Stories from Buddhism: Kang Seng Hui

PureInsight | March 25, 2007

[] According to
historical documents, Kang Seng Hui's family was from the region west
of Tunhwang in the Han Dynasty. Kang Seng Hui was born in India. His
parents were merchants and, later, the whole family moved to the Liang
Guang region in southern China. Both of Kang's parents died while he
was still a teenager. Shortly afterwards, Kang became a monk and
studied the Buddhist scriptures. He was very strict with himself and
was very diligent in his studies. Not only was he well-versed in the
Buddhist scriptures, he was also knowledgeable in other areas.

The Dong Wu region of China at the time was controlled by Sun Quan.
Although the Chinese people there had already heard of Buddhism, they
did not know much about it. In order to spread Buddhism in that region,
Kang Seng Hui came to Dong Wu in 247 AD. He built a small makeshift
temple and started spreading the practice. At the time, the people of
Dong Wu had never seen a Buddhist monk and became suspicious. So an
official reported to Sun Quan, "There is a foreigner in our country who
claims to be a Buddhist monk. His attire and appearance are very
different from ours. We should check on him."

So Sun Quan sent for Kang Seng Hui and asked him how true Buddhism was.
Kang replied, "Nearly one thousand years have passed since Buddha
Sakyamuni entered Nirvana, but his holy relics (sarira) are still
shining and powerful. The Indian King Asoka built eighty-four thousand
pagodas to store the holy relics - that was his way of spreading
Buddhism." Sun Quan did not believe it and said, "If you can obtain the
holy relics, I will build a pagoda for you. Otherwise, you will be
punished according to the rule of law."     

Kang Seng Hui requested seven days to accomplish the mission. When he
returned to the temple, he said to his disciples, "The future of
Buddhism depends on this. If we cannot be absolutely faithful now, when
will we?" So Kang and his disciples cleaned the temple thoroughly,
meditated, burnt incense and prayed. However, seven days went by and
there was nothing is the copper vase. Kang asked for another seven days
from Sun Quan. Again, seven days elapsed and there was still nothing in
the vase. Sun was furious and said, "If you have lied, you will be
punished." Kang Seng Hui then asked for a further seven days, which was
again granted by Sun.

Kang said to his disciples, "Buddha Sakyamuni has entered nirvana and
the responsibility now lies with us. A divine manifestation should have
occurred but it seems we were unable to touch the Buddha's heart. If we
are so useless, there is no need to wait for punishment by the ruler.
We should make vows that if a divine intervention does not occur, we
will pay with our own lives!"  

In evening of the third seventh day, there was still no sign of the
holy relics. Everyone was terrified except for Kang Seng Hui, who
seemed unmoved. At the break of dawn, there was a sudden noise coming
out the vase. Kang immediately opened it and there was indeed a sarira
in the vase.

The next morning, Kang presented the holy relic to Sun. All the
government officials also came to see the sarira, the lustre and
brilliance of which illuminated the inside of the vase. Sun personally
poured the sarira onto a copper plate but it punched through the plate
effortlessly. Sun was stunned and said, "This is indeed a rare
treasure!" Kang Sen Hui then told Sun that not only was sarira lustrous
and brilliant but also fire and metal objects could not be used to
destroy it. Sun asked those tests to be performed and indeed, nothing
could be used to damage the sarira. Sun was totally convinced. He asked
a pagoda to be built for Kang Sen Hui and let Kang teach the Buddhist
scriptures in the pagoda. It was the first official Buddhist temple in
the region so it was named the First Established Temple. The land it
was on was named Buddha District. From then on, Buddhism prospered in
that region.

After more than fifteen years (264 AD), Sun Quan's grandson Sun Hao
became the ruler. Sun Hao was a brutal ruler and he commanded that all
forms of worship in the country be stopped, including Buddhism. Because
Sun Hao had listened to the Buddhist teachings before and also because
Kang Seng Hui was well respected for his virtue and wisdom, Sun Hao
allowed Buddhism to exist, but he failed to change his brutal nature.
One day, Sun Hao's guards discovered a golden Buddha statue in the
royal garden and presented it to Sun Hao. Sun asked for the statue to
be placed in a toilet and had people pour human excrement over the
statue for fun. Not long after, Sun's whole body became swollen and had
excruciating pain in his perineal region. The pain caused him to scream
terribly. An official divined what happened and said that it was
because a deity had been angered. Hearing this, Sun Hao asked for all
temples to start worshiping but the effort came to no fruition. A
female royal servant who was a Buddhist said to Sun, "Have you prayed
in the Buddhist temple?"

Sun Hao asked her, "Is Buddha a great god?" The female servant said,
"Buddhas are great gods." Upon hearing this, Sun started to realise his
mistake and told her what had transpired. The female servant quickly
brought the golden Buddha statue to the main hall and washed it with
fragrant water dozens of times, prayed and burnt incense to it. Sun Hao
also prayed in his sick bed and asked for forgiveness for his deviant
deeds. All of a sudden, the pain stopped.

Sun Hao immediately sent for Kang Sen Hui and asked to listen to the
Buddhist teachings. Kang came to the palace and talked to Sun about the
laws of karmic retribution in detail. He also asked Sun to be
considerate of all sentient beings at all times. After this, Sun
developed a heart of kindness and gradually he recovered from the
illness completely. Sun visited Kang's temple and ordered it to be
renovated. He also asked all members of the royal court to practice
Buddhism. However, it is, after all, very difficult to change a
person's fundamental nature. Eventually, Sun Hao's brutal rule resulted
in the fall of the country.

Apart from spreading Buddhism, Kang Sen Hui also translated the Buddhist scriptures. Kang passed away in 281 AD.

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