I. Sowing Seeds in the West to Lay a Solid Foundation
One night as Shakyamuni Buddha was seated beneath the Bodhi tree, he saw a star and enlightened to the Way. He sighed,
“Strange indeed! Strange indeed! All living beings have the Buddha-nature and can become Buddhas. It’s only because of false thoughts and attachments that they cannot realize Buddhahood.”
Living beings are living beings because they turn their backs on enlightenment and unite with worldly defilement. They are covered by ignorance and afflictions, and they dwell in eternal darkness without knowing any way to escape. Thus, they remain in the cycle of rebirth without ever getting out. For this great matter, the Buddha appears in the world. Living beings are then able to gain liberation according to their abilities, gradually eliminating defilement and purifying the mind, heading towards the nature of Bodhi. After the World Honored One entered Nirvana, his disciples compiled the Buddhist Canon to be passed down to future generations. However,
“people can propagate the Way, but the Way cannot propagate people.” In the present Dharma-ending Age, the Buddha’s valuable teachings need people to propagate them so that living beings will be able to understand the Buddhadharma and follow it to walk the path of liberation.
Seeing that Buddhism in China was only concentrating on superficial aspects and could not plant its roots deeply, and wishing to cause Buddhism to flourish, the Venerable Master said,
I knew that I was only an insignicant person whose words were of no consequence in China. I didn’t have any status or position, and so even if I shouted until my throat was sore, no one would have believed me. So I made a vow to make a fresh start in the West by reforming Buddhism and causing it to flourish here, so that people would know what Buddhism is really all about.
Why did I come to America to propagate the Buddhadharma? This country’s history is not very long, and the people have not developed crafty habits. They are all very honest, so it’s very easy for them cultivate according to the Dharma and accept the principles of Buddhism. That’s the reason I came to this country to propagate the Buddhadharma. I hope all the people will be able to understand the genuine principles of Buddhism.
The Venerable Master vowed that wherever he went, he wouldn’t allow the Dharma-ending Age to prevail. He would only allow the Proper Dharma to remain in the world. He wrote a verse:
The Buddhadharma has not perished,
yet the Sangha itself has perished.
Morality and virtue should be cultivated,
but people do not cultivate them.
Being honest and sincere, one only invites ridicule.
Being false and scheming, one enjoys praise.
In the world of the five turbidities, pure people are rare.
With the three kinds of intoxication,
living beings never awaken.
I have some earnest words of exhortation for the young
generation of the Sangha:
The revival of our religion depends on the Bhikshus.
With that verse, the Venerable Master encouraged all the members of the Sangha to shoulder the important duty of reviving Buddhism and causing it to flourish. He also said,
At the time when Buddhism is just beginning to dawn in the West, don’t turn it into the Dharma-ending Age. The Proper Dharma must certainly dwell long in the world. What does it mean for the Proper Dharma to dwell in the world? If you cultivate honestly, without craving false reputation or profit and without being greedy for offerings, then the Proper Dharma is dwelling in the world.
If every Sangha member upholds the precept of not touching money, sits in Chan meditation, eats one meal a day at noon, wears the kashaya sash at all times, and upholds the precepts strictly, then the Proper Dharma is dwelling in the world. It also means to actually put the Buddha’s teachings into practice. If you want to help Buddhism, you have to actually propagate the Buddhadharma, set a good example for others, pay attention to the four modes of awesome deportment, uphold the five precepts, and use the four limitless thoughts of kindness, compassion, joy, and giving to rescue living beings. You have to use the six principles of not fighting, not being greedy, not seeking, not being selfish, not pursuing personal advantage, and not lying as the standards for your own conduct. If you use these guidelines in practicing the Buddhadharma, no matter when it is, it will be the Proper Dharma. The decline of the Dharma will not manifest.
Thus the Venerable Master began with the fundamentals, setting an example for others, rigorously upholding the precepts, firmly holding to his principles, honoring the Buddha’s regulations, and encompassing everything with the vast measure of his mind. Undaunted by hardships, he came to the West and propagated the Dharma to benefit living beings, promoted education, endeavored to translate the Buddhist Canon, and established monasteries. By so doing, he delivered the Buddhadharma into people’s hearts, allowing the seeds of Bodhi to sprout in the West and create a solid foundation for Buddhism.
II. Honoring the Buddha’s Regulations and Rigorously Upholding the Precepts
Precepts are the pulse of the Buddhadharma. Without precepts, the Buddhadharma dies. If a left-home person hopes to walk the path of cultivation with steadiness and endurance, and always be a genuine left-home person, it depends on whether he or she can deeply understand the meaning of the precepts and uphold them strictly and honestly. So the Venerable Master said,
The Dharma relies on the Sangha to transmit it. The Buddhadharma can only be propagated by people. However, precepts have to be the foundation. If Buddhists fail to uphold the precepts, then it will be the decline of the Dharma.
Basically, in Buddhism there should be a perfect fusion of all differences. There should be no distinction between east and west, between the northern and southern transmissions, or between the Five Schools. These distinctions appeared because people became attached and distinguished between themselves and others, dividing Buddhism as they attacked the faults of others. What’s even more painful is that, after a long time, these attachments and prejudices have led to improper attitudes among beginners in Buddhism. For example some of those who practice Chan meditation are completely indifferent to the purport of the precepts. They declare that the Chan sect is not based on language and not attached to appearances, and that there’s no need to follow the complicated precepts. There are even some who argue that the Buddha had set up the precepts in response to the needs of the situation then, but that times have changed and the precepts can be regarded expediently. After a long time of expedience, their morals degenerated.
Although the Venerable Master inherited the Wei Yang lineage of the Chan sect, his disciples were well aware of his strict attitude regarding the precepts. When the Master first came to America to propagate the Dharma, he wished his Western disciples to understand all three divisions of the Buddhist Canon. Therefore, in addition to explaining the Shramanera Vinaya and Rules of Deportment himself, he also invited several eminent Sangha members of great virtue to come and lecture on the precepts. Wishing to encourage his disciples in the study of precepts, the Master would accompany them each time they left the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas at four or five in the morning and drove three hours to San Francisco to listen to another Dharma Master lecture on the precepts. During the lecture, the Venerable Master would always be kneeling in the back of the room listening. His disciples would kneel in the front and listen. That was how the Master taught by example.
The Venerable Master often told his disciples that cultivation consists of watching over oneself rather than helping others to do their dirty laundry. He reminded them that the basic spirit of cultivation is to purify oneself. Precepts serve to stop evil and prevent mistakes. The purpose of studying the precepts is to learn to guard the body, mouth, and mind, so that the body does not engage in evil actions, the mouth does not speak evil words, and the mind does not give rise to evil thoughts. That is, one does not look at, listen to, speak about, or do anything that is not in accord with propriety. All words, gestures, and deeds should be in accord with the spirit of the precepts. Though the Master never taught a class specifically on the precepts, in every Sutra that he lectured on as well as in his Dharma talks, the Venerable Master was always explaining the meaning and importance of precepts.
The Venerable Master especially emphasized that those who left the home-life with him would be required to strictly uphold the Buddha’s regulations, eating one meal a day at noon and always wearing the kashaya sash. No matter how people outside criticized, rejected, or even slandered us as trying to be different, the Venerable Master was never swayed to change his style. In the face of those rumors, all the Master said was,
“I’m not the one who set these rules down. The Buddha established them. We have to uphold the Buddha’s regulations.” However, the Venerable Master expediently allowed elderly left-home people to take three meals a day.
