Western Bliss Gardens was to be the resting place of the extremely efficacious and miraculous image of Amitabha Buddha that the Master had brought with him from Manchuria. It was the image he made obeisance to during his early years of cultivation, and as a result of the extreme purity of the Master’s heart, the graceful porcelain figure had gradually undergone a miraculous transformation. As the Master continued to bow with ever-deepening sincerity before the image, a distinct rosy hue began to suffuse the once snow-white porcelain until it eventually took on the glow of living flesh. The connection between the Master and the miraculous image of Amitabha Buddha is one of utmost purity that far transcends the kind of attachment found in the realm of dualism.
In a most profound sense, the image could be said to be indispensable to the Master. Nevertheless, after the Master arrived in Hong Kong and began to meditate in Guanyin Cave, he had no appropriate place to respectfully make offerings to the Buddha-image, and he had to ask two Dharma Masters, who had a temple, to keep it for him so that it could be properly cared for, respected, and worshipped. The Dharma Masters accepted the image with the full understanding that they would return it to the Master when he had an appropiate place for it. During the period of more than a year that the Master spent meditating in Guanyin Cave, however, the two monks developed a fondness for the exquisite image and no longer wished to remember that it had only been loaned to them. They considered it their own.
When the Master decided to establish Western Bliss Gardens, it was Amitabha Buddha whom he called on to aid him in carrying out the work. Once he moved to the grounds and the construction of the temple began, he asked the two monks to return the image of Amitabha Buddha. Not wishing to comply, but lacking any justification for refusing his request, the two monks came to pay special New Year’s greetings to the Master. Kneeling before the Master, they said ingratiatingly,
“We just cannot bear to part with the Amitabha Buddha image, and so we have decided to kneel here until the Dharma Master consents to let us keep it.” They knelt for five hours before the Master, who used many expedient means to bring them to their senses. He scolded. He shouted. He was pointedly rude to them. He picked up his tea pot and slammed it down on the floor in front of them. He hurled his tea cup against the wall, smashing it to smithereens. But even his most extreme attempts to teach and transform them were to no avail. The two remained rooted to the floor, sustained by their greed for the Buddha-image. Since he couldn’t frighten them into waking up, the Master decided that at least he could physically remove them from the Buddhahall and perhaps jar them to their senses. Although each monk weighed over 200 pounds, he grabbed them under the armpits one at a time and dragged them outside. But by the time he had evicted one monk and had a good grip on the second, the first had returned and was kneeling once more. After the Master deposited the second monk on the doorstep and walked back to evict the first, the second was already following close at his heels.
Realizing that the two failed to understand the seriousness of the matter, the Master turned from the expedient to the actual and attempted to explain to the monks the nature of the ineffable, mysterious, and wonderful affinity which existed between himself and that spiritually efficacious Amitabha Buddha image.
“With that image I can realize Buddhahood. Without it, I cannot,” he told them.
“However” he added quietly, “if you want the image so badly, then take it.” Heedless of the Master’s first statement, the two monks only heard that at last the Master had relinquished the image. Satisfied, they got up and left.
“Don’t ever set foot in my door again,” warned the Master as they departed.
But the Master had spoken the truth, and by the next day, in the absence of the Amitabha Buddha image, he had fallen seriously ill. Day by day his fever rose. Since he lived alone and few people even knew where to find him, there was no one to fix gruel or fetch water for him. As a result, he rapidly grew weaker and weaker, and his condition became grave.
Eventually Bhiksu Heng-yueh, who lived in the same temple as the two offending monks, learned of their outrageous display on New Year’s Day and of the Master’s subsequent illness. Heng-yueh carried the Amitabha Buddha image back to the Master, and with its return, the Master’s illness subsided and the construction of the Bodhimanda progressed rapidly.