Zen Masters

Adi Da
Da Audio Online

Shigetsu Sasaki

America’s First Zen Master (1906)
1882 – 1945

Adi Da Samraj (Franklin Jones) –

The Zen Masters demonstrated a very
useful wisdom in the way they taught. The great ones did not
each at all! They wasted no time in trying to teach the
truth to their disciples. This was wisdom, for it is clear
that every disciple considers himself in some fundamental
and mysterious way, to be a knower of the truth. This is
also wisdom, except that all disciples do not now the wisdom
but only the ignorance of it. therefore, many Zen Masters
did not each. They only set aside time to observe their
disciples in the attempt to demonstrate knowledge of

This created a tremendous effect
upon the disciples of these masters. At first it may have
seemed an easy thing, even a recognition of their worthiness
and superiority by the master. But the master would be
satisfied with nothing but an actual, radical demonstration
of actual, present, radical knowledge. Thus, years often
passed with nothing but blows, indifference, mockery and
enslavement in the company of the master. The disciple would
exhaust every possible expression, every subtlety of his
mind and creativity. As long as he felt there was some way
in which to represent his knowledge to the master he would
remain trapped in the game. But, finally, the crisis would
come. There would seem no way to represent it, indeed, it
would seem that in fact there was no knowledge of truth
within himself. Then, in a moment of absolute emptiness,
nowhere to go, nothing to represent, the disciple would turn
to the master, giving nothing, expecting nothing, knowing
nothing. And, no matter what he did, his actions would be a
prefect expression of fundamental truth. The master might
then make some sudden gesture that would call the attention
of the disciple to the actual nature of his mind, the
present unqualified face of reality, and the moment of
attention was known and acknowledged by the disciple as
fundamental truth.

The Zen Masters taught nothing but
only sat comfortably in the company of wise disciples who
displayed their knowledge of perfect truth without effort.
And because of the endless kinds of ultimate demonstrations
as well as the innumerable means the masters used to call
there disciples’ attention to the nature of their own wisdom
there are countless traditions about enlightenment
experiences and the methods of Zen Masters.

There was great wisdom in these
means, and great honor between master and disciple. So it is
not longer useful to teach exclusively by these means. The
demand for communications is so much a requirement of modern
society that no one understands silence or feels the need to
demonstrate the knowledge of truth, whatever that is. But
one who understands will not fail to make appropriate use of
the teaching methods of Zen Masters.



by Jy Din Shakya


The Master’s name, Xu Yun, is
translated into English as “Empty Cloud”, a translation
which often confuses people. We all know what a cloud is,
but what, we wonder, is meant by “empty”?


In Chan (pronounced Jen) or Zen
literature the term “empty” appears so often and with so
many variations of definition, that I will begin by trying
to clarify its meaning.


To be empty means to be empty of
ego, to be without any thought of self, not in the sense
that one functions as a vegetable or a wild animal – living
things which merely process water, food and sunlight in
order to grow and reproduce – but in the sense that one
ceases to gauge the events, the persons, the places, and the
things of one’s environment in terms of “I” or “me” or
“mine”. A person who is “empty of self” seldom has occasion
even to use these pronouns.


Let me be more specific. We have all
heard about a parent, or friend, or lover who claims to be
completely unselfish in his love for another. A husband will
say, “I kept nothing for myself. I gave everything to her,
my wife.” This man is not empty. He has merely projected a
part of his identity upon another person.


A person who is truly empty
possesses nothing, not even a consciousness of self. His
interests lie not with his own needs and desires, for
indeed, he is unaware of any such considerations, but only
with the welfare of others. He does not evaluate people as
being likable or unlikable, worthy or unworthy, or as useful
or useless. He neither appreciates nor depreciates anyone.
He simply understands that the Great Buddha Amitabha, the
Buddha of Infinite Light and Goodness, dwells within every
human being, and it is in the interest of this Buddha Self
that he invests himself.


