Venerable Hsu-Yun was born in Chuan-Zhou County, Fujian Province, in the 20th year of the Dao-Guang reign of the Ching dynasty, i.e. 1840 AD. His family originated in Xiang-Xiang, Hunan Province. He died in 1959 at the age of 120. Since his childhood, he aspired to a life beyond the earthly world. At the age of nineteen, he embarked on a religious life at Yung-Quan Temple at Gu Mountain, Fujian Province, where he was formally received as a novice after shaved by Master Chang-Kai and pledged adherence to the teachings of the Buddha with Master Miao-Lian as the witness. He had since become a Buddhist monk.
Hsu-Yun found himself attracted to the teachings of Ch’an Buddhism and was devoted to the study of “who is the chanting one.” Thirty-seven years of solitary study and stoic living eventually led him to the realization that the mind was originally empty and clear. Everything there was illusory; nothing was constant. The only way out of worry and pain was through giving up dwelling on things and through an indiscriminative mind. To share what he had with the general public, he set out spreading the ideas of Buddhism, hoping to benefit others, an effort that lasted for sixty years. He explained the Buddhist texts, preached, established a lecture to pass on the teachings, and guided the way to Ch’an mediation. For those who did not seem to be benefiting from his approach, who were open-minded and having no prejudice for other sects, he would teach them approaches to Nembutsu practice instead. Over his decades of endeavor, more than 80 temples of all sizes and of all kinds were built, the most important ones being the reconstruction of Yin-Xiang Temple (Zhu-Shen Temple) at Ji-Zu Mountain, and Hua-Ting Temple at Kun-Ming, both in Yunnan Province, Yung-Quan Temple at Gu Mountain, Fujian Province, Nan-Hua Temple at Cao-Xi and Da-Jue Temple at Yun-Men Mountain, both in Guangdong Province, and Zhen-Ru Temple at Yun-Ju Mountain, Jiangxi Province. These temples were the six most famous of Ch’an Buddhism. By the time of Hsu-Yun, three of the five Ch’an Buddhism sects had been in decline, including Gui-Yang sect, Fa-Yan sect, and Yun-Men sect. The two exceptions were Lin-Ji sect and Cao-Dong sect. He based his ideas on Lin-Ji sect but also revived the other four sects, significantly contributing to Ch’an Buddhism as one who passed on the teachings of the old masters and inspired future generations.
In the years of the Hong-Hua reign, the country was in desperate condition and the people had little peace of mind and lived in poverty. The Master was faced with frequent challenges, but he never gave up and saw failures as the drive to go on. Not feeling proud when things went the desired way and not losing his temper when frustrated, he had been freed from the control of the environment. He had as many as fifteen meditation sessions, but never even rested in the room for masters of his rank. Taking nothing more than he had brought, he had none for himself. There was no such thing that he could not get over, and was happy wherever he was. Nor was there anything that bothered him. For everything he did, he would not dwell on it. Nor could he be tempted into anything. His mind was always clear and pure. These made him who he was and earned him the reputation as one of the four greatest Buddhist masters of recent history.