Walking the Path of the Zen Masters of China

Home  ›  Personal Growth  ›  Walking the Path of the Zen Masters of China


On January 21st, 2014, I gave a talk to a group of monks at Wat Suan Dok, in Chiang Mai, Thailand. They are students at a University associated with the temple, Wat Suan Dok. These monks come from Nepal, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Lao. After I gave my presentation, there was a question and answer session for about an hour. Here are some of the thoughts I expressed at the meeting.

This is the presentation I gave to the monks, telling about my pilgrimage to the ancient Zen temples in China.

Previous Experiences with Buddhist Schools

First, I told them that I had studied basic traditional Buddhism at the San Francisco Zen Center, and more recently with the Ring of Bone Zendo in Nevada City, California under the instruction of Nelson Foster, one of the successors of the great Zen Master Robert Aitken, who was instrumental in spreading Zen Buddhism in the West.

I also in recent years practiced several forms of Vipassana, at Wat Umong, Wat Doi Suthep, Wat Chom Thong (in Thailand). Practiced the Goenka Vipassana method and done three ten day retreats as well as spent one month at The International Meditation Center in Yangon, U Ba Khin’s center, where Goenka himself trained.

I had also learned the method taught by the forest monks, breathing in ‘Pu…”, breathing out…”Dho” at Wat Tham Wua, in Mae Hong Son Province. (That is the Thai pronunciation of “Bu…ddha”) The primary difference in point of view of Zen vs Thai—Bodhisattva vs Arhat. Bodhisattvas put off reaching liberation, “Nirvana”, while Arhats in the Theravada tradition have attained Nirvana (or in Pali Nibbana) in this lifetime.

Differences Between the Schools

My opinion is that the issue is almost moot. Both practices involve meditation, knowledge of the 4 Noble Truths, the Eigthtold Path, 5 Skhandas, understanding of how our senses work, examination of mental and emotional make up and so on. In fact, few human beings even make any attempt at all to come to grips with their delusions and attachments. Self cultivation is very hard work.

To experience the Dharma, the real liberating Truth directly is extremely rare, so if one chooses Mahayana or Theravada, and has some insight, that is a huge accomplishment in itself.

Why China?—early influences. Having studied Zen for many years in America, I felt the need to  reconnect and understand the context of China and the development of Zen.

Meeting Meioguang Fashi in Dali, 2007.


In August, 2007, I got it into my head to go to China. I had studied Zen Buddhism, which had its roots in China, but had put off going there, due to my concerns with the language barrier. But my American friend, Paco, had traveled to Yunnan province, in Southwest China, almost directly due north of Chiang Mai. A quick airplane trip to Yunnan’s capital, Kunming got me there.

Plus, I went online and found a college student who spoke English, who would be my guide. So I landed in Kunming, and met Faye, my student guide. For about three days, while she attempted to teach me Chinese, she shepherded me from my hotel to sites in Kunming, and to her favorite restaurant, MacDonald’s which is considered to be way cool. Sort of like how we consider Chinese food to be exotic, Chinese see Western food, like McDonald’s or Pizza Hut to be a special treat.

She taught herself English, and was a diligent student. She came from a Muslim family in Yunnan, but has left that all behind, now she is a modern young woman making her way in the world.

Next, I took a bus with Paco and his girlfriend, Li,  whom he subsequently married, to Dali.  Dali is a small Himalayan foothills town. Wandering around Dali, I found many street vendors. One was selling silver dollar coins. “Please buy my coins, I need to make a sale today to feed my family. “ She was selling the coins for the US equivalent of $6. But silver dollar coins in the US were selling for $12 at that time.

I felt guilty buying about 10 coins, knowing I would make an immediate profit, since the woman lived in this backwater, and didn’t know the real price of silver.   Then I bought a new backpack. I knew that you had to bargain with these people, so when the shop owner asked for 180 rmb, about $25, I said, “60”. She said, “Ok, how about 120 rmb?” I said, “60”. She rolled her eyes and said, “90”. I said, “60”. She said, “You Westerners drive a hard bargain,” and agreed to charge 60 rmb.