Attaining such emptiness is never
easy. An old Chan story illustrates this:


A Chan Master once undertook the
instruction of a novice who was having great difficulty in
detaching himself from the persons of his former, secular
life. “You cannot serve the Dharma until you sever these
bonds,” said the Master. “You must destroy these possessive
relationships! Kill them! Regard them as if they no longer


The novice asked, “But my parents?
Must I slay them, too?”


And the Master replied, “Who are
they to be spared?”


“And you, Master,” said the novice,
“must I kill you, too?”


And the Master smiled and said,
“Don’t worry. There is not enough of me left for you to get
your hands on.”


Such a master was Xu Yun. There was
not enough of him left for anyone to grasp. In 1940 the
Japanese Imperial Air Force bombed Nan Hua Monastery in
which he sat meditating; but they could not get their hands
on him. In 1951, when he was an old man of ninety-three,
cadres of communist thugs beat him repeatedly; but although
they broke his bones and did succeed in killing younger,
stronger priests, they could not get their hands on him,
either. There was not enough of him left for anyone to
grasp. How can the Buddha Self be killed? Xu Yun would not
die until he was ready to die, until he accomplished the
tasks which he had set for himself.


I will tell you about this
remarkable man, this Empty Cloud whose presence so defined
my life. I will tell you things that I remember and I will
do my best to transmit to you his Dharma teachings. Perhaps
if you learn from him you will be able to experience some of
the joy I knew from knowing him.


To be in Xu Yun’s presence was to be
in the morning mist of a sunny day, or in one of those
clouds that linger at the top of a mountain. A person can
reach out and try to grab the mist, but no matter how hard
he tries to snatch it, his hand always remains empty. Yet,
no matter how desiccated his spirit is, the Empty Cloud will
envelop it with life-giving moisture; or no matter how his
spirit burns with anger or disappointment, a soothing
coolness will settle over him, like gentle dew.


This is the Empty Cloud of Xu Yun
that still lingers with us. Time and the sun cannot destroy
it, for it is the sun, itself; just as it is also eternal.


Now I will tell you some of the
history he and I share.


During the 1920’s, when I was still
a boy, Xu Yun had not yet come to Nan Hua Monastery, the
monastery which Hui Neng, the Sixth Patriarch of Chan, had
founded near the town of Shao Guan, where I lived. Shao Guan
lies about one hundred miles north of Guang Zhou (Canton) in
Guang Dong Province, which is in the south of China.


In all the centuries since its
founding in 675 AD, Nan Hua Monastery had gone through
cycles of neglect and restoration; but when I was a boy, it
was definitely in one of its neglected phases. As I can
clearly remember, it was much more like a playground than
the shrine it is today.


In those days, Shao Guan was a
sleepy, little river-town, a place with not much for kids to
do. Going out to Nan Hua monastery was our equivalent of a
trip to Disneyland.


What made this Monastery playground
even more exciting to visit was that no one seemed to be in
charge of it. About a hundred monks and a few dozen nuns
lived there, but mostly they busied themselves with
bickering. Nuns argued with nuns. Monks argued with monks.
Nuns argued with monks. And the buildings of this great
religious center were merely the places in which all these
arguments took place. It didn’t seem to matter that the wood
was rotting and the stonework was crumbling and the ironwork
of the old red and white pagoda was rusting. The decay had
merely kept pace with the decline in monastic discipline.
Devout Buddhists, like my parents, would visit and put money
in the donation boxes; and if the unruly boys they brought
with them, like my older brother and me, climbed on ancient
structures, or played hide and seek behind the sacred
statuary, or ran through hallowed hallways, well, nobody
objected. To have restrained us from enjoying ourselves
might have restrained the donations. I suppose the monks
figured that they already had to suffer with dilapidated
buildings, so why should they risk worsening their problems
with financial shortages.


So we always had a good time
whenever we went to Nan Hua. We’d run across the Caoxi
(Ts’ao Xi) River bridge and climb one of the nearby
mountains in which there was a natural stone niche. The
Sixth Patriarch was said to have meditated in this niche.
We’d sit in it and laugh, imitating his pious posture.


