Benefits of Meditation / Mindfulness of Breathing
Zen-Seven Meditation Retreat

Transcribed and edited from a talk given by Ven. Jian-Hu on January 5, 2002, during the Zen-Seven Retreat at Buddha Gate Monastery


The "Three-Cart Master"

    There is a story that gives a valuable lesson on the practice of meditation. During the Tang Dynasty there was a famous monk whose name was Xuan Zang . He was one of the greatest translators in Chinese Buddhist history and brought us many important sutras. During the Tang dynasty he traveled from China to India in order to obtain the original sutras. It was a difficult and perilous journey; he had to cross the Gobi Desert, which was very hot, and scale the Himalaya Mountains, which were very cold. He undertook this journey alone. He risked his life for the teaching. As he was crossing a mountain somewhere outside of China, he saw a very old monk sitting in meditation inside a cave. The old monk was in deep samadhi; his hair and beard were so long that they touched the ground; his clothes would fall apart as soon as someone touched them. Master Xuan Zang couldn't tell how old the old monk was. He used the hand bell to wake him. After the hand bell sounded a few times, the old monk came out of samadhi. Master Xuan Zang asked him, "Old master! What are you doing and how long have you been here?" The old monk said, "I've been in deep samadhi. I don't know how long I have been here." Master Xuan Zang asked him who his teacher was and the old monk said, "My master was Kasyapa Buddha. Kasyapa Buddha has entered nirvana, but I wasn't enlightened so I entered samadhi to wait for the next Buddha, Sakyamuni Buddha, to come into this world." The time of Kasyapa Buddha was many billions of years ago. So, a very long time had passed since this old monk entered samadhi. That is what you can do when you enter deep samadhi, you can be in that state for days, years or even eons. Master Xuan Zang thought that the old monk hadn't been practicing meditation in the right way. He told the old monk, "You wasted all these years in deep samadhi but did not acquire any wisdom. You have this power of concentration but you don't have a clear mind, you don't have the right insight. Old master, you have missed Sakyamuni Buddha, he was born, was enlightened, preached and entered nirvana thousands of years ago."

    The old monk thought, "Oh no, I missed Sakyamuni Buddha!" So, he crossed his legs in the lotus position and closed his eyes again. Master Xuan Zang was surprised and asked him what he was doing. The old monk said, "I am going back into samadhi." "Why?" "I'll wait for the next Buddha, Maitreya Buddha, to come into this world." Master Xuan Zang told him,"Waiting for Maitreya Buddha, the next Buddha, that will be another billions of years. This is not the way to practice. Deep meditation without insight will not bring you liberation. You may be immersed in the joy of samadhi but that doesn't bring you true wisdom. Even though Sakyamuni Buddha is gone, his true teaching still exists. I'm going to India to bring back his teaching. You should follow me and I can teach you. But this body of yours is too old. You don't have the health to practice. Why don't you become reborn as the son of the emperor of China? By the time I come back from India with the sutras, you can be my disciple. Then because you will be the prince, the emperor will help us propagate the Buddha Dharma, and we will be able to benefit many sentient beings." The old monk thought, "This makes sense, he seems to be a wise teacher. I will do what he says." Just before he was ready to go, he asked, "Where is China? How do I tell which is the emperor's palace?" Master Xuan Zang told him, "Go East and find the most splendid and populous city. When you see the most magnificent building with a golden roof, then that is the emperor's palace. Take your rebirth there." The old monk went into samadhi again and was gone. That is what you can do with deep samadhi. You can give up this life; it is not suicide. You are able to be freed from the bond of life and death, but that is still not enlightenment yet, that is just samadhi power.

    So, Master Xuan Zang went to India. He learned the Sanskrit language and studied with the best masters. He earned respect and honor from all the kings of India. After 17 years, he returned to China with many sutras. The emperor of China greatly honored him and sent the prime minister to welcome him. Every few days, the emperor would ask him to come to the palace to talk to him about Buddhism and even seek advice on how to govern the country. Master Xuan Zang thought this would be an appropriate time to talk to the emperor about his son. He said, "Congratulations for having a fine prince, he must be very smart. He should be twenty years old now." The emperor was very surprised and said, "I don't have a twenty-year-old prince." Master Xuan Zang was also very surprised and wondered what happened to the old monk. So he entered into samadhi, and using his power of observation, he saw that the old monk had been reborn at the wrong place. One of the great generals of the emperor had accomplished so much in helping to unify China that the emperor built him a palace exactly like the royal palace. It was magnificent and had a golden roof. Master Xuan Zang went to talk to the general and told him that he wanted his son to become his disciple. The general agreed, since becoming a monk under Xuan Zang was a great honor. The emperor also gave his blessings.

    But the general's twenty-year-old son, who was very bright, had forgotten his vow from his previous life. He did not want to become a monk because he thought it would not be fun. He loved women, money, and wine. You can't have any of those as a monk. But in those days, you were supposed to obey your elders, especially if you had the blessing of the emperor. The young man told Master Xuan Zang, "All right, I will become a monk, but only under three conditions. I want to take a cartload of pretty women, a cartload of gold and silver, and a cartload of the finest wine with me. Let me take them to the monastery and I will consent." To everyone's surprise, Master Xuan Zang immediately agreed. It was a phenomenal event, because the son of the great general was becoming a monk, and in addition, he brought three carts of women, money, and wine with him. So everybody watched with great fanfare as the procession moved toward the monastery that the emperor had built for Master Xuan Zang. When they arrived, the giant monastic bell was struck. When the young man heard the solemn sound of the bell, he was awakened to his past vow. He remembered he was here to cultivate, to learn the right way to meditate, and to help propagate Buddhism! Immediately, he gave up the three carts. He went on to become Master Xuan Zang's greatest disciple, a very well known master on his own. His name was Master Kuei Zhi and he has written many important treatises. However, he was affectionately known as "The Three-Cart Master." This story tells us that we should have the proper attitude and proper understanding in practicing Buddhist meditation. Now, let us continue with our meditation practice.

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