Everything is a test to see what you will do.
If you don’t recognize what’s before you, you’ll have to start anew.
This verse was composed by the Venerable Master. He often used this verse to instruct and teach the fourfold assembly of disciples. No matter what state we encounter, it is a test. If we lack samadhi power, we will immediately be turned by the state. If we lack wisdom, we will be at a loss for what to do. We will miss opportunities that come right before us, and we will waste the efforts we have applied.
With his completion of stillness, the Venerable Master is giving all of his disciples a big test problem:
“Now that I’ve gone, let’s see what all of you will do.” It’s just like when the Venerable Master was at Wonderful Words Hall in the Sagely City. He would write the first line of a couplet on the blackboard in a calm and leisurely manner and then wait for his disciples to come up and write their matching lines, which he would examine with unruffled composure. Now the Venerable Master has written the first line. What kind of matching line will his disciples come up with?
In the past few years the Venerable Master manifested illness many times, intentionally or unintentionally reminding us that his affinities with the world were nearly over and that we should be psychologically prepared. The Venerable Master has many lay disciples who feel that the Master is a very extraordinary person, a great cultivator with extensive spiritual powers who is all-capable. Whenever they get sick or run into a small problem, they rely on the Venerable Master’s aid or instruction. Some of them may even think that if they fall and do not become Buddhas, they still have a Master who will save them. What they don’t know is that
“the teacher leads you in the door, but you yourself have to cultivate.” In the Shurangama Sutra, the Venerable Ananda made the same mistake and said,
“Since I followed the Buddha and left home, what I have done is to rely on the Buddha’s awesome spirit. I have often thought,
‘There is no reason for me to toil at cultivation’ expecting that the Tathagata would bestow samadhi
upon me. I never realized that he could not
stand in for me in body and mind.”
The Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Patriarchs, and Greatly Virtuous Ones manifest transformations in order to save the world. They manifest birth and death, various spiritual powers, and roaming in samadhi in order to cause living beings to appreciate the rarity of their teaching. How fortunate we are to be disciples of the Venerable Master! These are great affinities and great blessings.
“It is difficult to obtain a human body, but I have obtained one. It is difficult to get to hear the Buddhadharma, but I have heard it. It is difficult to meet a Wise Advisor, but I have met one. It is difficult to find a pure Way-place, but I have found one without even searching.” This is all brought about by the power of the Venerable Master’s vows and his virtue.
The Venerable Master often spoke of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas as a site for selecting Buddhas. It is where we pan for gold in the sand. It is a Way-place of the Proper Dharma where living Patriarchs, living Arhats, living Bodhisattvas, and living Buddhas will be created. However, if we wish to accomplish our work in the Way, it is not enough merely to take refuge with the Venerable Master or go to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. We must also follow the Six Guiding Principles, the true words:
“no fighting, no greed, no seeking, no selfishness, no pursuit of personal advantage, and no lying” to cultivate honestly, before we can achieve such sagely fruitions. Although the Venerable Master is no longer in the world, we should be even more vigorous in cultivation, relying on the Dharma and not on people. Then we will not disappoint the Venerable Master for all the pains he took.
The Venerable Master led a life of honest cultivation. He wasn’t one to pay mere lipservice to matters. In every step he took, he was careful never to frighten or alarm people. He didn’t try to impress people or to gain favors. He also taught his disciples this way. A great cultivator and great wise teacher such as this gathers people in and wins their respect entirely by means of virtue. Living beings who have affinities with the Venerable Master will be influenced and subdued by his virtue. Before I myself studied Buddhism, I had many faults and bad habits. After taking refuge with the Master, I recognized my wrongs and corrected them. One day my sister said to my mother,
“You’ve gained a son.”
Last month I read the Venerable Master’s biography again and admired even more than before the Venerable Master’s ascetic practice of doing what is difficult to do, enduring what is difficult to endure, and giving away what is difficult to give away. I felt ashamed and remorseful. As the Venerable Master’s disciple, I was either being lazy or indulging in fanciful thinking all the time. Hence I resolved to bow a thousand times to the Dharma Flower Sutra every day to repent of my karmic hindrances. And yet, right at that time, the Venerable Master entered quiesence. The Venerable Master’s every word and deed could invisibly influence living beings. The Master’s kindness is vast indeed, and it would be difficult to repay even in endless eons. I vow to bow the entire Dharma Flower Sutra, and I pray that the Venerable Master in the Pure Land of Eternal Stillness and Light will soon return to the Saha World to continue teaching and rescuing sentient beings.
