The Lotus in the Sea of Fire

(Book 129 Entering the Most Hidden Yin- Yang Realm《走入最隱秘的陰陽界》)
‧Written by Master Sheng-yen Lu
A student named Zhao Guangping (Lianhua Guangping) told me the story below:
During a Qingming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Day), Zhao Guang- ping went to the Songshan Temple in Taipei to pay his respects to his late grandparents. The cremated remains of his grandparents had been kept in the columbarium part of the temple for many years and every year during the Qingming Festival, he would make the usual visit there.
Many people went there to offer incense, and it was always busy at the Songshan Temple.
His character then was reckless and unrestrained, and at that time he had not yet taken refuge in me or done any dharma practice. He was merely accompanying his parents to offer respects and incense to the Buddhas.
He entered the columbarium. Inside, the cinerary urns were stored in separate compartments, one after another. Despite the arrangement, it was still visibly chaotic.
He raised his head randomly and caught sight of a full color photograph. The picture was a lovely portrait of a young, beautiful and graceful lady and he was mesmerized, unable to tear his gaze away.

 The lady was of medium build, her form and figure were handsome; especially her oval shaped face and soulful eyes. Her full head of glorious hair hung naturally; she was really an incomparable beauty. He was dazed, and stared like a simpleton.
He even placed his palms together and sighed, “What a beautiful woman! Why did life and death mercilessly tear us apart? Today we are within inches from each other, and yet so far apart, what a pity!”
He continued looking for a long time and paid attention to the name on the plaque – Zhang Xiaohui.
Seeing that his parents were not around, and nobody was paying any attention to him, Zhao Guangping hastily bought incense for offering. He swiftly lit the incense and burnt the paper money for her, reciting the name of Zhang Xiaohui as he burned the paper money.
His parents thought this was strange, “For whom are you burning so much paper money?”
Zhao Guangping replied, “For grandfather and grandmother.”
His parents nodded, “Guangping has matured and become a dutiful grandson.”
He ignored the conversation between his parents and continued burning the paper money while reciting, “Zhang Xiaohui, Zhang Xiaohui, Zhang Xiaohui.” He recalled her fair features in his mind, thinking intently of her. Despite having seen her image only once, he felt like his soul had been wrenched away from him.
After burning all the paper money, he went back to see her again. Once more he placed his palms together to pray.
He felt that his actions had arisen entirely from an immense sense of adoration, and he had done what he did most willingly.
***
About half a month later, Zhao Guangping was in his study preparing for his end-of-semester examinations when he casually raised his head. Under the light before his eyes, as if in a dream, a lady dressed simply in unadorned white and enveloped by a delicate fragrance appeared before him. She seemed like a celestial maiden from among the flowers, or the daffodil spirit Fairy Ling Po herself. He took a better look and remembered; this was Zhang Xiaohui.
He was shocked.
Zhang Xiaohui said, “I came especially to meet you as I wasn’t able to contain my feelings of gratitude.” She continued, “Don’t be afraid, I won’t hurt you.”
Zhao Guangping had heard that there were ghosts in the world, but he had not believed it; and now he had met one.
“Don’t be afraid, I’m a kind ghost,” Zhang Xiaohui tried to console him. His heart was calming down gradually.
He saw that she was gorgeously and exquisitely beautiful, and then he was not afraid at all.
At this time both of them held hands and sat together.
Zhang Xiaohui gave guidance on Zhao Guangping’s homework, “For tomorrow’s exam, you will be asked to solve this Calculus problem. If you can remember all these five practice exercises, you will be able to obtain full marks.”
“Really?” He was disbelieving.
“Of course,” Zhang Xiaohui replied, leaning towards him.
“How do you know?” He was doubtful.
“Because I’m a ghost!”
“A ghost!” Zhao Guangping was afraid again; but, what he embraced was a lady’s skin as fair as jade. Momentarily, he again forgot his fear.
Time passed…
During the examinations the next day, the five problems in the Calculus section were exactly the same as the ones advised by Zhang Xiaohui. Zhao Guangping finished all of them with ease.
The other subjects also appeared as Zhang Xiaohui said.
Zhao Guangping was really surprised.
After that, Zhang Xiaohui appeared often, but only Zhao Guangping could see her. Other people were not able to see her. Zhao Guangping and Zhang Xiaohui had become as inseparable as glue and lacquer-they were very much in love.
***

