On the evening of June 9 when it was almost eight o’clock and I was getting ready to do evening recitation, the phone suddenly rang and my daughter’s voice came over the line:
“Mom, did you know that it says in the United Evening News that your teacher, Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, has already completed the stillness?” I was so dumbfounded that I could only say,
“Really. But please don’t feel bad,” she replied.
“Okay. I don’t feel bad. I’m happy you told me this news. Wrong! I’m not happy, I just want to thank you for telling me.”
Seeing me get my words mixed up, my daughter consoled me, “Mom, please don’t feel too bad.”
Ah! How can I keep myself from feeling bad? When the Venerable Master is dwelling in the world, that means the Proper Dharma is dwelling in the world and many living beings can be rescued. He is my guiding teacher for my whole life. It was he who taught me how to get rid of filth and retain the light, he who led me to walk step by step towards my inherent, pure hometown. Even though we say that after the Master is physically gone, his disciples can still cultivate according to the precepts and Dharma, when such a great guiding teacher of such high cultivation and compassion leaves the world, it is not only his disciples who have lost their source of reliance, the entire world of sentient beings has suffered a great loss!
My grief is not only because I have lost my virtuous teacher, but because the world has lost a humane one who was able to uphold the Proper Dharma and universally save living beings. Because I lack cultivation and samadhi power, that night I finished the Incense Praise in tears, and I couldn’t help but kneel in front of Guanyin Bodhisattva and sob in anguish. I kept saying in my heart,
“Venerable Master, why didn’t you fulfill your disciples’ request and stay in the world to save beings? Guanyin Bodhisattva, didn’t I say that if my teacher dwells in the world, he can propagate the Dharma to benefit beings, while my responsibilities in the world have ended? In order to repay my teacher’s kindness, the Buddha’s kindness, and living beings’ kindness, I requested that my life be shortened so that I can be reborn in the Pure Land earlier. At the same time, I wished the Venerable Master could enjoy a long life in the world. Why didn’t you help me and grant my wish this time?” I kept bowing and asking like this, until my tears tried and I was tired. Then, with a calmness of mind that I’d never had before, I did evening recitation.
Back in December of last year, the Venerable Master had already told the disciples around him,
“...I’m going to depart. The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas must keep its practice of eating one meal a day at noon. I came empty-handed, and I will leave empty-handed. After the cremation, don’t build any stupas or memorial halls. Scatter my ashes in empty space. After I’m gone, the various Way-places can recite the Avatamsaka Sutra for seven days or however many days...” That was the Venerable Master’s
“appearance” of not dwelling anywhere, and yet not failing to dwell anywhere, of neither coming nor going.
I took refuge with the Venerable Master in 1988. Before this, I had already heard about many of the Master’s deeds, and I deeply admired his filial piety and his various practices such as eating one meal a day at noon. I envied the cultivators at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas for having found such a good teacher and lauded them for honoring the principles of not fighting, not being greedy, not seeking, not being selfish, not pursuing personal advantage, and not lying, and for being pure individuals in a turbid world.
The Venerable Master must have contemplated and known that there were many people eagerly hoping to take refuge in Tainan. He only stopped at Proper Enlightenment Monastery in Tainan for half an hour one morning in November 1988 before 8:00 o’clock. Filled with happiness, I drove my mother to take refuge with the Venerable Master. After my mother passed away, I often thought,
“Taking her to take refuge with the Master was the most
filial deed I ever performed.”
That time, although we visited the Master for a very short time, I heard the Dharma that influenced me for the latter half of my life and that also opened the door for my studying of Buddhism. At that time someone asked,
“Can we kill ants?” The Master replied, “I’m a little ant myself. You can kill me first.” As a beginner in Buddhism, I didn’t grasp the profound meaning of that answer. In fact, it seemed quite strange to me. Since the Master had given that instruction, from that day onwards I didn’t dare kill ants on purpose ever again.
