Stories from Ancient China: Leaving a World of Fame and Power to Study Buddhism

Guan Yunshi was a renowned verse writer in the Yuan dynasty of ancient China. He was the descendant of an aristocrat of Uygur with his ancestral home located in today's Jmusaer, Xinjiang Province. His grandfather was a high official with a meritorious record for helping to establish the Yuan dynasty and held the posts as Governor of the provinces of Hunan, Hubei, and Guangdong. His father held an official post regulating government affairs in Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces. His mother, the Lady of Zhao, was the daughter of Lian Ximin, an official in regulatory government affairs.

Before Guan Yunshi was born, his mother had a dream about an immortal who picked a constellation, changed it into a pearl, and give it to her. While playing with the pearl, she accidentally swallowed it and fell pregnant.

Guan Yunshi was very bright since childhood. He was skillful in martial arts, good at horsemanship and archery during his teenage years. He could hold a long lance while galloping on horseback. When he was twenty, because of the meritorious service of his grandfather, he was assigned as the highest official of the areas north and south of the Huai River, guarding Yongzhou. He enforced military regulations with strict discipline and kept the rewards and punishments fair.

One day he called his young brother, Hudu Haiya, and told him, "I always look down upon official rank and fame. But because of grandfather's noble rank I have inherited such a position. I have been in the official post for several years now and I should turn it over to you." He wrote his father to inform him of his decision. He then turned over the official document and took off the gold general's insignia and happily gave it to his brother.

After resigning from the official post, Guan Yunshi headed towards the Northern Capital where he got to know Yao Sui, a renowned writer. Yao greatly admired Guan's sharp and precise classical Chinese prose and his passionate classical music. Thus, Yao recommended Guan Yunshi to Renzong, who was waiting to be enthroned as Emperor. When Renzong heard about Guan's resignation from his noble office and that he simply handed it over to his brother, he told his officials: "It is hard to find the descendants of generals with such meritorious records. Guan Yunshi presented the Explanation of Classic of Filial Piety, which was highly praised by Renzong. Renzong appointed him as a scholar of his residence before ascending the throne.

On the first year of Yanyou (1314), when Renzong became emperor, Guan Yunshi, then 28, was named Scholar of the Imperial Academy, senior officer of Zhongfeng, official in charge of secretarial matters, and court historian. People entitled him with "Young Academician." Many officials in charge of academic affairs all wanted to be with him. He and others discussed and drafted rules for renewing the imperial civil service examination. Later, Guan presented a long letter sharply critical of current social and state affairs. But the emperor didn't adopt his suggestion. Guan Yunshi thought to himself: "Ancient sages resigned from their high official posts and then occupied lower positions. Now I am in charge of the Imperial Academy, which is higher than the position I held. People will say I am looking for reputation and seeking a good post for fame. It is time for me to leave." He thus resigned with an excuse of illness and returned to southern China.

Guan Yunshi lived in the Southern China for a decade. He traveled in the mountains and recited poetry and wrote poems. Wherever he went, government officials and their families all sought his company. They treasured his poems and paintings, even his short pieces. Guan Yunshi pondered: "I was trying to escape from undeserved reputation. But now it follows me like a shadow. It is big and flourishing here. I shall live in seclusion." Guan then lived anonymously and mixed with the regular townfolk.

Guan Yunshi studied Buddha Law diligently after he lived in seclusion in southern China. Once, he went to the Tianmu Mountain to meditate and discuss Buddha dharma with Zhongfeng, a Buddhist monk. They matched their skills sharply. Every summer, he went to the Bao Mountain to meditate. During the Renzong reign, a monk named Daoping from Hangzhou, raised funds for rebuilding the Tianlong Temple. Guan Yunshi contributed generously and wrote "Mountain Boat" for the temple.

In his poems and songs, Guan Yunshi often expressed his lack of interest in official rank and fame and thought of holding himself apart from the world.

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