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Home Global Activities Taiwan Dharma Master Jian Zhen - The fourth attempt is sabotaged

Dharma Master Jian Zhen - The fourth attempt is sabotaged

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The fourth attempt is sabotaged
Unfortunately, even this attempt met with failure. When Jian Zhen and others arrived in Wenzhou, located in today’s Zhejiang Province on China's east coast, they were met by a group of soldiers. The soldiers informed Jian Zhen that they had been ordered to "escort" him back to Yangzhou. This occurred because one of the disciples, Ling You (靈祐), was very worried about his master's frail health. Ling You sabotaged the trip by reporting Jian Zhen's intentions to the local government.

Confounded yet again in their attempt to travel to Japan, Jian Zhen and his group of faithful disciples were escorted back to Yangzhou. Along the way, people from all walks of life were excited to see the famous monk; they ran to greet him and presented him with many offerings. But Jian Zhen, thwarted in his fourth attempt, was not at all pleased with the public attention.

When Jian Zhen finally arrived back in Yangzhou, Ling You ran to greet him. He was delighted to see his master again, and secretly pleased that he had "protected" him from the dangerous journey. But Jian Zhen had nothing but harsh words for him. He scolded him by saying, "Are you ignorant of the vitally important mission of promoting the Buddhist precepts in Japan? Why are you so concerned about my health? If I had been so concerned about my own health, I would not have agreed to go to Japan with Yoei and Fusho in the first place. And I would not have spent so much time and energy on the road! I have given my promise to Yoei and Fusho; my own physical condition is not important. If I break my promise to go to Japan to promote the Buddhist precepts, my life here will be wasted. I might as well be dead! You claim to be my disciple, and yet you do not understand this? You should not be my disciple at all!"

At his master's stern rebuke, Ling You understood how much trouble he had caused. He regretted deeply that he had meddled in Jian Zhen's plans. He was terrified that his master would not forgive him or, even worse, might expel him. He stood for 60 nights before his master's bedroom to show his sincere regret and ask for his master's forgiveness. Finally, sensing Ling You's sincerity, Jian Zhen agreed to forgive him.

The attempts grow more costly
On the fifth attempt in 748, the monks underestimated the amount of food and drinking water they would need for their voyage. After a month at sea, their drinking water was gone and their rice supplies were low. With no water to boil the rice, they were forced to eat it raw.

With morale and supplies low, the monks wondered if this voyage was to be their last. Then, just as they were about to give up hope, they saw huge fish swimming alongside the boat. None of them had ever seen such large fish. They took the appearance of the fish as a good omen and pressed on into the unknown with renewed hope.

Perhaps the fish were good omens after all. The next day, they spotted distant mountains. The day after that, it began to rain. With land in sight and water from heaven to quench their thirst, the monks knew that this voyage would end in success. After such hardship, it appeared Japan was only a few more days away.

Unfortunately, the fifth attempt at reaching Japan was not destined for success. About three weeks after sighting the mountains, the ship of ragged monks ran aground at Chenchou, a district on what is now Hainan Island, in the South China Sea. The group had sailed too far south, away from their destination! Despite such a difficult and trying journey, Japan was even further away than it had been before.

The governor of Chenchou welcomed the arrival of Jian Zhen and his disciples. Soldiers greeted them and escorted them safely to the governor's home. The monks spent a long time in Chenchou recuperating, but they eventually said their good-byes and set sail for the return to Yangzhou.

Sadly, the trip back to Yangzhou would prove very costly to the band of monks. It was during this time that Jian Zhen lost his eyesight. However, even worse was the death of two monks. The first was Xiang Yan (祥彥), one of Jian Zhen's disciples. The second was Yoei, one of the Japanese monks that had been with Jian Zhen from the beginning.

