Many disciples experienced the Venerable Abbot’s teachings in person and know the dynamic experience of drawing near a Good and Wise Advisor; many others did not, but knew the Master through his books or by reputation only. Scolding is perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of his teachings when viewed by those who did not understand its use among the many skillful expedient means of a true Wise Teacher.
At that time the Youth Good Wealth bowed at his feet, stood, put his palms together, and said,
“Sagely One, I have already brought forth the resolve for Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi,
but I still do not know how a Bodhisattva studies
the Bodhisattva Conduct and how he cultivates the
Bodhisattva path. I heard that the Sagely One is
skilled at guiding and teaching. I wish you would
explain this for me.”
The Brahman said, “Good Man,
if you can now go up this mountain of knives and
throw yourself into the mass of fire, then all your
Bodhisattva conduct will be purified.”
Chapter on Entering the Dharma Realm,
The Flower Adornment Sutra
Shr Fu taught in many skillful
ways; one of the more dramatic was his “scoldings.” I am one of several disciples who frequently got the benefit of Shr Fu’s focused energy via the expedient of scoldings.
In the world, scolding is something universally feared; for that reason a tongue-lashing is effective as a means of discipline and behavior modification. It only works, however, if the one doing the scolding has personal virtue. If there is real anger behind the words, then scolding will produce hatred and anger in return.
We disciples knew that the thundering storm of anger was a technique, because the Abbot could be blasting away to correct a mistake by one disciple, and then in a twinkling turn his head to gently encourage another disciple in the crowd. In another eyeblink, he would return to the fault of the miscreant and send more lightning shafts towards him. These two modes of teaching─(1) subduing and humbling the arrogant and hard; and (2) enticing and embracing the timid and cautious─appear in Sutra descriptions of the Buddha’s own two methods of teaching: hard and soft, turned on and off at will. Those who watched closely would see the compassionate, impassive, kindly teacher behind the heat.
In fact only the closest disciples got scolded harshly at all; and among them, it seemed that scolding came in a sense as a reward for hard work. We
“earned” our scoldings. But this did not make them any easier to take.
I recall being scolded once on live television (Channel 5), at the San Francisco airport, and several times while translating on a lecture stage before thousands of people. In my memory, the worst scoldings came overseas: in Hong Kong, in Taiwan, in Calgary. No time was ever too public, too embarrassing to prevent a chance to teach a student who was ripe for a scolding. Sometimes those well-timed tongue-lashings marked an unexpected turning point in a disciple’s life.
Once at Gold Mountain an error I made brought on
a public reprimand that kept the entire assembly
standing at their bowing benches for ninety
minutes. The volume and the impact of the rebuke
created distaste in some of the onlookers and
listeners, but not in the recipient. Strangely
enough, its effects, besides producing shame and
a wish to change, were clear seeing, lightness,
and calm, like the state at the eye of the
tornado. Of course it helped to know about the
proverbial Chinese father who “pan zi cheng long” “reprimands his children to turn them into dragons.” That is, scolding strengthens one’s bones. Most often the scolding produced a memorable opportunity to get priceless instructions.
For example, once I sent away an important guest by mistake, and got scolded so hard I thought I should run away, or perhaps die. I didn’t die, and the next morning the Abbot frowned and asked me how I felt.
“I felt like I ought to die. I felt inadequate, useless, and forlorn. Maybe I
would rather die,” I said.
“You won’t die. That would just be cheating. Dying would be easier than changing your bad habits. Where is your copy of the
Ultimate End of the Dharma Sutra? Get it and read to me.” I ran to my desk and found the requested text. I knelt in the Buddhahall in front of the Master. I read the story of the future day when Buddhism will completely disappear from the planet.
The Abbot sat with a distant gaze, keeping a half dozen disciples waiting, each of whom had urgent business─real estate, banking, international phone calls, and offerings─to settle, while he listened to my recitation of the text in clumsy Chinese.
As I read, I felt sweat break out on my face and body. My temperature rose and I felt faint, as if something were being purged and carried out of me. I kept reading and the sensation passed, leaving me lighter, cooler, and calmer. All traces of my earlier mood of self-pity were gone.
The Master exhorted in a stern voice, “You have left home to follow me, and now you are not like you were before; now you have to cultivate the Way; You are a disciple of the Buddha, you belong to the Buddha’s family. Do you see how important your words and actions are? In this country you represent the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Do you understand? You’re not living just for yourself any longer. How can you be heedless and selfish? Don’t you see the road you are on?” Great Master Yung Chia saw it,
Once I saw the road to Tsao Creek, I recognized the phenomenon of birth and death and had nothing further to do with them.
The Venerable Abbot continued:
“You’ve got to try harder. A casual effort like
before won’t get you over the Dragon Gate. I’ve got
high expectations for you. How can you just muddle
through, like somebody who is simply eating his fill
and waiting for death to catch up to him? Living
like somebody born drunk and dying in a dream is
good enough for others, but disciples of the Buddha
have to be models for both humans and gods. You have
to surpass the ordinary and excel the standards. You
have to endure what others can’t endure, eat food
that others can’t eat, take on suffering that others
can’t take on, and practice what others can’t
practice. You have to be patient where others cannot
be patient. Only then will you pass the tests ahead.
