Chapter 11: Night Trial at the City God`s
|Night Trial at the City God`s
Written by Living Buddha Lian-sheng, Sheng-yen Lu
Translated by Janny Chow
One night, I was suddenly paid a visit by two spirit guards who wanted to escort me to the City God`s Temple.
`What is the matter?`
`We don`t know,` they replied. `Just come along with us.`
I was on very good terms with many City God Bodhisattvas, especially the City Gods at Chiayi, my birthplace, and Taichung, where I had resided for many years. When I needed a favor, I often turned to them for help and, when they ran into problems, they also asked me for help.
In the middle of the night, I arrived with the two guards at the City God`s temple. The place was brightly lit, and City God Bodhisattva himself was sitting at the presiding chair. On both sides of him stood literary and military judges as well as guardians with bull or horse heads and human bodies.
When the City God saw me, he immediately asked his subordinates to bring in a desk and a chair for me.
`Is this a night trial?` I asked.
`Why have I been invited?`
`The issue concerns you.`
`You are, of course, not the one on trial,` City God Bodhisattva said in jest. `If anyone were to try you, it would have to be the Primordial Ancient Buddha himself! Ha ha!`
The criminal was brought into court and made to kneel. His hands and feet were manacled. When I looked, I was shocked to find it was Zheng Ke.
Who is Zheng Ke? This same Zheng Ke, who now knelt before the judges, had just visited me at home the previous morning. He had brought with him many of my books and asked to take refuge to become my student. Because he was very resolute and sincere, I gave him refuge. How could a student who had just taken refuge the previous morning now be on trial at the City God`s temple?
Zheng Ke did not notice my presence. Perhaps the City God Bodhisattva had deliberately placed my seat in a shadowed spot so Zheng Ke would not recognize me.
The City God asked Zheng Ke, `On day XX of the month of XX, you raped a woman. Do you admit to committing the crime?`
`Yes!` Zheng Ke answered, his head lowered.
`Are you penitent for what you have done?`
`Why are you penitent now?`
`Because I have read the books of Living Buddha Lian-sheng Sheng-yen Lu. In his books, he mentioned the two harmful consequences of raping a woman. First, the trauma inflicted upon the woman hurts and breaks her body and spirit Second, it exerts a bad moral influence upon society when foolish people, devoid of honor, emulate and collude. People perpetuating this type of evil behavior will meet with inexorable doom.`
`Well stated!` said the City God. `But can you prove that you are truly repentant?`
`I took refuge in Living Buddha Lian-sheng Sheng-yen Lu this morning.`
`What did this Living Buddha Sheng-yen Lu teach you?`
Zheng Ke answered, `Not only did he teach me about the threefold refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, he also taught me a verse!`
`Let me hear this verse!`
Zheng Ke recited, `Ponder the day when one dies, when the fire of carnal desire will immediately cool. Foolish people knit their brows and consider thoughts of death inauspicious and unpleasant. Yet in a hundred years, everybody now living will perish. This bodhisattva view of death is the log that ferries one across the sea of suffering.`
The City God was visibly moved by the verse, as were all the spirits present.
City God Bodhisattva then spoke to Zheng Ke, `The intention of this night trial was to sentence you to a severe punishment that would have caused your muscles and sinews to waste away until you died. Now that you have taken refuge in the Triple Jewels and also shown true repentance, you may be exonerated from the death sentence. However, you shall not completely escape punishment. You shall have both your feet nailed together.`
From both sides of the hail, ghost guards rushed forward to hold Zheng Ke upon the ground. With the sharp clang of metal, Zheng Ke felt a bone-crunching pain. He let out a loud cry and passed out.
A month later, Zheng Ke came to see me. He was walking with a crutch.
`What happened?` I asked him.
`When I woke up the morning after taking refuge in you, both my feet were in such great pain that I could not walk!`
`Could this be related to karma?`
`I have no idea. I wondered if it had anything to do with taking refuge in you. How could it be that, immediately after taking refuge in you, I became immobilized the next day? I know that your teachings concerning the threefold refuge, avoidance of all evils, enacting of virtuous deeds, and purification of the mind are the true Buddhadharma. These teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha are the truth. Yet I am puzzled by what happened to me, and that is why I have come to you today.`
Not wanting to tell him the whole story, I only smiled and asked, `Have you seen a medical doctor for your problem?`
`I have seen several, but they could not determine the cause of the problem. I have also taken many herbal medicines to no avail. Some people said I had been assaulted by noxious chi from spirits, so I invited monks to perform rituals for me. I still have not seen any improvement in my condition. Master, can you find out for me the cause of this problem?`
I, of course, knew the karmic causes behind his affliction, but I did not want to tell him how I had learned the information. So, instead, I said that I would make an investigation.
