Foyan Quingyuan came from the city of Linquiong. At age 14 he accepted the Buddhist precepts. He then proceeded to study the Buddhist scriptures and practice the Vinaya. In the Lotus Sutra, he read a passage that said, "It is the Dharma that cannot be discerned by thinking that can be attained."
He asked his Vinaya teacher for an explanation of the passage, but received no answer. Foyan sighed and said, "Doctrinal study can't resolve the great matter of life and death."
He traveled south and began study with Taiping Yan of Shuzhou. One day, begging in a rainstorm, he slipped and fell into the mud. He heard two men arguing nearby, and one cried out, "You are still defiling yourself!" At these words, he had an insight.
He returned to the temple and questioned Master Yan about it. But Yan only said, "I'm not you. You can do it yourself."
Foyan went to the head monk to pose his question. The head monk just grabbed his ear and pulled him in a circle around the stove, shouting, "You already understand!"
Foyan said, "I want you to help me. Why are you playing games?"
The head monk said, "One day you'll be enlightened, and you'll know why today's song bends your ears."
Much later, on a cold night as he sat up alone, Foyan poked deep into the ashes of a dwindled fire and saw the embers flare up. He cried, "Poke deeply and you'll find it. Life is like this!"
He then picked up a collection of lamp records and started to read.Suddenly he "penetrated the bottom of the stove."
He then composed this verse:
In the forest of knives a bird sings out.
Wrapped in a cloak and sitting up late,
Poking the fire and awakening to ordinary life,
The great gods are overturned and smashed.
In the glistening world are the self-deluded.
Who will sing a colorless song?
Realized once, it is not forgotten.
The gate is open, but few pass through it!