Stories from Ancient China: Life and Reincarnation

Many people more or less know something about their previous lives. This was more common in ancient times, when the culture of cultivation was prevalent. Su Shi was a good example of it.

Su Shi (1037-1101) was also known as Su Dongpo. Most Chinese people today know he was a famous literary scholar, painter, and calligrapher during the Northern Song Dynasty, and was once the Secretary of the Ministry of Rites. However, they do not know that he was a monk in his previous life. Actually, in his poems and articles, he mentioned his last lives several times. He wrote, "I was originally a cultivator, and have cultivated diligently for three lifetimes. Once my thoughts strayed, and for that, I am going through a hundred years of condemnation." ("Nanhua Temple") "I visited Hangzhou in my last life. Everywhere I go, things look familiar." ("Poem: Past Visits")

In April of the Seventh Year of Yuanfeng (1084 A.D.), before Su Shi arrive in Yunzhou, Monk Yun'an dreamt that he went with Su Zhe (Su Shi's brother) and Monk Cong from Shengshou Temple to a place out of the city to welcome Monk Wujie. When he woke up, Monk Yun'an was surprised. He told his dream to Su Zhe. Before Su Zhe could say anything, Monk Cong arrived. Su Zhe said, "Just now, Yun'an was telling me his dream. Are you here to talk about dreams, too?" Monk Cong said, "I had a dream last night that the three of us went to welcome Monk Wujie." Su Zhe clapped and laughed, "How can three people have the same dream? That's so odd!"

Very shortly afterwards, Su Shi's message arrived. He said he had just arrived in Fengxin, and would be able to meet soon. Su Zhe, Monk Cong, and Monk Yun'an were delighted. They ran over to Jianshan Temple, which was about six miles out of the city, to wait for Su Shi. When Su Shi arrived, they told him about their shared dream. Su Shi thought about it and said, "When I was eight or nine, I dreamt that I was a monk in my last life. I lived in the eastern part of Shaanxi. When my mother was pregnant, she dreamt of a monk who wanted to stay overnight at our home. He was a handsome monk, but had one blind eye." Yun'an cried, "Monk Wujie was from the eastern part of Shaanxi and was blind in one eye. In his later years, he travelled to Gao'an and passed away in Dayu." They thought the monk died about 50 years ago; Su Shi was 49 years old then. From the time, location, and the dreams, it was evident that Su Shu was Monk Wujie in his last life.

Su Shi later wrote Yun'an, "Monk Wujie was not afraid of being laughed at. He came back to the human world again. This was quite comical! However, if there is indeed a predestined relationship with the Buddha, I need to be diligent. I would be really fortunate if I could return to where I originally came from."

Su Shi liked wearing monk's clothes, perhaps due to his predestined relationships from previous lifetimes. Emperor Zhe of the Song Dynasty once asked his guard Chen Yan, "What does Su Shi wear under his official uniforms?" Chen said, "A monk's outfit." The Emperor laughed.

When Su Shi was in Hangzhou, he visited the Longevity Deity's Temple on the shore of the West Lake, with his friend Can Liao. After Su Shi looked around, he told Can, "I have never been here before in my life, but everything here seems so familiar. From here to the Hall of Repentance, there should be 92 stairs." Others counted and it was indeed as he said. Su Shi also told Can, "I was a monk in the mountains in my last life. I used to live here in this temple." Since then, he often visited and rested in the temple.

Who was this Monk Wujie, then? It was said that he was blind in one eye. Monk Mingwu was studying under the same teacher as Wujie. Because of one stray thought, Wujie had an affair with a girl named Honglian. He broke the rules of the temple. His fellow monk Mingwu had supernormal capabilities and knew about the affair. Wujie was very ashamed and decided to pass away in meditation in order to be reincarnated. Mingwu, using his abilities, foresaw that Wujie might say bad things about the Buddha in his next life, which would result in a horrible fate. To help Wujie, Mingwu also passed away in meditation and reincarnated following Wujie. In this life, Wujie became Su Shi, and Mingwu became Su's good friend Monk Fo'in. At first, Su Shi did not believe in Buddhism and only wanted to pursue fame and fortune. However, Fo'in followed him everywhere and consistently persuaded him to do good and become enlightened. As time went by, Su Shi gained more real-life perspective, and with Fo'in's persuasion, Su Shi became more awakened. In the end, he not only deeply believed in reincarnation, but also practised Buddhism and was diligent in cultivation.

On July 28th of the First Year of Jingguo under Emperor Hui of the Song Dynasty, Su Shi passed away. Before he left, he told his three sons standing by his deathbed, "I haven't done many bad things in this life, so I don't think I will go to hell. You don't have to be too sad." He also warned people that the realm of the gods did exist, but regretted that it was too late for him to reach it. He said, "It looks like there is indeed a Western Paradise of Ultimate Bliss, but I cannot do anything about it now."

As the community of cultivators has long known, reincarnation does exist. Master Li Hongzhi of Falun Dafa told us,

"Buddhism has always talked about the paths of asura,* animals, humans, and heavens. Let me tell you that no matter the path, they’re all reincarnations within the Three Realms among humans, animals, substances, plants, and living beings in other dimensions within the Three Realms. The reincarnations are retributions—either rewards or tribulations—that came from the causal reasons which resulted from how good or bad a person was in the world. That is, if you do a lot of wicked things, you might reincarnate on the path of animals or even go to hell. If you do a lot of good things, you’ll reincarnate on the path of heavens or you might enjoy ease and comfort, a high-ranking position, or wealth among human beings; the heavens referred to here are the different levels of heavens in the Three Realms, as they’re within the boundary of the Three Realms and [lives there are] still subject to reincarnation. These are obtained by doing good deeds, and it’s called "the repayment of blessings" or "the rewards for goodness." (Falun Buddha Fa – Teaching the Fa at the Conference in Singapore)

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