The real name of the Master Yungming was Yenshou, and after he died, the Emperor bestowed the name Chihchueh on him, but everyone calls him Master Yungming because he lived in the Yungming Temple of Hangchou.
Before he left the householder’s life and became a monk, he was called Wang. When he was in his twenties, he was an official in the treasury of Yuhang county near Hangchou. He felt sorry for fish and shrimp that had been caught to be eaten, so sometimes he took money out of the treasury to buy them. Then he took them to the shore and released them.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t his money, and finally he got caught. He was thrown in jail.
The judge didn’t believe he was spending the money to set little animals free. He convicted Wang of stealing government money. This is a very serious crime. In those days, the punishment was beheading – the convict was dragged out to a public place where everybody could watch and his head was chopped off with a big sword. Those who saw this horrifying punishment were always scared!
King Chungyi of Wuyueh knew that Wang was a very kind man and released a lot of little animals. Maybe he bought the animals with government money? He told the officials at the execution to observe Wang’s words and deeds very carefully. When Wang was dragged out to get his head chopped off, he did not seem frightened at all. He was not even nervous. In fact, he seemed to be very relaxed and cheerful. The executioner had never seen anything like this! He very respectfully asked him, “All the other convicts I’ve ever beheaded have trembled and cried. I have never seen anyone like you before. How can you be so calm? You’re about to be killed for using the government’s money, you know.”
Wang answered, “Yes, I did use the government’s money, but I didn’t spend any of it on myself. I used it to buy animals and set them free. So what is there for me to be afraid of? As soon as you chop of my head, I can go to the Pure Land of Amitabha. Isn’t that wonderful? I can hardly wait!”
When the officials in charge of the execution heard that, they knew that Wang was honest. They admired his integrity and his calm bravery. They told the executioner to let him go, and pardoned him.
A few years later, when he was thirty, Wang became a monk, and a very good monk he was! He let go of all his petty worries. He achieved enlightenment and wrote several important books. When he died in 975 AD at the age of 72, Amitabha came to take him to the Pure Land.