Once, he asked, “You don’t look like someone who might die prematurely. Why did you die so early?”
“I committed a killing in a previous life, therefore I died early. My guilt is profound. Since my death, I have had no place to go. If you are sincere about me, please recite the High King Avalokitesvara Sutra ten thousand times for me. I’ll never forget your kindness.”
“High King Avalokitesvara Sutra?”
“Yes.”
“Where can I find this sutra?”
“Presently in this world, only the True Buddha School of Living Buddha Lian-sheng Sheng-yen Lu prints the High King Avalokitesvara Sutra. True Buddha School has it.”
“I have heard of Sheng-yen Lu and read his books, but there are many rumors that he has received much criticism from many people in the Buddhist world.”
Zhang Xiaohui said, “I may be a ghost, but the eyes of a ghost are more perceptive. Those who proclaim themselves to be great masters and dharma teachers-most of them base their teachings on the eight conventional dharmas of the human world. Humanistic Buddhism is in fact a euphemism for and no different from worldly business. Actually, they are still after power and prestige. When it comes to cultivation they create a great spectacle, but all of it is mere pretense.”
Zhang Xiaohui continued, “However, Living Buddha Lian-sheng Sheng-yen Lu is singularly unlike the others. He never pursues the world of politics or money; he is absolutely a genuine cultivator. He has profound meditation stability, and is a holy being whose sacred achievements are the most concealed. From understanding inherent nature and seeing emptiness, he obtained liberation. Living Buddha Lian-sheng Sheng-yen Lu’s life consists primarily of writing and teaching dharma; he never blows his own horn or makes false proclamations and is neither boastful nor arrogant. He guides all sentient beings with affinity in the direction of the bright path of liberation.”
Zhao Guangping said, “What you say is the opposite of what I imagined. I previously thought that Sheng-yen Lu is a liar, a demon, a heretic, a…”
“Please don’t say that-Living Buddha Lian-sheng Sheng-yen Lu is the only sage at this time in this world who can preach the great dharma in all of the heavenly realms, as well as descend to the underworld to give teachings and guidance to ghosts. I listened to his preaching and sermons in the underworld.”
“Can there really be such a thing?” Zhao Guangping shook his head.
“I personally experienced these teachings of Buddhadharma, how can it be false!” Zhang Xiaohui said, “We have a Buddhist hymn in the underworld to praise Living Buddha Lian-sheng Sheng-yen Lu; do you want to hear it?”
“Yes!”
Thus, Zhang Xiaohui began to sing:

Words of dharma that guide one to the treasury of joy and blessings,
Gush forth like a hundred thousand great rivers,
Completely filling the underworld,
This is the illuminating all-knowing wisdom of Lian-sheng,
Like the infinite stars in Empty Space,
Lighting the previously dark altar of the soul.

