Home > Legends > Desire and Anger Brought Shame on Master Shikui

Desire and Anger Brought Shame on Master Shikui


In the Late Ming and Early Qing Dynasty, Master Shikui was once a successful second degree candidate after passing the examinations held by the court in the Wanli period (1573-1620AD). He enjoyed equal fame with Master Dihui when one of them practiced meditation and another observed the precepts. At that time, Dihui lived in Lingyin Temple and Shikui lived in Tianzhu Temple, but Shikui was jealous of the large number of worshippers Lingyin attracted. During a severe drought in his time, Shikui, with everyone in audience Shikui read a spell, summoned the black dragon with rain, and was regarded as a fairy thereafter. Dihui, upon knowing this incident, resigned from his post as the abbot of Lingyin Temple, and moved to the quietest place in the mountain. Shikui thus succeeded and became the abbot of Lingyin Temple for more than 30 years. However it was this very thought of desire and anger that brought him trouble.

It was said that there was a child from family Shen who worked for a wealthy family after his parents died. One day, he followed his master who went to Lingyin Temple to offer incense to Buddha. At an incidental encounter with this child, Shikui was surprised by his extraordinary talents, so he asked for the child to be his disciple. The master of the child was happy to know that the great monk Shikui liked their servant, so he agreed to leave the child, who was at the time only 7 years of age, to the temple.

Master Shikui showed particular favour to this child, gave him meat and beautiful clothes whenever the child asked for them, and allowed him to keep his hair in the temple. Shikui hired a private tutor to teach the child how to read and write, and named the child Jinsi. Shen Jinsi, being a very intelligent child, mastered all knowledge the imperial examinations covered. When Jinsi was almost 20 years old, an educational inspector came to supervise examinations in Hangzhou. The private tutor secretly encouraged Shen Jinsi to take the examination, and Jinsi ranked third. A month later, Shikui gathered all the monks in the temple and asked, ”Jinsi is my little novice. When did he become an examinee without my permission?”

Shikui was extremely angry and had Shen Jinsi come and kneel in front of the Buddha. Shikui shaved the hair of Jinsi against his will, put a kasaya on him, and renamed him “Taofo”, which meant running away from the Buddha.

Master Shikui did this out of love to his young disciple, and the fear that Jinsi would leave him and the temple and from then on embark on official career, wearing the official robe instead of kasaya. His original intention was to have Jingsi focus on the study of Buddhism and take over his mantle in the future. Therefore, when he knew that Jinsi took the examination secretly and ranked third, Shikui made a swift and ruthless action to have Jinsi’s hair cut, change his clothes and name in order to make him stay in the temple.

Unexpectedly, his action infuriated the classmates of Shen Jinsi. Hundreds of them signed a join petition to the governor and the educational inspector. One person called Xiang Shuangquan was a authoritative scholar in Renhe area (present day Hangzhou). Knowing Shen Jinsi’s excellence in both scholarly talent and appearance, he led a group of servants to release him, gave him a wig, and even betrothed his younger sister to him and gave a feast of celebration where many students gathered, composing poems and congratulating the bethrothal.

Some people from the office of educational inspector were on friendly terms with Master Shikui, but it was difficult to go against the anger of all, so they had to admit the accusation and allow Shen Jinsi to grow hair and become a follower of Confucianism.

This could have been the end of the story, but Jinsi’s fellow students refused to accept as the final resolution and were going to beat Master Shikui to vent their hatred. The official of educational inspection had no choice but to order two servants of Shikui to receive 50 spanks respectively with wooden plank. Only then did the public anger finally cease.

One month later, Shikui asked the servants to hit the drum and gather all the monks. After they each paid their respects to the Buddha with incense, Shikui said in tears, “This is my retribution! Because of desire, Dihui was forced to leave, and then I was afraid that there was no one with great blessing to take on the abbotship of Lingyin Temple. Shen Jinsi has such virtrue and self-discipline that he is born to be a high official, if in the secular world or to become an arhat in Buddhist world. This is why I liked him at first sight and wanted him to take over my mantle. Because of my desire to excel, I made him study in order to inherit my background in Confucianism too. It was the fault of my greed and anger! Now my servants were beaten. What a humiliation! I do not deserve to be the abbot any more! A Buddhist need to confess just like a Confucianist needs to correct himself. I have to confess to the Brahmā for a hundred years before I can obtain enlightenment.” When he finished, he asked his disciples to take his cane, one white-jade alms bowl and a purple kasaya to welcome Dihui and to make up for his mistake.

The monks knelt down on the floor and cried, “As you know, Master, Master Dihui has already gone for 30 years and we’ve never heard from him since then. How can we find him and welcome him?”

Master Shikui told his followers which temple on which peak in Yunqi Mountain Dihui was living in., and that they should look for a pine tree and a well in front of his house. After he finished talking, Shikui sat cross-legged and passed away with a two-foot long jade pillar coming from his nose. Following Shikui’s direction, the monks found Master Dihui indeed. It seemed that even though Shikui has been in competition with Dihui all his life, he admired the latter from the bottom of his heart; otherwise he would not have sent his followers to find Dihui before he passed away.

Shen Jinsi later passed the exam to be a palace graduate and was promoted to be a government official with a posthumous title of “Qingke” (literally “uncorruptable and self-disciplining). Every time he talked about the upbringing by Chan Master Shikui, he burst into tears and showed deep gratitude.

Although Shen Jinsi was a loss to the Buddhist world and a gain for the Confucian world, was not it insightful and prophetising of Master Shikui to have liked young Shen Jinsi in the first instance?


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