Gaomin Temple (Chinese: 高旻寺; pinyin: Gāomín Sì) is a Buddhist Temple in Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province of China. The temple is situated in a semi-rural setting about 7 km south of downtown Yangzhou, on the western shore of the Old Channel of the Grand Canal of China, just south of its junction with the Yizheng-Yangzhou Canal.
Gaomin temple was first built in the Sui dynasty, and achieved its largest area in the Qing dynasty, when it was expanded twice. In 1651, Tianzhong Tower was built, as well as a temple next to it called the Tower Temple. During the Kangxi Emperor‘s (r. 1661–1722) stay in the temple in his fourth southern tour, he climbed on TianZhong Tower, overlooking the scenery, which was very beautiful and vast. Then named the temple for Gaomin Temple. At that time, Gaomin Temple, Zhenjiang’s Jinshan Temple, Chengdu’s Geyuan Temple and Xindu’s Baoguang Temple were known as the greatest four Zen temples.
In ancient times, a great number of people in the temple became accomplished through the practice of zen. At the Gaomin Monastery in Yangzhou, basically every seven days one person would awaken to zen, becoming enlightened and accomplished. Last century, there were several Holy monks reached enlightenment from Gaomin Temple Zen seven-day retreat, such as XuYun ( 虚云), YiZhao( 意昭) and BenHuan (本焕).
Gaomin Temple’s zen practice was truly inexplicable but unfathomably profound. Gaomin Temple was famous for its strict precepts and Zen style. There were very strict and even cruel rules for monks participating in Zen seven-day retreat.
First of all, in ancient times when someone entered the Gaomin Monastery to practice zen, that person would first have to sign an agreement. That agreement was very simple. To put it bluntly, they agreed that they could be beaten to death with impunity. The one who beat them to death would not have to lose his own life. Additionally, they agreed to voluntarily carry out the dharma rules of the monastery. After they entered the monastery, they had to give up all of the dharmas that they previously learned. As soon as one arrived at Gaomin Monastery and entered the zen hall, one could not apply any previously learned dharmas.
Five people carried cudgels. Those five were called “the five great cudgel carriers.” Their specific task was to beat people. The practitioners had periods of running zen, each of which lasted the time it took for a stick of incense to burn from top to bottom. The stick of incense was not long. The practitioners had to jog. In the zen hall, many practitioners formed a circle and jogged. As they jogged, one of the cudgel carriers would strike his cudgel against something, which made a loud noise. As soon as he struck his cudgel against something, that loud noise sounded. When the jogging practitioners heard the striking sound from the cudgel, they had to immediately stop jogging. They were not allowed to jog even one more step. When the striking sound of the cudgel sounded again, they had to immediately resume their jogging.
As soon as the striking sound from his cudgel sounded, if you were still jogging, you would be taken aside and beaten to death. If you were not beaten to death, you were at the very least maimed. Thus, the minds of those practitioners were of course extremely focused. They were always focused on the sound of the cudgel. They were always fearful that they would be taken aside and severely beaten for continuing to jog after the striking of the cudgel sounded, or, if they had stopped jogging, for not immediately resuming their jogging after the striking of the cudgel sounded.
There were sitting periods as well, which lasted as long as it took for a stick of incense to burn from top to bottom. As soon as they sat down, the cudgel carriers in back of them would keep an eye on them. While sitting, the practitioners were not allowed to move in any way. The practitioners were absolutely forbidden to move. They were not permitted to recite the name of any Buddha or chant any mantra. If one was seen moving a bit, he was taken aside and severely beaten, to the extent of possible death. Therefore, after they sat down in a settled posture, as soon as the striking sound of the cudgel carrier’s cudgel could be heard, they did not dare move. They had to remain stiff for as long as the incense stick burned. They did not dare move in the slightest. The focus of their minds increased a hundredfold because they feared that they would inadvertently move, be taken aside, and be beaten, resulting in injury, deformity, or death.
There was also a rule of drinking water. The practitioners had to go to the east side to draw water and then carry the water with both hands to the west side. Only then could they drink the water. Additionally, the cup of water had to be completely filled. If a drop of water spilled to the ground as they were carrying the cup with both hands, they were taken aside and severely beaten.
Thus, the consciousness of those who practiced zen there did not wander. They did not think of other things. They did not rest. When they ate, they were not even allowed to make the sound of chopsticks hitting the bowl. As a result, their consciousness was forced to naturally not dare think of other things. Therefore, it is only natural that after our consciousness is united, we will not think things over and will not be distracted. Everyone fears being beaten to death. When you fear being beaten to death and death is used to force you, then you have no other choice. You must seriously deal with the matter. That is why in such circumstances it is very easy to cut off mistaken thinking. Through force, your thoughts are cut off. When your thoughts are cut off through force, you original nature emerges. As soon as your original nature emerges, you have broken through in your zen practice.
Therefore, by and large, at each seven-day retreat someone broke through in his zen practice at that monastery. Basically, there would be one breakthrough every seven days. How did they know someone broke through? The day someone broke through, he was ordered to write a verse for others to hear, enabling the abbot of the zen hall and the zen master to recognize him. That practitioner was later tested again to see whether he truly awakened to the truth through the practice of zen, whether he understood his mind and saw his nature.
I have great admiration for those monks who were willing to give up their lives in pursuit of the true Buddha Dharma.