some very improper things to me. He tried to seduce me, telling me how beautiful I was and saying I should find a man to cultivate with.”

Ma Yu smiled, “Really?”

“If you don’t believe it, I’ll take you to my room.” But when they got to her room, it was empty. “Well, he must have run out after I came to find you,” Sun Yuanzhen said.

Ma Yu said, “I was just talking with our teacher in his room, when he told me to go back to my own room because someone was looking for me. And as soon as I got to my room, there you were. How could our teacher have been in your room when I was talking with him?”

Sun Yuanzhen said, “You must be confused. How can you not believe me?” Seeing that there was no way to convince her husband, she returned to her own room. A few days later, Wang Chongyang appeared again in her room and spoke and acted very lewdly as before. This time Sun Yuanzhen made up an excuse to leave the room, closed the door and locked it from the outside, making sure her teacher couldn’t escape.

When she reached her husband’s room, Ma Yu said, “Oh, I bet you’re going to tell me our teacher went to your room again, right? Well, I was just talking with him in his room, and again he told me you were looking for me.”

“I don’t care what you say,” said Sun Yuanzhen. “Just go take a look in my room.” But when they unbolted the door, the room was empty. At that point Sun Yuanzhen knew she had made a mistake. She realized that her teacher’s state was inconceivable, and that he had manifested a transformation body to test her. Thereupon she came to have deep faith in her teacher.

One day she went before Wang Chongyang and requested to be taught how to cultivate. Wang Chongyang told her, “A cultivator must find a place with sublime energy to practice. Now there is such an efficacious place in Loyang, Henan province. It’s said that someone will achieve immortality there. Do you think you can go there to cultivate?”

“Yes, I can,” replied Sun.

Wang Chongyang said, “You think you can, but I don’t think so. You’re too pretty. What if you’re molested by vagrants on the road?”

“Don’t worry,” said Sun Yuanzhen. “I can do something about that.” Then she went into the kitchen and started to heat a big pot of oil. When the oil was boiling, she drew her face very close to the pot and poured some water into the oil. Immediately the oil spattered like sparks, scorching her entire face until it was covered with large blisters. Then she went before her teacher and asked, “Can I go now?”

Wang Chongyang said, “Remarkable! The way you look now, you won’t have any trouble.” And so she went to Henan.

Sun Yuanzhen later changed her name to Sun Bu’er (“not two”). Her cultivation addressed nonduality. That is, she concentrated single-mindedly on cultivating the method that her teacher had taught her. When she reached Loyang, she found an abandoned kiln--a place where bricks and tiles are fired, lived in it for twelve years, and realized sagehood.

Meanwhile, Wang Chongyang was still staying at Ma Yu’s home. He became gravely ill again and started to behave as if demented. One day he said to his six disciples, “I’m going to break my vegetarian fast. Go and buy me a few pounds of meat.” Although they didn’t really want to, they couldn’t disobey their teacher. And so they bought some meat and brought it to their teacher. Wang Chongyang had them hang it on a rack in his room. In the hot weather, the meat soon rotted. Countless numbers of maggots started crawling in and out of the meat, as if they were swimming in it. The stench pervaded the entire house.

Some days later Wong Chongyang called his six disciples and said, “I can’t finish all this meat by myself. Today I invite you to break your vegetarian fast and eat some of it. Whoever wants to can take some, but you have to eat it raw.” Five of the disciples refused to have anything to do with it. Not only did they not eat it, they closed their eyes as if they were seasoned cultivators. Only Qiu Changchun dared to try. He tore off a piece of meat, put it into his mouth, and started to chew it. The more he chewed, the more delicious it tasted. Pretty soon he finished the entire piece. When he was about to take another piece, Wang Chongyang said, “Don’t be greedy. You should save the other half for me. You’ve already snatched away the position of the number-one immortal. That’s enough. Don’t down the whole thing.” Meanwhile the other five disciples had no idea of how delicious the meat was.

Wang Chongyang finished the last piece of meat, and not long afterwards he died. His disciples placed his body in a coffin and set out for his hometown in Shanxi for the burial. Strangely enough, the coffin was very light and could be lifted by only two people. The disciples took turns carrying the coffin in pairs. When it was mealtime, people mysteriously came and made offerings of food to them. They didn’t have to worry about food, unlike our monks on their bowing pilgrimage, who always “recite” the name of a certain layperson who brings their lunch. Whenever it was time to eat, the food just came.

