In the Táng Dynasty, there was Chán Master Fēnggàn (丰干禅师), who was known for entering and leaving Mount Tiāntái’s (天台山) Guó Qīng Monastery (Of The Country’s Purity: 国清寺, where he pounded and hulled rice), while riding a tiger to travel and teach (游化). This already demonstrated some of his extraordinary abilities and great ease, with more as we shall see. On one of his last trips, he met Lǘ Qiūyìn (闾丘胤), who was about to go to Táizhōu (台州) to be its prefectural magistrate (知府). Lǘ was having a terrible headache, that no medicine was able to cure.
Knowing this, Master Fēnggàn, on his own initiative, visited him and said, ‘As I had heard that you have a sickness, I have come to help you cure it.’ Having said so, he used a cup of water, and recited a mantra to bless it, before spurting the water upon Lǘ’s head – with which the headache disappeared. With much gratitude, Lǘ asked, ‘Where are you from?’ He replied, ‘Guó Qīng Monastery.’ As it happened to be within the range of Táizhōu, Lǘ further asked, ‘In the monastery, of those like you, who have the path’s practice, how many such great monastics are there?’
Master Fēnggàn replied, ‘I am not with the path’s practice (无有道行), but in Guó Qīng Monastery, there is Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva’s (文殊菩萨) manifestation (化身) as Hánshān (寒山: Cold Mountain), and Samantabhadra Bodhisattva’s (普贤菩萨) manifestation as Shídé (拾得: Picked Up).’ On the third day after he assumed his post, Lǘ prepared abundant gifts to pay respects to them. However, as they were in charge of tending to the stove and cooking in the monastery, while appearing wild and crazy (疯疯癫癫) in their ways, they were looked down upon by many monastics.
When Lǘ told the monk at the Reception Hall (客堂) of his wish to pay his respects to the great Hánshān and the great Shídé, he replied that since he the magistrate has arrived, he will ask the two to personally come over. However, Lǘ said that he wished to personally go to where they are instead. With this, the monk was puzzled about his wish to so sincerely meet the two, whom most looked down upon. Once Lǘ reached the kitchen, where the two were laughing before a fire, upon sight to them, he immediately prostrated.
Hánshān and Shídé, upon seeing this gesture, immediately ran away into the mountains, with Lǘ chasing from behind to enquire after them. Unobstructed by rocks, the two physically entered Cold Mountain Cliff (寒山岩), which opened up for them. Just as it was about to close behind them, Hánshān turned around and exclaimed to Lǘ, ‘Traitor, traitor, traitor! Fēnggàn spoke too much! With Āmítuófó (i.e. Amitābha Buddha), yet not attending to him, why have you come to prostrate to us, [as they are ‘only’ Bodhisattvas]?’ (贼贼贼，丰干饶舌！弥陀不事，礼我何为？) Having said that, the mountain closed and they were never seen again.
Realising that Master Fēnggàn was a manifestation of Āmítuófó, Lǘ rushed to pay respects to him. Right then, news arrived that he had just passed away peacefully (圆寂). Without their revelations on both sides, who would have known that Chán Master Fēnggàn was Āmítuófó’s manifestation, that Great Master Hánshān (寒山大士) was Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva’s manifestation, and that Great Master Shídé (拾得大士) was Samantabhadra Bodhisattva’s manifestation? As the duo especially, had about 300 ‘public’ teachings with poems written on trees, rocks, cliff faces and walls, Lǘ later collected to propagate them for posterity’s sake.
This incident reminds us that there are countless manifestations of Arhats, Bodhisattvas and Buddhas around us, in all manners and forms, whom we do not recognise due to our lack of equanimity and wisdom. Even Āmítuófó, who is from a physically distant Pure Land continues to extend his immeasurable compassion in our defiled land to guide us, not just once, but repeatedly. (For example, see the Sòng Dynasty’s case of his manifestation as Great Master Yǒngmíng [永明大师], in the first ‘Related Article’ below, which has several similar parallels.) To prevent manifestations of the enlightened being taken for granted, such revelations cannot be too frequent, while we should already be sufficiently moved by these classic cases, to be more diligent in Dharma learning and practice.
It turned out that Master Fēnggàn was ‘not with the path’s practice’, as he had already perfected it, being well practised enough to be a Buddha, though not recognised when right in front of Lǘ, who looked elsewhere for ‘more’ enlightened ones! A Buddha was ‘hidden’ in plain sight! Karmically speaking, even if enlightened ones wish to manifest more clearly in their full splendour to inspire and guide us, we can only receive what we deserve in the moment. With our discriminating habits that superficially judge appearances, even skilful enlightened ones can seem lowly and crazy to us! Yet, staying skilfully unrecognised with some ‘crazy wisdom’ (狂慧; 疯智) is also how they can retain their presence to continue teaching the receptive, without drawing attention to their actual statuses.
This case is a great example of how even the enlightened can playfully coordinate with well-timed ‘pranking’ and ‘chiding’! When asked if there were other great practitioners in the monastery, Master Fēnggàn ‘could’ had directly said that he himself was already the ‘best’ example. However, this would go against the Buddhas’ universal rule that when the enlightened manifest among ordinary beings, they are to be discreet. Thus, without lying about his spiritual status or disclosing it, he redirected attention to two other noble beings instead, who redirected attention back to him. In this way, both sides disclosed each other, without personally breaking the Buddha’s rule to avoid self-disclosure. There was mutual-revelation without self-revelation. The Buddha and Bodhisattvas then, did not only not ‘speak too much’, they truly spoke just enough to inspire us!
Truly enlightened ones will skilfully remain concealed to let their good work speak for itself, while those who falsely claim to be enlightened will keep ‘revealing’ to market themselves. Unlike the worldly who readily run towards offered fame and fortune, once disclosed, the enlightened ‘run away’ instead. This is not so much because they detest fame and fortune, but to preserve their pure spiritual integrity, as an example for those left behind. This also follows the Buddha’s teaching of not remaining in the world once disclosed, lest others assume they are staying for more fame and fortune, and begin to doubt their teachings. Thus, everything the fully enlightened do and not do are acts of equally perfect compassion and wisdom for all.
How Did Buddha’s Sacred Birthday Arise?
(Second Case Of Āmítuófó Speaking Too Much)
‘The Song Of Patience By Hánshān & Shídé’ As Sung By The Bodhisattvas Mañjuśrī, Samantabhadra & Maitreya
Mindfulness From Thought To Thought (2)
How Two Grandsons Married Their ‘Grandmothers’
Did Jìgōng Urge Meat-Eating & Wine-Drinking?
The Chinese Pure Land Tradition’s Patriarchs’ And Great Masters’ Biographies