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How Guo Shun Burned His Body as an Offering to the Buddha

身体虽然成为黑炭, 但是其心完整,未被火化。
Although Guo Shun’s body had been burned black, his heart was still intact and unburnt.
When I was in Manchuria, I accepted a disciple and gave him the Dharma name Guo Shun. His surname was Yao, and people called him Old Yao. He lived about twenty miles south of Harbin in Da-nan-gou Village. Before he took refuge with the Triple Jewel, he was a loafer who smoked opium and shot himself up with morphine. As to eating, drinking, playing with women, and gambling, he did all of that and more.
Manchuria was under the rule of the Japanese at that time. They founded the state of Manchukuo and set up the dethroned Qin dynasty emperor, Xuantong as the puppet emperor. The Japanese held all the political power. They conscripted laborers everywhere for their defense construction projects in the Black River area, which were aimed at preventing the Soviet Union from invading. The laborers were forced to work without pay, and they never knew when they would be able to return to their hometowns. The labor camps were hell on earth; the suffering was beyond words. It made people shiver just to speak of their experience there.
Guo Shun had been a loafer when he was taken to the Black River labor camp by the Japanese soldiers. During the day he was forced to toil like an ox, and at night he slept in a bale of grass which did not protect him from the cold. He constantly tried to find ways to escape. The camp was surrounded by a high-voltage electric fence which would electrify anything that touched it. Unable to take the cruel treatment, he constantly sought for a chance to escape, notwithstanding the electric barrier.
One night, desperate to leave that hell-like camp and regain his freedom, Guo Shun decided to attempt an escape when he went to the toilet. When he was just about ready to take off, an old man with a silvery beard suddenly came by and said, “This is not the time for you to escape. Your suffering has not been finished. Be patient. When the time comes, I will let you know. I hope you’ll be alert and not let the chance slip by.” After saying that, the old man vanished. Guo Shun believed him and returned to the camp.
About two weeks later, Guo Shun dreamed of the old man with the silvery beard, who said, “Today you should escape. There will be a white dog outside the door. Just follow it and you’ll be all right. Remember what I’ve told you.” Guo Shun woke up with joy. When he went to the door, there really was a white dog waiting for him. Guo Shun followed the old man’s instructions and followed right behind the dog. When they reached the electric fence, the white dog jumped over it. Guo Shun knew he was supposed to follow suit. In a sudden inspiration, he took a bale of grass, put it over the fence, and then jumped over it. He was safe. When he turned around, the white dog was gone. Perhaps it had been a heavenly being coming to his aid.
In order to elude the Japanese soldiers who were searching for him, he hid in the woods by day, drinking from the streams and eating grass or leaves to satisfy his hunger. He dared to walk only at night. After many days of arduous travel, he arrived in his hometown. After his experience in the labor camp, he felt that life was full of suffering, and so he decided to become a monk and practice the spiritual path. He went to all the temples, but none would take him in. When he went to Three Conditions Monastery, people would not accept him there either because they thought he was a beggar (from his ragged clothes) who wanted to become a monk just so he could get food and shelter.
When he had been turned down by all temples large and small, Guo Shun met a strange man who looked like a beggar. No one knew where he was from, but he introduced himself as an old cultivator capable of all sorts of magical arts. He claimed he could fly in the sky, ride the clouds, call the wind and rain, and cure any disease, even bringing the dead back to life. No one except Guo Shun believed his nonsense and lies. Guo Shun bowed to him as his teacher and offered to support him with money which he had obtained by improper means. After a while, he discovered that the man was a scoundrel with no skills at all, and so he left him.
One day I went to Da-nan-gou Village to treat Defu Gao’s sick mother, whom none of the Chinese or Western doctors had been able to cure. I used no medicine to cure her, but simply the power of a mantra. The villagers thought it was a miracle. When Old Yao (Guo Shun) heard about it, he came and knelt before me, asking permission to enter the monastic life. I paid no attention to him and just sat in meditation facing the wall for about an hour. When I turned around and saw that he was still kneeling there, I asked him, “What are you doing?”
“Teacher, please be compassionate and accept me as your disciple.”
“You want me to let you enter the monastic life?” I asked. “I don’t have any virtue, and I have no skills to teach you. You will be disappointed.” “I will be content as long as you take me as your disciple. I have no other wish,” he replied.
“The life of a monk is very bitter. You have to endure what other people cannot endure, yield where others cannot yield, undergo bitterness that others cannot undergo, and bear abuses that other people cannot bear. Can you do that? If you can, I will accept you as my disciple. Otherwise, do not ask to enter the monastic life.”
Old Yao replied without hesitation, “I can take any kind of suffering. Monastic life may be bitter, but I doubt it’s as bitter as working in a labor camp. I am confident that I can bear it.”
Hearing him say that, I believed he could take the suffering, and so I took him back to Three Conditions Monastery. He renounced the life of a householder and worked in the kitchen as a novice monk. He was a careful worker and a diligent cultivator. However, he had no affinities with the other monks, and was often bullied by them. When he could take it no more, he came to me and asked, “Teacher, my Dharma brothers are always scolding me for no reason at all. What can I do?”
“If you cannot take it, you may cultivate alone,” I told him. Then he went to Dragon King Temple, in the hills west of the village, and built a hut on the vacant lot next to the temple.
When he completed the hut, he came to Three Conditions Monastery to invite me to bless the Buddha image. I took a few disciples along with me. That night ten dragons (manifesting in human form) came and requested to take refuge with the Triple Jewel. It was early summer, and there was a drought. The grain sprouts were parched, and the farmers were in very low spirits, for they depended on the rain. Sometimes they silently prayed to Heaven for rain. I told the dragons, “It’s your job to make the rain fall. Why has it been so dry? Why don’t you let it rain?”
“We dare not make the rain fall if the Jade Emperor hasn’t given us the order. If we did, we’d be punished.”
“Well, you go to the Jade Emperor and ask him to be compassionate and allow rain to fall within a fourteen mile radius of this place. I’ll transmit the Three Refuges to you the day after you make it rain. Those are my conditions.”
The next day, it really rained within a fourteen mile radius. The young grain shoots sprang to life, and that fall, there was an abundant harvest of all the crops, much better than in previous years. The day after the rain, the dragons came to the hut and received the Three Refuges. I named the hut “Dragon Rain Cottage” in memory of this event. I wrote those words on a plaque and hung it on the gate.
Later on, Guo Shun vowed to burn his body as an offering to the Buddha. He gathered a pile of firewood, doused it with gasoline, and seated himself on top of it. Then he lit a fire and burned himself to ashes. The next day, the villagers saw that Dragon Rain Cottage had been burned and went to see what had happened. Although Guo Shun’s body had been burned black, his heart was still intact and unburnt. Everyone was amazed, and they buried Guo Shun’s ashes and his heart there.
Everything in the world goes through the stages of coming into being, dwelling, destruction, and emptiness. There is no beginning to the cycle. If you understand this, you should not cherish attachments to anything. Don’t let anything vex you. If you can understand and let go of everything, there will be no problems.