Events in the Life of the Venerable Master Hua


When I was practicing filial piety beside my mother's grave, there was a controversial issue. Some people thought it was right and good, while others thought it was wrong and bad. It was the matter of many villagers making offerings to me of all kinds of food, clothing, and things.

There was another Bhikshu who had great spiritual powers. What kind of spiritual powers? The ability to eat. He took only one meal a day, but he had a huge bowl that could hold ten pounds of food, and he could eat three bowlfuls a day. He ate really fast, too, like a hungry ghost! He thought that I probably didn't have any food to eat living beside the grave, and so one day he sent me a big basket of steamed dumplings. Those dumplings have a colloquial name, which is "inside two and outside eight."

Dhyana Master Chao Zhou didn't know what "inside two and outside eight" referred to. At that time he was over eighty years old. One day someone asked him "Do you know what an inside two and outside eight is?" The old monk was unable to answer the question. He knew it was food, but didn't know the reason behind that name. So he said, "Bring them to me, and I will eat them." The person had assumed that Master Chao Zhou knew he was talking about steamed dumplings, but actually the monk didn't know. As a result Master Chao Zhou remorsefully thought, "Here I have been cultivating for such a long time, and I don't even know the meaning behind the name of this kind of food. What have I been cultivating? A muddled path? I should go out and investigate."

Although he wanted to go out and study, his eyes were failing, his teeth had fallen out, and his legs had gone into retirement. What could he do? He decided to have a chat with his attendant. He called him in and asked him, "May I borrow something from you?" The attendant thought, "If my master wants something, how can I not lend it to him?" Therefore he said, "Anything that the Venerable Master would like, I am willing to lend him." Master Chao Zhou said, "As long as you agree to it, that's fine. You don't have to ask me what thing I want to borrow. Now run along and go back to sleep."

The attendant felt this was a rather strange request, but he went back to sleep. The next morning on waking up he took a look in the mirror and just about had a fit! He saw that he now had a long beard and teeth that were falling out; in fact, he looked exactly like the old monk Chao Zhou. He was panic-stricken, "Oh no, this is terrible! How did I come into this body of the old master?" He ran off to find Master Chao Zhou. When he entered the master's room, he found himself standing there. This terrified him even more, so that he was screaming and yelling, "What's happening?"

Master Chao Zhou comforted him in a gentle voice, "Don't stir up a scene. I will return your body to you eventually. You needn't be afraid. Now you'd better stand in for me as the Abbot, while I go out to investigate a little."

So Master Chao Zhou went from the south to the north in his investigation. In the northern region, he saw people making steamed dumplings. As they kneaded the dough, they used two fingers to knead the inside of the dumpling, while eight fingers remained outside to shape the exterior of the dumpling. He asked the people, "What is the name of this food?" They answered, "You don't know what this is called?! This is 'inside two and outside eight'--steamed dumplings!"

Suddenly Master Chao Zhou understood. There was nothing else to do, so he came home and returned the young body to his attendant, and crept back into his old, weak, and worn body. So it's said, "Chao Zhou went out to travel at the age of eighty." However, he didn't do it in his own body. He traded bodies with his young attendant, because his own body was falling apart and not fit for travel. That's the story of 'inside two and outside eight.'

At that time, a Bhikshu sent me a basket of those dumplings, also called "wowotou," about fifty or sixty of them. This was a Bhikshu who ate one meal a day. He was afraid I would starve to death, so he offered me these dumplings. He probably could have finished them in a day or two, but I ate them slowly and took three weeks to finish them. On the last day, the steamed dumplings had developed long mold, about one and a half inches thick. I didn't expose them under the sun or let the wind dry them. I was very lazy at that time. After eating, I usually sat there and didn't pay attention to anything. As a result, the food developed long mold when the weather got hot. At that time I wiped away the mold and ate all the wowotou's.

This kind of food was really hard to eat--it stank even worse than excrement. Even now, thinking of them makes me want to vomit. However, I couldn't throw them away, because they were offerings made by a left-home person, and I was only a novice. On the other hand, they really tasted terrible. Other people who saw me eating them told me not to eat them, saying I would get sick. "And what if I get sick?" I asked. "Then you won't be able to cultivate," they said. "I'm perfectly willing to die, how much the more get sick!" I replied. I had put mind and body down, so I could eat anything, no matter how bad it tasted. I ate them, but nothing happened to me and I didn't get sick.

While I was practicing filial piety beside the grave, I went to leave the home-life. Before leaving home, I had taken refuge with Great Master Chang Ren, who, despite being illiterate, spoke very elegantly. Great Master Chang Ren was the Abbot of the temple. He had practiced filial piety beside his parents' graves for six years, during the second three years of which he didn't eat cooked food and didn't speak to people. Living at the temple where I left home were forty or fifty Bhikshus, but sometimes as few as a dozen. When I first arrived at the temple, the Abbot was out begging and none of the Bhikshus knew me. "I know the Abbot, and I want to leave the home-life," I said, and they welcomed me.

After leaving home, I practiced austerities, but not the ones you practice. You type, recite Sutras, and so forth, but in the big rural temple where I lived, there was a lot of outside work to be done. Sweeping the courtyard alone took an hour. My first job was to clean the toilets, which weren't flush toilets, but pit toilets, and every day the waste had to be removed because the cultivators did not want to smell the odor. They gave this work to me because I had just left home and had not yet cut off my attachment to smells. I did it every day and didn't mind it too much.

I did various chores at the temple, such as sweeping. When it snowed I got up before everyone else at two o'clock and swept the walkways so that they were clear at four when everyone else got up to go to the Buddha hall and recite Sutras. I did this work for a long time without anyone else knowing.

Although I had loved to fight with people as a child, after leaving home I was often beaten, scolded, and bullied by others. Everyone looked down on me, thinking I was totally incapable. The other monks at the temple took advantage of me, scolded me, and even struck me at times.
When the Abbot returned and saw me he said, "So you have come!"
Yes," I said, "I have."
After I had formally left home, he called a meeting, wishing to elect a head monk, a position second only to the Abbot. When the Abbot retires, the head monk becomes the new Abbot. Among the several dozen monks, the Abbot wanted to choose me. Everyone objected, "He has just left home. How can he be the head monk?"
"Very well," said the Abbot. "Let's go before the image of Weitou Bodhisattva and draw names." Oddly enough (Weitou Bodhisattva must have wanted to give me some work to do), they drew three times and my name came up each time. No one said a word because I had been elected by Weitou Bodhisattva himself. At that time I was still a novice monk.

Later, when the Abbot wanted to make me a manager, I thought, "It's too much trouble. If he tells me to do it, I won't touch money. How will he expect me to be the manager then?" So I said, "All right, but I will not touch money. Other people must handle and count it. That is my condition." That's how I started holding the precept of not touching money.

Unusual things happened when I held this precept. Whenever I went to the train station near the temple, I didn't bring money to buy a ticket, because I couldn't hold money. I would sit and wait for someone who knew me to come and offer to buy me a ticket. If no one came I just waited, but strangely enough, whenever I went to the station, someone would come and ask me where I wanted to go and then buy me a ticket. And so in Manchuria there was a short period during which money and I parted company. I didn't touch money.

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