The Venerable Master also required his left-home disciples to memorize the 250 Bhikshu precepts or 348 Bhikshuni precepts, to constantly maintain the rules of deportment, and to be mindful of their speech and conduct. With left-home as well as lay disciples the Master repeatedly emphasized the strict observance of the five precepts. After one is able to hold the five precepts, one can uphold the ten precepts, and then the complete precepts for left-home people. One must be very honest and work on the basics. One cannot receive the precepts and then neglect to follow them. Many people dare not take the precepts because they are afraid they will break the precepts. The Venerable Master felt that people could not be forced into receiving the precepts or leaving home. In order to study Buddhism and cultivate, one must have determination, sincerity, and perseverance. At all times one should nurture one’s good roots and blessings. Otherwise, it will be difficult for one to walk the path of cultivation. When the Master spoke about the precepts, he spoke very broadly. But to sum it up, the Master would go straight to the point:
“Upholding the precepts means not having any thoughts of lust, not having false thoughts, and eliminating desire and love.” The Master also said,
What is upholding the precepts? It means not fighting, not being greedy, not seeking, not being selfish, not pursuing personal advantage, and not telling lies.
We have been born in the Saha World because of emotional love and ignorance. The Venerable Master explained ignorance as
“not knowing.” We don’t know why we came, nor do we know why we will go. We don’t know why women fall in love with men or why men fall in love with women. The goal of cultivation is to end birth and death, destroy ignorance, and obtain great freedom and ease. The Venerable Master elucidated these basic questions in a very clear and understandable way. Precepts serve to stop evil and prevent mistakes. Not only must we not transgress them in our actions and speech, we can’t even transgress them in our thoughts. We cannot indulge in the slightest bit of evil, but we have to practice even the tiniest bit of good. The Master explained the precepts in a very lively way. He didn’t cause people to get caught up in the language of the precepts and waste a lot of time there while failing to understand the basic meaning of the precepts.
The Venerable Master never required his disciples to practice not lying down to sleep at night and not eating foods with oil and salt. Yet he always stressed the importance of practicing Chan meditation. Those who want to practice meditation will find that their diet influences their practice very directly. In order to meditate, one must not be greedy for delicious or rich food, one should not eat too much, and of course one must not take intoxicants, eat meat, or eat any of the five pungent plants (garlic, onions, and so on). Thus many disciples, with the exception of those who are elderly, weak, or very sick, follow the Venerable Master’s example of not lying down to sleep and not eating oil and salt. The Master also reminded disciples that in cultivation, the poorer one is the better. As it is said,
“The Shakyan disciples say that they are poor; / They are indeed poor in body, but not poor in the Way.” Thus, the Master’s left-home disciples have never received allowances or accepted personal offerings. The monastery provides for all their necessities, thus allowing them not to think about money. Many of them have resolved to uphold the precept of not keeping money so that they can completely eliminate their defiled connections with money and cultivate in a more pure and perfect way.
“Without a ruler and a compass, one cannot draw squares and circles.” The Venerable Master emphasized over and over that in the Dharma-Ending Age, when demons are strong and the Dharma is weak, we can tell whether a person is practicing the Proper Dharma or deviant dharma by looking at whether or not he upholds the precepts. The Shurangama Sutra says,
“Gathering in the mind is just holding the precepts.” Sangha members and laypeople should firmly resolve to uphold the precepts well, gather in the body and mind at all times, and pay attention to their speech, conduct, and deportment. Thus, the regulations at the various branch temples of Dharma Realm Buddhist Association are quite strict. They forbid a man and a woman from conversing together, especially in privacy. There is a clear boundary separating the men’s side from the women’s side. In all the daily activities, ceremonies, and meals, the men and the women remain separated and are careful to guard their minds at all times. Many people cannot get used to the cold, stern attitude when they first come to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, but after living there for a while, they come to see the need for such rules and are happy to follow them.
In cultivation, we want to change our bad habits and faults and liberate ourselves from the five desires and the six sense objects. In the beginning we feel very ill at ease. However, if we want to attain freedom and ease, we have to first bear the discomfort. Cultivation is like trying to row a boat against the current. We are going against our habits and desires, trying to advance without retreating. Therefore, the regulations are like a lifeboat for cultivators, guarding us from laxity and allowing us to cultivate with vigor.
III. Teaching People With Virtue and Influencing Them by Personal Example
Soon after the Venerable Master’s arrival in the United States, the Cuban Missile Crisis broke out and the United States and the Soviet Union were on the verge of war. The situation was extremely dangerous. At that time the Venerable Master said,
“I’ve just arrived in this country, and I haven’t contributed anything to the people of this country or helped them in any way. If war were to break out, countless lives would be lost on both sides.” The Master then lit incense before the Buddhas and made a vow,
“I shall pray for the hostilities to cease and for world peace by fasting for five weeks.” The thirty-five days passed, and war did not break out in Cuba. Newspapers reported how the Venerable Master’s fast had helped to resolve the Cuban Missile Crisis.
When the Venerable Master first came to America to propagate the Dharma, many Westerners didn’t even know what Buddhism was, nor had they ever seen left-home people, and so they certainly didn’t have any idea of how to pay respect to and make offerings to them. The hardships that the Master encountered when he came to establish the Buddhadharma in America are indescribable and known by only a few. But the Master never asked for offerings from his disciples, nor did he ever tell his disciples to go out and raise funds. He always held to the motto,
“Freezing to death, we do not scheme. Starving to death, we do not beg. Dying of poverty, we ask for nothing. According with conditions, we do not change. Not changing, we accord with conditions. We adhere firmly to our three great principles.” He never catered to the laypeople or tried to exploit connections with people of power and position. Some people offered to introduce the Venerable Master to the Governor of California and the President of the United States, but the Master declined. However, if people of power and position came to seek his advice, the Master would give them equal treatment and teach them according to their potentials.
There was a wealthy entrepreneur in Taiwan whose wife suffered an eye ailment. A disciple of the Master suggested that the Master cure her ailment in order to gain the entrepreneur’s support. When the Master heard this, he immediately replied,
I won’t accept such deals! When a person recovers, that is his or her own response. It’s not due to my effort. I don’t do business.
People also suggested that the Venerable Master do some publicity, that when the monastery establishes a reputation, it will become very busy. What they really meant was, if there were lots of people, there would be lots of money. However, these views go against the principles of cultivation and establishing monasteries. We don’t advertise ourselves, because cultivation is not done for others to see. We cultivate for ourselves; we don’t need to publicize it. A monastery is a place for cultivating, not a place for making connections with people or for getting together to chat and laugh.
No matter when or where, the Venerable Master never put on airs. Sometimes people who didn’t know the Venerable Master would take one of the Master’s disciples to be the great Dharma Master or the lofty Sanghan. I remember that on the day of the opening ceremony of Gold Summit Monastery in Seattle, at lunchtime the Master’s left-home disciples were all assigned to sit up front where everyone could see them. The Venerable Master himself had business to attend to and came late. Because the dining hall was crowded and noisy, the Venerable Master found an ordinary table in a corner and sat down to take lunch. More people kept coming in to have lunch, but no one seemed to notice that the Venerable Master was sitting there eating lunch with everyone. He calmly finished his lunch, and then sat there and watched everyone. That was our great wise advisor, a monk of genuine purity. A true cultivator is humble and does not put on airs or try to stand out. Nor does he crave offerings or try to please people. The Venerable Master often stressed,
A left-home person should do what he is supposed to do. If one leaves home to cultivate, basically one shouldn’t be greedy for offerings, seek fame and profit, engage in deceitful schemes, resort to bribes, or try to get followers. One should treat all people equally, regardless of whether or not they are supporters of the Dharma.
