Grandfather's story- originally a Humanities Core assignment- Literary Journalism piece
| The drone of Japanese airplanes grew louder every day, and so did the risk of being bombed. After hearing months of talk about fleeing, five-year-old Xin De Zhong fled his home in January of 1944, in search of a safer life. "Father said, 'let's go,' and we fled. Mother stayed to watch the house." With no Internet, cell phone, or other means of communication in those times, that day was the last time Xin De saw his mother. "Although my mom left me when I was five and I never saw her again, my heart has always kept her noble spirit and spiritual status". Evacuating Sichuan, he, his father 1, and his father's disciples, left to escape the increasing bombings of their hometown. This journey would take them to Hangzhou, a strategic move to avoid problems with disseminating Buddhist dharma and helping sentient beings, tasks Xin De now performs in his daily life as a Buddhist master.
Travelling by night to avoid detection, it was a three to four-month journey for the party. There were no rest days, and they took many side roads to avoid bomb barricades or Japanese detection. According to Google Maps, the route they took would be a current-day 706-hour walk, the equivalent of 3,281 kilometers. Xin De recalls with a laugh, "I was so small and young, and Tai Zhong was much older, so had it just been us two, the journey would have been much harder. I was quite a heavy child!" Traveling with disciples from home helped make the journey easier. "Most of the time on the road, I was being held or on piggyback on other disciples, there were even times I was on a mule or horse. We even had a carriage to sit in, except in order to avoid sudden situations, Father decided to walk, not ride the carriage because there were bandits on the road."
Robbers frequently roamed the roads, stealing what food or possessions unknowing passersby might have with them. "Hunger was constant. Sometimes, we'd be lucky to get a mantou roll, but even then, we would share the bread roll with the poor," Xin De recalled. Food, while more common, was just one in a list of items robbers would take. "Once, we came by a group of 5 to 6 men, stealing from two women. They were taking everything -- not just food, but money and possessions too." The bandits battled with the disciples, and eventually lost, leaving behind the women's possessions.
Avoiding bombs and avoiding detection were primary focuses of the journey. "During the war, everyone would live in fear. You would never know what is coming next when it would be coming, or where or why." A barricade on the road signified an incoming Japanese bomb attack, where the party would hide and lay flat or low to avoid being bombed or detected. Other times, different parties would pass by, warning that the next town was already taken over by the Japanese control. "Honestly, I was too tired. Even though you sleep while on the road, you're still drowsy with fatigue. It's like you never actually slept. Once we arrived in the Holy Tantra2 village, it was like being in a second home, and I finally gave in and slept deeply."
Every place they went -- Yunnan, Guizhou, Shanghai, and Hangzhou -- had Holy Tantra students. Xin De's father, as a Buddhist master, had students all throughout China. "Holy Tantra's disciples all came to welcome the 28th generation of Master Young Living Buddha,"3 said Xin De.
Upon arrival in Yunnan, Tai Zhong's disciples prostrated as the party arrived. "Father said they wanted to offer themselves as a present, meaning they wanted to give their last names as a show of respect!" The party received a generous disciple's invitation, and upon acceptance, Xin De's father went to bless and give alms. "At that time the concept of spirituality was far from a clear mission to me. My father said it was the Buddha nature, the Buddha nature is in the heaven above, but also inside the physical body, the Buddha nature is sacred, and to prostrate the Buddha nature is also sacred, so it is called the 'holy dia prostration.'"
Guizhou had quite a few generous sentient beings. Sheng Zong, in effect, was a very dense, holy area. "It was like a Holy Tantra village." The devout students rested for two days in Guizhou, and then they left to travel again, to Shanghai. During those two days, the other disciples made daily offerings to the holy Buddhas of the Heavens. When asked about his activities during the two days, Xin De exclaimed, "Me? I got lots of sleep!". At that time, they could not reveal the identity of anybody involved or the itinerary, for fear the Japanese would find out, so they followed the Buddhist spiritual guidance to get past/escape the hardships and safely arrive in Shanghai.
However, Shanghai turned out to be another "rest stop" for Xin De and his father. Although they stayed for two months and "rested very well," Xin De says, "we found out there were also some complex situations, so we secretly left and went to Hangzhou." Shanghai was a busy place, "it has a very complex society, there were many pilgrims flocking to Shanghai, and with more people, there's more talking," explained Xin De. "Therefore, Father thought it would be detrimental to my meditation and meditational practices. Hangzhou was more serene, more peaceful." While in Shanghai, Xin De adds, "the big-hearted sentient beings also came to see the 28th generation of a Master Young Living Buddha."
In Shanghai, Xin De and his father went to a student's home. His last name was "Wang," and although the student was married for several years, he and his wife never had children. Through miracles, meditation, and many other sacred rituals, Xin De "became" a baby4. Five senior holy monks were the witnesses. Afterwards, Xin De and his father's public identity had the surname, Wang, even though their real last name was still Li. Xin De's father also changed his name, "he buried his real name, for protection."
Shanghai to Hangzhou was a day's bus ride away, and an elderly couple led the way- riding the city bus with the party and then helping them transfer to cars to get into Hangzhou. "With the help and protection of the disciples, we all arrived in Hangzhou safely." Xin De said. Recalling his feelings from the travelling, he remarks, "Even though it was only a one-day bus ride, it was still a very tiring day."
Even though these experiences would cause somebody to psychologically mature at a much faster rate than his peers, Xin De says he felt more immature upon arrival than when he first left. "I felt so much more juvenile. Shanghai's dialect of Chinese was so different from the one in Sichuan. It was a new environment, with new people, and new experiences." Xin De explains. "I had to learn everything all over again."
At the end of the interview, he comments, "In the past, I buried so much stuff inside my heart, so that I would rarely think of it. Now these memories have come up, it's like a huge wave for me." He then adds on, "I got out of China just in time, with the Buddha's blessing. Right after I left, the government went back to Mao." However, getting out of China is a completely different story, meant for another day.
shared in "Spiritual Newsletter (May 6, 2015)" Thank you!