The Venerable Master’s life can be summed up in the words
“great loyalty, great filiality, great kindness, great compassion, great wisdom, great humaneness, great courage, and great vows.” The Venerable Master was ardently patriotic to his country. Although he lived in America for over thirty years, he never forgot that he was a Chinese. He was extremely concerned about this tumultous country, which has gone through so many ordeals and crises. Hence, to his death he kept his citizenship in the Republic of China in order to express his resolve. This is great loyalty.
Starting from the age of twelve, he would bow every morning and evening to his parents in order to repent of his faults and repay his parents’ kindness for raising him. After his mother died when he was nineteen, he built a simple hut by his mother’s grave and lived there for three years in observance of filial piety. People called him Filial Son Bai. As his renown spread, an unending succession of people came from far and near seeking to take refuge with him. This is great filiality.
The Venerable Master vowed to dedicate the blessings and happiness he was due to receive to all the living beings of the Dharma Realm. With skillful expedient means, he rescued living beings on a vast scale, causing them to head towards Bodhi and ultimately attain the bliss of Nirvana and Buddhahood. This is great kindness.
He also vowed to take upon himself all the sufferings of living beings so that they could leave suffering and attain bliss. He used the pure sound of Dharma to instruct dull and stubborn living beings to leave the dangerous path of birth and death and to escape the suffering of transmigration. This is great compassion.
The Venerable Master bestowed teachings according to the individual and prescribed medicine that was appropriate for each illness, causing living beings to take refuge with the Triple Jewel and turn from confusion to enlightenment. During the first six years of his stay in America, he called himself
“A Monk in the Grave.” When the conditions ripened, he expounded the Great Shurangama Dharma and inspired five Americans to leave the home-life and cultivate the Way. This is great wisdom.
The Venerable Master advocated that we respect the elderly and cherish the young. That way, the elderly will have a refuge and the young will be nurtured. The Venerable Master wanted all of his disciples to have compassion and pity for the people of the world. He wished everyone could
“be filial to others’ parents the way they are filial to their own parents; care for others’ children the way they care for their own children.” This is great humaneness.
The Venerable Master said what other people didn’t dare to say. He orally rebuked and criticized in writing the famous contemporary scholars who claim that the Shurangama Sutra is an inauthentic Sutra, for he didn’t want them to delude ignorant people into cutting off their Buddha-nature. This is great courage.
The Venerable Master made eighteen great vows, vowing that if any Bodhisattva, Pratyekabuddha, Hearer, god, human, asura, hungry ghost, animal, or hell-being─any being in the nine Dharma Realms─has not become a Buddha, he will not attain the Right Enlightenment. He also vowed that any living being who merely heard his name or saw his face would bring forth the Bodhi mind and quickly attain the Buddha Way. These are great vows.
It could be said of the Venerable Master’s lifelong conduct:
“His Way extends from the past to the present. His virtue matches that of Heaven and Earth.” This is my clumsy attempt to write a verse in praise:
Our greatly loyal teacher had a lofty resolve.
Born in an age of turmoil, he pitied his dying country.
Although he crossed the ocean thirty years ago,
Why did he refuse to apply for permanent residence?
The greatly filial Master Hua was a good model;
As a child he bowed to his parents at dawn and at dusk.
When his mother passed away, his mind was free of worries.
He built a hut and stayed by her grave,
making it a place of the Way.
The greatly kind Venerable One saved the dull and blind.
Aiding the three kinds of faculties, he was the King of Dharma.
He vowed to bestow the joy of Nirvana upon living beings,
So that they could see the scenery of their inherent hometown.
The greatly compassionate Bodhisattva was gentle and
tender at heart
As he taught the confused masses throughout the ten directions.
Pulling beings out of the suffering of the six paths of rebirth,
The sound of Dharma circulates throughout the four seas.
Our greatly wise teacher mastered the Tripitaka.
Contemplating potentials and bestowing teachings,
he served as a bridge and pillar
Hibernating in a grave, he waited for the right time
To transform this country with the great Shurangama Dharma.
The greatly humane Master Hua had a kind and merciful nature.
Revering the elderly and cherishing the young,
he enriched the neighborhood.
Widowers, widows, orphans, and the solitary all received
The world became a pure land and a village of immortals.
The greatly courageous Venerable Master was firm and resolute.
Dhuta or ascetic practices were his ordinary style.
One man shouldering the job, he gave the Lion’s Roar.
Who told the hordes of demons to slander the Sutras?
A Bodhisattva of great vows with ten thousand virtues,
He guides the lost boats from the Prajna ship.
Those who have heard his name or seen his face will all become
Nine grades of lotuses bloom with a subtle fragrance.