In the early years when I was with the Master, many Americans and people who did not speak Chinese wanted to draw near the Master, so I would translate for them. At the closing of meetings, the Master would always say in English,
“Try your best!” I bear these few words in mind as if they are seals, deeply ingrained in the bottom of my heart. Whatever I do, I always remember these words,
“Try your best!” They provide a very helpful strength. They encourage me when I encounter adverse states. They are a tool which has helped me in changing from bad to wholesome, and thus enabled me to become a truly useful person in this life.
Before I met the Master, the kind of life I lived made me feel that I was useless to this society. I was very naughty, and only knew how to enjoy myself. I came to the United States when I was only fifteen, and therefore was not steeped in traditional Chinese culture for very long. I got married right after college graduation. My husband’s income as a physician is more than adequate to support the family. So I spent my time indulging in pleasure: dancing, singing, performing amateur Chinese opera, playing cards, and drinking. I did everything and lived a life in which day and night were turned upside-down. In general, my life was quite meaningless, and I didn’t do any work except for raising two children.
After my father passed away in 1969, I started thinking,
“He couldn’t have disappeared just because his flesh body is gone. Where did his soul go?” I wanted to know why I came to this world, and where I will be going in the future. I had many questions of this sort which I knew Christianity could not answer. I began searching for answers. It occurred to me that perhaps Buddhism could answer my questions. Buddhism must have some profound principles.
However, at that time (around 1970), there was no Buddhist temple in southern California, and I did not know any Buddhists. Buddhism simply did not exist in my life. It was under these circumstances that I started my search for the true principles of Buddhism. When I first heard the principles of Buddhism, I was overjoyed. So the Buddhadharma was this great! So every one of us could become a Buddha! This is great! So all of us were of one substance, and the myriad things were originally of the same substance! It was only because of our ignorance, plus the three poisons of greed, anger and stupidity, that we have been transmigrating back and forth in the six paths, undergoing all kinds of suffering.
I knew then that I wanted to have a teacher of proper Dharma. Since I didn’t know the Master was in San Francisco, I went to Taiwan with some friends to take refuge with Dharma Master Guang Qin in 1976. After I returned to the States, I realized that,
“Things which are thought to be as far away as the horizon, are actually right in front of your eyes.” Through friends, I came to know the Master, an eminent monk right in the city of San Francisco. I was really lucky; this must have been due to some wholesome roots that I had planted in my past lives.
We decided to hurry up and take refuge with the Master. After discussing it with friends, the number of people who wanted to take refuge increased to over ten. We had planned to take the plane, but seeing the growing number of people, we rented a bus instead. That was still not enough, for the number of people continued to increase. What were we to do? We didn’t know the Master personally, so we went to the friend who had introduced the Master to us. Since we were taking refuge, we really should have gone to the Master’s place; how could we ask the Master to come to us? But because there were too many people, we were forced to make the request, which the Master very compassionately granted.
I immediately went to rent the big South Pasadena Modonic Hall, and made a huge sign to welcome the Master and his disciples at the airport. The Master took this matter very seriously and brought many disciples with him. He also brought over many sutras, both in Chinese and English. I had never met the Master or organized any Buddhist event before this. Although this was the first time, we still had to do it well.
The refuge ceremony was solemn. The eldest participant was over eighty years old, and the youngest was a baby. It went perfectly. Since I was very busy that day, I didn’t have a chance to take a good look at the Master. The next morning when I got up, the Master was sitting in my living room. I walked over and knelt before him, and then I took a good look at him. All of a sudden, I broke down. From the bottom of my heart I felt this bitter sensation, and started crying out aloud,
“Waaa......” My feelings were a mixture of a myriad kinds of pain and joy. It was hard to describe. Sorrow and joy co-mingled.
I cried for a long, long time. The Master said to me in a very kind and compassion¬ate way,
“Now you have come home.” Then he asked me, “What is your maiden name?” I said,
“Yu.” He said, “Where were you originally from?” I said, “San Francisco.”
