Mad Monk III

Monday, April 27, 2009
By Joe Hung, The China Post

Both parents of Li Daoji (李道濟), who was the Dragon-subjugating Arhat reborn, died when he was 18. The boy guarded their tombs for three years, and then left Tiantai (天台) for Hangzhou (杭州) to become a novice at the Lingyin-shi (靈隱寺) or Soul-Hidden Temple near the West Lake. Yuan Xiatang (遠瞎堂), the abbot, knew he was an arhat reborn, and gave him the Buddhist name of Jidian. The word dian, which means “insane” or “deranged,” got him to be known as Mad Monk.

Yuan Xiatang never tried to discipline his disciple, who loved to drink and eat meat and acted like a man deranged. His antics offended all other disciples at the Soul-Hidden Temple. Facing the complaining monks, the abbot said: “The House of the Dharma is so large. Why can't it accommodate a mad monk?” With the protection of his master, Mad Monk was able to stay in the temple and continued to live as he liked. After the death of the abbot, Mad Monk had to leave the temple and went to live in another at the foot of Mount Nanping (南屏), where he died on the sixteenth day of the fifth moon in the second year of Kaixi under the reign of the Emperor Ninzhong of the Southern Song Dynasty (1206南宋寧宗開禧二年). He was 73. A temple was built near his tomb by a mountain lake in suburban Hangzhou.

Mad Monk is remembered for his capers as well as his magic. One popular story tells about how he resorted to magic to complete a superhuman task of getting all the timber necessary for rebuilding the temple at Mount Nanping.

As a novice at the Soul-Hidden Temple, so the story goes, Mad Monk was given the job of building the fire and feeding it to cook meals for all. The abbot, who knew he was an arhat reborn, gave him instructions in secret. The novice was then enlightened, but had to pretend to be mad lest he should arouse the green-eyed jealousy of other disciples. After he was promoted to the rank of secretary to the abbot, he began curing diseases of the poor and the needy. He had to move to the Jingzhi-shi (淨慈寺) at Mount Nanping after the abbot's death.

Shortly thereafter, the emperor assigned a new abbot of the temple, which had to be rebuilt. The new abbot asked Mad Monk to get all the timber necessary for rebuilding the temple. Timber had to be ordered from Shizhuan (四川), which is thousands of miles away from Zhejiang. “It's just a snap of fingers,” Mad Monk told the abbot, Zen master Miaosong (妙崧). “I can have Heaven lend me an ear,” he went on, “but Shichuan is too far away. I have to get drunk first. If I did, I promise you would have all the timber you need in three days.”

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