`Before taking refuge,` I asked him, `did you commit any grave transgressions?`
`Grave transgressions?` Zheng Ke shook his head after thinking for a moment. Then he asked me, `What constitutes a grave transgression?`
`In Buddhism, the five grave sinful behaviors are: killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, and imbibing intoxicants. The category of killings is actually quite broad. Besides the actual taking of lives, it also applies to destruction and harming others. So, the killing of men, women, babies, animals, and the destruction of temples and monasteries are also grave transgressions. Harming Buddhist teachers, monks and nuns, family and friends, one`s own master, and people who trust one are grave transgressions as well.`
Zheng Ke responded, `I have done none of those things.`
`Think again. It is so easy for sentient beings living in samsara to sin in mind and deed. Can you really be totally free from sin?`
Zheng Ke was silent.
I asked, `What happened on day XX of the month of XX?`
Startled, Zheng Ke asked, `Master, so you do know about it?`
`Was that really a serious transgression?` Zheng Ke asked me.
He then proceeded to relate the following story:
On one occasion, during a chance meeting, Zheng Ke happened to be alone with the wife of a colleague, and the two of them had become engaged in an absorbing conversation. Zheng Ke found the woman very attractive and a sexual thought suddenly flashed through his mind. After chatting for some time, he proposed to the woman, `We have been talking here for so long now. What about trying something different?`
The woman asked, `What different thing are you referring to?`
Zheng Ke said, `Let`s not talk anymore about philosophical viewpoints. Let`s try something more immediate and stimulating.`
The woman was clueless and repeated, `More immediate and stimulating?`
`You know, like people do in R and X rated movies.`
`We certainly will not!` the woman remarked.
`Well, all right then. Let`s just play stone, paper, scissors.`
`Stone, paper, scissors?`
`Yes, it is just a game. The one who loses strips.`
`What if I lose?` the woman protested.
`Well you may not necessarily lose. I might very well be the one who loses,` Zheng Ke replied.
Believing she would win, and also hoping to take advantage of Zheng Ke, the woman agreed to the game. The two shouted excitedly, `Stone, paper, scissors. The loser strips.`
At first, Zheng Ke had a losing streak and ended up with only his underwear on. But then the woman began losing. Since Zheng Ke had taken off his clothing, she could not very well refuse to strip. After several more games came the final shout, `Paper!`
The woman lost again and had to take off her last article of clothing. She wanted to run away, but Zheng Ke grabbed her. At that moment, blood rushed through his body, and he could not control himself. In a heat of passion, he advanced a further request on the woman.
The woman said, `We can`t do that!`
`What about one more game. We`ll let fate decide.`
The woman again felt that she would not lose, but in the next game, Zheng Ke played scissors and the woman played paper. Scissors won, and paper lost. Zheng Ke forced himself upon the woman, and she yielded with a show of reluctance. Thus, the two entered into a different type of `dialogue.`
Zheng Ke asked me, `But I had won and she acquiesced. Was it still a sin of sexual misconduct?`
I glared at him, at a loss for words.
Finally I spoke to him, `The purpose of spiritual cultivation is to cultivate the heart and mind. A `stone, paper, scissors` competition is, of course, not a transgression in and of itself, but your motives were improper. You used the game as a means to rape a woman, and that is a transgression.`
`Master, would you mind if I told you something?` Zheng Ke then said. `Before coming here, I told myself that I would not bring this up. But I have to tell you now. Because I had been unable to walk the day after taking refuge, I had consulted with many monks from other temples, and every one of them had told me that...`
He stopped short, and I waited quietly for him to continue.
He asked again, `Would it be all right for me to repeat what they said?`
`Of course,` I laughed.
`They made some pretty ugly accusations!`
`I`m sure I have heard worse!` I told him candidly.
`They said that Living Buddha Lian-sheng Sheng-yen Lu is a great mara and the greatest evil master in the religious community. They said you scheme for money and sex and are a great liar. According to them, many people have been fooled by you because you are a very good trickster, and many of your female disciples are in love with you and are being cheated by you. They asked me why I had taken refuge in a demon and a heretic instead of a proper Buddhist master. The fact that both my feet became immobilized immediately after taking refuge in you was, they claimed, the best evidence yet that you are a demon and heretic.`
`Anything else?` I asked calmly.
`That`s all. They said the problem with my feet was a result of my taking refuge in the wrong person.`
I began disseminating the Dharma at the age of twentysix, and I am now fifty-seven years old. For thirty years, I have heard these same attacks and accusations. Do you have anything new to add?`
I said to Zheng Ke, `Fine, because these Buddhist masters have scolded me, and you have come back, I will help you out. I will cure the problem with your feet, and if I fail, I will never call myself Sheng-yen Lu again.` Zheng Ke was happy to hear this.