OOps Out Out Smarted

I proudly went and met up with Paco and Li. With Paco translating (he spoke some Chinese at the time), she said, “The bag is only worth 50 rmb, and the silver coins are fakes”. So I went back to the coin seller’s table and confronted her. “You sold me fake coins!” “No, they are real!” She clinked them together, and they had a nice ring.   So I went to some other silver shops. I said, “I want to sell my silver coins” How about buying them for $6? They said, No. $5? No, $4, No. …$1…no. They were all fakes. I was pissed.

I went looking for the silver lady, and when she saw me again, she ran away. In fact, what I was soon to discover, was something far more precious.  Buying silver coins wasn’t my reason to be in China, anyway, I was looking for Buddhist monks to talk to.

After 1000 Years, an Appointment Finally Kept

Wandering around the streets of Dali by myself, I was repeating a mantra, “where’s a monk, where’s a monk….?” A Chinese fellow approached me outside one of Dali’s many antique shops and introduced himself. “Have you eaten yet”—the standard way of greeting in China, he asked.   There was a fellow in the antique shop with a shaved head, wearing clothes that looked like a monk would wear. “Is that fellow there a monk?” I asked.

Indeed he was, and Xiaojunjie, my new friend, took me to lunch, followed by wandering around through the many art and antique shops with Meioguang Fashi. (Fashi is Chinese for Master of Dharma, the Buddhist teachings).

We ended up talking for 8 hours straight, debating various points of Buddhism, and having a wide ranging highly stimulating discussion, like I had never had before. What is the meaning of the Heart Sutra? What are the wellsprings of Chinese culture? What about all the famous Zen stories, and maybe most important, is there authentic Zen Practice going on in China?

Later on, I said to Meioguang Fashi, that our meeting was very fortuitous–lucky. He said, no, we had been brother monks at Linji’s temple 1000 years ago, and had agreed to meet again. And so it was. An appointment kept after 1000 years.

Meeting a Hero of China, Master Xu Yun

The next day, Xiaojunjie invited me to travel with them to Jizu Shan, a 10,000 foot high mountain. We got there and at the foot of the mountain was a 15 foot high statue of Xu Yun, the legendary monk of the 20th Century, who lived to be 120 years old. We’ll be seeing more of Xu Yun later. But just to give a sample, it’s said that one time, he decided to boil some potatoes. While they were cooking, Xu Yun did a little meditation. Some friends came by and looked in the pot, arousing him from his meditation. However, the potatoes were moldy. He had probably been sitting for at least a week, lost in his meditation!   I’d read his biography 30 years earlier, and was in awe of his life as a monk.

Seeing his statue, I felt like I was reconnecting with an old and dear friend.   To return to Dali from Jizu Shan, Meioguang hired an unregistered taxi. The driver was in a hurry to get back, so he drove like crazy—the double yellow line in the middle of the road meant nothing to him. He played chicken with the oncoming cars, and would swerve back into the correct lane again and again. At one point, I finally said to Xiaojunjie, “This guy is driving too fast, and too dangerously. Tell him to SLOW DOWN.”, but Xiaojunjie just said, don’t worry.

Indeed he wasn’t the only driver driving like that, so Xiaojunjie must have been used to it. Then, on one of the curves in the mountain road, we passed a minivan on the road bank. Upside down. I just thought, thinking of our Native American Ancestors maxim before going into battle,“it’s a good day to die.”

A Change of Plans

After Jizu Shan, as Meioguang Fashi , Xiaojunjie and I proceeded on our trip, we found how much I had in common with them. They had encouraged me to come to Xiamen, study Chinese, and spend more time with Chinese, who had lost contact with the tradition of Chan, or Zen Buddhism.

They had planned to go to Shanghai, and I had planned to go exploring more of Yunnan Province. But, when I told them that I thought it might be a good idea for me to visit Xiamen and check it out, the next day, they told me that they had decided to cancel their trip to Shanghai, and take me to Xiamen.

So in the summer of 2007, my life took an unexpected turn—to Xiamen. They booked three first class train tickets for the three day trip, and off we went.   Meioguang Fashi lives in a suburb of Xiamen. In 2007, there was hardly even a road there, and his friends and supporters drove beat up old cars, if they owned cars at all. Now, many of his friends drive new ones. So Xiamen has come into its own, and the road to his home town is now a modern 4 lane highway.   Xiamen is one of the unique cities in Chinese history.