Zhang Xiaohui’s singing was not only a pleasure to the ears and wonderful, her voice and praise were extraordinary and indeed, seldom heard in the world. The melody seemed to resonate throughout the vast emptiness, containing eighty-four thousand dharma doors that caused the people who were listening to become dumbfounded. It was as though invisible nectar was falling from the heavens, causing people to have marvelous righteous thoughts.
“I believe it now,” Zhao Guangping said.
“If you believe, then you have to take refuge.”
“Okay, I will take refuge.”
This was the cause and condition for Zhao Guangping’s transformation to Lianhua Guangping!
***
Half a year passed in this manner. They kept their secret well, and surprisingly nobody knew anything about it.
Zhao Guangping respected and honored Zhang Xiaohui’s request; every morning and evening he would recite the High King Avalokitesvara Sutra and dedicate its merits to her, while keeping count using a Buddhist rosary.
One sudden day, Zhang Xiaohui wept while lying in Zhao Guang-ping’s arms. Her tears poured down her cheeks as she told him, “We have been as intimate as though we were one person, but the time has now come when we must part! How can I repay the kindness I have received from you!”
“Why do you say this?” he asked, alarmed.
“You recited the High King Avalokitesvara Sutra ten thousand times for me; now that the number of recitations is complete, I have been destined to be reborn in the household of a kind and wealthy family.”
“Oh!” his mouth grew wide, “How can I keep you, so that we can stay together as before?”
“There is one way!”
“What way? Say it quickly.”
Zhang Xiaohui replied faintly, “On the tier where I resided at the columbarium of Songshan Temple, all the spirits know that you recited the High King Avalokitesvara Sutra for me, and are full of admiration. Now they beseech me to entreat you in turn; if you can recite the High King Avalokitesvara Sutra for all of them, all the spirits can then go through transmigration together, and I can also stay until then. As you recite the High King Avalokitesvara Sutra, there will also be merit for you.”
“How many times?” he asked immediately.
“One million times.”
“Alright, I will recite.”
***
While Zhao Guangping recited the High King Avalokitesvara Sutra so as to keep Zhang Xiaohui, he was unable to not recite to delay the passing of time. Even for a million recitations of the High King Avalokitesvara Sutra, there would be an inevitable date of completion. As that day drew closer, he wrote a verse:

Enter my door to meet with me.
Come without a trace,
Go without a trace,
I want to pursue
But there are numerous mountains,
I lean against the old pine under Qing Geng Peak.

After reading it, Zhang Xiaohui asked Zhao Guangping, “This verse has a flavor of separation and farewell, have you read Dream of the Red Chamber?”
“Yes, I have!”
“In the hundred and twentieth chapter of Dream of the Red Chamber, Jia Baoyu, in the company of a Buddhist monk and a Taoist, leave the world of samsara together. And as they depart there is a song that goes: The place I stay is on Qing Geng Peak; the place in which I wander is in the primordial space. Who will I leave with, and with whom did I come? Oh boundless uncertainties, all return to the vast Emptiness.”
Zhao Guangping said, “This song evokes an immense sense of wonder – after hearing it one’s heart opens up, but doesn’t it seem unfeeling?”
“Having or not having sentiment originates from the same dream. Don’t laugh if people are blinded by ignorance and emotions.”
Finally one million recitations of the High King Avalokitesvara Sutra was completed. Both of them were emotionally torn apart…
Indeed:

Who will accompany one,
Alone to experience sentimental attachment.
One’s love will not return like the river that has run west,
Without the mythical dream grass,
Dreams cannot materialize through imagination,
With whom to exchange words of gentleness!

Both of them embraced and cried, heartbroken. At this time if there were other people around, they would only see Zhao Guangping by himself, arms outstretched in an embrace, with tears streaking down.
“You will see me off.”
“Of course.”
Zhang Xiaohui’s body was light as a swallow. She tugged at Zhao Guangping’s body a few times, and actually pulled out two of Zhao Guangping. One of them was lying on the bed in a deep sleep, the other followed Zhang Xiaohui and flew out the window directly to a plaza. Their feet did not touch the ground and they flew very quickly.
Martial arts novelists would describe this as gliding on water, flying above grass, catching cicadas in eight steps, or soaring across empty space.
Whatever the case may be, the way they carried themselves as they flew was extraordinarily splendid.
***

At a great plaza, several hundred people were gathering. There was not only one group of people, but multiple groups. Actually these were not people but milling crowds of ghosts.
Around the crowds were many officers, and one among them wore a red robe. He appeared to be an official of higher rank, and was in the midst of doing roll call and placement.
Carriages and chariots rattled, rumbled and rolled; horses whinnied and neighed; it was as though troops of soldiers were being shifted elsewhere for garrison duty.
 “Fairy Ling Po is coming, Fairy Ling Po is coming,” someone yelled from among the crowd.
Everybody clapped with thunderous applause.
“Who is beside her?” someone asked.
“No trespassers may enter this place!”
An officer ordered loudly, “Stranger, stop!”
Zhang Xiaohui was Fairy Ling Po. She stood gracefully and said,“The one whom I’ve brought with me is not a trespasser. He is Lianhua Guangping, Zhao Guangping.”
“Wow! He is our benefactor!” The crowd of spirits placed their palms together, knelt on their knees and prostrated before him.
Even the surrounding officers placed their palms together, and the one who wore the red robe saluted him. In a place where outsiders were not allowed to enter, he had now become a special guest.
Zhang Xiaohui told Lianhua Guangping, “Because you developed a bodhi heart and the pure energy of reciting sutras, the nectar of dharma rain appeared which could enter into the mind fields of those with wisdom and sincere faith. Now that seeds of blessing and virtue have been planted in their hearts, they can freely transmigrate to another life in samsara. And as for you, in the foreseeable and unforeseeable future, your karmic affinity with them, which is all good in nature, will develop and mature in various places.”
Zhang Xiaohui continued, “Karmic affinities and retribution are like a bright mirror that illuminates all causes and consequences in the world. In the future if you attain achievement and become a teacher of Buddhadharma in the human world, they will come and take refuge in you based on their affinity, and at the same time they will offer in homage all kinds of treasures – they will be your benefactors!”
Zhao Guangping nodded, “I understand.”
He then asked in puzzlement, “Why do they call you Fairy Ling Po?”
“I took refuge in a wise and great Buddha’s disciple, Living Buddha Lian-sheng Sheng-yen Lu, which enabled me to observe, analyze, and thus thoroughly understand the Buddhadharma. Through actual cultivation based on the liturgies, ignorance and dark delusions were extinguished, and I could enter into yogic union with the deva-realm of Lakshmi. Now, with splendid bearing and wearing various adornments, I have a rare and precious dharma-throne, and have become a graceful celestial being.”
He looked at Zhang Xiaohui and then at the crowd of spirits, indeed there was a difference in their aura and countenance. Zhang Xiaohui radiated a resplendent aura, whereas the crowd of spirits emanated a turbid air.
Zhang Xiaohui next pointed to a single vehicle inlaid with mother-of-pearl. A beautiful canopy of embroidered curtain hung from above. Inside the vehicle was a lotus throne suffused with red light, and there were two attendant maidservants.
As for the crowd of spirits, the vehicles that carried them each contained ten or twenty people. All of them were merely ordinary vehicles.
“Will they not ascend to the deva-realm of Lakshmi?”
“They will transmigrate to another life in samsara based on their karma.”
“What about the spirits’ places in Songshan Temple?”
“There will be a celestial fire!” Zhang Xiaohui said.
(Later it was verified that the columbarium section at Songshan Temple had been consumed by fire; nothing was left.)
***
When the time came, the two maidservants led Zhang Xiaohui (Fairy Ling Po) into the vehicle. It soared and ascended into the sky. The crowd of spirits placed their palms together as they gazed upward.
Only after Zhang Xiaohui was inside the vehicle, did she look back at Zhao Guangping, “Farewell, go back quickly, and don’t forget to study the True Buddha Tantra. Hope to meet with you again.”
The chariot disappeared into the mist and rosy clouds.
Zhao Guangping returned to his own bedroom, and saw himself asleep on the bed.
With only a single thought, the two Zhao Guangping became one.
When he awoke, tears filled his vision.

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