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The Story of Cultivator Guo Shun's Leaving the Home-life

In every moment, do not forget the suffering of birth and death.In every thought, yearn to escape the wheel of transmigration.
Guo Shun was a native of Jilin (Lucky Grove) Province in China and made his home in the city of Harbin. His surname was Yao, and he was a farmer by occupation. His good roots from lives past led him to realize that the world was full of trials and suffering. His sensitivity to the evils that filled the world gave him the wish to leave the home-life. To realize this wish, he travelled about to seek wise teachers. One day (during the Japanese occupation of Manchuria) a patrol of Japanese soldiers found him, mistook him for a vagrant, and ordered to work in the countryside.
He was sent to the Li River forced-labor camp. Imprisoned there, his only wish was to escape, but he never got a chance. An electrified fence encircled the camp, and any person who attempted to escape was either shot to death by the guards, or was savagely attacked by killer dogs that patrolled the perimeters. Even if by sheer luck one escaped the sentries and the watchdogs, there was still the electric fence that immolated anyone who touched it. The camp was a small hell on earth, dreadful to the extreme.
One night while sleeping, Guo Shun dreamed of a long-bearded old man who told him, "Tonight is your chance to escape this cage. There's a white dog outside the door. Follow him and run away!" Startled awake, Guo Shun tiptoed to the doorway, and sure enough, saw a white dog waiting for him just outside. He walked behind the dog safely past the electrified fence, and made it all the way home without difficulty. Snatched from the jaws of death, he saw through the illusion of the material world and deeply resolved to leave the home-life to cultivate the Way.
民国三十三年冬天,我到大南沟屯为高居士的母亲治病。第二天,全屯传遍高母病愈之奇迹。这个时候,果舜听闻了,就想来拜我为师。他长跪不起,我见他很诚心,所以允许他的请求,满他的心愿,并对他开示:“在家修道不易,出家修道更难,所谓『大事未明,如丧考妣;大事已明,更如丧考妣。』修行人还要忍人所不能忍,受人所不能受,吃人所不能吃,穿人所不能穿。要勤修戒定慧,息灭贪瞋痴,这是沙门的本分。”又为他说一首偈颂: 念念莫忘生死苦, 心心想脱轮循环; 虚空粉碎明佛性, 通体脱落见本源。
In the winter of 1944, I went to the village of Danangou (Big Southern Ditch) to cure Upasaka Gao's mother's illness. The following day, news of the woman's miraculous recovery spread throughout the village. When the story reached Guo Shun, he came to ask me to be his teacher. He knelt down and did not rise. Seeing his sincerity, I permitted him to leave home, thus fulfilling his wish. I gave him these instructions: "It is not easy to cultivate at home, and to cultivate as a left-home person is harder still. It's said that, Before the great matter is clear to you, you feel as if you have lost your parents. After you understand the great matter, you feel even more as if you have lost your parents. Cultivators must endure what other people cannot endure; they must take on what others cannot take on; they must eat what others are unable to eat, and wear what others are unable to wear. The Shramana's duty is to diligently cultivate precepts, concentration, and wisdom, and to put an end to greed, hatred, and stupidity. In every moment, do not forget the suffering of birth and death. In every thought, yearn to escape the wheel of transmigration. Obliterate empty space and understand the Buddha-nature. Cast off the entire substance and see the original source.
I gave him further instructions: "We are now in the age of the Dharma's decline. Although there are still many people who leave home, those who actually cultivate the Way are very few. People who believe in the Buddha are many, but very few actually become Buddhas. Since you have now made a decision to leave home, you must make the resolve for Bodhi. Be like a bright candle in a strong gale; be like refined gold in a smelting furnace. Do not fail your initial inspiration to leave home. Work hard, and take care."
Guo Shun bowed to me and then followed me to Sanyuan (Three Conditions) Monastery to receive the Shramanera (novice) precepts; I gave him the Dharma-name of Guo Shun. After he became a monk, he made courageous, vigorous progress. He held the precepts strictly, and was never remiss or lazy. He concentrated his mind in meditation practice. Every time he entered samadhi, he would sit for an entire day and night. While in that state of concentration, he could know the causes and results of all things in the past, the present, and the future. His state was inconceivable.