No wonder that the Sixth Patriarch
appeared to Xu Yun in a vision and begged him to go to Nan
Hua Monastery to straighten out the mess it had become!


I didn’t meet Xu Yun until 1934 when
I was seventeen years old and he was in his sixties. He
looked then just like the photograph I have reproduced at
the beginning of the text. I’ll tell you about this meeting.
But in order to appreciate it, you’ll need to know a little
more of my background.


My family name is Feng. Originally
my family came from FuJian Province, but my father moved to
Shao Guan and that is where my older brother and I were born
and raised. By local standards my family was considered
rich. My father owned two businesses: a building materials
and supply business and a commercial shop in which he sold
dried foods such as mushrooms, scallions, and other
varieties of vegetables.


[Master Xu-yun in his 113th
year (1952-53) at Temple of Three Buddhas,

Empty Cloud

The Autobiography of the Chinese Zen
Master Xu-Yun

Translated by Charles Luk

Revised and edited by Richard

©The Executers of the late
Charles Luk 1988

This edition first published in 1988

Element Books Limited

Longmead, Shaftesbury,






















(244 pp.)



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 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

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 Xuyun’s are rich in insight, 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

By the time of his passing, Xu-yun
was justifiably recognised 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 teachings, 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’etre.

Not surprisingly, Xu-yun soon
acquired the nickname ‘Hanshan 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.

Xu-yun was born in 1840 around the
time of the Opium Wars and by 1843 the Treaty of Nanjing had
been signed with the ceding of Hong Kong to Great Britain,
the thin end of a wedge of foreign intervention in China’s
affairs that was to have fateful and longlasting
repercussions. Xu-yun lived to see the last five reigns of
the Manchu Dynasty and its eventual collapse in 1911, the
formation of the new Republican era taking place in the
following year. With the passing of the old order, much was
to change in China. China’s new leaders were not that
concerned about the fate of Buddhism and indeed, many of
them were inclined to regard it as a medieval superstition
standing in the way of all social and economic progress. The
waves of modernism sweeping China at this time were not at
all sympathetic towards Buddhism nor any other traditional
teachings. Needless to say, many of the monasteries found
themselves falling on hard times and many others had already
been in ruins before the fall of the dynasty. Government
support for the Buddhist temples was scanty when not
altogether absent. Of course, China’s new leaders had other
things on their minds, for besides the frequent famines,
droughts and epidemics which ravaged China during these
years, there was also the growing threat of Japanese
invasion. The Communist Chinese were rising in the
countryside, soon to find sufficient strength to take on the
Nationalist armies. By the late 1930s, Japanese troops
occupied large areas of northern China. It goes without
saying that this unfortunate social and political climate
hardly offered the best of circumstances in which to embark
upon large-scale renewal of the Chinese Buddhist

However, despite the odds stacked
against him by dint of all this chaos, Xu-yun succeeded in
retrieving Chinese Buddhism from abysmal decline and
actually injected fresh vigour into it. In many ways, the
story of Xu-yun is the story of the modern Chinese Buddhist
revival, for by the end of his career, he had succeeded in
rebuilding or restoring at least a score of the major
Buddhist sites, including such famous places as the Yun-xi,
Nan-hua, Yun-men and Zhen-ru monasteries, besides countless
smaller temples, also founding numerous Buddhist schools and
hospitals. His followers were scattered throughout the
length and breadth of China, as well as in Malaysia and
other outposts where Chinese Buddhism had taken root. During
the Master’s visit to Thailand, the King became a personal
disciple of Xu-yun, so impressed was he by the Master’s
example. Xu-yun’s life-work would have been an achievement
of note even during more auspicious days when official
patronage had been freely given, but that this tenacious and
devoted spirit succeeded in his aims amid the general want
and turmoil of his times was even more remarkable and
nothing short of miraculous. This was possible only because
of the Master’s deep spiritual life, which alone could
provide the energy for renewal amid confusion and decay. His
external works were a reflection of the inner life he
cultivated and one of a piece.