“What was your father’s name?” I told him. Ah! My father and the Master were good friends! Since my father was very interested in Chinese culture, after the Master came to the States, the two had become good friends. However, since I had already married and moved to Los Angeles, the conditions were not ripe for me to meet the Master. In fact, my father had known the Master since 1962, and I had to wait until after my father passed away (1976) to meet the Master and take refuge with him.
After we took refuge, the Master transmitted the five precepts to us. I smoked and drank then. The Master said:
“After you have taken refuge, you should not smoke again. The Bodhi-sattvas do not like people to smoke. If you smoke, the smell of it will drive the Bodhisattvas away.” So I quit smoking. Not smoking was not a big problem for me because I never liked smoking. I just joined in with friends when we were playing mahjong. However, to quit drinking was very difficult for me because I had loved to drink ever since I was young. My husband always worried that I would become an alcoholic one day. So I always tell him,
“You should be thankful and filial to the Master, because he has saved both your life and mine.” If it were not for the Master who turned me into an
“upright” person, our lives and our family would probably have gone down the drain. So my husband has always been grateful to the Master. Originally a Catholic, now he is also the Master’s disciple.
Later on I thought to myself, “If I could give up drinking, I would truly be making a new start.” So, not long after I took refuge, I quit both drinking and smoking. My husband was very surprised and could not believe it. From that time on, I started to change. It wasn’t easy to change my bad habits. But I always remembered the Master’s words,
“Try your best!” I never again went out singing, drinking, and dancing. Gradually, I stopped going out with those friends. I also tried to influence them by urging them to eat vegetarian food. Many of those friends we used to go out with are now Buddhists. Since they came from a variety of different backgrounds, I could only influence them to change with my own conduct.
However, I still could not switch to a completely vegetarian diet. When I went to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, I would sneak out for fried chicken every afternoon. How did I become a complete vegetarian? Well, at that time, the Master had just bought an old church on Sixth Street. He was about to start renovating the old building into a Way-place. That was right after the Golden Dragon Massacre of the China Youth gang. There had always been gang wars in Chinatown. Two large gangs, China Youth and Joe Boys, open fired on each other in Golden Dragon Restaurant and killed a lot of people. It made the international news. The economy of Chinatown had always depended on tourism, but with this news, the entire San Francisco Chinatown suddenly became a ghost town. No one dared to go there. People knew for sure that the China Youth gang would fight back, but they didn’t know when.
The leader of the China Youth gang at that time is now the Master’s disciple. One day, when they were searching for weapons, they came to the vicinity of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. The City was holding a Dharma assembly that day, and there were many Chinese attending. I was working as an usher by the gate. Upon spotting those young men, I warmly greeted them and led them into the City to join the Dharma assembly. The Master was holding a refuge ceremony. I didn’t know who they were, but when they asked to see the Master, I was very pleased, thinking that they already wanted to learn Buddhism and take refuge with the Master at such a young age.
When the Master saw them, he asked me,
“Do you know who they are?” I said, “No.” When they requested to take refuge with the Master, the Master asked them very sternly,
“I will grant your request, but can you stop killing, stealing, robbing, and plundering from now on?” While I was wondering why the Master was asking them so many times, they all answered,
“Yes,” and the Master allowed them to take refuge. After they left, the Master told me,
“Those young men are members of the China Youth gang.” The Master knew! But I hadn’t known; and in my ignorance, I had taken them to see the Master.
Because of that event, the Master not only changed the lives of those people, he also saved the community of overseas Chinese in San Francisco. After the Golden Dragon Massacre, Chinatown had fallen into a predicament. If people continued to stay away from Chinatown, there would be no business to do.
After the members of the China Youth gang had taken refuge with the Master, they reformed, and there was no more bloodshed or gunfights. Chinatown gradually flourished again, but very few knew what had happened. The members of China Youth later helped out with many things at Gold Mountain Monastery. At that time, the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas was building its mountain gate, and they went to take charge of the work. Later, they also came to help renovate the church on Sixth Street. When Guo Gao and I brought lunch to them, I discovered that these young people of the China Youth gang were all vegetarians. I felt very ashamed and unsettled, because although I had followed the Master for many years, as their big Dharma sister, I still hadn’t become completely vegetarian.