In September of 1945, Guo Shun built a cottage to the left of Dragon King Temple, below West Mountain, near Danangou Village, in order to cultivate in seclusion. I took disciples Guo Neng, Guo Zuo, Guo Zhi, and others to inaugurate the temple on the opening day. On that very night, ten dragon spirits came to me seeking to become "refuge disciples." I told them, "You all have the duty of bringing rain and receiving people's offerings. There is an unseasonal drought here now. Why hasn't it rained for so long?" The dragon spirits answered in unison, "Unless the Jade Emperor gives us the order, we little spirits don't dare to randomly make the rain fall." I said to them, "Please relay my request for rain tomorrow to the Jade Emperor. Then I'll let you take refuge." The next day, as it turned out, there was a rainstorm, and the drought came to an end, which set the local farmers dancing for joy. They celebrated with songs and festivities to thank the spirits for their kindness, and everyone was quite happy about the whole thing.
These were the circumstances that commemorated the events surrounding the dedication of Guo Shun's cottage, which was thereupon named Dragon Rain Cottage.
茅棚中共有三人同修,是同村人。刘居士和杨居士,随果舜作早晚功课,以诵〈大悲咒〉为主课。后来刘居士出家为僧;杨居士被征,参加八路军,参军之后,常常写信回家,以后消息突然断绝,家人十分惦念,怀疑彼已不在人间。 民国三十七年某日,果舜和高居士在茅棚中诵〈大悲咒〉,忽然听见有人叫门的声音,开门一看,原来是杨居士回来了。他一言不发,就到屋后去了。果舜继续诵〈大悲咒〉,诵毕,到屋后去看杨居士,想问他这两年到哪儿去了?一进门,就看见一只狐狸,挟尾而逃。
Three people lived and cultivated there, all of whom were neighbors from the same town. Two laymen, Mr. Liu and Mr. Yang, did morning and evening ceremonies with Guo Shun, and they recited the Great Compassion Mantra as their primary method of cultivation. Layman Liu later left home to join the Sangha, and layman Yang was drafted into the Eighth Route Army. After becoming a soldier, he regularly sent letters home, but one day the letters suddenly stopped, much to the anxiety of the entire family; they assumed right away that their boy was no longer alive. One afternoon in 1948, Guo Shun and Mr. Gao were reciting the Great Compassion Mantra in the hut when they heard a knock on the door. They opened it to find that Mr. Yang had returned. He walked in without saying a word, and continued on to the back of the building. Guo Shun continued to recite the Great Compassion Mantra until the end of the hour. Then he went to the room at the back to see Mr. Yang, and asked where he had been during the last two years. When they entered the room they saw a fox that shook its tail and ran out.
Because Guo Shun recited the Great Compassion Mantra and led a life of virtue, the fox had no way to disturb his mind, and could only revert to its true identity. They surmised that Mr. Yang had been killed on the battlefield, and his brain had been eaten by a fox. That animal later came to their cottage to make mischief disguised as Mr. Yang. The fox spirit didn't expect that Guo Shun's samadhi-strength was already imperturbable, and that he could not be overpowered by the deviant magic. The fox spirit met its match and ran away in defeat. The story illustrates that cultivators must face all kinds of tests and take care not to be moved by circumstances.
On the fifteenth of the seventh lunar month in 1945, the day of the Ullambana celebration, I led a group of disciples to offer incense to the Buddhas and make this vow: "If I am allowed to live to the age of one hundred, I will burn my entire body as an offering to the Buddha, in quest of the supreme Way." All of the disciples present at the time made the same vow. Guo Shun also made the vow, "Disciple Guo Shun vows that if the opportunity appears, I will imitate Bodhisattva Medicine King and burn my entire body as an offering to the Buddha; I will not wait until my hundredth year before making this offering." Through my meditative contem-plation, I knew that he made this vow in past lives as well, so I permitted him to make the same vow this time.
On April 18, 1949, Guo Shun felt that all in the world was impermanent and that Buddhism had grown decadent. His pain at seeing these two truths was bitter beyond words. His grief was indescribable. Thus he vowed to burn his body, to die for the sake of Buddhism. He gathered a pile of tinder, soaked it with oil, sat on top of it in the meditation posture, then burned himself. The next day, when news of the event reached the local people, everyone came out for a look. Guo Shun's entire body had burned to ashes; only his heart remained unburnt. The villagers respected him greatly, and they buried his ashes and heart in the place where he had given up his life.
一九八一年禅七 七月十六日至廿三日 开示于万佛圣城万佛殿
A talk given during a Chan Session from July 16-23, 1981 The Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas, The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas