Previous Incarnations and Present Life:The Story of Wudi's Reincarnation in the Liang Dynasty


PureInsight | September 22, 2003

[] During the long river of more than 5000 years of Chinese history, monarchs and emperors were numerous. Except for Emperor Taowudi (Northern Wei), Emperor Wudi (Northern Zhou) and Tang Wuzhong (Tang Dynasty) who suppressed Buddhism, no monarchs or emperors disrespected Buddhism or Taoism. Also, many monarchs played a crucial role in promoting Buddhism and Taoism in China. During the reign of the Southern Dynasty, Emperor Liang Wudi (whose name is Xiao Yan) (464-549 AD) was one of the better-known emperors.

Xiao Yan was the descendant of the premier Xiao He in Han Dynasty. He was emperor for 48 years and passed away at the age of 86. Xiao Yan had the second longest life of any Chinese emperor. (The Chinese emperor who lived the longest was Emperor Qian Long of the Qing Dynasty.) Xiao Yan was a monarch who was well versed both in literature and the practice of martial arts. A book called The Comprehensive Mirror (Zi Zhi Tong Jian) states that Emperor Liang Wudi was "an erudite person who understood Yin and Yang. He was outstanding in the practice of horseback riding, shooting, Lishu (an ancient style of calligraphy) and Chinese chess (Weiqi). He also excelled in playing music." His innate literary talent gave him an outstanding reputation when he was only seven or eight years old.

Xiao Yan played a very important role in developing Buddhism. He not only practiced cultivation, but also enthusiastically spread Buddhist teachings throughout the country. After he wrote a book Quitting Alcohol and Abstention from Meat, the monks' prohibition of eating hun (meat) was widely promoted and practiced. He originated the monks' practice of having the Buddhist symbol branded on their foreheads. He wrote a book called Emperor Liang Wudi's Repentance in order to release his wife's soul from purgatory. He originated the Yunanpan Festival (the Buddhist name of the Ghost Festival on the 15th of the seventh lunar month), during which Buddhists release suffering souls and ghosts. Yunanpan vegetarian diet meant ordinary food. It was said that there were sinners in hell, but because Emperor Liang Wudi set up the vegetarian diet and built the stone tablet of Buddhist scriptures, all sins were eliminated, and so it was once again empty in hell. It was said that under his rule, almost 50% of the people entered into religion, contributing to the full bloom of Buddhism. During his rule, special titles were used, such as Tianjian, Putong, Datong, Zhongdatong, Tianqing.

During the time of the Southern Dynasty, many legends originated about Emperor Liang Wudi. Based on historical materials, we sorted out some of the stories about his reincarnations and those of his people. Readers should carefully consider their significance.

1. Listening to Buddhist scripture for three years to obtain a human life

During the latter years of the Eastern Jin Dynasty, there was an intelligent white neck angleworm located in the corner of the wall of a courtyard in front of a Datong Buddhist monk's house in Xingguo Temple of Taian, Jinan City (now called Thousand Hands Buddha Temple). The Buddhist monk recited the "Fa Hua Sutra" everyday for three years, and the angleworm listened to it for three years. One day, the monk came out from Biguan, and he saw the grass had grown very tall, so he asked his junior monk to cut it. The junior monk didn't know that the angleworm was in the corner of the wall and unknowingly cut it in two. The junior monk said repeatedly, "Today, I harmed a life. I have sinned!" He dug a hole and buried the angleworm. Killing a life without reason is a sin. Though ants and mole crickets are so small, they are lives.

It is hard to obtain a human body. Because of listening to the cultivator chanting the scripture, the angleworm acquired the Buddhist predestined relationship of cultivation, and it reincarnated as a person. He was born into a poor Fan family near Culai Hill (now in Jiangsu Province). When he was growing up, both his parents died. Therefore, he went to Guanghua Temple to be a cook and to follow Master Kongyu to learn cultivation. He was given a religious name, Pulun. He was honest, hardworking and served the senior monk well.

