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Father of Apes, Gathering Apes by Roaring

 

Master Zhiyi was a Buddhist monk in the Liu Song Dynasty. He was told that in the Hangzhou Flying Peak grotto there was a cavern where Master Huili, the founder of Lingyin Temple, raised white apes. So he visited Lingyin Temple out of admiration and followed Master Huili’s footsteps to live in the temple and raise apes.

The quiet environment and lush plants of Lingyin Valley plus the rocks and caves of Flying Peak provided a natural paradise for the monkeys. They frolicked among the hills and trees, which brought infinite vitality to the quiet Lingyin Vally.

Master Zhiyi had an extraordinary stunt, which is to roar by tightening his lips. His roars sounded like the scream of wind echoing in the valleys, which, miserably, shocked the plants. People named it “the melody which could sadden pine trees”.

Roaring is an ancient oral stunt which can be rarely found nowadays. It is said that the “roar” in Buddhism is related to Tathagata Buddha. According to The Lamp (archive), when Tathagata was born, one of his hands pointed to the sky and the other pointed to the land, with roars like those of lions from his mouth. However, the Buddha’s roar is different from that of lions; it is divine and sacred in essence. So the roar stunt of Master Zhiyi has a Buddhist origin.

Master Zhiyi’s oral stunt also has a Taoist origin. In Taoism, roaring is a practice to maintain a long life. The method to roar is to round the lips and breathe out to make a long, clear and melodious sound in order to exhale the stale air, and then slowly breathe in the fresh air from nature. Taoism created a mysterious atmosphere for the inheritance of the roaring stunt: inherited from Laotse, the Queen Mother of the West taught it to Guangchengzi, and then the method was widely spread.

The Wei Jin Southern and Northern Dynasties were a time for the roar stunt to gain great popularity among scholars, for Buddhists and Taoists. For example, the famous poet Tao Yuanming once wrote “climb up the hill in the east to make a roar; stand beside a clear stream to make a poem”, and described the scene of roaring through the window of the coach. Stories also tell that roars have special functions. Zhao, a marquis, saw that his food was stolen by mice, so he drew a circle in his house, and standing inside the circle he made a long roar with disheveled hairs. The mice all ran out and kowtowed to him outside the circle, returning all the food and rice.

The roaring skill of Master Zhiyi was extraordinary, for he could gather the apes by roaring. Every time when he wanted to see those lovely monkeys, he would walk out the temple gate, go to the Lengquan Gorge and roar to the quiet valley and lush forest. The monkeys knew their master’s intention, so when they heard the roars made by Master Zhiyi, they would jump out from the forest or caves and gather around the master.

The stunt of Master Zhiyi and his smart monkeys surprised the pilgrims and visitors. They would wait for the master to gather the monkeys and throw food to feed the monkeys. Gradually, this activity had been added to the Lingyin tour schedule. Therefore, Master Zhiyi used blocks of stones to build a platform for the visitors to put food. This platform is what we call “Fanyuan Platform” now, meaning a platform for feeding the monkeys.

Master Zhiyi got a nickname “Father of Apes”, because he could gather the monkeys with long roars and the monkeys were willing to listen to his order.

These monkeys gave the forest of Lingyin a lot of vitality and fun, which enlightened people to write poems for them. The poet Gao Deyang in Song Dynasty once wrote the following poem:

 

Thousands of pine trees surround Lengquan Pavilion,

Sometimes the old monkeys howl among the lines of trees.

They run to chase the clouds when wind blows the gully,

They go back to their home when the moon leans the hill.

 

 

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