Jian Zhen was heartbroken at the death of Yoei. They had been together ever since they started their quest for Japan over a decade before. Despite the many obstacles, setbacks and hardships, Yoei had never wavered in his determination to get Jian Zhen to Japan. The two monks had become close friends. More than anything else, Jian Zhen grieved that Yoei had died in a foreign country before he had a chance to return to his homeland.

Like Jian Zhen, Fusho was devastated by the passing of his partner. He began to wonder if their efforts to reach Japan would ever be successful. He had been in China for over a decade, and the discouraging series of events, coupled with the death of Yoei, had seriously undermined his determination and his desire to bring Jian Zhen to Japan.

On their way back to Yangzhou, the group of grieving monks stopped in Shouzhou, located in what is now Guangdong Province. It was here that Jian Zhen suddenly developed problems with his eyes. It is not clear what specifically afflicted his eyes, but cataracts seem the most likely cause. Whatever the physical reason, it was exacerbated by the long sea voyage, Yoei's death, and the hot weather. Jian Zhen's eye problems worsened until he was completely blind.

Everyone was shocked when they heard that Jian Zhen had gone blind. The great monk, however, calmly accepted his disability as though it was something normal. His blindness did not deter his desire to travel to Japan. On the contrary, it seemed to strengthen his determination.

Japanese emissaries to China
In 752, Japan dispatched another delegation to China. The team included Ambassador Fujiwaranokiyokawa and his two deputies, Otomonokomaro and Kibinomakibi. As they were preparing to leave China at the end of their mission, the three envoys visited Jian Zhen and informed him that they were still interested in having him bring the Buddhist precepts to Japan. They had four boats that were being outfitted for the return trip to Japan, and they invited Jian Zhen to return with them.

Jian Zhen and his followers were extremely excited at the invitation. They had prepared for the trip for so many years! Determined to make it this time, Jian Zhen immediately agreed.

Unfortunately, as with previous attempts, not all persons who heard this news were as happy as Jian Zhen. Many in China knew of Master Jian Zhen's desire to travel to Japan, but they did not want him to go. They were concerned he might never return. They began watching the master very carefully, eagerly waiting for just the right moment to step in and derail his plans.

But Master Jian Zhen was not as naive as many people suspected. He was blind, but he could see that many persons were interested in sabotaging his latest opportunity to make the trip. He knew that he might have to slip out of China secretly if he were to get out at all. He arranged for one of his disciples, Ren Kan (仁幹), to prepare a small boat on a nearby river. When the time was right, Ren Kan would use the boat to secretly ferry his master to the ambassador's ship.

Granting precepts by the river
One evening near the end of 753, Jian Zhen and several others left the temple in which they were staying. Just as the master was ready to depart, a group of novices ran towards him, knelt down before him, and said, "Great Master, please grant us our wish to receive the bhikshu precepts and become monks." They were so sincere that Jian Zhen agreed. He conferred the precepts to the novices on the spot by simply patting their heads. Afterwards, he and his small band climbed into the boat and shoved off into the river.

The small boat sailed quietly to Huang-si-pu, located in today's Jiangsu Province, to meet the Japanese ambassador. This was where the delegation from Japan had moored their ships, which would soon set sail for the return trip to Japan.

The group from China consisted of 25 people. After they had boarded the ships, the Japanese ambassador hurried over and informed them, "The Tang government has learned of your plans, and they wish to prevent you from leaving. They are preparing to board the ship to search for you." At this warning, Jian Zhen and his followers secretly left the ship, and decided to wait for a better time to depart.

A few weeks later, Deputy Ambassador Otomonokomaro invited Jian Zhen and the others to come back to the ships. At about the same time, Fusho heard of Jian Zhen's intention to leave China. Anxious to return to Japan, he arrived in Huang-si-pu ready for the voyage.

A few days later, four large ships left Huang-si-pu. They sailed to Okinawa and rested for 15 days before setting sail for the final leg to Japan. Finally, at the end of 753, Jian Zhen and his dedicated band of monks set foot in Japan.

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