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Home Global Activities Taiwan Dharma Master Jian Zhen - Jian Zhen's first attempt

Dharma Master Jian Zhen - Jian Zhen's first attempt

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Jian Zhen's first attempt
Taking a boat to travel overseas was not permitted by law at that time. If Master Jian Zhen and his disciples were to travel to Japan, they would need special assistance to arrange transportation. Fortunately, his disciple Dao Hang resided in the home of Li Lin-zong (李林宗) and received regular offerings from him. Li was a brother of Prime Minister Li Lin-fu (李林甫), and he had the necessary political connections to help Jian Zhen arrange for a ship and provisions. By 743, with the assistance of Dao Hang and Li Lin-zong, Jian Zhen was able to arrange for passage to Japan.

However, a complication developed before Jian Zhen could leave: Ru Hai, a Korean monk, formally requested passage on Jian Zhen's ship to Japan. This upset Dao Hang, who had openly criticized Ru Hai for not having good spiritual cultivation. Dao Hang believed that Ru Hai should be excluded from the trip.

Angered by such a serious public accusation, Ru Hai went to the district government and accused Dao Hang of being a member of a pirate group that was preparing to plunder the city. The Korean monk told the authorities that Dao Hang was stockpiling food in several temples to help support the pirates during and after the invasion.

Shocked by the accusation, the governor immediately dispatched soldiers to the temples where Ru Hai had indicated incriminating evidence could be found. The soldiers found no pirate provisions or stockpiled food, but they did catch several monks at the temples, among them Yoei, Fusho and Dao Hang. Furthermore, it appeared that the monks were outfitting a ship for a journey of some sort. The soldiers took this as evidence that the monks were in some way tied to the impending pirate attack, and they arrested and jailed them.

When Dao Hang was brought before the governor, the monk informed him of his true identity and of his important tie to the prime minister. Dao Hang explained that at the time of his arrest, he had been preparing to send gifts to Guoqing Temple on Mount Tientai. Because delivering the gifts over land was too difficult, he had ordered officials to build a ship and deliver the gifts by sea.

It was a plausible lie told by Dao Hang in order to get the monks and himself out of trouble. The governor believed Dao Hang's account and immediately ordered the release of the imprisoned monks. Ru Hai was arrested and struck 60 times with a wooden cane for lying and falsely accusing Dao Hang. Even worse, he was stripped of his monk status and reduced to a mere commoner.

Sadly, although Dao Hang and the Japanese monks were vindicated, the boat was confiscated. The first attempt to reach Japan was over before it had even started.

Yoei and Fusho elude the authorities
The monks' second attempt at crossing to Japan failed in 743 because of bad weather. They tried yet again in 744, but a fierce typhoon destroyed their boat and left the monks clinging for their lives to debris. Luckily, they were rescued by the governor of Mingzhou, a large port city in what is now Zhejiang Province.

After the rescue, the monks traveled from temple to temple in the area. Jian Zhen gave lectures to the public, and due to his fame, many people came and listened to his sermons. They were amazed by his clear understanding of the precepts and his ability to eloquently espouse them in his lectures. As he had years before, the master became well-loved by all the people.

When people heard that Master Jian Zhen was planning yet another attempt to travel to Japan, they were upset. They did not want to lose their celebrated dharma master. To thwart his plans, some people reported to the governing authorities that Yoei and Fusho were attempting to abduct the master to Japan. Reacting to this falsehood as other authorities had reacted to Ru Hai's accusation in 743, the provincial governor immediately had Yoei and Fusho arrested on the charge of attempted kidnapping. Without even a trial to determine their innocence, the two Japanese monks were soon marched to Changan, the national capital, for punishment.

On the way to Changan, Yoei became very sick. He was so ill that continued travel was impossible, so the soldiers arranged for him to rest in a local temple. Fusho asked the accompanying soldiers if he could also be allowed to stay in the temple to look after Yoei until he recovered. Since neither of them had actually committed a serious crime, the request was granted. Fusho was allowed to stay in the temple and care for Yoei.

After some time, Yoei recovered from his illness. However, seeing a chance at freedom, Fusho reported to the soldiers that Yoei had died. The soldiers, no longer concerned with keeping a close eye on Yoei, relaxed their vigilance. The two monks took advantage of the situation, escaped from the temple, and fled secretly back to Jian Zhen.

When Yoei and Fusho appeared unexpectedly before Jian Zhen, he was surprised and delighted to see them again. They excitedly told him of their ordeals, and then they prostrated themselves before him. They exclaimed, "Master, although many things have happened that have prevented us from returning to Japan, we are still as determined as ever to ask you to come to Japan with us. Buddhists in our country need someone like you to elevate them to a higher, nobler status."

Their words moved Jian Zhen deeply. Despite all the setbacks they had experienced, their resolve was just as strong as ever. Encouraged by their strong wills, Jian Zhen ordered some of his disciples to go to the city of Fuzhou in southeastern China to purchase a boat and prepare all the supplies for their fourth attempt to sail to Japan.

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