Stories from Buddhism: An Shi Gao

Mu Mu

PureInsight | April 1, 2007

[] It is
recorded in the first volume of "The Biography of Magical Monks - The
Biography of Shi Gao" that An Shi Gao was originally a crown prince of
the An Xi state in the west region. He practiced filial respect to his
parents when he was young and he was very smart and loved to learn. He
even knew some old foreign books well. The most astonishing thing was
that he was not only proficient in astronomy, geography, medicine and
supernatural skills, but even understood the minds of beasts and birds.
One day, as An Shi Gao was walking on a road, he saw a flock of
swallows flying by and said to his friends: "The swallows said that
there will be someone ahead sending food to us." A while later, some
people indeed sent over some food. Everyone thought it was magical.
Therefore, An Shi Gao's name became widely known in the Western Regions
(West of Dunhuang).

Although An Shi Gao lived in the secular world, he respected monks and
made offerings to them sincerely. When his father passed away, An Shi
Gao succeeded to the throne. He was, however, disgusted with the
worries and problems he had to deal with so, upon finishing the
mourning period, An Shi Gao resigned his throne to his uncle and left
home to cultivate.

During his period of cultivation, An Shi Gao read all the Buddhist
scriptures and became especially familiar with the theory of Apitan
(Hinayana). He later traveled far, going to each and every country in
the Western Regions to promote Buddhism.

In the first year of Emperor Huan's reign in the Western Han dynasty
(206 B.C. – 8 A.D.), An Shi Gao came to the Central Plains in China.
Because he had good enlightenment quality and was sharp minded, and
could comprehend by analogy, it didn't take very long for him to master
the Chinese language. He started to preach the Buddha's teachings in
Chinese and translated the classical scriptures of Buddhism.

An Shi Gao not only thoroughly understood the cause and effect
relationship between previous lives, he also left many magical things
to the world. He told people that he was the crown prince of the An Xi
state and left home to become a monk. He had a fellow monk who got
angry whenever he encountered people who did not offer him food. An Shi
Gao advised him many times not to do that, but this monk never changed.

Twenty years later, An Shi Gao said farewell to him and departed for
Guangzhou to settle a previous relationship. Before he left, An Shi Gao
said to this fellow monk: "Your understanding of Buddha's scriptures
and your diligence in cultivation is not behind mine, but you have a
hot temper and often get angry. You could possibly become an evil
being. If I become enlightened, I will certainly come back to save

After that, An Shi Gao went to Guangzhou, which was in great chaos due
to banditry. Walking on a road, An Shi Gao met a young man who pulled
out a knife and wanted to kill him upon seeing him. An Shi Gao said
with a smile: "I owe you a life in my previous lifetime, so I came from
far away especially to pay it back. Your anger now is all caused by me
in my previous life." While saying this, An Shi Gao stuck out his head
without showing any fear. The young man then killed him. After his
death, An Shi Gao reincarnated into a crown prince of the An Xi state.

It was in the last year of Emperor Long of Han when An Shi Gao
temporarily stopped spreading the Buddhist dharma when traveling all
over China. The central Shanxi plain and Luo Yang were in great chaos.
So, An Shi Gao travel in the area south of the Yangtze with his cane in
hand, claiming that he was going to Lu Shan Mountain to save his fellow
monk from the past.


When walking past a temple located on the bank of a lake, An Shi Gao
heard that the temple was miraculous and it worked very well when
merchants and travelers prayed there. Further, if a person who prayed
for divine protection didn't get permission to cross the lake, his boat
would surely turn over. So, people held the immortal in the temple in
great reverence. Thirty some people, together with An Shi Gao,
presented the sacrificial offerings the requested for protection. The
great immortal showed his great divine power and said: "Invite them to
board the boat." Everyone was surprised and invited An Shi Gao into the

The great immortal said to An Shi Gao: "I was your fellow monk back
then. I love to give out alms but have a hot temper and am easy to
anger. I have reincarnated into an immortal in this temple. The land in
the area of a thousand Li around here is under my control. Because of
my offering alms, I have now very rich material resources, but because
of my bad temper, I became merely an immortal here as the result. I see
you today and have mixed feelings of happiness and sadness.

"My lifetime has come to an end, but my appearance is very ugly. If I
end my life here in this temple, the river and lake will be
contaminated. So please save me to the lotus pond in Shanxi. I will
possibly fall into hell after this body is eliminated. I have thousands
of bolts of silk and other treasures that can be used to spread the
Buddha dharma and build temples and towers, and I will have a good
place to go in my next lifetime."

An Shi Gao asked him to show his original form and it turned out to be
a giant python which had a long tail that no one knew how long it was.
The python climbed onto An Shi Gao's knees. An Shi Gao talked to it in
Sanskrit and recited passages from scriptures several times. The giant
python shed tears with great sorrow like rain and disappeared after a
while. An Shi Gao right away fetched the silk and treasures in the
temple and left. After An Shi Gao left, the giant python immortal died.

At night, a young man got on the boat and knelt down in front of An Shi
Gao. After listening to An Shi Gao's chanting scriptures and sayinh his
wish, he suddenly disappeared. An Shi Gao told everyone that the young
man was the immortal of that temple and he had already gotten rid of
his evil form. Later on, some people found a dead python and it was
several li long from head to tail. Soon, An Shi Gao built temples with
those treasures.

Afterwards, An Shi Gao went to Guangzhou to look for the young man who
killed him in his last life and explained the cause and effect
relationship between them. The young man was now an old man with white
hair. Then An Shi Gao said: "I have another old grudge to settle and
have to go to Hui Ji (Shao Xing) to pay with my life. The old man from
Guangzhou knew that An Shi Gao was not an ordinary person and at the
same time he felt regret for the karma he committed before, so he was
willing to help An Shi Gao financially and accompany him to Hui Ji.
When they arrived at the City of Hui Ji, the city was in chaos. People
were fighting each other. An Shi Gao was hit in head by mistake and was
killed. After experiencing the cause and effect retribution twice, the
man from Guangzhou became diligent in cultivation of Buddhism and
widely talked about the causes of things. All the people who heard his
story became aware that the cause and effect retribution in three
lifetimes was indeed true.

As to where An Shi Gao was reincarnated again, no one knows.

Translated from:

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