Everything we say should be to help people change their evil and become good, purify their thoughts, and understand their minds and see their natures; we shouldn’t just talk empty, impractical words. We shouldn’t just pay lip service to Chan. Even less should we engage in coy talk or flattery. We shouldn’t give the Buddhadharma away as a personal favor. If we can maintain this lofty integrity and be pure Sangha members, then the monastery will also be pure. When people come to such a place of cultivation and are influenced by such an atmosphere undefiled by business concerns, they will naturally bring forth the resolve to cultivate. Therefore, why should we rack our brains trying to think of ways to get people to pay attention to us?
The Venerable Master often said that he had nothing at all, except some hard bones. Therefore, no matter what kind of trouble or misery he suffered, he never lowered his head or gave up. He just went straight ahead. In all the affairs of daily life, he did everything himself and didn’t want others to wait on him. During his several trips to propagate the Dharma in Asia and Europe, the Master always carried his own luggage and walked behind everyone else. Even in recent years, when he took the plane and visited the various monasteries to speak the Dharma in his sick condition, the Master still insisted on carrying his own luggage. He said,
“I want to be self-reliant. I don’t want to depend on others.”
One time when the Venerable Master went to Gold Buddha Monastery, he was busy all day both inside and outside the monastery, and at night the laypeople surrounded him and kept asking him questions until it was nearly ten o’clock. When everyone bid goodnight to the Master and asked him to retire early, the Master replied,
“I’m going upstairs to wash my clothes!” The Venerable Master set an example with his own practice, teaching his left-home disciples that in cultivation, we must begin from the simplest and lowest place. We shouldn’t think of ourselves as great Dharma Masters the moment we leave the home-life, and expect others to pay respect and make offerings to us. As it is said,
“To endure suffering puts an end to suffering. To enjoy blessings is to use up blessings.” No matter where we are, we should foster our blessings and our virtue. Otherwise, we may have to repay our debts by wearing fur and horns. If we call out to the Master to help us then, it will be too late.
Not all of the branch monasteries of the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association are like the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, with its fresh air, wide open spaces, and natural environment. Some are situated in the noisy city, perhaps even in unsafe areas. Under these conditions, the Venerable Master trained disciples to deal with the bustling and complicated environment, testing them to see if they would stick to their principles, uphold their traditional practice, and manage on their own without relying on others.
The Venerable Master once explained that greed is what causes people to exploit opportunities, and thus to be used by others and lose their own direction. Thus the Master always warned his disciples to be content with what they had, to abide in patience, to uphold the precepts strictly, and to be very careful in their deportment and conduct. Yet, faced with various trying situations, some people would become confused. In those cases, the Venerable Master would teach them in an appropriate manner, sometimes rebuking them sternly and seemingly almost unreasonably, to the point that people could not understand or accept it. However, the Venerable Master’s wisdom and compassion are not capable of being fathomed by ordinary people like us. He once said,
“Nothing in the world is fair!” Ordinary people can only judge the fairness of what they see before them. They are unable to contemplate and understand the real situation. Instead, they argue and fight for honor, for position, and for
“justice.” Such are the hallmarks of living beings in the Dharma-Ending Age.
With his utmost sincerity and compassion, the Venerable Master endeavors to teach and transform such living beings. As long as they can earnestly repent and turn over a new leaf, the Master is willing to shoulder the offenses and the sufferings that these living beings are due to receive. The Master said,
After you take refuge in the Buddhadharma, don’t commit any more offenses. Instead, you should do all kinds of good deeds. I will certainly be responsible for all the offenses that everyone created in the past, because I failed to teach you then. If you were supposed to fall into the hells for the offenses that you created in the past, I guarantee that you won’t fall into the hells. If you were supposed to turn into hungry ghosts because of your past karma of offenses, but you correct your faults and start anew, I’m willing to become a hungry ghost and suffer the punishment in your stead. If you were supposed to become animals because of your past karma of offenses, but you now refrain from all evil and practice all good deeds, I’m willing to stand in for you to become an animal. No matter what kind of offenses you committed, I’m willing to shoulder them all on your behalf.
Many times when disciples made mistakes, the Venerable Master would admonish them, but he would also kindly say,
“It’s because I didn’t know how to be a good teacher that my disciples make mistakes.” The Master often said,
“Truly recognize your own faults. Don’t discuss the faults of others. Others’ faults are just my own. Being of one substance with everyone is called great compassion.” When disciples were disobedient, the Master would bow to them to influence them to change. In all the generations of eminently virtuous monks and patriarchs in the history of Buddhism, there has never been anyone who prostrated to his disciples or who confessed his faults to his disciples. The Venerable Master always stressed that we have to cultivate blessings and wisdom, but that doesn’t mean just talking about it. Virtue has to be practiced. If it is not practiced, how can there be virtue? The Master genuinely applied the principles in his own conduct, thus showing his disciples how to do it. If one wants to become a Buddha, it won’t be that easy. The Buddha only became a Buddha after he had perfected both blessings and wisdom. Thus the Master instructed his disciples that on the path of cultivation, even the smallest opportunity to foster blessings should not be passed up, and even the tiniest evil deed should not be committed.
The Venerable Master actually began fostering virtue when he was very young. In speaking of his childhood, he mentioned that in order to repent for being unfilial and to demonstrate his willingness to reform, he began making three bows to his parents every day. Later he felt that still wasn’t enough, so he began bowing three times a day to heaven and earth, to the national leader, and to his future teachers. Afterwards, he increased his bowing to include three bows to each of the great filial people, the great virtuous people, the great sages, and the great worthies in the world. It got to the point that he was bowing to all good people and all bad people. The Master bowed once in the morning and once in the evening, rain or shine, for five hours each day. He would bow without interruption in his yard, praying that the winds and rain would come in season and the people would live in peace and prosperity.
When a person seeks nothing whatsoever, his character will naturally be exalted. The Venerable Master influenced his disciples and guided living beings by means of his virtuous conduct. Why did the Master bow to bad people? Simply because he hoped each bad person would one day realize his faults and truly reform and become a good person. There were some disciples who, because they were overcome by afflictions and unable to change their faults, had to leave the monastery and the Venerable Master. The Master was always extremely pained by this, because he regarded all his disciples equally. He had great hopes for each of them. He hoped all his disciples would be able to help Buddhism flourish, thus fulfilling their responsibility. The Master said,
Those of you who have taken refuge with me are the blood and flesh of my very own body. No matter which part of my body is cut off, it will be very painful. No matter which part of my body bleeds, my constitution will be injured. Therefore, you should all unite together. In order to cause Buddhism to flourish, you have to take the losses that others are unwilling to take and endure the insults that others are unable to endure. You must expand the measure of your mind and behave honestly. If your actions are not genuine, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will know. You can’t deceive them. Everyone must examine his or her own faults and earnestly correct the mistakes of the past. Truly recognize your past upside-down behavior and unprincipled practices. Be honest. Forget about yourself and work for Buddhism and the entire society.
In this world, every organization and every society has its own complications and internal struggles. At Gold Mountain Monastery, the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, Gold Wheel Monastery, and all other branch monasteries under the auspices of Dharma Realm Buddhist Association, we have to reform that kind of situation. Of course, we cannot become perfect right away, but we should work step by step to change until we reach the most perfect, most thorough, and most ultimate level. Then we have to preserve that kind of wholesome behavior and resolve in thought after thought, so that we will be able to help Buddhism expand and flourish. Every disciple should have this responsibility and think,
“If the Buddhism is not prospering, that’s because I have not fulfilled my responsibility.” Don’t shift the responsibility onto other people’s shoulders. If everyone can think that way, then in the near future Buddhism will certainly be able to flourish and spread to every corner of the world!