To many Chinese Buddhists, Xu-yun
appeared like an incarnation and personal embodiment of all
that was great about the Chinese Sangha in the halcyon days
of the Tang and Song, and as a modern scholar in the West
put it, Xu-yun ‘lived hagiography’, his life strangely
infused with the spirit of greater times. The Master’s
restoration work was often bidden in strange ways, as if a
hidden reservoir of the whole Chinese Buddhist tradition
wished to speak anew through his very being. When serving as
Abbot of Gu-shan Monastery, Fujian, in 1934, the Master
beheld the Sixth Chan Patriarch (d. 713) in his evening
meditation. The Patriarch said, ‘It is time for you to go
back.’ thinking that this betokened the end of his earthly
career, the Master said a few words about it to his
attendant in the morning and then put it out of mind. In the
fourth month of that same year, he again beheld the
Patriarch in a dream, who this time thrice urged him to ‘go
back’. Shortly afterwards; the Master received a telegram
from the provincial authorities in Guangdong, inviting him
to take over and restore the Sixth Patriarch’s monastery at
Cao-xi, then in just the same dilapidated condition as
Han-shan had found it back in the Ming Dynasty before his
own restoration work. Thus, Xu-yun handed over Gushan
Monastery to another Abbot and proceeded to Cao-xi to set
about restoring the famous Nan-hua Monastery, formerly known
as ‘Bao-lin’ or ‘Precious Wood’, and from which the Chan
Schools of yore had received their impetus and

Throughout the Master’s long career,
whether in good fortune or bad, he remained a simple and
humble monk. Those who met him, including the usually more
critical Western observers, found him to be thoroughly
detached from his considerable achievements, unlike one or
two other Chinese Buddhists who had welcomed publicity and
self-glorification as instruments behind the Chinese
Buddhist renaissance. While many talked, Xu-yun quietly went
his way, as unaffected as the ‘uncarved block’ so dear to a
wise Chinese heart. Again, despite the munificence of the
temples he helped to restore, his noble simplicity remained
entire. When the Master approached a holy site for
restoration, he took a staff with him as his only
possession; when he had seen his task completed, he left
with that same staff as his sole possession. When he arrived
at the Yun-ju mountain to restore the Zhen-ru Monastery,
then a shambles, he took up residence in a cowshed. Despite
the large sums of money which came in from devotees during
restoration, the Master remained content with his simple
cowshed and still preferred it, even after the Zhen-ru
Monastery had risen, phoenix-like, from its ashes. But this
was to be expected from a monk who had once lived on nothing
but pine needles and water while on retreat in the mountain
fastness of Gu-shan.

Famous, too, were the Master’s long
pilgrimages on foot to holy sites at home and abroad,
totally at the mercy of the elements and often with little
more than his faith to support him. His greatest plgrimage
began in his 43rd year when he set out for the isle of Putuo
in Zhejiang, sacred to Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. Carrying
incense in hand, he prostrated every third step of the way
to pay reverence to the ‘three gems’. Thence in a similar
fashion, he headed for Mount Wu-tai in Shansi, sacred to
Manjusri Bodhisattva, one point of his pilgrimage being to
pay back the debt of gratitude he felt towards his parents;
the strength of his determination can well be measured by
the fact that he nearly perished twice in the bitter cold of
Wu-tai’s snowy peaks but never gave up. He was saved by a
beggar named Wen-ji, regarded by Chinese Buddhists as a
‘transformation-body’ of Manjusri. From Mount Wu-tai, the
Master headed towards Tibet, which he visited, going on to
Bhutan, India, Ceylon and Burma before returning to China
via Yunnan, calling at holy sites en route.

