Purelanders.com edited & translated article,
as featured in SBL’s magazine
Monastic Dharma Name: Shi Fazhao (Great Master)
Status: Fourth Patriarch Of The Pure Land Tradition (School)
Family Name: Unknown
Place Of Birth: Shanxi Hanzhong (Present day Yang County in Shanxi Province)
Year Of Birth: 747 C.E.
Year Of Rebirth: 821 C.E.
Best Known Works: Praise Of Pure Land’s Five Assemblies Of Mindfulness Of Buddha’s Outline Of Dharma Rites And Rituals, Pure Land’s Five Assemblies Of Mindfulness of Buddha’s Recitation Of Sutras And Visualisation Practice’s Rites
Great Master Fazhao was born in 747 C.E., in what was known as Shanxi Hanzhong (now Yang County in Shanxi Province). Having renounced the household life at a young age, among the patriarchs of the Pure Land Tradition, he had the most recorded incidents of spiritual connection with response.
In the Tang Dynasty’s Yongtai year (765 C.E.), Great Master was 18, as he greatly admired Great Master Huiyuan’s illustrious legacy, he travelled to Mount Lu’s Donglin Monastery, to connect to the Pure Land bodhimanda (practice centre). Later, due to cultivation of Samadhi From Mindfulness Of Buddha, he reached the Land Of Ultimate Bliss. He saw a monastic wearing dirty and tattered robes, attending beside the Buddha. With the Buddha’s clear indication, he came to know that he was Mount Heng’s Chengyuan (the Third Patriarch Of The Pure Land Tradition). After which, he directly went towards Nanyue’s Mount Heng, and found Great Master Chengyuan within its rocky valleys. Thereafter, through Great Master Chengyuan, he focused upon cultivation of the Pure Land teachings.
At that time, Mount Heng had much fame as a practice centre for mindfulness of Buddha. Over tens of thousands came to learn. After receiving the authentic tradition of the Pure Land teachings from Great Master Chengyuan, Great Master Fazhao was even more focused and dedicated on diligent and untiring cultivation of the Dharma Door Of Mindfulness Of Buddha. In the second year, he started to propagate the Dharma of the Five Assemblies Of Mindfulness Of Buddha.
Great Master made lifelong commitment to enter the practice centre for Pratyutpanna mindfulness of Buddha every summer for 90 days. In the same year, at Chang’an’s Zhangjing Monastery’s Pure Land Hall, relying on the Immeasurable Life Sutra, he composed the Praise Of Pure Land’s Five Assemblies Of Mindfulness Of Buddha’s Outline Of Dharma Rites And Rituals. After that, with the Pure Land’s Five Assemblies Of Mindfulness of Buddha’s Recitation Of Sutras And Visualisation Practice’s Rites, he detailedly introduced the Dharma Door Of Five Assemblies Of Mindfulness Of Buddha.
In Tang Dynasty, Emperor Daizong’s Dali second year (767 C.E.), at Nanyue Yunfeng, Great Master happened to look within his alms bowl, and saw auspicious clouds around a high mountain’s monastery. To the valley stream’s northern face was a stone gate, within which was a monastery, with the name ‘Monastery Of The Great Sage’s Bamboo Grove’ (Dasheng Zulinsi) in golden characters. Although Great Master saw these scenes clearly, he still suspected that it could be his imagination.
After a period of time, when eating alms food, he saw within the alms bowl again, five-coloured auspicious clouds and towering pavilions, even seeing Manjusri Bodhisattva with many sages in an assembly, teaching the Dharma from the sutras. Only after finishing the alms food, did the scenes then disappear. Great Master inquired of other monks, before knowing they were scenes of the Mountain [Range] Of Five Terraces (which is Wutaishan, the holy mountain of Manjusri Bodhisattva), therefore giving rise to strong aspiration to make a pilgrimage there. However, conditions that obstructed were extremely many, such that he was yet to be able to accomplish his travelling.
In the summer of the Dali’s fourth year (769 C.E.), when Great Master was at Hengzhou’s Hudong Monastery to initiate the place for practice of the ‘Five Assemblies Of Mindfulness Of Buddha’, there was the auspicious response of five-coloured clouds completely covering the monastery. Within the auspicious clouds appeared many towering pavilions and monasteries. Amitabha Buddha [i.e. Amituofo] and two Bodhisattvas with tall and huge forms filled the sky. All who participated in the Dharma assembly saw them clearly, with each prostrating reverently with enthusiastic joy. Such was the scene that continued for four hours before it disappeared.
That night, where mindfulness of Buddha was practised, Great Master met an old man, who said to him, ‘As the Dharma Master once gave rose to the aspiration to make a pilgrimage to the Mountain Of Five Terraces, why are you, for so long, still not travelling there?’
Great Master replied, ‘As obstacles and difficulties are extremely many, and the journey to it is far, how can I go?’ The old man said, ‘As long as you are willing to be determined, how can the path being distant and rough be able to obstruct you?‘ Having finished speaking, he suddenly disappeared.
Both surprised and joyful, Great Master, before the Buddha image renewed his vows, and awaited for the Dharma assembly for mindfulness of Buddha to come to the end, before immediately setting off. Even if fires gathered and rivers froze, he was determined to never retreat. Thus, together with a number of those with the same aspiration, they embarked on the journey with inspiration, which did indeed go smoothly.