Although Pulun was illiterate, he could recite Fa Hua Sutra fluently. He chanted the scriptures and cultivated diligently every day for thirty years. One day, he heard Master Datong in Xingguo Temple had peacefully passed away in the sitting posture, so he thought of his own reincarnation. Then he came to his master, kowtowed and said, "Fan Tao has been in the temple for many years, and I have eaten a vegetarian diet my whole life, yet I dare neither to be greedy nor to take any heavenly matter. Today I say goodbye to Master. Master, please show me mercy and let me know where I should go."

Master said, "Stand up. Even if you follow me to cultivate yourself, you have not found the way to practice cultivation." Making a mark on Fan Tao, Master said, "Be calm and stand fast, without improper thought and go to a good place. Reincarnate as a marquis or emperor. Do not stop your cultivation until reaching the Paradise of Ultimate Bliss." Thereupon, Pulun passed away in the sitting posture.

2. Failing a test due to his attachment

Having passed the poverty test, Fan Tao reincarnated into a rich family this time. He was born into the family of Huang Qi, a great squire, several li away form Xuyu City. [Editor's note: A li is a Chinese mile, equal to about 1/5 mile or 0.5 km] This couple accumulated virtue and did good works all their lives. As soon as this child was born, he cried all the time. He even did not drink any milk, so the couple was very worried about him. Someone told them that Master Kongyu in Guanghua Temple, 20 li away, could tell the past and future, and they should go to ask about their child.

Meeting the master, they explained the situation. Master knew that Fan Tao had requested Master to make a mark on him. Therefore, Master reached Squire Huang's house, touched his head, and said some words softly to his ear. The child no longer cried. The people there were very surprised.

Squire Huang respectfully spoke to Master, "When the child reaches one year old, we will take him to your temple to get him a monk's name." When this child turned one year old, he was given a religious name, Huang Furen, by Master Kongyu. Until he was six years old, everyone in the village knew that this bright and intelligent child was reincarnated from Fan Tao in Guanghua Temple, and he would be very rich in the future. However, Huang Furen only wanted to practice cultivation.

Captain Tong, who resided in the same county, had a daughter the same age as Furen, so the two families arranged their marriage during their childhood. The girl was also very bright, and enjoyed chanting Buddhist scriptures. She wholeheartedly wanted to become a nun. Until they were fifteen years old, both of them always wanted to cultivate in a temple, so they did not want to get married. When both families knew their desire, their parents arranged their wedding right away. However, the couple did not consummate the marriage. Everyday they did sitting meditation and took their home as a temple.

One day, three years later, both of them were in a trance when Huang Furen suddenly saw a beauty approaching him. He was a little attracted by her beauty but then regained his composure. However, during his hesitation, he felt a wind and heard a loud noise. When he realized it, Furen told his wife that he was interfered with by a demon and almost went astray. Miss Tong's enlightenment was better than his, and she told him, "We had better go to Master Kongyu."

When they met with Master, he told them, "With desires and attachments coming out, you will be fettered. Both of you have to reincarnate again and get rid of your attachments another way. You will eventually reach Consummation." In the past, cultivation was extraordinarily hard. As long as one attachment emerged, you had to reincarnate again and undergo hardships. The master told them, "If the husband dies, the wife has to go as well. Master is master; he already knows whenever you raise an attachment and undergo suffering. Other lives are already arranged, one after another, and one has to go through one step at a time."

After saying goodbye to Master, they went back to their home and told their foster mother and two servant girls, "We are saying goodbye to you because we are going to reincarnate."

Their mother was anxious and said, "I have looked after both of you for so many years, and we also have practiced cultivation together. Why do you not take me with you?" Furen said, "Suppose your predestined relationship has not arrived?" Thereupon, both of them died in the sitting posture. Moreover, the foster mother went back to her room, and she herself died in the sitting posture. Are people predestined to reincarnate together and leave together?

(To be continued)

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