There was another statement that the Master made (on the same day I believe) that influenced me greatly:
“You are my disciples. If you hear someone scold me in the future, you should bow to him and thank him for scolding your teacher.” At that time, I felt the Master’s vast, magnanimous spirit was truly exceptional. It was only later that I gradually came to realize that his words were also teaching us not to hate or resent others. Not only should we be grateful to people who are good to us, we should also thank those who do not treat us well.
Now as I think carefully, I remember the Master gave many instructions that helped me to cleanse the filth from my mind and eradicate my bad habits and faults. They were excellent medicines that influenced me very greatly. For example,
“When one thought of anger arises, a hundred thousand doors of obstructions open up. Fire burns the forest of merit and virtue. Don’t lose your temper. If you lose your temper, it’s like setting off a hydrogen bomb. There can only be peace in the world if no one loses his or her temper.” These admonitions helped me countless times to extinguish the fire of my anger. They made me realize that as a cultivator, I cannot set off hydrogren
bombs and hurt people.
“Don’t always be looking at the shortcomings of others. You should reflect within yourself and find your own shortcomings.” I always used to only see the faults of others. Now I know I have to constantly guard my mind and keep it from making mistakes. I have to be as careful as someone guarding the house against thieves.
“Don’t cry. Crying also hurts people, just like the knife of a bandit. If you can strictly uphold the precepts and attain samadhi and wisdom, then you won’t cry.” To someone like myself, who was given to crying, this was a very important teaching. After reading it, I worked hard at cultivation and avoided shedding many unnecessary tears.
“You must get rid of love and desire. Don’t let the mind get defiled and attached. Uphold the precepts purely. Recite the Buddha’s name single-mindedly. Recite until wind can’t blow in and the rain can’t soak through. Then you will get results.” Countless Dharma-words, like torches of wisdom, taught me the importance and methods of extinguishing greed, anger, and stupidity and of eliminating filth and bad habits from the mind. It’s too bad that I am so lax that I haven’t actively followed these instructions. I am truly ashamed of this.
The Master always used the simplest words and most shallow examples to teach us. He was always so kind and compassionate, never failing to rescue living beings. His own conduct always spoke the Dharma. He did the things that others could not do and endured the suffering that others could not take. And he always had the wisdom of foresight. I had never read the Avatamsaka Sutra before. During the past few days of reciting it, the more I recited it, the more it moved me. The literary quality of this Sutra is excellent, and the Bodhisattvas’ virtuous deeds of great compassion and great renunciation are truly worthy of praise. Sometimes when I read a certain passage, a thought would spontaneously arise in my mind,
“I want to learn to act like this, too.” What’s more, I feel that the Master’s words and deeds were exactly like the Bodhisattvas’ words and deeds described in the Sutra. It seems as if the Master was the transformation body of those Bodhisattvas, coming to save people in the Saha World. It’s impossible for me to describe in words my heartfelt gratitude to the Venerable Master. He was so compassionate to give his disciples this treasure, which we can never use up in our whole lives, before he left.
Venerable Master, I think you must know that your completion of stillness has deeply grieved many of your disciples and also caused them to resolve to cultivate diligently. In the past few days, more and more people have come to attend the Dharma assembly. Everyone is very sincere and reverent. It’s as if they want to infuse their devotion to you and their resolve to turn over a new leaf and cultivate with new vigor into the sound of reciting the Sutra. Even disciples who are illiterate are participating, following the Sutra text with concentration as they listen to others recite. Even I, the stupidest of all, am determined to be vigorous. From now on I will not be lax. I will listen to the Master’s words:
“Work hard and be vigorous! Be vigorous, vigorous, and more vigorous!” I shall constantly work hard to maintain pure mindfulness and singlemindedly recite the Buddha’s name. After being reborn in the Pure Land, I shall return to the Saha World.
If you cannot give up death,
You cannot exchange it for life.
If you cannot give up what is false,
You will not accomplish what is true.
──by Venerable Master Hua