The Venerable Master’s every thought was,
“Are my disciples cultivating?” But his disciples been mindful in every thought of the Venerable Master’s hopes for us?
Everyone knew of the Venerable Master’s modesty and unwillingness to have his own merit be known. In various countries of Asia as well as in the United States, the Master pulled many people back from the brink of death. Others were able to escape from peril due to the Master’s invisible aid. Such stories of spiritual penetrations are too numerous to relate. Yet the Master always said,
“This is the compassionate protection of the Buddhas and
Bodhisattvas elicited by the intense sincerity of the person
Spiritual penetrations are in fact inherent in all of us. At the position of ordinary people, we don’t have the use of spiritual penetrations, but that doesn’t mean we really don’t have them. It’s just that they’ve been covered by ignorance and cannot reveal themselves. At the position of sagehood, spiritual penetrations are not sought from outside. Rather, they appear naturally. Whether or not one has spiritual penetrations is not important. Even if one has spiritual penetrations, that doesn’t mean one has certified to the fruition or attained the Way. Those who truly have spiritual penetrations are able to keep them and can use them whenever they want. It’s not a very extraordinary thing. Having spiritual penetrations is not wrong, and displaying spiritual penetrations may not be wrong, either. It all depends on your mind. If you manifest spiritual penetrations in order to show off, so that people will worship and make offerings to you, and so your reputation will be enhanced, then it’s wrong.
The Buddha forbid his disciples from manifesting spiritual penetrations because he didn’t want people to start making offerings exclusively to those disciples who had spiritual penetrations. He wanted people to give equal treatment to his disciples and make offerings to the entire Sangha. If manifesting spiritual penetrations is wrong, then when Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, or Arhats manifest spiritual penetrations, that would also be wrong. If one has spiritual penetrations, then at the right time, it wouldn’t hurt to display them. It’s only to be feared that you don’t have spiritual penetrations and can’t manifest them even if you want to. As it’s said,
“When a proper person practices deviant dharma, even the deviant dharma becomes proper. When a deviant person practices proper dharma, even the proper dharma becomes deviant.” So you have to decide what to do.
Many people came to the Venerable Master because they heard of the
“invisible aid” that he could give. They came, half believing and half doubting, to seek the Master’s aid. After it was bestowed, they stuffed a red envelope in his hand, and that was the end of the matter. They would never come to listen to the Sutras or Dharma talks. Once someone asked the Venerable Master why so many sick people came to seek the Master’s aid instead of going to see a doctor. The Master replied,
“Because it’s cheaper to come here.”
When people encounter difficulties or have incurable diseases, past causes and effects are involved. Although the Master compassionately wished to take the sufferings of living beings upon himself, if we don’t see things clearly at the fundamental level of cause and effect, repent and reform, and accumulate blessings and virtue, then not to mention the Master, even the Buddhas wouldn’t be able to help.
“Good deeds reap good rewards. Bad deeds reap a bad retribution. If you don’t see any retribution, it’s because the time hasn’t come yet.” The Dharma is not fixed. Before something has become a fact, there is a chance to turn things around, to give us a path to a new life. It all depends on whether our faith is true or not, whether our mind is sincere or not, and how we approach things. A Bright-Eyed Good Advisor can clearly tell us the causes and effects involved and show us how to make amends. But if we give all our karma to the Good Advisor so that we ourselves can be free, then we are certainly lacking in virtue.
Due to people’s ignorance and greed, when they are sick, they cry out in suffering. When they are cured, they forget about the sufferings of sickness. When they were in trouble, they sought aid from the Venerable Master. When their troubles were gone, they went back to their old ways, forgetting the principle of cause and effect. As a result, their sickness recurred and they were in even greater trouble than before. What’s worse, some people started slandering and doing things that went against cause and effect and the Master’s teachings. How pitiful! Of course, there were also quite a few people who truly admitted their mistakes under the Venerable Master’s guidance. After realizing the seriousness of making mistakes in cause and effect, they sincerely worked to change their faults, nurture virtue and blessings, and eradicate karmic obstacles. Thus they were able to turn their fortunes around and obtain many responses. As the Venerable Master often said,
This is a response due to their sincerity, which moved the Dharma-protecting dragons and gods and Bodhisattvas to aid them.
Although there were many people who followed the Venerable Master because they experienced many unusual responses, that is only a kind of cause and condition. It could also be considered an expedient. To the Venerable Master, the most important thing was for us to realize the true principles of the Buddhadharma and cultivate accordingly. There were also many people who followed the Master because they were moved by his lofty virtue, boundless acceptance, and endless compassion. Some disciples were very stubborn and arrogant, but under the Venerable Master’s wise and compassionate teaching, gradually they learned to overcome their obstinacy and quick temper. There were some who even renounced high positions and salaries, or hard-earned reputations, and left the home-life under the Venerable Master, dedicating themselves to the study and practice of the Buddhist teachings.
There were some people who suffered all kinds of hardship and became greatly afflicted. The Venerable Master would say to them,
“Now you’ve finally realized that by leaving the home-life with me, you have taken a great loss.” He often said that we should learn to take losses. Those who scold us or even beat us are all our Good Advisors. As it’s said,
“Contemplate vicious words as merit and virtue. / Then vicious words become one’s Wise and Good Advisors.” By scolding us and beating us, people help us eradicate our karmic obstacles. We cannot thank them enough. How can we become afflicted? That’s why the Venerable Master never defended himself from the criticisms of others. He merely continued practicing according to the principles and speaking the truth. The Master often taught us to truly practice the six principles: not fighting, not being greedy, not seeking, not being selfish, not pursuing personal advantage, and not lying. Because everyone saw the example that he set with his own conduct, they voluntarily accepted his teaching, which was a teaching by example, without words. So it’s said,
What need is there to argue about right and wrong?
The true and the false naturally become clear in time.
The wise see the truth; the ignorant act falsely.
The good learn from the Bodhisattvas.
The bad dare to scold the Buddhas.
With great compassion, regard everything as equal.
Universally gather in all sentient beings.
IV. Making Vast Vows to Save the World,
Forgetting Himself for the Sake of the Dharma
On April 9, 1956, the Elder Master Hsu Yun sent a certificate of the lineage of the Patriarchs of the Wei-Yang Sect from Yunju Mountain to the Venerable Master, transmitting the Dharma to him and making him the ninth heir of the Dharma of the Wei-Yang Sect. He was of the generation of the character hsuan and was given the name Hsuan Hua. The Elder Master wrote a verse for him as a token of faith:
Proclaiming (Hsuan) Wei’s wonderful meaning
causes the sect’s teaching to be echoed far and wide.
The transformations (Hua) inherited from Ling Peak
Exalt the Dharma path.
Taking across (Du), the forty-sixth
Transmits the mind seal.
The wheel (Lun) revolves unceasingly
Rescuing the suffering hordes.
In order to undertake the mission of propagating the Dharma in the West, carry on the Elder Master Hsu Yun’s
wish to train future generations, and continue the
Dharma-lineage of the Wei Yang Sect, the Venerable Master
used the name “Hsuan Hua” after he came to America.
The Venerable Master said, “Among all offerings, the offering of Dharma is the foremost. So we lecture on the Sutras and speak the Dharma every day, making the offering of Dharma to everyone.” Whenever the Master lectured on the Sutras and spoke the Dharma, the number of people present made no difference to him. Whether there were ten thousand people or only one person, he always proclaimed the Proper Dharma in a very serious and respectful manner. During his thirty-some years in the United States, the Venerable Master propagated the Dharma throughout the United States and Canada. Despite the strain of long-distance travel, several times he went as far as countries in Asia and Europe, and with a great lion’s roar he delivered the spirit of Dharma into the minds of the people.
The Venerable Master dispensed teachings according to people’s potentials and saved living beings based on his vows. Many people cast out their evil and followed the good, completely changing their daily lives and their outlook on life after hearing the Venerable Master’s Dharma-sound. He wanted people to gain a true understanding of the principles of Buddhism. It wasn’t that he wanted to benefit Buddhism. He wanted people to reflect thoroughly within themselves, work to eliminate the many habits and faults that they’ve had since time without beginning, cultivate according to the Dharma, and finally understand their mind and see their nature, returning to their original home. External states can be changed by the mind. If one person gets rid of evil, his personal disasters and difficulties will be resolved. If everyone can do this, then the society and nation will be peaceful. All disasters and misfortunes will be dispelled. That was the Buddha’s wish when he appeared in the world and spoke the Dharma to save beings. It is also the wish of each person who propagates the Dharma--the wish that all living beings will accomplish Buddhahood.
In addition to speaking the Dharma and universally saving beings, the Venerable Master also devoted himself to establishing Way-places (monasteries, temples, centers for cultivation). He said,
Way-places are prepared for the use of all Buddhists, for the use of members of all religions, and for the use of all living beings in the world.
During the thirty-some years that he was in America, the Venerable Master began with a very unimpressive and small place, the Buddhist Lecture Hall, but later expanded to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas of today, on 488 acres of land. With the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas as a base, the Master established over thirty branch Way-places throughout America, Canada, and various Southeast Asian countries. The Master worked to establish these Way-places without any regard for his own well-being. No matter how far, how cold, or how remote the Way-place was, the Master always went personally to look at the land, join in the work, and instruct his disciples in the matters of establishing a Way-place. Very few people know of the poor conditions and hardships that he went through. After the work of establishing the Way-place was done, the Master would constantly watch over and instruct his disciples regarding their cultivation and their handling of matters. Thus, although establishing the Way-place was difficult, running it was even more difficult.
In order to cultivate, one needs four things: wealth, Dharma, fellow cultivators, and a place. The Venerable Master’s purpose in establishing Way-places was to offer cultivators a place to dwell. Whenever the Master knew that someone had resolved to cultivate, he would be delighted and would do everything he could to provide for the person’s needs and wants. When a Way-place is established, it not only provides a place for cultivators to settle themselves and find peace of mind, it also allows the Buddhadharma to be propagated and the wheel of Proper Dharma to turn constantly. Then those without good roots will be able to plant good roots, those without affinities will have an opportunity to create affinities with the Buddha, and the seeds of Bodhi will spread everywhere. Thus, the Venerable Master instructed his disciples over and over to single-mindedly cultivate and also turn the great Dharma wheel to allow visible as well as invisible living beings to hear the Buddhadharma, cultivate the Dharma, and go towards the Buddha Way.
The Master told his left-home disciples many times that they should turn their bodies, minds, and lives over to the Dharma-protecting dragons and gods. Since they have left the home-life, they should put down all the defiled conditions of worldly life and walk the path of purity. If they can really be true, there will naturally be inconceivable responses. The Venerable Master completely offered himself, giving in the most thorough way, for the sake of perpetuating the legacy of Buddhism and the Buddha’s wisdom in order to extensively save beings. He never considered his own well-being, for he didn’t even have a self. Even though living beings are so obstinate and difficult to subdue, the Master never showed a trace of weariness, nor did he ever express the slightest wish to give up on living beings.
In the summer of 1994, I remember the Venerable Master had been sick for a while and then got slightly better, but his pain was still intense. When several of us went to visit him, he forced himself to sit up despite his weak condition. In a very feeble voice, he recited from memory and explained a passage from the text Ten Jewels from the Sea of Dhyana. Then he asked us to explain each line again as he listened with total concentration. If there was some part that we couldn’t explain very well, the Master patiently would explain it for us again. After that he recited by heart several more passages from Ten Jewels from the Sea of Dhyana and urged us to cultivate diligently. The Master was true to the vast vow he had made,
“As long as I have a breath left, I will certainly lecture on the Sutras and speak the Dharma.” That was also a genuine demonstration of the Master’s tireless spirit of forgetting himself for the sake of the Dharma.
At the end of 1990, after long years of busily travelling even as far as Asia and Europe and propagating the Dharma, the Venerable Master collapsed from illness and entered the hospital. Afterwards, as long as the Master could walk, he insisted on going back to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas
to see his disciples and give Dharma talks, despite his
sickness. Many people go up and down in their course of
cultivation. If they were about to retreat from their
resolve, as soon as they heard the news that the Venerable
Master had returned or saw the Master’s face, their resolve
would be uplifted once more. No matter how great the
problems seemed, they would all be gone after the Venerable
Master had given his Dharma talk. There were also many
people who wished every day that the Master would return,
but when he did, they were afraid of being scolded and
afraid of seeing him. The Master knew this, so he said, “You
are truly at odds with yourself!” Even so, the Master
granted living beings wishes and often returned to the City
to see his children, who didn’t understand anything, as what
the sutra said “The Bodhisattvas know the desires and the
understandings of all the living beings. ”
Once when he returned to the City and took a seat at the back of the Buddha Hall, many left-home and lay disciples surrounded him and eagerly asked him about all kinds of matters, large and small, public and personal. Seeing all these people with their endless questions, the Venerable Master said before he left,
As long as you see my face, even if you don’t talk to me, your question or trouble will gradually be resolved and will disappear. That’s my vow.
Suddenly a hush fell as everyone stared at the Venerable Master, awed by the ultimate trueness, kindness, and compassion of heart.
In the past few years, most of the time we saw the Master smiling and speaking in his usual way. When he was being strict, he didn’t leave people anywhere to retreat. When he was chatting casually, he still didn’t cause people to lose respect for him. Even though the Master was constantly sick, he still gave Dharma lectures, visited places, and directed his disciples in the matters that had to be taken care of. The Master often urged his disciples to practice speaking the Dharma. He told them not to be stingy with the Dharma, not to only want to save themselves, but to teach what they knew to those who didn’t know anything. He said,
When I was sixteen, I began lecturing on the Sixth Patriarch’s Platform Sutra, the Vajra Sutra, Amitabha Sutra, and other Sutras. However much I understood, I would explain for everyone. If I knew a few words but I didn’t explain them for everyone, people would never know what the Buddhadharma was all about or what Buddhism does. So from the time I was sixteen, I took propagating the Buddhadharma as my own responsibility.
The vast work of propagating the Dharma is not something that can be borne on the shoulders of a single individual. It requires everyone’s efforts and must be passed on down the generations. Anyone who quietly takes a look at the present state of the world and the human mind will have no trouble understanding the Venerable Master’s compassionate intent and vows, which made him go around proclaiming the need to reform our minds and save the world. Whenever he mentioned the crises that we face today, he would calmly and gravely say,
“I am not joking. It’s truly frightening.”
The Master’s efforts to propagate the Dharma and exhort the world’s people to do good and get rid of evil should have been welcomed, but in the Dharma-ending Age, people’s minds are completely inverted. They take true as false and false as true, and they cannot distinguish good from bad and proper from improper. Even in Buddhism, people look for bargains and gossip about other’s faults. Facing such headstrong and foolish living beings, the Master’s attitude was,
“I know it can’t be done, but I’m going to do it anyway.” He still went everywhere and said things that people didn’t want to hear, did what others couldn’t do, and bore what others couldn’t bear.
To his disciples, the Venerable Master had always been like a kindly father, and whenever there was a problem they couldn’t resolve, be it great or small, everyone always said,
“Let’s ask the Master.” Sometimes everyone would get afflicted, and then the Master would say,
“A person should always be happy. Don’t worry. Everything’s okay, no problem!” He always exhorted everyone by saying,
“While the Master leads you to the door, you yourself must cultivate.” The Venerable Master wanted his disciples to be independent, and he would unexpectedly give his left-home and lay disciples very real tests in which the Dharma was spoken by the situation and people involved. In this way, his disciples learned to stand on their own feet and take charge, developed their Dharma-selecting vision and proper views and knowledge, and learned not to be influenced by external states. As it’s said,
Everything’s a test, to see what you will do.
If you don’t recognize what’s before you, you’ll have to start anew.
On the path of cultivation, we sometimes slip and fall, or bump into things. Sometimes we run and sometimes we stand still. Sometimes we are vigorous; sometimes we retreat from our resolve and lose faith. In our grief at not being able to see our Good and Wise Advisor and hear him give lectures in person ever again, it wouldn’t hurt to constantly reflect on what the Venerable Master once said:
If you have genuine faith in me and are able to follow my teachings, then even if you are a million miles away, it’s as if you were right next to me. If you don’t have any faith in me and don’t follow my teachings, then even if you and I are face to face and there is only a foot of space between us, it’s as if a million miles were separating us.
The Master also said,
Don’t follow me. Listen to your own wisdom. I hope my disciples will all have wisdom and not be confused in their beliefs.
The Venerable Master wanted his disciples to stand up and to get along well. It made him happy to see that his disciples were actually cultivating and actually had some accomplishment. A song composed in English by the Master goes,
I think that I will go to Buddhahood real soon,
I hope so.
My Dharma friends and I together will go
To perfect enlightenment.
A long time ago, the Venerable Master vowed he would wait until all the disciples who had taken refuge with him have become Buddhas before he himself would become a Buddha. He hoped all his disciples would be diligent and vigorous and never be lax.
V. Looking Squarely at Education and
Averting the Crisis
The Sutras say, “The Buddhadharma is in the world. Enlightenment is not apart from the world.” Worldly dharma and transcendental dharma are both within the scope of the Buddhadharma. If one were to discard worldly dharma and go in search of Bodhi, that’s as hopeless as looking for fish in a tree. The Venerable Master said,
“Seeing things and awakening to them, one transcends the world. Seeing things and being confused by them, one falls and drowns.” The Master made the great vow of coming to America to propagate the Dharma because he wanted to let everyone understand the true doctrines of the Buddhadharma and then be able to cultivate accordingly. The Master lectured not only on various Buddhist scriptures, he also explained the Confucian Analects, Mencius, and the like, and he wrote Reflections in Water and Mirrors: Turning Back the Tides of Destiny and other works. By doing so, he was teaching disciples to merge worldly dharma with world-transcending dharma. Within the non-obstruction of noumena and phenomena and the non-obstruction of phenomena and phenomena, he opened up a path to enlightenment.
He used the following analogy to describe Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism: Confucianism is like elementary school, Taoism is like high school, and Buddhism is like the university. Therefore, Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism teach people how to cultivate themselves at different levels. The Venerable Master also taught disciples to begin with the fundamentals of being a person─being filial to one’s parents and respectful to one’s teachers and elders─and then gradually enter the transcendental principles of the Buddhadharma.
When the Venerable Master first came to the West, he contemplated the events of the times and saw how things were getting worse and worse. The human mind was tending towards moral degeneracy. The errors being made were far more devastating than the atomic bomb and AIDS. Yet people continued to ignore the root and pursue superficial things. Their thinking and behavior showed a total lack of understanding of cause and effect. Therefore the Venerable Master went around promoting the cause of educational reform for the sake of saving the human mind. When the Master left the home-life, he vowed to develop Buddhist education throughout the world so that every living being would be nurtured and irrigated by the Buddhadharma, grow Bodhi sprouts, and eventually bear the fruit of Bodhi. The Master said,
The basis of Buddhism lies in education. Education must begin with young children. We should instill them with the knowledge of Buddhism, the wisdom of Buddhism, and the ideas of Buddhism. At the very least, we should educate them to become excellent and virtuous citizens. Once their thoughts are well-grounded and their conduct is guided by a purpose, they will be able to make Buddhism flourish. That way, the Buddha’s fundamental teachings will not be forgotten.
The function of education is to teach people to return to their genuine, wholesome nature. The policies of a nation should aim to bring prosperity to the people and eliminate their miseries. The goals of Buddhism are also to bring blessings to the multitudes and enable all living beings to leave suffering and attain bliss. Therefore, the Buddhadharma, education, and government are inseparable.
The failure of education leads to disorder and lack of control in society. It is also a principal cause for the extinction of the human race. The Venerable Master once said,
I am in this country (United States) and I hope the people of this country will all follow the rules, abide by the laws, and change unwholesome customs.... If you abide by the law, you are a good citizen. If the people in the country all become good citizens, then they will be good citizens for the whole world.
It wasn’t that Venerable Master was partial to the United States. Rather, the idea is that no matter where one is, one should do something to benefit the people of that place. One should help that place in every way one can. The Venerable Master said that we should be careful in our speech and actions, that we should benefit people wherever we are and benefit the countries of the world. Every student of Buddhism should diligently do some work to help the world and mankind. He should be a good model for the entire society and influence people to reform. That is the duty of every Buddhist.
The Venerable Master saw that the United States had many good public institutions, and that education was common and widespread. If Americans could develop good quality education, they would be able to serve as a model for the world. In the past few decades, science has advanced rapidly, leading to a high standard in our material lifestyle. However, we are on the brink of a crisis of spiritual lack of direction. Education has become bankrupt throughout the world. Why has education deteriorated so severely? Because those in the government have shown no concern for the psychological and physical development of the young generation. The Venerable Master clearly pointed out that the most important cause for this crisis has been television. Television is no less than a monster in disguise. It not only steals hours away from children’s study time, but sucks away their vital energies. Children will put everything down to watch television, even forgetting to eat and sleep.
Why do we say that television drains children of their vital energies? We can take a look: Basically, young children are supposed to be innocent and pure, hardly defiled at all. But once they come under the daily influence of television, they learn about and pick up all kinds of undesirable behavior, such as killing, stealing, promiscuity, lying, drinking, and taking drugs. If a person wants to learn to be good, it takes considerable time and effort. But children learn to be bad without anyone teaching them; they learn as soon as they see an example. In this technologically advanced age, some households have two or three television sets. Since parents are not at home much, they cannot monitor the amount of time their children spend in front of the television, nor the kinds of programs they watch. The lethal poison of television has spread so rapidly that virtually every corner of the world is contaminated by it.
There is also the question of what children learn at home. With today’s broken families, single parenthood has become widespread. The ethics of human relationships have totally been destroyed, just as in the Spring and Autumn period and the Warring States period of China. People’s desires have gone out of control. Parents don’t act like parents, and children don’t know how to be children. Men and women don’t know their roles. Children murder their parents, and parents abuse their children. Some parents, wishing to provide their children with a good life in terms of material comforts, spend all their time making money. However, they spend precious little time being with and communicating with their children. The friction between parents and children has increased and deepened. Consequently, when children grow up and leave their parents, they don’t give a thought to their parents’ kindness towards them. When children grow up in broken families, their psycological development may be unbalanced, their spiritual lives are empty, and they tend to have very low self-esteem. Many parents lead dissolute lives themselves, setting a living example for their children to follow. Children who grow up under such circumstances rarely cherish and respect themselves.
In order for children to receive a balanced education, what they learn at school must go hand in hand with what they learn at home. Nowadays, however, schools only serve to transmit academic knowledge, vocational skills, and the idea of unrestrained freedom. Education focuses completely on the ego, twisting the meaning of freedom. Children learn that they can do whatever they want. This is a complete abuse of freedom. Teachers who do not follow the rules themselves are unqualified to teach students how to be filial to their parents and to respect their teachers and elders. They may mention the principles of human ethics, but what’s in the books is totally different from reality. What are say becomes a mere slogan. In fact, they are just trying to fool themselves. Everyone knows that a certain deed is wrong, but since they have done it themselves, they find an excuse and quickly go on to the next topic.
Schools now encourage students to study so that they can make a lot of money in the future, get a Ph.D. or Master’s from a famous university, get in the spotlight, and become a powerful and authoritative figure. The attitude of teachers is that
“Money talks.” All they care about is the money. They do a sloppy job of teaching, not caring how well their students do, but only caring about their salary and rights. If they are the least bit dissatisfied, they go on strike, and the children are happy because they don’t have to go to school. So we see many students, even elementary school students, who murder their parents or others, set fires, act promiscuously, take or sell drugs. In the free environment of Western society, promiscuity has become a trend. What used to be strange is now considered normal. Those who don’t have a boyfriend or a girlfriend have now become the freaks and are considered abnormal.
The nation’s President, in devoting his attention to the planning and buildup of national defense, has completely neglected the harm this has caused in the minds and souls of the young generation. He is totally unaware of the fact that the basis of national defense lies in education and that the work of protecting the nation consists of educating the young people.
Witnessing this situation, the Venerable Master single-handedly took on the responsibility of making a public appeal for emphasizing fundamental education. When the Master travelled to various European nations in 1990, he announced that his delegation was a delegation for the education of the Buddhadharma. The education of the Buddhadharma is an education for saving people’s inherent natures, an education for saving people’s souls, and education for preventing the nation and the human race from being destroyed. As he went around propagating the Dharma, the Master talked about the education of the Buddhadharma,
the reform of modern education, the problems of young people
and the family, and the basics of being a person.
Venerable Master mentioned that the practical solution was
to apply the eight virtues─filiality, fraternal respect, loyalty, trustworthiness, propriety, righteousness, incorruptibility, and a sense of shame─in every family, and to instill humaneness, righteousness, the Way, and virtue in each person’s mind. The ancients said,
“Propriety, righteousness, incorruptibility, and a sense of shame are the four cardinal virtues of a nation.
If the four cardinal virtues are not practiced, the nation will perish.”
Thus, the clear and penetrating vision of the Venerable Master can be seen. Building up the national defense is not the way to rescue the nation. The rescue of the nation begins with the saving of people’s minds. In order for people’s minds to be saved, they must be taught the fundamentals of being a person.
The fundamental virtue of being a human being is ty. So the saying goes,
“Are not filiality and fraternal respect the foundation of being a person?” It is also said,
“The superior person attends to the foundation. Once the foundation is established, the Way can come forth.” If the fundamentals are taken care of, the Way will arise without being sought. Thus the Venerable Master directed that elementary school students should study the path of filiality and fraternal respect, and secondary school students should learn to be loyal to the country. By being trustworthy in speech and conduct, by respecting oneself and not being sloppy or casual no matter what one is doing, one will establish a solid foundation. Without one’s knowing, one will also amass blessings and virtue. As it is said,
“When one has perfected the way of people, one attains the Buddha Way.” When one’s character is cultivated to perfection and truth, the Buddha Way will be realized naturally.
The Venerable Master propagated the Dharma in Europe for nearly a month. He travelled from place to place, and his body already showed signs of exhaustion. Yet the Master paid no attention and always struck up his spirits, putting his body, mind, and vitality to the task. Using the most resonant voice he could muster, he propagated the Dharma, discussed education, and talked about the way to set people’s minds straight. He even encouraged his disciples. He said he was like Confucius travelling through the warring states of China and that their delegation was the delegation of Buddhist education. As such, it had to make a loud appeal asking everyone to pay attention to education and ethics and to use the eight virtues as a wonder-drug to save the world. Regardless of whether or not people believed or listened, they had to speak the truth. Even if people didn’t want to hear it and didn’t believe it, they still had to speak. They had to do what they knew was impossible and not let the world head towards destruction. That was a demonstration of the Venerable Master’s courage to speak the truth, his unfailing concern for living beings, and his great wisdom and compassion.
VI. Speaking the Dharma, Explaining the
Sutras, and Gathering in All Religions
The purpose of religion is none other than to cause people to mend their ways, become good, and return everything to the source. Buddhism consists of the teachings of the Buddha, which teach people to understand their minds and see their natures. The Buddha said,
“All living beings have the Buddha nature and can become Buddhas.” Every person has a mind, and the mind is itself the Buddha, so Buddhism is also called the teaching of the mind and the teaching of living beings. It exhausts empty space and pervades the Dharma Realm. Since Buddhism is a general religion for all people, we should not divide it into the Buddhism of a certain area or a certain ethnic group. Nor should we only recognize Buddhism but not recognize other religions. No matter what religion it is, it doesn’t go beyond empty space or the Dharma Realm. Regardless of whether or not people believe in Buddhism or are Buddhists, we can consider them part of Buddhism.
Some people may ask,
“What if a person never changes his religious faith and never acknowledges the theory that all religions belong to Buddhism?” The Venerable Master explained,
A person’s thoughts and behavior are different from day to day. They change all the time. How do we know we won’t change our religious beliefs? We may believe this religion in this life, but we can’t guarantee that we’ll be in the same religion in our next life! If someone doesn’t believe in Buddhism, don’t be discouraged. It’s only a matter of time and conditions. He may not believe today, but perhaps he’ll believe tomorrow. If he doesn’t believe tomorrow, maybe he’ll believe the day after tomorrow. You could say,
“If he doesn’t believe in this life, I’ll wait till his next life. If he still doesn’t believe in his next life, I’ll wait until the life after that. If he doesn’t believe during this great eon, I’ll wait for him for a great eon. If after a great eon has passed he still doesn’t believe, I’ll wait for another great eon. One of these days, he’s bound to believe.”
Whether Buddhism prospers or declines depends on the behavior of living beings. If living beings dwell in harmony without quarrelling, Buddhism will flourish and the world will be at peace. If living beings’ minds are full of hatred and contention, then the world will not be at peace, all sorts of disasters will occur, and the Buddhadharma will become weak. Buddhism split up into factions today because the Buddhists themselves are each attached to their own form of Buddhism as being the orthodox one and other forms as being incorrect. If all religions exhort people to do good, why is it that the world cannot be saved and there are still wars happening everywhere? Because religions cannot see through their differences and unite. They cannot accept one another; they only criticize and fight with one another. The Venerable Master once said to Paul Cardinal Yu Bin,
You should be a Buddhist of Catholicism, and I will be a Catholic of Buddhism. Once the two of us are able to communicate, there won’t be any more sectarian views, any more conflict, or any more boundaries. If we can do this, all the wars in the world will come to an end, and people won’t exclude each other anymore.