A Short History of Xiamen

Originally called, Amoy, it was one of the first cities that European traders found in the 15th Century. Most people think of cities like, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong or Canton (now Guangzhou) when they think of China, but in fact, Xiamen was one of the very first ports where traders made their fortunes. As Bill Brown writes in his website, www.Amoymagic.com, the USA would not have happened were it not for Xiamen. It turns out that the tea that was thrown overboard at the Boston Tea Party, came for Xiamen’s Fujian Province, and was doubtless shipped from Xiamen before being unceremoniously dumped into Boston Harbor.

However, as Brown notes, the Brits got their revenge, when in 1843, they attacked Xiamen, as part of the First Opium War. As a result, a small island off the main island of Xiamen, called Gulangyu, was ceded by the Chinese Emperor, and several foreign missions set up, mainly from Europe, but also Japan. Gulangyu is one of China’s famous tourist spots, where many couples planning to marry have their wedding pictures taken. It is also the site of a piano museum, with perhaps 20 pianos many 200 years old or more, a virtual history of the piano as it developed over time.

Xiamen and the Opium Wars

However, Gulangyu has a darker side. It was from there that the British and later other missions colonized and exploited China.   China suffered massively from the forced importation of opium, primarily by the British. At one point, fully one fourth of China’s population was addicted to opium, and there was talk of the country committing national suicide as it sank into poverty and squalor. Can you, dear reader, ask yourself what would the USA or Europe be like, if they had 50 or 100 million heroin or meth addicts? As a post Opium War treaty port forced on China, Xiamen was a key entry point for England’s “free trade”, which had to include opium.

The British, for their part, praised the benefits of opium, while outlawing it in England. At one point even the British Parliament was going to stop the opium trade, due to the pleading of the Emperor of China to stop the forced opium trade. But in the name of ‘Free Trade’,– Parliament was dissolved so that a second opium war could further destroy Chinese society for the benefit of British drug barons.   It might also be of interest that both Presidents Bush were members of the Skull and Bones Yale Secret Society. How secret?

Both George Bush and John Kerry, while running for president in 2004, when asked to explain this organization, said “we can’t talk about it”.   However, independent researchers have discovered that the founder of Skull and Bones, William Russell was the key figure in the US side of the opium trade in China. Years later, another Skull and Bonesman, George Bush the elder, who has a nickname Poppy, just a coincidence no doubt.. was Vice President.

The War on Drugs–A Multi Generational Crime

He was in charge of the war on drugs. Bo Gritz, a great hero of the Vietnam war, had searched for POW’s in Asia, and met the notorious Burmese drug lord, Kuhn Sah. This was in the notorious Golden Triangle where Thailand, Burma and Laos borders converged. Kuhn Sah offered to stop selling heroin if the US paid him off. Bush, said, ‘leave it alone, Bo, we don’t want you to get hurt’.

Years later, the opium growing moved to Afghanistan. However, the Taliban had wiped out opium production in Afghanistan by 2001. Then, his son George Jr. kicked the Taliban out of power after 911. Afghanistan’s opium poppy production has soared under US occupation. The Opium Wars have never ended, they’ve just changed venues. The main characters in the multigenerational gangster drug trade have stayed pretty much the same.

But fortunately, China has had a reprieve.   Xiamen has had its ups and downs, along with the rest of China. The Japanese invaded China in the 1930’s resulting in the deaths of at least 20 million people. Xiamen was occupied by the Japanese from 1938 until 1945. When the Japanese were finally forced out, the Chinese Civil War between the Communists and the Goumintang ensued. Chiang Kai Shek, Mao’s opposite, was forced to flee the Mainland, and go to Taiwan, which had been a province of China for centuries, although occupied successively by Dutch in the 17th Century and the Japanese in the 20th Century.

Xiamen’s History during the Cold War

As a result, for decades, Xiamen, was under the gun, so to speak of Taiwan. On the other hand, one island only an hour’s boat ride away from Xiamen is Jinmen Island, which held out against the Communists in 1949. This island, otherwise known as Quemoy, was a subject of debate between Kennedy and Nixon in the 1960 election. The question being, should the US attack China if it attacked Quemoy. Fortunately, the Communists gave up the idea of taking it back.   Lucky for us foreigners,we can now renew our visas to China by hopping on a ferry for the one hour ride out of China and to Jinmen.       Relations between Taiwan and China have eased over the years, and as a result, the Communist government has been more willing to invest in Xiamen. Due to its status as a special economic zone, its economy has boomed.   Since I was first invited by my monk friend to come to Xiamen, the city has developed significantly, and serves as my home base for my forays deep into China.

Now for the Journey!

Here is a picture of a cave in a temple in Kunming,  Yunnan Province, on my first trip.How I came to China—Dali, Meioguang Fashi. I met Meioguang Fashi ‘by accident’ in Dali. He invited me to travel with him and his friend Xiaojunjie, and later, we all went to Xiamen, his home town.

A statue of Xu Yun, the legendary monk of the 20th century, whose bio I had read 30 years earlier.

Meioguang Fashi, is both an expert in Chinese history and art, as well as a master artist and calligrapher. He is explaining some subtleties of the art objects on display.

Here, in Zhong Shan park, one of several fine parks in Xiamen, a group of musicians play using traditional Chinese string and flute instruments.  

Every fall, there is an international Buddhist trade fair, where all things Buddhist are exhibited and sold. Here is a Burmese style reclining Buddha. You can also buy bells, drums of all sizes, hand written Chinese Buddhist texts, incense, stonework, statues, art work and so on.

Here is another example of many many really awesome Buddhist art pieces coming from China.

Classic Kuan Yin Painting

Classic Kuan Yin Painting

Playing the Gu Qin

Playing the Gu Qin, the original musical instrument of ancient China


Here is what Guqin sounds like. Listen and your heart rate will probably slow down. Sounds like Flowing Water, doesn’t it?

I’ve written about previous stays at temples in China, and had returned in March 2013, for a two month stay at Tong Bo Yan Si. While there, the traditional Buddha’s Birthday celebration took place.


Here is a picture of the Baby Buddha, set up under the statue of the

1000 armed Kuan Yin. The Sanskrit for Kuan Yin is Avalokiteshvara, “The One Who Hears the Cries of the World”. To save all beings is a big job, which requires a thousand arms.

Tong Bo Yan Si was the place where Jing Wu, the abbot of the temple, stayed when he had finished his three year solitary retreat at the famous training temple, Bailin Si, the Tang Dynasty monk, Zhao Zhou’s (Japanese: Joshu) temple, rebuilt in the 1980’s.

The picture here shows me at the entrance to a small cave, where hermits sometimes lived. The original Tong Bo Yan Si was reportedly 800 years old. Jing Wu was discovered by some lay people and his vow to start his own temple was realized in 2007. Select Files

Following the Path of the Chinese Zen Masters

In 2013, having felt confident enough to travel around by myself, I decided to go into the heart of Zen Country. You see, Zen developed rather slowly in China. An Indian monk name Bodhidharma ‘reputedly’ came to China in the 5th century. “Reputedly” because there is some controversy over whether he actually existed or was just a legend. In any case, it’s said that he passed along his teaching to one disciple, Hui Ke, who passed the teaching on to Sengcan, and then to Daoxin, then to Hungren, and then to Huineng, the Sixth Ancestor. He was the one who actually made Zen visible in China.

However, most of this activity took place in a relatively small area of China. That being the case, I wanted to revisit those temples where some of the most famous Zen Masters lived and taught.

The Masters’ Temples and 2 Sacred Mountains

These masters taught in Southeast China.

  1. Xue Feng
  2. Yang Shan
  3. Baizhang
  4. Dong Shan Liang Jie
  5. Mazu Daoyi

These two practiced somewhat farther north.

  1. Zhao Zhou
  2. Linji

And the two mountains I visited

  1. Jui Hua Shan– 9 Precious Things Mountain
  2. Wutai Shan–    5 Plateau Mountain

Starting the Journey

Following my stay at Tong Bo Yan Si, I went with some Chinese friends to the temple of Xue Feng, about a 4 hour drive from Xiamen, in western Fujian Province. I have special affinity because  Xue Feng (822-908) practiced meditation diligently for 25 years. While traveling with his monk friend, Yan Tou, his brother monk finally blurted out to him, “Haven’t you heard that, that what comes through the front gate is not the family treasure!”

What do you suppose he meant by that?

Here is a statue of the old man himself.

The best meditator at Xue Feng Si. When I asked him for some truth of Buddhism, he said something, which I didn’t understand, but then, just laughed, said, Meditate More!, turned and walked away.

Here, Guoji, my monk friend, and I stand on the ‘highway’ between Fujian and Jiangxi Province. There’s now a major highway but in those days, monks traveled on foot.


After Xue Feng had his insight, he left Jiangxi province, and went to Fujian. He took up sitting in this old semipetrified tree trunk. The building you see was built around it only recently. A statue of him sits inside.


Of course, Chan people have great respect for Arhats, and what you see here, is the footprint of a flying arhat, in the side of the large boulder. Arhats, those who have totally purified their minds, sometime acquire special powers, such as walking on water, passing through walls, or flying. In Thailand you hear stories of Arhats seen flying. That indentation sure does look like a footprint, doesn’t it?

From XueFeng Si, I went on the main part of the trip, to Jiangxi Province. First, I went to the capital of Jiangxi, but no one knew anything about where these temples are located. Fortunately, a friend I had met at a temple two years earlier, gave me directions to my next stop, Yang Shan Xi Yin Si.It took about two days to get here, and when I arrived, there was a Buddhist summer camp. These are some of the campers who stayed at the temple for a week, learning to meditate and study Buddhism.

I arrived at the temple late in the afternoon, and when I showed up, everyone there was astonished that a Westerner even knew about this temple. It was a real honor to finally visit Yang Shan’s temple, and meet brother and sister Zen Students.

This is a flat bell outside the kitchen where they cook meals. You see this type of bell everywhere in China and in Japan. My home temple in the US has one like this, too. This bell and the other temple instruments made me realize and appreciate that Japanese Zen really had its origins in China, a fact not well known in the West.

Yangshan was one of the most important early teachers of Chan. His school was one of the five schools of Chan, and this bell, with its five shapes, circle, half circle, triangle, oblong and square represent the five schools.. Also, notice the 8 spoked wheel of the Dharma on the wall of the Dharma Hall.Here is the rebuilt tomb of Yang Shan.

The temple had been completely destroyed by fire in the 19th century but has been rebuilt in recent years. Note the placement of the temple nestled against the mountainside. This is typical of Chan temples.


Like temples in Thailand, we can often see a pond where fish swim happily without fear of being caught for food.


The Abbot of Yang Shan temple, Yang Hang and me. He was incredibly gracious in helping me on my journey.


The abbot of Yang Shan Si Yin Si, was very surprised to see a foreigner come to his temple. I may have been the first ever! So he offered to help me on my pilgrimage. Pictured here are two students who speak English, along with their university professor. Yang Hang then personally drove me to see two temples, both famous in the history of Chan/Zen Buddhism. The first was the temple of  Dong Shan Liang Jie (Japanese, Tozan Ryokai), and the second was Baofeng Si, where I stayed for a week.

Here we are at the site of one of Yang Shan’s contemporaries, Dong Shan Liang Jie (807-869). When he asked his teacher Yunyan how he should describe him, the teacher said, “Say only ‘Just this’. This!” At the time he didn’t understand, but  while on pilgrimage, he saw his reflection in the water and got his answer! (Entangling Vines, Pg. 229)

The exact spot where Dong Shan saw his reflection and exclaimed: “Seeking it from others is forbidden. for thus it becomes farther and farther estranged. Now that I go my own way entirely alone, there is nowhere I cannot meet it. Now it is just what I am, now it I am not what it is. Thus must one understand, then one accords with the Truly So (Miura and Sasaki 1966, p. 293.

Here is a new building at Dong Shan’s temple. It had probably hundreds of monks when it was active 1000 years ago, but much of it fell into disrepair, and also, during the Cultural Revolution, many temples were destroyed. They are now being rebuilt.

This is one of the few surviving buildings from the Ming Dynasty, at least 400 years old.

Here is Dong Shan’s tomb, which has been rebuilt Dong Shan Liang Jie’s school is one of the two surviving schools of Chan, along with Linji Yixuan’s.

Here are some rice buckets, used to serve rice at the second temple, where Yang Hang took me to stay. The old Zen stories say a teacher used to serve his monks from buckets like these, and before doing so, would dance and say, “Come eat, little Bodhisattvas!”. A bodhisattva is a being training to become enlightened. So he was encouraging the monks, as he served them from the rice buckets. The temple where these old style buckets are used is Bao Feng Si, where the great Chan Master Mazu  Daoyi (709-88)lived. He was enlightened when his teacher chided him for being attached to doing sitting meditation. More about that later.


In the Reception Hall at Baofeng Si, is a statue of Xu Yun.


Hitting the wooden fish signaling meal time


The meditation Hall at Baofeng Si.  The altar in Chinese Zen temples is traditionally in the center of the hall, and walking meditation takes place by circumambulating the altar.

Standing in front of the Chan Hall with two regular Chan sitters. The monk on the left is the head of the Chan Hall.

At the next temple I visited, which was founded by Yunju Daoying (d. 902),a successor to Dong Shan, we see many pictures and artifacts of Xu Yun, who is said to have lived or maybe died there. To understand the importance of Xu Yun, it is important to understand what happened to China, and its effects on Buddhism. The opium wars and the Qing Dynasty’s own corruption destroyed China’s defenses against colonial powers.

The forced importation of opium resulted in ¼ of Chinese people addicted to opium, which resulted in virtual collapse of the society. In the mid 1800’s, another import was Christianity. A Chinese man who was converted to Christianity believed he was the younger brother of Jesus. He garnered an army to fight the corrupt and oppressive Qing Dynasty. Called the Taiping Rebellion, it resulted in chaos and civil war, lost food production, all resulting in between 20 and 100 million people dying between 1850-65.

By contrast, the US Civil war lasted from 1861-65, and resulted in massive destruction in the US South, and perhaps 800,000 dead of a population of 32 million. China lost its amount of dead in a population of about 350 million. Perhaps up to 20% or more of China was killed outright or died of disease or starvation.

Then WWII happened, with the Japanese invasion, which is said to have resulted in the death of another 20 million. Xu Yun lived from 1840-1959. Thus, he lived through not just one, but TWO Holocausts! Here is a picture of the elderly Xu Yun, surrounded by his disciples. Including a young Jing Hui Lao Hesheng (“Jing Hui, the Old Monk [an honorific title]”), standing just to the left above the candle.

After the Communists took power, from about 1960-75, Jing Hui was imprisoned for 15 years, but on his release, followed Xu Yun’s example and rebuilt many temples in China, including Lao Zu Si, Si Zu Si, Bailin Si, and Yu Quan Si, all of which I visited and or stayed at. Here is a picture of Jing Hui and myself. Yan Zhen, the abbot of Baofeng Si, sent me on a tour with one of his young lay students, to see Yunju Shan, which was the temple of  Dongshan Liang Jie’s successor, Yunju Daoying(Ungan Donjo, Jap.) It is an active temple that has trained many monks.


This photo of Jing Hui and myself was taken at the dedication of Laozu Si, or Old Ancestor Temple. Legend has it that monk lived on the mountain was 1000 years old. The temple is brand new. In the winter it is inaccessible due to snow for about two months.


I also went  to Baizhang Temple, one of the most important temples in Chan history. The founder, Baizhang, had a saying, “A day of no work is a day of no eating.” This goes against the rules laid down by the Buddha, but because Chan monks grew their own food, when Buddhism was almost destroyed by a Chinese Emperor in 843-5, the Chan temples survived, while others who were not independent, did not. This inscription marks the site of a famous story in Chan. You can read all about it in Case 34 of Entangling Vines. Briefly, Master Baizhang would give his Dharma talks and an old man used to attend. One day, the old man showed up and told him that he had been the former master of the temple, but due to an incorrect answer to a student’s question, he was reborn as a fox for 500 lives. Baizhang gave the old man the correct answer, freeing him from his fox body.

Baizhang then led the monks to a den of a fox, where the dead fox was found. This is the actual rock den,  where his dead fox body could be found.


Yan Zhen is the abbot of Baofeng Si. He speaks English and visited Burma in 2012. Maybe we can get him to come to Thailand, or even America. Here is an image of old Mazu himself, who was a teacher for Baizhang, we will see that his students eventually produced Linji, who founded the second surviving school of Chan.

