This is a very motivating and inspiring story for me. Master JuHeng (具行) was deaf and a good example of what a secret practitioner is. He was so ordinary in appearance and of such a low profile that everyone, except his own master; was clueless about his attainments. In short nobody took any interest in him until his parinirvana.
Master Ju Heng (1876-1924) was a disciple of the renowned Zen Master Xu Yun (popularly known as Empty Cloud in the West). In 1896, a plain-looking and poorly dressed Ju Heng arrived to see Master Xu Yun at Zhu Sheng Monstery (祝聖寺) in Mt Ji Ju (雞足山-Chicken feet Mountain), Yunan province, China.
At that time, Master JuHeng was just 20 years old and a layman named Ah Bian. Being an orphan, he had relied on the charity of his villagers as a child and became farmhand when he came of age. He was already married with 2 young sons and had just lost his job, due to a famine. Therefore, he had gone to Master XuYun to look for employment because Master Xu Yun was building a temple then.
After hearing his story, the abbot informed him that there is no need to seek an audience with Master XuYun because they were looking for construction workers but could only pay minimal wages. Was he agreeable? Ah Bian agreed to the low wages and was assigned to live in the woodshed.
Ah Bian was an extremely diligent. Besides helping with the construction works, he voluntarily woke up early to grow vegetables for the monastery. He also helped with whatever tasks available. In this manner, he would often wake up before the sun rose and would only rest when it was late into the night. One peculiar thing about Ah Bian was that he didn’t like talking to anyone; even when spoken to. Consequently, people gave him the nickname “The Deaf one”
Ah Bian had only worked a month when his wife suddenly visited with his 2 sons and in-laws. There were a total of 8 people crowding the woodshed and making a huge commotion. The abbot was flabbergasted and rushed over to confront the noisy folks.
“Ah Bian, I employed you and gave you lodging in the temple’s woodshed but that doesn’t mean you can invite your entire family to stay here. Moreover, this is a monastery and it is inappropriate for womenfolk to live here!”
“Abbot, I didn’t invite them. Our landlord had reclaimed the farmland and they were evicted with nowhere to go. That is why they came here seeking help.”
Both of them were talking animatedly and did not realized that Master Xuyun had arrived at the woodshed. When the abbot saw Master XuYun, he happily stated his case that according to the Buddhist Law, a monastery cannot accept womenfolk to live in.
Master XuYun said, “They are poor and destitute. This is not accepting womenfolk but refugees. Moreover, Ah Bian can build a house away from the Monastery for his family to stay. He can continue staying with us or he can join his family and live in that house. The monastery is large and his family can also lend a hand to help out. Surely we can share food with them.”
In this manner, Ah Bian and his family became monastery helpers. With their farming expertise, they successfully cultivated various crops for the monastery. Besides farming, they also helped with general housekeeping and cleaning.
Ah Bian preferred living in the monastery while his family stayed in the house outside the temple. Thus, he practiced celibacy and no longer slept with his wife. Ah Bian also implored Master XuYun to teach him a way to practice and was instructed on chanting the name of Amitabha Buddha. Two years later, Ah Bian and his entire family decided to join the monastic order; the men became monks and the womenfolk became nuns.
Ah Bian’s when given the Dharma name Ju Heng when he became a monk. As a monk, he continued performing laborious tasks in the monastery and quietly practiced the recitation of Amitabha Buddha’s name. He didn’t speak to anyone nor attempted to communicate with people. That was because his hearing was deteriorating quickly. As he hardly communicate with anybody and kept to himself, nobody really knew him well and people simply refer to him as the Deaf Monk. You could probably infer that JuHeng was ostracized by his community since no one even bothered to know his name. However, he didn’t seem to care an ounce and would perform his tasks and duties diligently. All that while, he was focused on his practice of reciting “Namo Amitabha Buddha”; no matter what he was doing.
Then in 1915, Master XuYun sent JuHeng on a pilgrimage saying, “You have made progress in your practice and it is time for you to go out into the world for exposure. Go to the various holy mountains and famous temples for pilgrimage. If you find a better place to be, you may stay there. Or you may come back when your pilgrimage is done.”
Therefore, JuHeng left Master XuYun for 5 years and only returned in1920 when he heard that his Master was rebuilding another temple. He came back to help his master!
Once again, JuHeng voluntarily undertook all the laborious tasks. On top of that, he practiced what Master Xu Yun taught him and never missed the monastery’s prayer session. He would also privately chant the various sutra with great devotion and diligence after nightfall. JuHeng never changed a bit and remained silent. Always doing his work diligently and didn’t engaged himself with idle speech.
One day, Master XuYun was supervising the construction work at a pagoda when Ju Heng approached him and talked! “Master, when this Pagoda is completed, may I become its guardian?”
Master Xu Yun was silent because deep inside, he knew that JuHeng was asking permission to depart from Samsara.
“Master, please accede to my request. please?” Juheng implored with such innocence that he sounded just like a kid.
Master XuYun finally said. “Alright, But let things flow naturally, do not force it”
“Thank you, Master!”
That year, Master XuYun requested JuHeng to preside over the tonsure ceremony of new monks as a witnessing elder. When the new monks requested JuHeng for advice, he said “I only practice reciting the name of Amitabha Buddha. That is all.”
One early evening, JuHeng came to bid farewell to Master XuYun and went to the vegetable farm at the back of the monastery. Meanwhile, Master XuYun remained in his own room to recite the sutra for JuHeng’s parinirvana. Nobody knew about JuHeng’s farewell and the disciplinary master only discovered JuHeng “missing” during his roll call at night.
Just when everybody was about to search for the “missing” JuHeng, a few brilliant burst of white light flashed from the monastery farm. It was so bright that the nearby villagers saw it too. While the monks were rushing to the garden to investigate, the villagers thought that the monastery had caught fire and were rushing towards the monastery to help.
When they arrived at the vegetable farm, they only saw JuHeng sitting there in meditation posture. His eyes were half-closed and he was smiling serenely. He looked as if he was alive and just meditating. One of the monks called out his name, “Ju Heng!” and was about to tug at his robe. Just then, the voice of Master XuYun boomed from behind. “Hold it! Nobody shall touch Ju Heng. Everyone, step back!”
That order shocked everyone and they jumped back a few steps, unsure if there was any danger.
When Master XuYun reachef JuHeng’s body, he said “Juheng had self-combusted and cremated himself. He had utilized his samadhi to do that. The bright flashes of light were his samadhi fire. I was chanting for him in my room and had hurried here as soon as possible to stop any mishandling of his remains.”
What Master XuYun said was unbelievable to the witnesses because JuHeng didn’t appear burnt. His robes were intact and he looked as if he was meditating. If not for the absence of breathe, one would have thought he was alive.
They pulled their firebrand closer to examine and saw something off. JuHeng was holding a wooden fish drum (religious musical instrument) and it had turned into charcoal. His shoes that was placed in front of him had turned into ashes!
“Everyone step back! Your movement around JuHeng’s body might cause it to crumble.” said Master Xuyun.
Master XuYun knelt down to pay respect to Master Juheng. Everyone was moved and followed his example.
“JuHeng, please maintain your physical body for one day. I will invite the government officials and the reporters tomorrow so that people of later generation can have a picture of this wonderful event.” requested Master Xuyun. After that, he had people stand guard around JuHeng’s dharma body and instructed everyone not to touch the body or talk too loudly.
The news spread like wild fire and many government officials and dignitaries of KunMing came to witness the miracle. KumMing Dalies’s reporter was also present and its headlines captivated the entire Yunnan province.
[Who says there is no Dharma? Who says Enlightenment is impossible? Master JuHeng is the best testimony!]
Amongst the dignitaries, was the provincial governor and he enquired why the body of Juheng remains intact while the wooden drum had turned into coal. The heat must be extremely high but the surrounding areas seems fine? Apparently, he was skeptical about the self-combustion claim.
Master XuYun explained that samadhi fire is generated from the mind and burned from within and outwards. Therefore, it doesn’t burn the surrounding. Having said that, Master XuYun proceed to say,
“JuHeng, Your secret practice is fully completed and had achieved great merits for this world. At the sound of the gong, you may proceed to the Western Pureland of Amitabha Buddha.” Master XuYun then rang a small singing gong. Upon the third strike, JuHeng’s body shook and crumbled into ashes; right in front of the governor and numerous eye witnesses! Master JuHeng was subsequently enshrined in the pagoda as agreed with Master Xuyun.
I am always captivated by story of how a “simple” practice can lead to great achievements. In the story of Acharn Mun (a Thai master); He taught some villagers to recite “Buddho” insistently. They also attained great achievements. In these cases, I notice that these illiterate people did not study volumes of sutra but they were extremely fortunate to meet an enlightened master who guided their practice well.
Buddhist practice need not be complicated. More importantly, it is about having the right understanding, right views, and right effort.
May all be well and happy.