One night, I was startled awake, and I seemed to hear either myself or Guan Yin Bodhisattva say,
“Haven’t you eaten enough?” I rushed to the Buddha hall in our home and prayed to the Bodhisattva. I rarely plead with the Bodhisattva. Even when I am seriously ill and in pain, I still feel that these are karmic obstacles which I must endure. This was the first time that I sought Guan Yin Bodhisattva’s aid to help me switch to an all-vegetarian diet. The next morning, I told my husband I was going to be a vegetarian from that day on, but he didn’t believe me. He said,
“You must mean you will be vegetarian for today.” That was when Gold Wheel Monastery was having its Opening Light Ceremony (January 2, 1983).
From that time on, I started bowing the Ten Thousand Buddhas Repentance every morning in my home, to repent of the evil karma I created in the past. The hardest thing to change has been my bad temper. When the Master used to come to Los Angeles to lecture on the Sutras every month, he would always ask me,
“Do you still have a temper?” I’m still working hard on this.
The Master teaches us to change from within, not to seek outside. If we cannot even become good people, how can we become Buddhas? Therefore, we have to watch our behavior in our daily lives. We must always be alert and ask ourselves:
“Is this what a Buddhist should do? Are we the Master’s
disciples? Have we really observed the Six Great Principles
of no fighting, no greed, no seeking, no selfishness, no
pursuit of personal benefit, and no lying?”
Throughout his life, the Master has
endured all kinds of bitterness in order to transform living
beings and enable us to leave suffering and attain bliss. We
should not disappoint our Master’s earnest intentions. We
should try our best! With his great virtue and compassion,
the Master can transform multitudes of people like
ourselves. Therefore, we must bring forth a true mind and
vigorously cultivate, so that we can live up to the Master’s
hopes and cause the Master’s spirit to flourish.
Every time there is a Sutra lecture delivered at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, the main gate of the City is locked. On Guanyin Bodhisattva’s birthday, the nineteenth of the sixth lunar month in 1974, at approximately one o’clock in the afternoon, the Venerable Master was delivering a lecture on the
“Universal Door Chapter” in the Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas. Since there are no windows in the Hall, there is no way to see the main gate in the distance. The Venerable Master, without rising from his seat, suddenly told the Bhikshu Heng Lai to open the main gate, saying,
“There are over ten people who have been waiting for a long time by the main gate. Quickly go and open the gate to let them in.” Dharma Master Heng Lai did not believe what he heard at first, but when he opened the gate, indeed there were more than ten young men outside; they had been waiting for over an hour.
Upasika Helen Woo led them to offer incense in the Buddha Hall and urged them take refuge in the Triple Jewel. Although the Venerable Master had never met these people before, he knew at a glance who they were. So the Venerable Master’s first words were,
“If you want to take refuge, then you must not kill people, set fires, rob, engage in sexual misconduct, or take intoxicants.” Everyone in the assembly was dumbstruck. They had no idea why the Venerable Master had spoken this way, and no one dared to ask those young men what they were up to. Then the Venerable Master immediately asked,
“Who is the leader? Raise your hand!” The leader of the China Youth gang raised his hand.
Not long after they had taken refuge, some of the members rebelled and wished to return to their old lifestyle. That very night, however, all eight of them had the same dream─in their dream, they saw the Venerable Master appear before them and prohibit them from continuing to perpetrate evil. When they woke up the next day, they related their dreams to one another; and after that, none of them ever dared to do a bad deed again. They mended their ways, renewed themselves, and became devoted Buddhists.
It is indeed difficult to influence evil people. If it were not for the the Venerable Master’s personal cultivation of the Way and for his great virtue, this could hardly have happened!
The door which gave me birth is also the threshold of my death.
How many are astute and how many are enlightened?
In the middle of the night, the hero is absorbed in self-reflection;
One must stop the turning wheel of birth and death by oneself.
by Venerable Master Hua