Today, I feel kind of happy, and I also feel kind of sad. I’m happy to be together with all of you great, wise teachers. But on the other hand, I feel kind of sad. In the past, when I came to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas and Gold Mountain Monastery, I was often asked to come up and speak about my understanding of Buddhism. During those times, a certain person always sat there. Sometimes he would just listen to me quietly without saying anything. At other times, he would correct me or make some comments. Today, I’m sitting here, but that person is no longer here. He will never again correct me or teach me. It’s really rare to find someone who can correct your mistakes for you. Now I’ve lost that person, who was my teacher and also your teacher.
I am not as fortunate as those of you who live at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas and Gold Mountain Monastery, who were often with the Master and heard his teachings. Because of my heavy karmic obstacles, I had to struggle to make a living out in the world. I couldn’t come to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas to be near the Master. Because of that, I really treasured the few sentences that the Master did speak to me. Because they were so rare, I tried my best to apply them in my life. Because the Master’s words to me were so few, they were extremely precious to me.
In April 1977, I went to Canada to present a paper on Mechanics at a seven-day conference. Afterwards, I went to Gold Mountain Monastery to see the Master. As soon as I saw him, I felt a great sense of familiarity. Gold Mountain Monastery was on Fifteenth Street then, and somehow I felt that I’d been there before. I had never seen a monk or entered a Buddhist temple before. That was the first time I came into contact with Buddhism and met a monk─the Venerable Master. I had to go out to make a living when I was only twelve years old. It was extremely tough. From the time I was twelve, I never bowed to anyone or even had the thought of bowing to anyone. But as soon as I saw the Master, I had an indescribable feeling of ease and familiarity, as if I’d returned home. Probably you all have caring families, so you cannot imagine how I felt. No one can know that feeling but myself. I immediately bowed to the Master. The Master laughed and said,
“Look, here’s a professor bowing to me!”
After bowing down and getting up, I felt like a different person. I used to be a very stubborn and unsubmissive person. How could I have bowed to a monk? I can’t describe my feeling. A sudden change had occurred in me. I was very happy, and I took the refuge with the Master that same day. At about ten-o’clock that night, after everyone had gone to sleep, I sat on the bench in the Buddhahall. My mind was blank. I was in a daze─I can’t describe my feeling. Then the Master walked over and sat down beside me. I didn’t say a word, nor did he. We sat there for about ten minutes, and all of a sudden he shouted,
“Cut off desire!” I was not scared, and I didn’t move, but his hollering of
“cut off desire” was like a lion’s roar. It made a deep impression on me. I will never forget it! I learned Buddhism from the Sixth Patriarch Platform Sutra, which doesn’t mention desire directly, but says,
“The mind of lust is basically the cause for the mind of purity.” That time, the idea of
“cutting off desire” really impressed me. Desire was truly my great illness, but I didn’t realize it before. From that day on, I recognized this illness. I worked on that teaching for many years. I applied effort constantly, and it was very difficult. It affected not only me, but my whole family. Later on, I realized that the cutting off of desire is the Buddha’s basic teaching in all the Sutras. That was the first teaching the Master gave me.
The following year, 1978, I joined the Master’s delegation on a six-week visit to Southeast Asia. That was the longest time I was near the Master and also the time when I received the most teachings. Here, I’ll just mention one thing that happened.
We went to a Theravadan temple whose abbot, the Venerable Sri Dhammananda, was quite influential in the Malaysian government. In the temple, the Master and the Venerable Sri Dhammananda sat in the center. The nine of us sat around the Master. Two left-home disciples of the Master and I were sitting in meditation with our eyes closed. A layman, who was a professor and a great Dharma protector of the temple, asked the Master,
“Why don’t the Dharma Masters of Mahayana Buddhism respect and bow to Theravadan Dharma Masters?” He said a lot more that I don’t remember. The Master didn’t reply, and the layman kept asking. I had been meditating and not paying attention to the conversation, but for some unknown reason, I stood up and bowed to the person. I asked him,
“Please tell me, before I bowed, was I a Mahayana or a Theravadan Buddhist? After my bowing, am I a Theravadan or a Mahayana Buddhist?” He couldn’t answer me. A Mr. Wong, who had made the request for the Master’s trip to Malaysia, told him,
“He is also a professor.” From then on, that layman was very kind to me and didn’t ask any more questions.
On that trip, every morning we would hold a small meeting to discuss what we had done the day before. The Master would sit on a high chair and we would sit on the floor. The next morning, the Master got off his chair and sat down on the floor beside me. He said,
“What you did yesterday was really good!” I said,
“Master, please don’t praise me. I’m not afraid of anyone else’s praise, because I have no attachments and I don’t care. But, Master, I can’t take it when you praise me. I’ll be attached, because I’ll be too happy.” He said,
“I’m not praising you. I am telling the truth.” That’s even worse than praising!