I first sought out my close friend the City God Bodhisattva. The solution, I figured, would be a swift removal of the nail from Zheng Ke`s feet.
Unexpectedly, the City God shook his head when he heard my request. `Old Lu, you are wrong this time! This nail is not an ordinary nail. It is a Divine Nail dispensed by the Jade Emperor himself.`
`Can it be so serious?` My face turned pale.
`Do you know who Zheng Ke is?`
`No, I don`t.`
`In his former life, Zheng Ke was Yu Tao, a successful candidate in the highest imperial examinations during Ming Emperor Chong Zhen`s reign. While in office in the Jiangsu Province, he had, altogether, raped nine people.`
`Oh! He is a repeat offender. He deserves the punishment.`
`So the Divine Nail cannot be removed?`
Now I was in a difficult situation. I had no other solution but to pay a visit to the Jade Emperor.
Some people may wonder, `If the City God Bodhisattva is your close friend, and you can visit the Jade Emperor at will, then who are you really, Living Buddha Lian-sheng?`
This is my reply:
Trespassing eons and countless moons, Stretching from beg inningless time to endless time,
I am the Indestructible Vajra;
I face neither birth nor death;
Amitabha stands before you;
Why trek thousands of miles looking for him?
At the Virtuous Dharma Hall Heaven, I met with the Jade Emperor. Coming straight to the point, I asked him to remove the Divine Nail from Zheng Ke`s feet.
My request, however, put the Jade Emperor in an awkward position. He said to me, `Removing the Divine Nail is an easy task; however, carrying out the order may be difficult. After all, to remove such a karmic hindrance, one must enter into a pure and undistracted state of mind, sweeping away the ten evils and eight improper practices, remaining totally unstained by the bondages of love, affection, passion, and desire, and extinguishing all greed, wrath, and delusion.`
`Do you think I do not know this?` I asked rhetorically.
Jade Emperor continued, `Although I dispensed this Divine Nail, the order was carried out according to divine rules.
There are altogether three thousand volumes of divine rules, and even the Great God of Nine Heavens must follow them.
Disobeying these rules causes one to descend through the ranks and hinders one from ascending again for thousands of eons.`
I did not want to argue with the Jade Emperor, so I waved good-bye and went to see Shakyamuni Buddha.
My Dharma Body has the ability to interpenetrate the Three Realms (Desire, Form, and Formlessness) and extend throughout the entire spiritual realm. It is therefore possible to arrive, in a thought, at the Great Thunder Sound Temple at Western Soul Mountain. The Dharma Body is originally boundless, subtle, formless, and untraceable.
Upon arriving at Western Soul Mountain, the temple guardians Wei-tuo and Jia-lan came to welcome me. Mahakasyapa and Ananda then walked down the steps to greet me. The eight great vajras stood on both sides, and I was greeted by Asvaghosa, Nagarjuna, Parsva, Sanakavasa, Kumarajiva, and Prajnatara, among others.
Shakyamuni Buddha sat on the eight-lions-vajra-throne and asked me, `Lian-sheng, from where have you come?`
`I have traveled hundreds of miles from the east.`
`How long did it take you?`
`A single thought.`
`Why have you come?`
`I have come for Zheng Ke.`
`But the matter is so insignificant. Why have you done this? It doesn`t make any sense.`
`It is a small problem, but I made a great commitment and it now has infinite significance.`
Shakyamuni Buddha broke into a smile, `Now, Lian-sheng, you have become quite sharp-tongued since your incarnation into samsara. What may I do to help you?`
`Send an order to have the Divine Nail removed.`
The Buddha said, `The fundamental pathway of salvation through Buddhism is based on precepts. The rules are strict and fair. The great pathway of cultivation is not a chaotic one. Although the phenomenal worlds are dreams and bubbles, when one is deluded and does not understand the true Self Nature, one is still bound by the laws of karma. The seed of unwholesome actions will germinate into roots of misfortune.`
I replied, `Since one of the Buddhist precepts prohibits false speech, I must keep my promise and cure him. It will be a virtuous deed if this inspires faith in him. It may transform his fate.`
`Do you think you can do it?` asked the Buddha.
`I will do all I can.`
Shakyamuni Buddha thought to himself for a while and then said, `I have a solution. You must remember that when Mahamaudgalyayana wanted to save his mother from the realm of hells, he was not able to do it alone. He recruited a group of holy monks to help him. The combined power from the group accomplished the task. Now, the City God and Jade Emperor have been unable to help you, and I cannot change the rules either. Why don`t you try using the collective power of a group of people to remove Zheng Ke`s disaster?`
A light flashed through my mind and, in a moment, I knew the answer to my problem.