During his travels the Master
succeeded in realising ‘singleness of mmd’ throughout day
and night, so that by the time of his return to Chma,
conditions were ripe for his final or complete
enlightenment, which took place in his 56th year while at
the Gao-min Monastery in Yangzhou. He was, as the Chinese
say, one who had ‘ancient bones’, for as regards his later
career of restoration which included reviving the teaching
of the Five Chan Schools (Wu-jia), the Master was very much
a ‘self-made man’ who had re-established these teachings on
the strength of this own insight without teachers. A flash
of the old insight was to be found here and there in the
temples as Xu-yun had known them in his youth, but the Chan
tradition had been in decline by and large. His first
teachers had been either Dharma-Masters or Tian-tai Masters,
though indeed his Tian-tai teacher had given him his first
gong-an [Jap. koan] (‘Who is dragging this corpse
about?’) and it would not be true to say that the Chinese
temples had been totally lacking in enlightened individuals.
The marked revival of the Chan tradition in the period
extending from the mid-1930s through to the 1950s was
largely attributable to Xu-yun’s endeavours.

The Master cared greatly for
lay-Buddhists, too, and he was progressive for the way in
which he opened up the temple doors to layfolk, teaching
them alongside Sangha members. He made much of the pu-shuo
or ‘free sermon’ end addressed all who came to him. Though a
monk for 101 years, he never pretended that the Dharma was
beyond the reach of layfolk. While his gathas and verses of
instruction reveal the insight of one who saw beyond the
pale of this world, he never failed to remind his disciples
that the great bodhi is ever-present, always-there in our
daily acts and seemingly mundane circumstances. Like all the
great Masters of Chan before him, he laid stress on the
non-abiding mind which is beyond reach of all conditioned
relativities, even as they arise within it, a paradox that
only the enlightened truly understand.

Though the Master became famous as a
Chan adept, he also taught Pure Land Buddhism, which he
considered to be equally effective as a method of
self-cultivation, for like the hua-tou technique, the
single-minded recitation of the Pure Land mantra stills the
dualistic surface activity of the mind, enabling
practitioners to perceive their inherent wisdom. This will
surprise some Western people who tuned in to the ‘Zen craze’
a few years back, in which it was often said that Chan or
Zen Masters eschewed use of the Pure Land practice. Also,
contrary to what has been said on occasions, Xu-yun gave
regular talks of instruction on the sutras and shastras,
which he knew thoroughly after many decades of careful study
and which he understood experientially, in a way which went
beyond the grasp of mere words, names and terms in their
literal sense.

By the time Xu-yun had rebuilt the
physical and moral fabric of Chinese Buddhism, few of the
disciples who gathered round the Master or attended the
other temples he rebuilt had to suffer the same indignities
and privations that he had experienced himself when calling
at monasteries in his youth. He had often been turned away
from temples that had fallen into the degenerate system of
hereditary ownership, not even allowed a night’s lodging.
When he had called at some temples, only a handful of monks
were to be found because of the general decline. In one
instance, famine had reduced the whole population of locals
and monks at one site to just a single person who used to
put on a ‘brave face’ if callers happened by. Given that
kind of background, it is hardly surprising that Xu-yun
recognised the need to recreate that self-sufficiency
extolled by the ancient Master Bai-zhang Hui-hai (d. 814) in
his famous dictum, ‘A day without work, a day without food’.
Thus, wherever possible, Xu-yun revived the monastic
agricultural system to live up to this tradition of

