Ancient Cultivation Stories: A Monk Who Ruined His Cultivation with One Vicious Thought

Monk Huayan was a disciple of Shen Xiu of the northern sect of Zen Buddhism. Huayan once cultivated in the Temple of Heaven Palace (or the Tian Gong Temple) in Luoyang, Henan Province where he guided the cultivation of more than 300 disciples. There was a strict rule in the temple where all disciples must present their water jug and a special bowl that monks use for meals before they would have their meal served to them.

There was this one monk who was one of Huayan’s disciples and whom had reached a higher cultivation level than the other disciples. He was, however, narrow-minded and irritable. Once, this monk couldn’t join the others for his meals because he was stricken with an illness. A novice monk had lost his bowl that he normally used for his meals, so he came to see the monk. He knelt down and said, “I don’t have a bowl for my meal. I don’t know what to do without it. I was wondering if you could kindly lend me your bowl for today. I will go to buy a new one tomorrow.” The monk refused to lend him his bowl. He replied, “I have been using this bowl for several decades. I am afraid that you might accidentally break the bowl if I lend it to you.” The novice monk begged, “I am only using it for the meal today, and I will promptly return it to you. How can I possibly break it within such a brief period of time while the bowl is in my possession?” After repeated pleading, the monk finally agreed to lend the novice monk the bowl. Before he handed the bowl over, he cautioned the novice monk; “I treasure this bowl like my own life. If you should damage the bowl, you will really kill me!”

The novice monk took the bowl, and held it carefully in both hands. As soon as he finished the meal and was ready to return the bowl, the monk had already begun to hurry from his room. The novice monk held the bowl and hurried down the stairs from the canteen. Unexpectedly, the novice monk stumbled over a brick and fell down. The bowl crashed to the floor. After a few seconds, the monk began to urge him again to return the bowl to him. The novice monk was terrified, but had no way out but to go see the monk and confess. He apologised to the monk whilst repeatedly bowing to him, but the monk exclaimed, “Now you have really killed me!” He flew into a terrible rage and bombarded the novice monk with ferocious scolding and curses. Because of this incident, his health quickly deteriorated and he died the following day.

Some time after the incident, monk Huayan gave a lecture on the Law that he was teaching whilst at the Yue Temple on Mount Song to more than 100 disciples, including the novice monk. Suddenly, a noise that sounded like a hurricane and a rainstorm came from the valley from outside the temple. Monk Huayan asked the novice monk to stand behind him. Not long afterwards, a giant serpent of 8 or 9 zhang in length [Note: a zhang is a Chinese linear unit of measurement slightly longer than 10 feet.] and 4 to 5 arm spreads in diameter crawled into the temple donning an angry stare and wide open mouth. All the monks around Huayan wanted to escape, but Huayan stopped them, asking them to stay still.

The giant serpent crawled slowly to the lecture room. Upon climbing up the stairs, it began to look around as if it were trying to look for something or someone. Monk Huayan blocked its way with a tin stick and said, “Stop!” when the serpent was just about to crawl up to a chair in the lecture room. The giant serpent suddenly lowered its head and closed its eyes. Monk Huayan then began to admonish the serpent, knocking its head with the tin stick, “Since you now understand the karma you have created. You should return to the Three Treasures.” [Note: "Three Treasures" is a metaphor for Buddhism.] He asked all the monks there to chant the Buddha scriptures together towards the giant serpent, and the serpent soon crawled out of the temple.

Monk Huayan summoned the novice monk and told him, “That serpent is your teacher (the monk who had died). After many years of cultivation, he was about to achieve the right fruit. However, he flew into a rage because of the bowl. Instead of completing his right achievement, he incarnated as a giant serpent. He came here to kill you for breaking the bowl. If he had really killed you, he would have fallen to the ultimate hell, and been forever tormented there. Fortunately I stopped him from committing the crime in time, and freed him from his life as a giant serpent. You should now go and look for him.”

The disciple went out and looked for the giant serpent. It was very easy to follow the serpent’s trail for the serpent had crushed all the bushes and grass wherever it went. Walking on the serpent’s trail was like walking on a paved trail that had been made for horse carriages. It turned out that the serpent had travelled 45 Li’s into a very secluded valley before it killed itself by crushing its head onto a rock. [Note: Li is a Chinese linear unit of measurement about one third of a mile.] The disciple came back and informed monk Huayan what had happened to the serpent.

Monk Huayan said, “Now the serpent has reincarnated as the baby daughter of lang zhong, Mr. Pei. [Note: lang zhong is an ancient Chinese official rank. Pei is a Chinese surname.] This baby girl shall be extremely intelligent, but shall die at the age of 18. Then she shall be reincarnated as a baby boy, and shall cultivate in Buddhism as a monk after he grows up. Lang Zhong Pei is one of my disciples. You may travel to the town and visit lang zhong Pei for me. Lang zhong Pei’s wife is having difficulties giving birth and you should leave immediately and go to help with the delivery of the baby girl.”

Mr. Kuan Pei was a military lang zhong at the Ministry of Defence. He was also Monk Huayan’s disciple. The disciple went into town, and saw the Pei house from far away. Coincidentally Mr. Pei was on personal leave at home to be with his wife. The disciple asked a servant to pass Mr. Pei a message, “Monk Huayan has a message for you!” The doctor came out to meet the disciple, looking extremely troubled. The disciple enquired the reason and learned that his wife had been in difficult labour for six to seven days. Mr. Pei had been staying beside her every night with an oil lamp. It appears that she and the baby might not make it. The disciple said, “I can help her.” The disciple asked for a clean straw mat outside the bedroom. The disciple sat on the straw-mat, lit up the incense, knocked on a qing, and called out three times, “Monk.” [Note: a qing is a kind of Chinese musical instrument made by hollowing out a hard sonorous stone.] Mrs. Pei then gave birth to a baby girl quickly. This girl died at the age of 18 as Huayan had predicted.

Source: (Taiping Guangji)

Chinese version available at http://www.zhengjian.org/zj/articles/2003/5/8/21531.html

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