I bowed to Shakyamuni Buddha and walked three times around him before leaving the Great Thunder Sound Temple of Western Soul Mountain.
First, I drew nine energized talismans and burned them. This was to summon nine other people, in addition to myself, to help redeem Zheng Ke` transgression.
One day, while playing basketball on the court behind the Ling Shen Ching Tze Temple in Redmond, the ball ran away, and I chased after it.
At the perimeter of the courtyard, where cement gave way to uneven, unpaved earth, I slipped and sprained my ankle. For one hundred days, I suffered and endured great pain from the sprained ankle and tendon. The strange thing was, during the three months while my ankle was healing, nine other people in the Ling Shen Ching Tze Temple in Redmond successively hurt their ankles. Altogether ten people, including me, hurt their feet.
Everyone found it strange. Someone asked, `Is this a superceding of karma?` I just smiled.
`How strange that ten people all hurt their feet within these few months!`
`It is indeed strange!` I concurred.
`What a coincidence that they all happened around the same time.`
`Yes, what a coincidence,` I said.
The ten people who sprained their ankles superseded on behalf of Zheng Ke. Zheng Ke`s feet stopped hurting. He recovered and was able to walk again.
I taught Zheng Ke the following `Four Views of Uncleanliness`:
Lusts of mortal beings change from lifetime to lifetime. When born as women, they are attracted to men. When born as men, they fall in love with the bodies of women. If they become mindful of the four unclean conditions, they will not become so amorously deluded.
1) Uncleanliness upon waking up - Dwell silently on the filthy condition in which one wakes up early in the morning. The eyes are unfocused, the tongue is covered with a thick coating, and the mouth is filled with a stale breath. Even a rare beauty, before freshening up and applying make-up, awakes this way.
2) Uncleanliness upon over-drinking - Dwell silently on the filthy condition one is in when one drinks too much and throws up. The undigested vomit is so revolting, even a hungry dog is repulsed after sniffing it. Even for a beautiful woman, sipping wine and picking at her food, such will be the contents in her stomach when the dinner is finished.
3) Uncleanliness when sick - Dwell silently on the condition of sickness. The face is dark and sallow, the body emaciated, there may be ulcerative openings with foul smelling pus, and blood oozing from the wounds. Imagine how a beautiful or young woman will look when afflicted with such an illness.
4) Uncleanliness in the bowels - Dwell silently on toilets, where feces and urine pile up, with flies circling around. A person may be externally beautiful and covered with expensive perfume, yet such is the condition of the bowels after food and drink have been digested and absorbed.
I told Zheng Ke, `Once the thought of sexual desire arises, evil thoughts inevitably follow. Take for example, the fear of parting with a lover and the ensuing thoughts of possessiveness, jealousy, envy, tormented thought, and plans to harm and destroy. The latter two kinds of thought arise when one fails to obtain one`s desires.`
Zheng Ke nodded after listening to my advice.
I said to him, `One may find another man`s wife or daughter beautiful and harbor a sexual thought for her. But as soon as
such a thought arises, even though it is never enacted, it will be hard to escape punishment from the spiritual realm.`
Zheng Ke said, `I shall remember that.`
Later, I learned that Zheng Ke had taken refuge in another ordained Buddhist master. I thought it was fine. Zheng Ke then donated a piece of property for this master to build a temple. I also thought this was fine. Zheng Ke helped this master publicize and disseminate the Buddhadharma. That was also very good.
However, news traveled back to me that, when Zheng Ke discussed the Buddhadharma in public, he would bring up my name in a not-so-friendly tone.
One time, I saw him from afar and waved to him. He lowered his head and walked briskly away, pretending not to have seen me.
I ran up and called out to him, `Zheng Ke!`
He turned around with a detached look on his face.
`How have you been?` I greeted him.
`Of course I am fine. Since I left you, everything has been completely fine.`
`Oh!` I was stunned.
`Don`t you understand?` he asked harshly.
`I don`t understand,` I was confused.
`A high adept Buddhist master told me you are an evil person and that you had put a black magic spell on me when I took refuge in you. That was why my feet became immobilized right afterwards. Then you used your black magic to allow me to walk again. It was all a trick to gain my faith and trust. Now I understand how you operate. You are a demon and an evil con man.`
`Oh! So that was what you think happened!` I lowered my head.
`That was the way it was.`
`I have nothing to say then.`
`Of course you have nothing to say!` Zheng Ke turned around and strode away.
Saddened, I asked myself, `Have I been wrong in vowing not to forsake a single being?`
With a bleeding heart,
Lian-sheng was at a loss for words;
How can Zheng Ke be so mistaken?
The ship has arrived at the shore,
Yet passengers are hard to find;
What appears to be great affinity,
Turns out to be no affinity once again.
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