Qiu Changchun was curious to know why people were bringing them food like this. When they were about thirty miles from their destination, he told the other five, “I’ve got a terrible stomachache. I’m going to walk ahead to find a place to relieve myself.” ( This is similar to when Kissinger complained of a stomachache in Pakistan.) When he walked into the village up ahead, he caught sight of a yellow-robed figure, who was none other than his teacher. His teacher was seeking alms from a family, saying, “Behind me are some people carrying a coffin. They haven’t had anything to eat. Please be compassionate and make offerings to them. If you create affinities with them, everything will turn out well for you. Everything will be lucky and as you wish.” Overjoyed, Qiu Changchun ran up to him, knelt, and hugged him by the knees. “So you didn’t die after all, Teacher. You really had us fooled! We were so miserable thinking you were dead.”

His teacher scolded him, “You rascal, you’re too smart for your own good! You don’t know how to conceal your intelligence. Since you keep showing off how smart you are, you’re going to have to undergo three extra years of difficult tests. You have to suffer three more years before you gain realization. That’s what you get for using your petty intelligence.”

Qiu Changchun was the most intelligent among the disciples. He understood things without having to be taught. He understood his teacher’s intent. For example, when his teacher refused to eat the manto u s , he knew it was a test. No matter how severely his teacher berated him, he bore it patiently. This time he thought he’d caught up with his teacher for good, but after his teacher finished speaking, he vanished in thin air. From that point on, there were no more offerings of food, and the disciples had a difficult time on the last thirty miles of the journey.

After they delivered the coffin to their teacher’s home, they stayed there for a few days and then each went his own way. Some went in pairs; others traveled alone. Hao Taigu went to Huashan (Flower Mountain) and started to hollow out a cave in the mountainside. When he was done, an old cultivator passed by and said, “Since you know how to make caves, could you give this cave to me and make another one for yourself?”

Hao Taigu reasoned that as a cultivator, he should practice compassion and expedient ly benefit others. So he said, “Fine, you can have this cave to live in.” And he started to make another cave. But each time he finished a cave, someone would come along and ask him for it. This went on until he had hollowed out seventy-two caves (as he was a stone mason by trade), and seventy-two people had asked him for them. He thought to himself, “Every time I make a cave, someone asks for it. I should find a very high place where no one else can go. Then I can make my own cave there and no one will come and bother me.”

He went up to the highest peak of Huashan. (Huashan is one of the five famous mountains in China; it is in the west and has a lot of bamboo. One of my disciples has been there, but I don’t know if she saw all the caves that Hao Taigu built.) Anyway, he built his cave in that inaccessible place, and no one asked him for it. But one day someone showed up and asked to become his disciple. He accepted the disciple, and they cultivated together. His disciple was very dependable and attended faithfully upon his teacher. In order to go up and down the mountain, Hao Taigu would scale the side of the cliff holding onto a metal chain.

That’s why no other people could reach the place. One day Hao Taigu went down the mountain. At that point, his honest disciple became naughty. When his teacher was halfway down the cliffside, he unfastened the chain and his teacher fell all the way to the bottom. Thinking that his teacher was surely dead, he packed all the teacher’s belongings and was about to descend the mountain, when his teacher came up from the other side. “Where are you going?” his teacher asked.

“Oh, Teacher!” gasped the disciple in surprise. “I thought you’d died from that fall. I was getting ready to leave because I can’t stay here all by myself.”

“Don’t go,” said Hao Taigu. “You can still come back and cultivate with me.” The disciple wondered how his teacher could still be alive after such a fall. But he returned and cultivated with his teacher, and eventually they both realized sagehood.

That was Hao Taigu. What about Liu Changsheng? Where do you think he went to cultivate? He went to a street where prostitutes lived. He cultivated amidst these women of ill repute. Every day the prostitutes would put flowers in his hat, knowing that whoever did so would have good business that day. When his fellow cultivators heard that he was keeping company with prostitutes, they thought he had fallen and were determined to save him. When they found him, he was laughing and chatting with the prostitutes, who were all trying to put flowers in his hat.

“Brother cultivator, how can you cultivate among these disreputable women?” they asked. “You really ought to find another place to cultivate.”

“Fine,” he said. “Where do you suggest that I go?”

“Why don’t you go into the mountains?” they replied.

“Okay, but let me make you some tea before we go,” Liu Changsheng said.

His fellow cultivators thought, “You have tea to drink here? What luxury! In the mountains sometimes we can’t even find fresh water to drink.” And so they waited for him to make tea. How did he make it? He put a teakettle on top of his stomach, and soon the water started to boil. Seeing this, his fellow cultivators realized that he had already gained attainment , and could use the fire of concentration to boil water. They saw that he had not fallen, but had surpassed them all. Then they took their leave. Liu Changsheng came to be known as “Old Patriarch Flowers,” because women always stuck flowers in his hat.

Qiu Changchun had been told by his teacher that he would have to undergo three additional years of suffering. After delivering his teacher’s coffin, he also traveled to various places. Once he came upon a river with no bridge over it. It was dangerous for travelers, and sometimes people lost their lives trying to wade across. Qiu decided he would act as a human “bridge” and carry people across the river. He carried people from one side to the other, thereby attaining “paramita” (“to reach the other shore”). Even though his legs turned black from wading back and forth in the toxic water of the river, he persisted in his work.

One day he met a physiognomist who told him, “Although you are doing acts of good by carrying people across the river, your face bears the unfortunate configuration of ‘soaring snake locking up the jaws,’ which means eventually you’ll starve to death.” Qiu Changchun was basically very intelligent, but he did not have enough virtue. That’s why he was fated to suffer. When he heard the physiognomist’s words, he became irrational and foolish. He thought, “Since I’m fated to die of starvation, I might as well get it over with quickly.”

And so he went upstream along the river, found a large boulder with a flat surface, and decided he would sit on it and starve himself to death. He sat on the rock and went without food. When he was too hungry to sit up, he lay down on the rock. When he was close to the point of death, suddenly for no reason a huge flood erupted. The water rose and swept over the boulder. A peach came floating along on the water and somehow ended up right in Qiu Changchun’s mouth. Without even being aware of it, he had swallowed the peach. In an instant his energy was revived, and he was no longer on the brink of death.

Then he thought, “The river brought a peach and frustrated my plan. I should go up into the mountains, far away from the water. There I will succeed in starving myself to death without fail.” And so he went into the mountains and found a large tree. Then he took a strong iron chain and yoked himself to the tree trunk, and then he flung the key as far away as he could. He went without food and drink for many days, until he was again on the brink of death.

Suddenly an old man who was picking herbs wandered by. When he saw Qiu Changchun, he was aghast. “Friend, what grave offense have you committed that you have to undergo this torture?” Qiu Changchun told the old man, “I haven’t committed any offense. I have locked myself to this tree, because I am fated to starve to death, and I want to get it over with quickly.”

The old man asked him, “You are a cultivator. Why did you leave the home-life?”

“I want to seek immortality and avoid death,” replied Qiu.

“How can one avoid death?” asked the old man.

“If one cultivates, one can avoid death,” said Qiu.

“If it’s possible to avoid death, then isn’t it possible to escape starving to death?” the old man asked Qiu.

Qiu suddenly understood. “If I can avoid death through cultivation, then I can also change my fate and not starve to death! It’s too bad I threw the key away, and so I have no way to unyoke myself from this tree.”

“Don’t worry,” said the old man, and he found the key and unlocked the chain.

From that time on, Qiu Changchun undertook ascetic practices. What kind of ascetic practices? He didn’t have a hut to live in, nor did he have a bowl and chopsticks to eat with. He collected discarded rags and sewed them together to make a robe for himself. He went around collecting other people’s leftovers to eat. He had no permanent dwelling. Sometimes he spent the night at the foot of a tree, or on the bank of a river. Everywhere was home to him. He didn’t have a tent, a bowl, or chopsticks. All he carried was a dried gourd. He ate his food from it, drank his water from it, and even used it as a hat.

One day a heavy snow fell, and he took refuge in a pile of horse manure. Sitting in meditation in the manure pile, he was suddenly inspired to speak a verse. He began, “My body is nestled in this manure pile, and my head is topped with a gourd-ladle. Suddenly the heavens send down goose feathers.” He had spoken this much, when suddenly someone passed by. Seeing white vapor coming from the manure pile and hearing a human voice, that person grabbed half a brick and threw it at where the vapor was coming from.

In an instant, Qiu Changchun’s only belonging--the gourd-ladle--was smashed to pieces! Thereupon he finished his verse: “One family is stuffed with food; a thousand families are griping. Half a brick smashed my gourd-ladle.” “One family” refers to himself. He was warm and well-fed, but other people were upset and envious, so they smashed his ladle. His state could be described like this: “The family is split up; everyone has died. It’s hard to talk about it.” And so cultivators have to be able to take bitterness and endure suffering before they can hope to succeed.

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