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The Consultation process between Emperors and Monks of Hangzhou

In history, many emperors summoned monks for consulting and knowledge in Dharma. This process of seeking answers was essentially referenced as “question and reply”. During a question and reply session, monks would be bestowed a title, contribution, or gifts. For hundreds of years, the subjects of question and reply between Hangzhou eminent monks and the Court changed gradually, which was easily observed through a few examples.

During Dali years of Tang Dynasty, some people favored Taoism over Buddhism. When the monk Faqin of Jingshan Temple went to the capital to answer the emperor’s call, he tried every best to protect dharma in answering Emperor Daizong of Tang Dynasty. Later the emperor honored him a title called “Master Guoyi”.

In later Northern Song Dynasty, Emperor Huizong highly praised Taosim over Buddhism. Fadao of Lower Tianzhu Temple presented advantages and disadvantages of doing so in his speech A Suggestion against Converting Monks into Taoist Priests to Emperor Huizong. Fadao was tattooed on the face as severe punishment and exiled.

In Southern Song Dynasty, Emperor Xiaozong came to Lingyin Temple to worship Buddha and tried to understand Dhyana. Master Huiyuan received Emperor Xiaozong and brought him to Flying Peak.

 Xiaozong asked, “The peak’s name means flying to here, but why not flying from here?”

Huiyuan answered, “Movement is not better than still.”

In Upper Tianzhu Temple, Xiaozong asked again, “To whom does Guanyin Bodhisattva chant with the prayer beads?”

Huiyuan answered, “Chant to Guanyin Bodhisattva, as well.”

“Why?”

“It is better to rely on oneself than on the help of others.”

“What did Guanyin Bodhisattva pray for?”

“Your Majesty can reclaim the central plains, our territory soon.” Later generations highly praised Master Huiyuan for his patriotism and sympathy.

In early years of Yuan Dynasty, Huyan Jingfu, the abbot of Lingyin Temple, went to the capital city to present the doctrine of Zen and Buddhism to Emperor Shizu of Yuan and to convince him of ahimsa. Emperor Shizu of Yuan was quite amazed at him and wanted to bestow him, but Huyan left without accepting the bestowing.

It was the leap February of the thirtieth Qianlong year (1765) when Emperor Hongli of Qing went to Lingyin Temple to worship Buddha and understand Dhyana. During time in Lingyin, Emperor Hongli had a session of question and reply with Abbot Yushan, which was the last session in history. Qianlong (Emperor Hongli) picked up sticks of incense to worship Buddha, while Yushan was striking Qing, an ancient sounding stone. Yushan extended his profound gratitude after the emperor finished the ceremony. The emperor asked, “Are you the abbot?”

He answered, “Yes, I am the abbot.”

“Who was the monk in the sixteenth year (of Qianlong)?”

“It was Yiguo, my master.”

“Who then was the monk in the twenty-second year?”

“It was Deyuan, a junior disciple.”

“You are senior?”

“Yes.”

“Who was the monk in the twenty-seventh year?”

“It was Dequan, also a junior disciple.”

“Where is Dequan now?”

“He left the temple.”

“Who recommended you?”

“It was His Excellency Governor Xiong.”

“Great! You were recommended by Xiong Xuepeng.”

Yushan thanked the emperor for his favor. After the session of question and reply, Yunshan made tea again to Hongli, who smiled and said, “Nice, better offer to Buddha.” The emperor left cheerfully to Flying Peak after ordering his bodyguards and servants to play music which lingered in the hill. Yushan led the monks to escort the emperor out of the hill.

The next day, the empress dowager and the empress came to Lingyin Temple to worship Buddha and bestow gold worth of fifty taels and five taels respectively. The third day, according to imperial decree, Yushan went to the temporary imperial dwelling to receive gifts, which included 550 taels of gold, eight bolts of satin, eight bunches of Tibetan incense and one stone Buddha.

On the fifteenth of leap February, the Emperor Hongli of Qing went to Faxi Temple in Upper Tianzhu to burn joss stick, praying for sunny days. And Yushan led all monks to receive and welcome.

Hongli asked, “Are you the abbot of Yunlin Temple (Lingyin)?”

Yushan answered, “Yes.”

“What is your generation name?”

“Mine is Shi and I am also in charge of Faxi Temple.”

“Can those with a generation name of Shi reach the understanding of Dhyana?”

“They can.”

“What is the thread of understanding?”

“Trying to understand all Dharma is one.”

“Where is the one?”

“The holy emperor of Qing.”

“Is this your opinion?”

“Namo Amitabhaya.”

The Emperor Hongli of Qing smiled and ordered his servant to bestow Yushan 100 taels of gold, eight bunches of Tibetan incense and one stone Buddha.

Yushan led all monks to escort the emperor out of the hill. On the nineteenth of leap February, Emperor Qianlong set for return to Beijing as Yushan and other abbots of the mountain escorted him to Wulin Door. Qianlong saw Yushan and said to him, “You can go back to your temple now!”

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