Thursday, November 15, 2012

Empty Cloud: The Autobiography of the Chinese Zen Master Xu Yun By Charles Luk

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Long before the time of his death in 1959 at the venerable age of 120 on Mount Yun-ju, Jiangxi Province, Master Xu-yun’s name was known and revered in every Chinese Buddhist temple and household, having become something of a living legend in his own time. His life and example has aroused the same mixture of awe and inspiration in the minds of Chinese Buddhists as does as does a Milarepa for the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, remarkable in view of the fact that Xu-yun lived well into our own era, tangibly displaying those spiritual powers that we must otherwise divine by looking back through the mists of time to the great Chan adepts of the Tang, Song and Ming Dynasties. They were great men whose example still inspires many today, but in many cases, we have scant details as to their lives as individuals, outside their recorded dialogues or talks of instruction. 

The compelling thing about Xu-yun’s story which follows is that it paints a vivid portrait of one of China’s greatest Buddhist figures complete with all the chiaroscuro of human and spiritual experience. It is not a modern biography in the Western sense, it is true, but it does lay bare the innermost thoughts and feelings of Master Xu-yun, making him seem that much more real to us. No doubt, the main thing for a Buddhist is the instructional talks, and Xu-yun’s are rich in insights, but it is only natural that we should wonder about the individual, human factors, asking what life was like for these fascinating figures. After all, holy men are like mountains, while their ‘peaks of attainment’ may thrust into unbounded space, they must rest on the broad earth like the rest of us. That part of their experience - how they relate to temporal conditions - is an intrinsic part of their development, even if the ultimate goal be to ‘pass beyond’ the pale of this world. In Xu-yun’s account we are given a fascinating glimpse into the inner life of a great Chinese Buddhist Master.

By the time of his passing, Xu-yun was justifiably recognized as the most eminent Han Chinese Buddhist in the ‘Middle Kingdom’. When he gave his talks of instruction at meditation meetings and transmitted the Precepts in his final decades, literally hundreds of disciples converged upon the various temples where he met and received his followers and, on some occasions, this number swelled to thousands. Such a wave of renewed enthusiasm had not been witnessed in the Chinese monasteries since the Ming Dynasty when Master Han-shan (1546-1623) appeared. This eminent Master had also found the Dharma in decline and set about reconstructing the temples and reviving the teachers, as would Master Xu-yun some three hundred years or so later. Only years before these great gatherings around Master Xu-yun, many of the temples which he was subsequently to use had been little more than ruined shells, decrepit shadows of their former grandeur and vitality, but the Master revived these along with the teachings that were their very raison d’ĂȘtre.

Not surprisingly, Xu-yun soon acquired the nickname ‘Han-shan come again’ or ‘Han-shan returned’, for their careers were in many respects similar. Both had shared the ordination name of ‘De-qing’ and both had restored the Monastery of Hui-neng at Cao-xi among others in their times. However, unlike his eminent predecessors in the Tang, Song and Ming Dynasties who had frequently enjoyed official patronage and support from Emperor and State, Xu-yun’s long life of 120 years spanned a most troublesome time both for China and Chinese Buddhism. It was a period continually punctuated by both civil and international conflict, with almost perpetual doubt and confusion as to China’s future and security, one in which general want and straitened circumstances were the order of the day.


  1. hey whats up its me, do you have rare books on aikido or anything martial arts?

  2. try this one :


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