Conflicts and arguments arise between people because people are not broad-minded enough. As it is said,
“The good do not argue; those who argue are not good. The wise do not talk back. Those who talk back are not wise.” This makes clear that people who are lacking in wisdom will not be able to live together in harmony. They will reject one another and even take up arms against each other.
The Buddhadharma originated in India and later spread to many countries. These countries all regarded Buddhism as their own, and so today there is Indian Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Burmese Buddhism, Japanese Buddhism, American Buddhism, European Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism, Southern Tradition Buddhism, and Northern Tradition Buddhism. When the Venerable Master was in England, he said to the monks of a Buddhist center of the Southern Tradition,
This is the Space Age, and so Buddhism is also entering a new era. We want to integrate all religions into Buddhism. Therefore, we Buddhists ourselves must first learn how to communicate among ourselves. We shouldn’t have attachments to the Great Vehicle or the Small Vehicle. We have to learn from each other. What we don’t know, we have to learn from others. Whether others learn from us or not is not our concern. This is a new era of Buddhism.
When the Buddha spoke the Dharma, he dispensed teachings according to people’s dispositions. He wasn’t speaking to one country in particular. The Buddha’s teachings are meant for all of humanity, for all living beings. We can say that if there were no living beings, there wouldn’t be a Buddha, nor would there be a Jesus or a God. That is the principle of
“one root spreading into the myriad ramifications, and the
myriad ramifications returning to the one root.”
Therefore the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is a gift to all Buddhists, all religious followers, and all living beings in the world. Any aspiring cultivator or truth-seeker may come to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. The City does not discriminate among different ethnic groups, nationalities, or religions. People who come to the City are expected to follow the City’s regulations. During the many ordination ceremonies that have been held at the City, the Venerable Master extended special invitations to monks of the Theravada tradition and requested their help in hosting the ceremonies. The members of the Theravadan Buddhist community in England also held several Theravada-style meditation retreats and brief lectures at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. Every semester, Father Rogers of Humboldt State University brings a group of students on a short fieldtrip to the City, giving them the chance to learn about Buddhism and find out what life in a monastery is like. Each time, Father Rogers also holds a Catholic Mass in the Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas, creating a mutual learning exchange. This kind of exchange is unprecedented in Buddhist monasteries around the world.
The various major Dharma assemblies held annually at the City also attract large numbers of Easterners and Westerners who come to take part and learn. The Venerable Master also invited Christians, Catholics, and those of other religions to participate in the World Religions Conference held at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in 1987 for the purpose of furthering mutual understanding and support among religions so that they could work together for the prosperity of mankind and for world peace.
When the Venerable Master was still in China, he felt that there should be more global development of Buddhism. The doctrines of Buddhism are so perfect, yet there were so many people who did not yet believe in Buddhism. He concluded that it was because Buddhists had not translated the Buddha’s teachings into the languages of other countries and made them widely available in the world. The Venerable Master vowed to see to it that the Buddhist Canon would be translated into many languages, and so when he left China and came to America, the first thing he did was to lecture on the Sutras and speak the Dharma. The Venerable Master lectured on the Vajra Sutra, the Sixth Patriarch’s Sutra, the Heart Sutra, the Shurangama Sutra, the Dharma Flower Sutra, the Flower Adornment Sutra, the Sutra of the Eight Awakenings of Great People, the Sutra of the Buddha’s Final Teaching, the Sutra in Forty-two Sections, the Shastra on the Door to Understanding the Hundred Dharmas, the Song of Enlightenment, the Bodhi Seal of the Patriarchs, the Records of High Sanghans, the Reflections in Water and Mirrors, and others. He also delivered more than ten thousand Dharma talks. The Master’s explanations were given in colloquial Chinese, making them easy to understand. Thus in Chinese they were called
He felt that in speaking the Dharma and explaining the Sutras, the goal should be to let people understand. Therefore, the Master spoke Dharma that flowed purely from the wisdom of his own nature. His words came from profound understanding, and yet were easy to understand. He didn’t embellish his language. Every statement was direct and to the point, allowing his listeners to understand the meaning of the Dharma in their daily lives and derive considerable benefit from it.
The task of translating the Buddhist Canon is very difficult and requires many kinds of support. In China’s past, this task was carried out using the power and resources of the emperor and the country. The Venerable Master, wishing to extensively propagate Buddhism and save the human race, took this great task upon his own shoulders. Whenever this task is brought up, everyone fears the difficulty and wants to back out. They are overwhemed by the magnitude of such a project. Yet the Master always dared to do what other people could not do; he dared to do what was unprecedented. He founded the International Translation Institute, giving those who aspired to translate the Buddhist Canon a place to gather together and apply themselves to the formidable work of sages and worthies. In the monasteries and centers founded by the Venerable Master, all lectures on the Dharma are bilingual. In this way, people are trained to be bilingual and multilingual.
The work of translating Buddhist texts is done completely on a volunteer basis. People devote their lives to do this work for Buddhism. They do not want anything at all, but only remind themselves to always adhere to the six principles: do not fight, do not be greedy, do not seek, do not be selfish, do not pursue personal advantages, and do not lie. All they want is to produce translations of the Buddhist scriptures, nothing more.
Buddhist circles have never seen the likes of the Venerable Master’s way of doing things. You could say that the Master made a pioneering effort in the history of Buddhism. However, the Venerable Master’s disciples should not be satisfied with merely integrating and uniting the different sects of Buddhism. They should also aim to unite all religions under a cooperative effort to seek the truth, save people’s minds, and bring peace to the world. Regarding these activities, the Master said,
We are not intentionally trying to act different and to do what people have never done before. It’s just that other people have forgotten about these things, so we pick them up and do them, that’s all.
When the Venerable Master was observing filial piety by his mother’s grave, he made eighteen great vows. Throughout his life, he acted according to his vows. He always upheld the credo,
Freezing to death, we do not scheme.
Starving to death, we do not beg.
Dying of poverty, we ask for nothing.
According with conditions, we do not change.
Not changing, we accord with conditions.
We adhere firmly to our three great principles.
We renounce our lives to do the Buddha’s work.
We take the responsibility to mold our own destinies.
We rectify our lives as the Sangha’s work.
Encountering specific matters, we understand the principles.
Understanding the principles, we apply them in specific matters.
We carry on the single pulse of the patriarch’s mind-transmission.
The Venerable Master took the salvation of all beings as his personal responsibility, yet he was never attached and never dwelled on his own merit. We can perceive that kind of skill in cultivation, vows, and liberated ease in the Master’s words. He said,
I’m a small ant that wishes to crawl beneath the feet of all living beings. I am a road that wishes all living beings will walk upon me and travel from the stage of ordinary beings to the stage of Buddhas.
How lucky we are to have encountered the Venerable Master’s appearance in the world to propagate the Dharma. It is hoped that all Buddhist disciples can take the Buddha’s mind as their own mind and the Master’s vows as their own vows. Let us all emulate the Venerable Master’s spirit of forgetting himself for the sake of the Dharma. Let us make it our mission to carry on the Tathagata’s tradition and glorify the Buddha’s teachings. Let us thoroughly realize the Buddha’s great kindness for those without affinities and his great compassion in being identical with all beings. Let us work together for world peace and for the prosperity of mankind.