The Venerable Master, a native of Shuangcheng County of Jilin Province, was born on the sixteenth day of the third lunar month in the year of Wu Wu at the beginning of the century. His family surname was Bai and his name was Yushu. He was also called Yuxi. His father, Bai Fuhai, was diligent and thrifty in managing the household. His mother, whose maiden name was Hu, ate only vegetarian food and recited the Buddha’s name every day throughout her life. When she was pregnant with the Master, she prayed to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The night before his birth, in a dream she saw Amitabha Buddha emitting brilliant light. Following that the Master was born.
As a child, the Master followed his mother’s example and ate only vegetarian food and recited the Buddha’s name. The Master was quiet and untalkative by nature, but he had a righteous and heroic spirit. At the age of eleven, upon seeing a neighbor’s infant who had died, he became aware of the great matter of birth and death and the brevity of life and resolved to leave the home-life. At the age of twelve, he heard of how Filial Son Wong of Shuangcheng County (later known as Great Master Chang Ren) had practiced filial piety and attained the Way, and he vowed to follow the Filial Son’s example. Repenting for being unfilial to his parents in the past, the Master decided to bow to his parents every morning and evening as a way of acknowledging his faults and repaying his parents’ kindness. He gradually became renowned for his filial conduct, and people called him Filial Son Bai. At fifteen, he took refuge under the Venerable Master Chang Zhi. That same year he began to attend school and mastered the Four Books, the Five Classics, the texts of various Chinese schools of thought, and the fields of medicine, divination, astrology, and physiognomy. During his student years, he also participated in the Moral Society and other charitable societies. He explained the Sixth Patriarch’s Sutra, the Vajra Sutra, and other Sutras for those who were illiterate, and started a free school for those who were poor and needy. When he was nineteen, his mother passed away, and he requested Venerable Master Chang Zhi of Sanyuan (Three Conditions) Monastery to shave his head. He was given the Dharma name An Tse and style name To Lun. Dressed in the left-home robes, he built a simple hut by his mother’s grave and observed the practice of filial piety. During that period, he made eighteen great vows, bowed to the Avatamsaka (Flower Adornment) Sutra, performed worship and pure repentance, practiced Chan meditation, studied the teachings, ate only one meal a day, and did not lie down to sleep at night. As his skill grew ever more pure, he won the admiration and respect of the villagers. His intensely sincere efforts to purify and cultivate himself moved the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as well as the Dharma-protecting gods and dragons. The miraculous responses were too many to be counted. As news of these supernatural events spread far and wide, the Master came to be regarded as an extraordinary monk. One day as he was sitting in meditation, he saw the Great Master, the Sixth Patriarch, come to his hut and tell him,
“In the future you will go to the West, where you will meet limitless and boundless numbers of people. The living beings you teach and transform will be as countless as the sands of the Ganges River. That will mark the beginning of the Buddhadharma in the West.” After the Sixth Patriarch finished speaking, he suddenly vanished. When his observance of filial piety was completed, the Master went to Changbai Mountain and dwelled in seclusion in the Amitabha Cave, where he practiced austerities. Later he returned to Sanyuan Monastery, where he was chosen to be the head of the assembly. During the period that he lived in Manchuria, the Master contemplated people’s potentials and bestowed appropriate teachings. He awakened those who were confused and saved many people’s lives. Countless dragons, snakes, foxes, ghosts, and spirits requested to take refuge and receive the precepts from him, changing their evil and cultivating goodness.
In 1946, because he esteemed the Elder Master Hsu Yun as a great hero of Buddhism, the Master quickly packed his belongings and set out on his way to pay homage to him. During his arduous journey, he stayed at many of the renowned monasteries of mainland China. In 1947 he went to Potola Mountain to receive the complete ordination. In 1948 he reached Nanhua Monastery at Caoxi of Guangzhou, where he paid homage to Elder Master Hsu Yun and was assigned to be an instructor in the Nanhua Monastery Vinaya Academy. Later he was appointed as Dean of Academic Affairs. The Elder Master Hsu Yun saw that the Master was an outstanding individual in Buddhism and transmitted the Dharma-lineage to him, giving him the Dharma name Hsuan Hua and making him the Ninth Patriarch of the Wei Yang Sect, the forty-fifth generation since the First Patriarch Mahakashyapa.
In 1949, the Master bid farewell to the Venerable Master Hsu Yun and went to Hong Kong to propagate the Dharma. He gave equal importance to the five schools--Chan, Doctrine, Vinaya, Esoteric, and Pure Land─thus putting an end to sectarianism. The Master also renovated old temples, printed Sutras and constructed images. He established Western Bliss Gardens Monastery, Cixing Chan Monastery, and the Buddhist Lecture Hall. He lived in Hong Kong for more than ten years, and at the earnest request of living beings, he created extensive affinities in the Dharma. He delivered a succession of lectures on the Earth Store Sutra, the Vajra Sutra, the Amitabha Sutra, the Shurangama Sutra, the Universal Door Chapter, and others. In addition, he held various Dharma assemblies such as the Great Compassion Repentance, the Medicine Master Repentance, recitation sessions, and meditation sessions. He also published the magazine Hsin Fa (Mind Dharma). Every day he worked and travelled zealously for the sake of propagating the great Dharma, and as a result the Buddhadharma flourished in Hong Kong. During that time he also made several visits to Thailand, Burma, and other countries to investigate the southern (Theravada) tradition of Buddhism. He wished to establish communication between the Mahayana and Theravada traditions and unite the strength of Buddhism.