Climbing Sacred Mountains

Along with my vow to visit these famous temples of Jiangxi Province, I also wanted to climb two of the mountains in China sacred to Buddhists, which thousands of sincere pilgrims go to climb. The mountain shown here is Jiu Hua Shan, sacred to the Bodhisattava, Ksitigarbha, (English, “Earth Store”, Chinese “Dizhang”).

Dizhang is the protector of travelers and children

It’s said that a Korean monk who was a manifestation of Dizhang, lived on the mountain for 75 years, back over 1000 years ago. Here is a stairway on the way to the top of Jiu Hua Shan. Yan Zhen sent me to his monk brother, Yan Hui, who was my guide at Jiu Hua Shan. I also spent time with Yan Hui and discussed issues of history and modern society.

How is it possible that Chinese understand the international banking system and the source of many of the underlying problems better than most Americans?


Three steps one bow all the way up Jiu Hua Shan.   Look carefully and you’ll see someone wearing light blue bowing on the way up the mountain.

After climbing Jiu Hua Shan, Yan Hui took me to two other temples. This bell was placed at a temple with a sad history. During the Taiping Rebellion, 3000 people took refuge there, and were massacred. So the abbot of that temple brought the bell, to be rung in memory of the people killed, to help their ghosts rest in peace.


It took three tries to climb Wutai Shan, the legendary home of Manjusri Bodhisattva.The second sacred mountain  I visited was Wutai Shan, or 5 Terrace Mountain, home to the Bodhisattva, Manjusri. At one of the countless temples on Wutai Shan, I saw this classic statue of Manjusri (Chinese, Wencu Pusa). I stayed at Wutai Shan for three days, and will write about it later on, as it was not so relevant to my discussion with monks in Thailand.


Monks leaving the chanting hall at Bailin Si. This was the very famous monk, Zhao Zhou, Chan Master’s temple. The temple was totally destroyed, save for a severely damaged pagoda, over the last 1000 years.

Jing Hui asked Overseas Chinese  from different countries such as Singapore, Japan and Korea to donate money, and the temple was rebuilt 30 years ago. It is a very active temple (Jing Wu, now at Tong Bo Yan Si did his solitary 3 year retreat here.) Zhao Zhou lived from 778-897. It is said that after his teacher died when he was aged 60, he went on pilgrimage for 20 years, finally settling down at age 80, and he lived another 40 years after that.


The Pagoda honoring Zhao Zhou



Jing Hui’s successor, Ming Hai is the abbot of Bailin Si. He was not at that temple when I arrived, so he invited me to see him at this temple, which had also been rebuilt by Jing Hui. This temple, Yu Quan Si, was in the teaching line of Dong Shan, although it came 3 centuries later. It is the place where a monk in the Cao Dong (Soto, in Japanese) school of Chan wrote a book, The Record of Ease, or Cong Rong Lu, (Shoyoroku Jap.) or variously translated as The Book of Serenity, compiling stories of teachers of Chan told throughout several centuries, and is used in conjunction with meditation study.


Here is a garden and pavilion outside the meditation hall.


The final two pictures were taken at Linji’s temple. Linji (Rinzai,  Jap.) was the founder of the Linji School, one of the two surviving schools of Chan, or Zen. The pagoda and the meditation hall are shown here. I was brought here by a monk I met at Bailin Si, who calls himself Peter. The young girl, a college student name Jessie, came along, and helped translate for Peter and I.  I used these pictures as a presentation to the monks, and a lively discussion followed.


This is just a small part of the adventures I had in China, a truly transformative experience. I have often encouraged people, especially brother and sister practitioners, to go to China to experience it for themselves. There are a lot of misconceptions about China, not the least of which is that the Chinese government suppresses Buddhism. One of the last meals I had with a Chinese host was with a retired civil servant, both member of the Communist Party and a practicing Buddhist. This was not allowed in earlier years. However, it is now, and prominent monks like Ming Hai are actually represented in government, and urge Western Buddhist practitioners to come to China to see for themselves.

In one of the best books I have read, Zen Baggage, American Buddhist pilgrim, Red Pine quoted a Tibetan monk who said, “If you want to be Enlightened, leave your country”.

In the future, I’ll be releasing more adventures of my years long pilgrimage in Asia.

For More Information on Entangling Vines, go here: