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The Human-Faced Ulcer

Host: Venerable Miao Guang
Find out what happened in this podcast episode :

Human bodies can develop many different diseases such as ulcers and sores. Once upon a time, there was a story about a particular kind of ulcer which had a human face, complete with eyes, nose, and a mouth that meant this ulcer also needed to be fed. This story of the Human-faced Ulcer is said to have happened to Chan Master Zhi Xuan (知玄), who later on in the Tang dynasty became the renowned National Master Wu Da (悟達).
Once upon a time, Master Zhi Xuan was on a study trip. On his journey, he met another monastic who had ulcers all over his body and smelled so bad nobody wanted to be near him. Master Zhi Xuan felt sorry for the monastic and decided to care for him until he recovered. When the monastic had recovered, he said to Master Zhi Xuan, “Thank you so much for taking care of me. If you ever find yourself in any trouble, please come look for me at Jiulong Mountain (九隴山) in Sichuan (四川). When you can see the twin pine trees, you will have arrived at my place.”
“Alright, I will keep that in mind. Thank you,” replied Master Zhi Xuan.
Actually, without realizing it, Master Zhi Xuan had just helped an enlightened being named Kanaka.
Years later, Master Zhi Xuan’s virtuous conduct won him the praise and respect of Emperor Yizong (唐懿宗). He was given the honorable title of “National Master Wu Da,” meaning “the thoroughly enlightened one.” Furthermore, the Emperor granted him a precious throne made of sandalwood. After receiving this throne, National Master Wu Da unknowingly gave rise to thoughts of arrogance and vanity. Over time, a huge ulcer began to grow on one of his knees, with all the features of a human face. This “Human-faced Ulcer” caused the National Master unbearable pain. However, he did not cry out or complain, as he knew deep down that this resulted from his karmic retribution.
One day, as the pain became extremely unbearable, he suddenly remembered what Kanaka had said to him years ago. So, he decided to seek help and headed to Jiulong Mountain.
When the National Master arrived at Kanaka’s place, it was already evening, and so he was offered a place to stay for the night. The next day, Kanaka’s attendant came to him, “Good morning National Master Wu Da, I hope you slept well.”
“Yes, I did. Thank you,” replied the National Master.
“Master Kanaka has asked me to take you to the spring where you can wash the ulcer on your knee.” The attendant said.
“Yes. Thank you so much.”
After arriving at the spring, feeling hot and in excruciating pain, the National Master sat down next to the water. He then began to wash his knee. Suddenly, the ulcer began to speak to him, “National Master Wu Da, please stop. I must tell you something.”
In disbelief, the National Master stopped and mumbled, “Are you talking to me?”
“Yes.” The ulcer replied.
The National Master kept silent and looked at his knee.
The ulcer continued, “Do you know that we have met before? It was during the West Han dynasty. At that time, you were called Yuan Ang (袁盎) and I was Chao Cuo (晁錯). But back then, you wronged me. You framed me and the Emperor gave the order to have me killed. I suffered a horrific death and I swore I would get revenge. However, in your other past lives, you had always been a most honorable and virtuous monastic, always strict in observing the precepts. Therefore, I was unable to do anything to harm you. But in your present life, upon receiving the Emperor’s praise, your vanity finally gave me my chance to get my revenge. Today, right here and now, with the purity of this water blessed by the enlightened Kanaka, I wish to let you know that the feud between us is resolved, and the bad blood finally ended. I will no longer seek my revenge upon you.”
On hearing this, the National Master was in shock, and he quickly splashed the ulcer with the spring water. The pain was so severe that he fainted. When he finally woke up, the ulcer had disappeared.
Because of this experience, National Master Wu Da wrote the Compassionate Samadhi Water Repentance, a text establishing how one can repent their transgression, and eliminate calamity as well as karmic hindrances. This story shows us the importance of repentance. When our clothes become dirty, we can wash them clean with water. When our bodies become dirty, we can also wash them clean with water. When a person commits unwholesome deeds, if they can repent sincerely, be willing to change, and show earnest remorse and humility, they will be able to atone for their transgressions.
Just as Venerable Master Hsing Yun says,
“Repentance, like clear water, can cleanse the three unwholesome karmas; 
Repentance, like clothing, can make our body, mind, and virtue august.”