Translator’s Note: The Venerable De Chan entered the Shaolin Temple under the guidance of the Head Monk Venerable Heng Lin (恒林) [1865-1923] – and the subsequent Head Monk Great Master Miao Xing (妙兴) [1891-1927] before the destruction of the temple in 1928. Prior to this the temple had been responsible for providing specially trained monks to form a policing militia that was charged by the local government with keeping peace and stability in the area. With the destruction of the temple, lawlessness abounded and Shi De Chan – through his strength of character – managed to bring order to the area. The historical records agree that Shi De Chan was a renowned martial artist and upholder of the Caodong lineage of Ch’an, and was responsible for preserving Shaolin culture after the disaster of 1928. He was Head Monk of the Shaolin Temple from 1965 – 1986, and was ‘honorary’ Head Monk from 1986-1993. He over-saw the adaption of the Shaolin Temple traditions to new historical conditions, and is considered a very important figure in modern Shaolin history. Just like Confucius – Shi De Chan – ‘conveyed’ teachings that already existed, and in so doing preserved ancient Shaolin culture for the entire world. The following English translation is a cross-reference of his life drawn from three distinct Chinese texts, and is designed to offer the reader a general introduction to the life of this extraordinary man. ACW 17.5.2016
Shi De Chan – or Venerable Virtuous Mind (1907-1993) – was formerly known as ‘Liu Erhe’ (刘二和) and was from the Dengfeng area of Henan province. In 1916 (when he was 9 years old) Shi De Chan travelled to the Shaolin Temple situated on Mount Song. His head was shaved by the monk named Ch’an Master Su Guang (素光) who taught him the correct theory and practice of the Buddhadharma, in all its aspects applicable to the Shaolin Temple. In 1924, he was sent to the nearby Hui Shan (会善) Temple to study healing with the resident monks who were masters of traditional Chinese medicine. Following the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Shi De Chan was appointed a member of the County Public Health Association (due to his extensive medical knowledge). In 1965, he was appointed ‘Head Monk’ (住持 – Zhu Chi) of the Shaolin Temple. In December 1986, Government-appointed work-teams entered the Shaolin Temple and Shi De Chan retired as Head Monk, (but he continued to act as ‘Head Monk’ in an ‘honorary’ capacity). In March, 1993, Shi De Chan passed away. The Great Monk Su Xi (素喜) took-over the role of ‘Head Monk’ of the Shaolin Temple, as he was the Director of the Democratic Management Committee. The Dharma Masters named Yin Song (印松) and Yong Gan (永乾) were Deputy Directors.
Shi De Chan was sent to the Shaolin Temple to become a monk at the age of 9 years old due to poverty in his family. Widespread poverty was not uncommon throughout China prior to 1949. As his family lived in the vicinity of the Shaolin Temple, the decision to send him there was a logical choice. The Shaolin Temple today possesses at least 18 sub-temples and halls. These serve as ‘doors’ of entry into the Shaolin Temple through which all monastics must pass. Shi De Chan entered the ‘Eternal Transformation Hall’ (永化堂 – Yong Hua Tang). This hall is considered ancient and is profoundly associated with the ‘Caodong’ (曹洞) lineage of Ch’an Buddhism. Shi De Chan’s extended biography states that he travelled to a number of schools and temples outside the Shaolin Temple to further his education, and that eventually he chose to specialise in the field of medicine. In 1928, when the Shaolin Temple was attacked and burnt by the Nationalist Government, Shi De Chan was responsible for the rescuing of important Buddhist scriptures and manuals containing illustrations of Shaolin fighting arts (which he secretly removed to a secure site). As many of the Shaolin monks scattered, Shi De Chan was pivotal in gathering a number of Shaolin martial arts masters together (including Zhen Xu [贞绪] and Ji Jing [寂勤]), as a means to organise the preservation and practice of Shaolin martial arts. In 1929, Shi De Chan returned the Buddhist sutras and martial arts training manual to the Shaolin Temple. As the Shaolin Temple police had been destroyed, there was general lawlessness, famine and disease in the area. Shi De Chan organised medical treatment and relief to those who were suffering. Local bandits often kidnapped individuals and demanded money for their return (or they would be killed). Shi De Chan visited the bandits and taught them that greed, hatred and delusion creates terrible rebirths and retributory karma, and that this can be prevented if loving kindness and compassion is generated within the mind and perpetuated throughout society. This had an immediate effect of reducing lawlessness in the area. Starting in 1966, and continuing through the ten years of the Great Cultural Revolution, Shi De Chan walked from village to village treating the illness, diseases and injuries of the populace. Due to prevailing conditions, Shi De Chan made use of non-medical treatments preserved within traditional Chinese medicine. His skill at treating illnesses with qigong (气功) was so effective that many thought it better to fight and prevent illnesses, than the use of drugs. In 1983 he became the Vice President of the Buddhist Association of Henan Province, whilst in 1984, he became the President of the Buddhist Association of Zhengzhou City, and the Vice President of the Dengfeng Shaolin Kung Fu Association. In May, 1984, as the 29th Generation Head Monk of the Shaolin Temple, Shi De Chan initiated a research project that brought together both lay and ordained Shaolin martial arts masters and practitioners, and produced the text entitled ‘Shaolin Martial Arts Practice – New Discipline Agreement’ (少林习武新戒约 – Shao Lin Xi Wu Xin Jie Yue). In 1985, Shi De Chan suffered paralysis of the lower limbs and was cared for by the government (and his disciples) in hospital – after which the condition stabilised for 8 years. In November, 1992, Shi De Chan was admitted to the county hospital due to other illnesses. The loss of qi energy could not be stopped or reversed, and he passed away at 5:30 on January 26th, 1993. He was 89 years old and had been a Buddhist monk for 79 years. He was buried at Talin (塔林) – the Pagoda Forest area of the Shaolin Temple.