Thus far, all the necessary
ingredients were present to sustain a revival which had
borne fruit through decades of devoted effort. But we now
come to a most tragic interlude in the life of Xu-yun which
might well be called a ‘twilight of the gods’ were it the
finale, though thankfully it was not. As is well known, the
Communist Government took effective control of China in 1949
about the time that Xu-yun had set his aim on restoring the
Yun-men Monastery in Guangdong. By 1951-52 the first tremors
of what was to follow in the Cultural Revolution were
beginning to make themselves felt. The restoration of the
Yun-men Monastery was more or less complete, but misfortune
struck from without with a purge of so-called ‘rightist
elements’ in Guangdong Province. Being very much a
‘traditionalist’ in outlook, Master Xu-yun was an obvious
target. Fears that Xu-yun might not be safe in the volatile
atmosphere of these times had been voiced, the Master’s
overseas disciples urging him to leave the mainland until
things settled down. He refused to leave, however, expressly
because he felt that it was his duty to look after the
welfare of the monasteries. What happened next was almost
inevitable; a horde of Communist cadres descended on the
Yun-men Monastery which they surrounded. They locked the
Master up in a room for several days, where he was
interrogated and ruthlessly beaten, left for dead. Perhaps
the less said about this episode, the better. Suffice it to
say that the Master had broken ribs and bled profusely,
being for a while most seriously ill. Remarkably enough
though, while then in his 112th year, Xu-yun recovered from
a beating severe enough to have killed someone less than
half his age. This was not the first time that he had been
beaten, for the police in Singapore had roughed him up back
in 1916, ironically enough on the suspicion of being a
‘leftist’ from the mainland. But the beating he suffered in
his 112th year was infinitely worse. Even so, without trying
to make too little out of the violence he suffered, the old
Master bounced back with all the properties of a proverbial
‘Da-ruma doll’ and lived to carry on teaching not only at
the Yunmen Monastery but many others besides, also finding
time and energy for one more round of restoration work at
the Zhen-ru Monastery on Mount Yunju, Jiangxi Province,
where he eventually departed from this world on 13 October
1959. He had been in the Sangha for 101 years.

With the Master’s passing in 1959,
the Cultural Revolution was just around the corner. As we
know, the monasteries had to suffer bitterly during that
period. For many monks, nuns and lay devotees, it must have
seemed that everything the Master had striven for was about
to sink into oblivion. That draconian measures were already
evident in Xu-yun’s last years must have caused him some
concern; as it was, the episode at Yun-men cost him his most
able disciple, Miao-yuan, who was executed. Other disciples
had been harmed too. Things did look bleak, and even the
news of events at Yun-men had to be smuggled out of mainland
China by inserting records in the blank innerfolds of
traditionally bound Chinese books. But as many on the
mainland today are prepared to admit, the excesses of the
Cultural Revolution were wrong; few would

Whether the long-term effects of
ideological reform have been as catastrophic for Chinese
Buddhism as once predicted is a good question. We should not
deceive ourselves into thinking that Buddhism had been
immune from persecution under the ancient regime. In the
Hui-chang period (842-5) of the Tang Dynasty, a massive
purge of Chinese Buddhism took place with the near
destruction of some 4,600 monasteries, with 260,000 monks
and nuns being forced back into lay life, the confiscation
of monastic property and land being widespread. The
monasteries managed to recover from that and by way of
contrast, the modern picture is not entirely pessimistic. It
is some consolation to learn that the temples which Xu-yun
restored are not only being patched up after the ravages of
the revolution, but that many are being restored to their
proper use and once more assuming an air of normality,
though the complement of monks and nuns is much smaller
these days. At any rate, these are not the ‘actor monks’
shuffled around China by the authorities twenty years ago,
who fooled nobody, but bona fide occupants. Of this I have
been given reliable assurance from two sources, my friends
Dharma-Master Hin-lik and Stephen Batchelor (Gelong Jhampa
Thabkay), both of whom made recent visits to the monasteries
in southern China.

Thus, rather than ending on a
pessimistic note, we should rejoice in the fact that
Xu-yun’s endeavours did not fall entirely on stony ground.
Without the energies he released into Chinese Buddhism, it
is quite likely that the Chinese Sangha would have suffered
far greater setbacks than it did during the revolution. In
this sense, Master Xu-yun lived out the mythical role of the
‘poison-eating peacock’ in Buddhist lore; from the
bitterness of that poison something spiritual sprang forth.
In the long run it seems that, as with the suppression of
Buddhism in Tibet, the suppression of Chinese Buddhism has
had the precise opposite effect to that intended by the
suppressors. Not only has the Asian Buddhist had to
reappraise the worth of the Dharma in his own context, but
its merits have also struck the attention of the whole

Was it merely coincidence that at
the height of the Cultural Revolution in China, copies of
Lao-zi and Chan (Zen) texts went into record numbers of
reprints in the West? Anyone at all familiar with the
Jungian theory of synchronicity would find it hard not to
see this phenomenon as a profound act of compensation in the
collective psyche. Some things are meant to be and cannot be
destroyed. Though all outward signs and symbols may be
denied for a while, their inner archetypes always remain
and, like seeds, they reassert themselves. It is salutary to
note in this respect that no lesser person than the late C.
G. Jung was reading Xu-yun’s Dharma-discourses while on his