In 1959, the Master saw that conditions were ripe in the West, and he instructed his disciples to establish the Sino-American Buddhist Association (later renamed the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association) in the United States. He travelled to Australia in 1961 and propagated the Dharma there for one year. Since the conditions were not yet ripe there, he returned to Hong Kong in 1962. That same year, at the invitation of Buddhists in America, the Master traveled alone to the United States. He raised the banner of proper Dharma at the Buddhist Lecture Hall in San Francisco. Because the Master started out living in a damp and windowless basement that resembled a grave, he called himself
“The Monk in the Grave.” At that time the Cuban missile crisis occurred between the United States and the Soviet Union, and the Master embarked on a total fast for thirty-five days to pray for an end to the hostilities and for world peace. By the end of his fast, the threat of war had dissolved.
In 1968, the Shurangama Study and Practice Summer Session was held, and over thirty students from the University of Washington in Seattle came to study the Buddhadharma. After the session was concluded, five young Americans requested permission to shave their heads and leave the home-life, marking the beginning of the Sangha in the history of American Buddhism. Since that time, the Venerable Master devoted his utmost efforts to such tasks as propagating the Dharma, supervising the translation of the Buddhist Canon, and developing education. He accepted vast numbers of disciples, established monasteries, and set forth principles. He focused the earnest sincerity of all disciples on the work of glorifying the Proper Dharma of the Thus Come One to the ends of time and throughout empty space and the Dharma Realm.
In terms of propagating the Dharma, the Master lectured on the Sutras and expounded the Dharma virtually every single day for several decades, always giving simple explanations that made profound principles easy to understand. He also worked actively to train both his left-home and lay disciples to become skilled in propagating the Dharma. He led many delegations to propagate the Dharma at various universities and in many countries of the world, with the goal of guiding living beings to reform and to discover their innate wisdom.
As for the translation of the Buddhist Canon, to date over a hundred volumes of the Master’s explanations of the scriptures have been translated into English. No one else has overseen the translation of so many Sutras into English. Translations into Spanish, Vietnamese, and other languages have also been produced. His plans were to translate the entire Buddhist Canon into the languages of every country, so that the Buddhadharma could spread throughout the world.
As for education, at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas he established such educational institutions as Instilling Goodness Elementary School, Developing Virtue Secondary School, Dharma Realm Buddhist University, and the Sangha and Laity Training Programs. Many of the affiliated monasteries also have weekend and weekday classes based on the eight fundamental human virtues of filiality, fraternal respect, loyalty, trustworthiness, propriety, righteousness, incorruptibility, and a sense of shame. Taking the public-spirited, unselfish spirit of kindness, compassion, joy, and giving as their goal, boys and girls study separately and the volunteer teachers regard education as their personal responsibility. In this way, students develop into capable individuals of incorruptible integrity who will be able to save the world.
The Master taught his disciples that every day they should sit in meditation, recite the Buddha’s name, bow in repentance, investigate the Sutras, rigorously uphold the precepts, eat only one meal a day, and only before noon, and always wear the precept sash. He instructed them to dwell in harmony and offer encouragement to each other. In this way he established a Sangha that genuinely practices the Buddhadharma in the West, in the hope of uplifting the orthodox teaching and causing the Proper Dharma to long abide. The Venerable Master also opened up the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas as an international religious center promoting the unity of all world religions by giving everyone a chance to learn, communicate, cooperate, pursue the truth, and work for world peace.
Throughout his life the Venerable Master was totally selfless. He vowed to take the suffering and hardships of all living beings upon himself, and to dedicate all his own blessings and joy to the living beings of the Dharma Realm. He practiced what was difficult to practice and endured what was difficult to endure, persevering in his heroic and pure resolve. He was a candle that refused to be blown out by the gale, an irreducible lump of pure gold in the hot fire. The Venerable Master composed a verse expressing his principles:
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 patriarchs’
From the time he left the home-life, the Venerable Master firmly maintained the six great principles─do not fight, do not be greedy, do not seek, do not be selfish, do not pursue personal advantage, and do not lie─bringing benefit to the multitudes. Teaching with wisdom and compassion, dedicating himself to serving others, and acting as a model for others, he influenced countless people to sincerely change their faults and head towards the pure and exalted Bodhi Way.
Living beings of the present have deep obstructions and scarce blessings indeed, for a Sage of the era has abruptly manifested passing into stillness. The living beings of the Saha world have suddenly lost their harbor of refuge. Yet the life of the Venerable Master is actually an enactment of the great Flower Adornment Sutra of the Dharma Realm. Although he has manifested entry into Nirvana, he constantly turns the infinite wheel─not leaving any traces, he came from empty space, and to empty space he returned. His disciples can only carefully follow their teacher’s instructions, hold fast to their principles, honor the Buddha’s regulations, and be ever more vigorous in advancing upon the path to Bodhi so that they can repay the Venerable Master’s boundless and profound grace.
I vow to fully take upon myself all sufferings and hardships
of all the living beings in the Dharma Realm.
I vow to fully dedicate all blessings and bliss which I myself ought to
receive and enjoy to all living beings of the Dharma Realm.
──Venerable Master Hsuan Hua