Whenever I would come to the United States, I’d always make a point of coming to see Venerable Master Hsuan Hua wherever he was. I would go to the Gold Wheel Temple in Los Angeles, to the temple in San Francisco, or come here. In 1989, I invited the Venerable Master to England, and when he arrived at our monastery of Amaravati with a retinue of Bhikshus and Bhikshunis, we were very delighted and pleased. Strangely enough, though the Chinese community has existed in Britain for several hundred years, in 1989 there were no Chinese monks or Chinese temples in England. I remember searching in London, trying to find, in the Chinese community, any sign of a temple or Buddhist group. We could hardly find anything that you could call Buddhism among the Chinese community in Britain. It was greatly compassionate of the Master to come to England at that time, because now there is definitely a renewal of interest in the practice of the Dharma among the Chinese community.
It’s very important to recognize the monastic form as something that is not understood very well by Western people. Both here in America and in Europe, the idea of a Buddhist monk or nun is considered very strange. Once people really understand the purpose and intent of our life, most people respect what we’re doing. But there are very few Masters that inspire Westerners to live the holy life in the monastic form. The Venerable Master Hsuan Hua was one of these great teachers who by his own example and his own compassion could encourage and inspire Western people to take on the restraining life of the Buddhist monk and Buddhist nun and to live it for liberation and for compassion, for liberating all sentient beings. My teacher in Thailand was also one of these great beings who could inspire Western people to see the value and the beauty that lies in living the life of the Shramana [Buddhist monastic].
In 1992 Ajahn Chah died, and now the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua has died, and what we have is the memory of both these great teachers. This memory is something to respect and honor. A ceremony like this gives all of us who have known the Venerable Master or heard of him an opportunity to come together. All of us from various parts of this planet have assembled together at this time and place to honor the memory of this great being. The memory of a great teacher--instead of seeing it in terms of grief and sorrow and loss─is something to inspire us, to awaken us, to encourage us, towards our aspiration for liberation and enlightenment in our own lives. I find that even though Venerable Ajahn Chan has died and now the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua has died, this gives me even more encouragement and purpose in my monastic life, because I appreciate all that they’ve done for all of us over the many years and probably many lifetimes. This is not to be just dismissed and ignored, but to be contemplated and reflected upon to give us that extra energy and inspiration and the ability to fulfill our own intentions in our lives as Buddhists.
I want to express my joy at being able to come to the cremation of the Venerable Master. I have to rush back, because this is our vassa [summer retreat] time, in which we cannot stay away from the monastery for more than seven nights.
My association and my memories of the Venerable Master have always been precious to me, and even though he has passed away, this only increases the bonds and the respect we feel for each others’ communities. Talking to the venerable monks here, I don’t feel that this will be my last appearance at the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. May you all be free to develop this life of moral restraint and of cultivation of the Way, so that you may be free from all forms of selfishness and self-delusion, all forms of desire, and all forms of suffering, and that you may all realize Nibbana. Thank you.
A Magnificent Living Example of the Dharma
I just want to express the gratitude from the Western side of Buddhism to the Great Master, who inspired us all and gave us so much during his lifetime. It’s a great gift from the Asian continent to the Western world, these venerable sages that choose to live and share their wisdom with us in the Western world. I think this kind of gift and great compassion is something beyond compare. It is what you might call
“foreign aid at its very best.” I will always remember and treasure this.
Also, in reflecting on the body of the great Master this morning, I had a marvelous insight into the way he would say he was always living like a dead man anyway. The truth, the pure Dharma, that which is real and true, was never born and never dies. Even though the Great Master, in terms of conventions of our language and our perceptual range, is such that we see Venerable Master Hua as having died and passed away, what we really loved and respected is still present with us, and that is the True Dharma that he was always pointing to and of which he was a magnificent living example. I just want to say again what gratitude we all feel─here in America and Europe─for the great gifts that the Venerable Master gave to us.