Over the years, the editor has
received a number of letters from home and abroad inquiring
about Xu-yun, his life and teachings. Such interest has
sprung from a variety of sources and lands ranging from
Europe, Australia and the USA, to Scandinavia and even a
small South American state. In view of such wide interest,
the story of Xu-yun’s life will appeal to many, for while
his teachings have been available for years, the
autobiography has so far appeared only in limited

In America, Roshi Philip Kapleau has
read from Xu-yun’s account to inspire his students at the
Rochester Zen Center. This could only be because Xu-yun’s
story is a testimony to the deep human need for spiritual
nourishment. When reading the story of the Master’s quest,
we see a reflection of our own therein. He symbolises the
‘great man’ hidden in ourselves and his name ‘Empty Cloud’
reminds us of that greater, ‘undiscovered Self’ that we are
all fated to explore.

So much then for the great man with
whom our text deals; a brief word must now be said about the
text itself. It is a cause for rejoicing that a new edition
of Empty Cloud is to become available under the banner of
Element Books. Though Xu-yun’s teachings are quite widely
known via the Discourses and Dharma Words translated by
Upasaka Lu K’uan Yu (Charles Luk) in his Chan and Zen
Teaching series (see Bibliography), Lu’s translation of the
Master’s biography never saw regular publication, though
limited editions have indeed appeared, once in the USA,
through the inspired initiative of Roshi Philip Kapleau and
friends at the Rochester Zen Center (1974), and an English
edition (1980), thanks to the editor’s friends who helped
finance that version.

In anticipation of further reprints,
it seemed advisable to incorporate a number of corrections,
revisions and additions to bring the text up to date. Some
of these errors had been drawn to my notice by Upasaka Lu
back in 1975 and vice versa, but as Lu sadly passed away in
1978 he was unable to make further revisions. To compensate,
I have checked the translation several times against the
Xu-yun He-shang Nian-pu from which Lu worked, incorporating
whatever changes seemed to be required, including extra
notes, minor additions, a glossary, etc. although the
translation is still basically Luk’s original which first
appeared in serialised form in World Buddhism back in the
1960s, several passages have either been rewritten or added,
and to that extent constitute new translations.

Another modification has been to
substitute the pinyin form of romanisation; this is rapidly
becoming the standard form in the West and it is also the
form that visitors will find used in China in guidebooks and
publications. I have departed from this in two or three
instances, as in the retention of Canton for Guangzhou, the
old form still being used in guidebooks; I have kept Amoy
for Xiamen, and in order to avoid an apparent ambiguity
likely to ensnare the general reader, I have kept the old
spellings of Shensi and Shansi (pinyin: Shaanxi and Shanxi).
Again, while not quite orthodox, I have hyphenated some
pinyin names more than usual so as to recall the older
spellings. Readers with pinyin should have no trouble with
‘Bao-lin’ and those familiar with Wade-Giles will readily
spot the transition from ‘Pao-lin’. Written as ‘Baolin’,
however, the name is not identifiable in the same way. I
have retained the Chinese li as a measurement of distance,
for it is much shorter than the English mile (about 1/3
mile) and should pose no more problems than the kilometre in
Continental writings. As a final note, it is worth reminding
readers that Luk’s translation was made from the early
edition of Xu-yun’s biography; in recent years this has been
expanded to include collections of the recorded teachings
and lectures given at many monasteries, in fact extra books.
To translate all of this material would be interesting, but
something of a magnum opus for the would-be translator.
However, a couple of supplementary records have been added
in this edition. Extra sources of Xu-yun’s teaching, both
English translations and Chinese originals, are listed in
the bibliographical section.

May all beings attain


Tholpe Hamlet, Norwich.

13 October 1987.

The Anniversary of Xu-yun’s