In Dali fifth year (770 C.E.), on the fifth day of the fourth month, Great Master and four others reached the Mountain Of Five Terraces. Receiving illumination of the Buddha’s light for guidance, they searched for and found the ‘Monastery Of The Great Sage’s Bamboo Grove’, where Manjusri Bodhisattva and Samantabhadra Bodhisattva were seen sitting upright upon the lion’s treasure throne, for the assembly speaking the Dharma, which could be heard distinctly.
After reverently prostrating to the two great Bodhisattvas, Great Master asked, ‘The Dharma-Ending Age’s ordinary beings, are away from the sages, distant in time, with knowledge transformed to be lowly, with obstacles from defilements that are especially deep, with their Buddha-nature unable to appear. The Buddha’s teachings are vast, and I have yet to examine them [all, to know] which Dharma door, is the most essential. I only wish the great sage(s), can break my web of doubt.’
Manjusri Bodhisattva answered, ‘You now should practise mindfulness of Buddha, as now is the right time. Of all doors to cultivate practices, there is none like mindfulness of Buddha, and offering to the Triple Gem [of Buddhas, Dharma and Sangha], to cultivate both blessings and wisdom. These two Dharma doors, are the most essential paths. I, when within past kalpas, due to contemplation of Buddha thus, due to mindfulness of Buddha thus, due to making of offerings thus, have now attained the all-knowing wisdom [of Buddhahood]. This is thus as all Dharma teachings, Prajna Paramita [i.e. Perfection Of Wisdom], extremely profound [meditative] concentrations, and even all Buddhas, are all from mindfulness of Buddha born. Thus know that mindfulness of Buddha, is the king of all Dharma [doors]. You should constantly be mindful of this unsurpassable Dharma king, enabling it to never rest.’
Great Master again asked, ‘How should I be mindful [of Buddha]?’
Manjusri Bodhisattva taught, ‘From this world, to the West, is Amita[bha] Buddha [i.e. Amituofo]. That Buddha’s power of vows is inconceivable. You should continually be mindful [of him, e.g. via his name], enabling it to be without interruption. After the end of this life, you will definitely attain rebirth there, to forever never retrogress.’
After speaking, the Bodhisattva, for Great Master, rubbed his crown, and for him conferred this prediction, ‘You, with mindfulness of Buddha thus, not long after, will realise unsurpassable, right and equally [perfect] Bodhi [i.e enlightenment of Buddhahood]. If there are good men, women and others, who aspire to quickly accomplish as Buddhas, there is no better way than to be mindful of [Amitabha] Buddha [i.e. Amituofo], thus able to swiftly realise unsurpassable Bodhi [i.e enlightenment of Buddhahood].’ Having completed speaking, the two great sages to each other spoke in verse. Great Master reverently listened, and was filled with Dharma joy, before prostrating as they departed.
In an instant, all in the earlier scene suddenly disappeared. Feeling sorrowful, Great Master thus, at the original spot erected a giant piece of stone, using it to provide commemoration. Later, receiving an old Indian monk’s advice, he shared what he heard with all his Dharma friends, and at the original spot emulated what he saw, by constructing a magnificent monastery, named as the ‘Monastery Of The Great Sage’s Bamboo Grove.’
In Dali’s twelve year (777 C.E.), when Great Master led eight disciples for diligent practice of mindfulness of Buddha at the Mountain Of Five Terraces, at the east peak, they saw, among unusually splendid and colourful clouds with Manjusri Bodhisattva riding upon a blue furred lion. At that moment, snowflakes fluttered in the sky, as the five-coloured halo of Manjusri Bodhisattva extended everywhere in the mountains and valleys.
After this, Great Master’s conviction and motivation for focusing upon mindfulness of Buddha increased and strengthened. He strived diligently in practice, in day and night wasting no time. Great Master often practised Pratyutpanna Samadhi, and cultivated the Five Assemblies Of Mindfulness Of Buddha in Samadhi. He also used the practice method of Five Assemblies Of Mindfulness Of Buddha to teach. At that time, as Emperor Daizong was at Chang’an city, often hearing the sound of Mindfulness of Buddha from the northeast, he dispatched an envoy to search for its source, thus reaching Mount Wutai’s (Mountain Of Five Terraces) Zhulin Monastery. Thereupon, the Emperor decreed conferment of Great Master as the State Preceptor (Nation’s Spiritual Advisor). Great Master also taught those in the palace how to cultivate the Five Assemblies Of Mindfulness Of Buddha. Later in 784 C.E., Emperor Dezong also invited Great Master into the palace to teach it. Therefore, Great Master was also named ‘Dharma Master Of The Five Assemblies”.
One day, during practice of mindfulness of Buddha, an Indian monk entered the bodhimanda and said to him, ‘Your Pure Land flower dais has already appeared. Three years later, the flower will blossom, and you will then be reborn.’ After three years, Great Master personally knew that the time had come for him to go Pure Land, as he told all in the great assembly, ‘My practice is complete!’ After saying so, he sat in the lotus position and peacefully departed.
Among the patriarchs of the Pure Land Tradition, those conferred as State Preceptor were few. Later generations honoured Great Master as The Pure Land Tradition‘s Fourth Patriarch. Other than having a teacher-and-student relationship with the Third Patriarch Great Master Chengyuan, at the same time, he had extraordinary contributions in propagating he Dharma Door Of Mindfulness Of Buddha.
Pictures from the Internet