Empty Cloud – Xu Yun

This week-end a number of people who train within this tradition converged on the village where I am staying. We all spent time walking/talking/sitting/eating and generally spending time training together. It has been good for me to get out and walk and thankfully the weather was increasingly good as the week-end progressed.

One woman who originates from Hong Kong gave me a credit card sized photograph of Xu Yun a renowned Chinese Zen Master. Turns out she had received the Precepts from one of his disciples. Xu Yun life spanned several major upheavals in China including the cultural revolution and was several times beaten and left for dead. He just kept on surviving against the odds. His autobiography, Empty Cloud is a roller coaster ride which, if you can get hold of a copy, is worth reading.

I’ve a copy of Empty Cloud beside me now. It is opened at page 95. I’d opened the book at random looking for material to talk about at a meditation group meeting tonight. The chapters title is The Jade Buddha and Xu Yun is now 77 years old (1916/17). He lived to reach the age of 120! So his life was only a little over half lived. What was his training at this time?

That’s the question. What is it good for me to do or not do? Apparently he was on a journey to bring a Jade Buddha from Burma I think. He refers to the South Seas. He visited Rangoon on the way and paid reverence at the Great Golden Pagoda (the Shwedagon) then expounded the sutras and took off for Singapore. Where things went bad. We were all held as detainees, tied up and beaten. We were then left out in the sun and not allowed to move; if we moved, we were beaten again. We were not allowed food or drink, nor were we allowed to relieve ourselves. This went on from six in the morning until eight at night. Eventually a disciple of his came to rescue the group of six monks so detained.

We all live unique lives. Xu Yun was a humble person regarding himself and his life as no big deal. He just got on with what his training was, as it presented there and then. What other choice do we have?

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5 thoughts on “Empty Cloud – Xu Yun”

  1. Thank you. I thought of the the koan arising in daily life when I read your post. It is the jewel of the Dharma, multifaceted and containing our whole world. No wonder it is always before us, and The Wonder Is, that it is always before us; teaching, guiding, offering.
    In Gassho,
    Helmut

  2. I had just finished reading the obituary of Arnost Lustig when I read this about Xu Yun. Arnost Lustig has been considered one of the best writers about the Holocaust, which he lived through. In a short story he wrote for the collection “Art from the Ashes”, there is really a stunning moment, “I felt the snow, the ashes and the silence around me. I felt the urge to go outside, for which the guard would immediately shoot me before I got to the barbed wire. I wanted to touch with my lips a sliver of ash or snowflake.” Our life, our training always there in all circumstances.

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