Take propagating the Dharma as your personal
responsibility. Otherwise, Buddhism won’t take root
in this country.”
Good Wealth said, “Strange indeed, Sagely One. When my body came into contact with this mountain of knives and great mass of fire, I felt peaceful, serene, and joyous.
Chapter on Entering the Dharma Realm,
The Flower Adornment Sutra
The scolding may have been the catalyst that jolted the memory of my past vows into awareness, because several days later I had the vision that led to my making the resolve to begin the
“Three Steps, One Bow” pilgrimage for world peace. The Venerable Abbot observed that night after the Sutra lecture,
All of you in the past have been together with Vairochana Buddha. We have been together investigating the Buddhadharma. And way back then I said we should all go to America and do it. Some of you made the vows of monks and some the vows of nuns. Some made the vows of Dharma-protectors. Others made the vows to be translators. Some of you made vows to build Way-places; and others to teach school.
Now we are all here to fulfill our vows. From limitless kalpas past our causes and conditions with one another have been deep. They create a strength of togetherness that endures... And in the Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas you can make vows, so in the future we can all become Ten Thousand Buddhas. Three-Steps-One-Bow are seeking Ten Thousand Buddhas to protect ten thousand peoples. In the midst of a dream, we are all here doing the Buddhas’ work...
This phrase rings loudest in my mind recently among all the many instructions I’ve received from the Venerable Abbot in the last twenty years:
Here we are, in the midst of a dream doing the work of the Buddhas.
＊ ＊ ＊
I recall kneeling in the aisle of a bus on a sweltering sunny afternoon in Taoyuan,
Taiwan, outside the gate of a monastery. The
delegation from Dharma Realm Buddhist University was
caught in a titanic traffic jam, caused by our visit
to the Republic of China. The cars were coming to
listen to the Venerable Abbot speak Dharma and
transmit the precepts. People had gotten out of
their cars to scratch their heads and to discuss the
scene. I was kneeling in the aisle because the
Venerable Abbot, to pass the time constructively,
had asked the members of the delegation to stand up
and give Dharma-talks. “Anywhere and anytime is a good place to cultivate the Way” was one of the Master’s favorite travel maxims.
I had been receiving mighty scoldings since before we got on the plane in San Francisco, and I had been apprehensive day and night, fearing to do anything else wrong and anxious to escape the withering glare and lion’s roar of the Good and Wise Advisor. The Master had called me out first and ordered me to speak Dharma. I felt exhausted and overwhelmed. The heat, the diarrhea, the pressure of my faults grinding against my teacher’s will that I change for the Dharma, for the better, all put my head in a spin, and I couldn’t utter a sound. I could only kneel there mute and limp.
“Kuo Chen!” said the Abbot, and suddenly I entered another zone, and as if transported in time I recalled a moment in Malibu on my bowing pilgrimage alongside the highway when the California Highway Patrol pulled up to tell us to be careful of the road ahead because it was narrow and fast. The officer was a slow-speaking, sun-browned cowboy with a twinkle in his eye.
“You fellers had better stay way over on the shoulder, and tell that Chinese gentleman behind you to do the same. His red robe helps make him a bit more visible, but this is a fast road, and I don’t want any accidents on my shift. Our CHP attorney called on his way to work, said he had spotted you and wanted us to make sure you get safely through Malibu. My wife saw you, too, and told me to remind the three of you to be careful. Take care, fellas.”
We thanked him, and, after he left, sheepishly looked behind us for the third member of our team, the
“Chinese gentleman.” We couldn’t see anyone, let alone somebody in a red robe.
“Three monks, he said?”
“Strange. I wonder who they saw.”
Only months later in San Francisco did a laywoman tell us the other side of the story. During that time of the pilgrimage, frequently in the mornings or afternoons the Venerable Abbot would be speaking with them and would suddenly stand up and walk into his room and shut the door. They would never know what he did inside, but usually after an hour or so, he would emerge and say,
“They’re all right now, mei you shi qing, it’s okay.” The CHP officers’ request suggested that the Venerable Abbot’s vows were helping him supervise the pilgrimage of two young monks from six hundred miles away. The Abbot’s seventeenth vow says,
“I vow in this life to attain the Five Eyes and
Six Penetrations, and the ability to fly
The image brought me back to the stifling bus in Taoyuan,
and I believe the Venerable Abbot was observing
my insight, because now he was smiling and his
tone was gentle, instead of severe. “Kuo Chen here speaks from experience. You should listen to what he has to say, because he knows that without a Good and Wise Advisor he would probably be foundering in the Saha world’s sea of suffering by now. Isn’t that right, Kuo
Chen? You were already full of bad habits when
you came through the door of Gold Mountain
Monastery, don’t you remember? You might have
sunk beneath the current of birth and death if
it weren’t for your affinities with a Good
Advisor, right? Why don’t you tell these people
I nodded in agreement and looked at my teacher. That week in Taiwan he was not eating any solid food because he was fasting and dedicating the merit to Taiwan and her people, hoping to delay the disaster that pundits were predicting. He was sick as well, which only the monks who attended him were aware of. Once the bus arrived, he would be surrounded by clouds of disciples and seekers, each of whom brought his special request for healing, for a blessing, for help, seeking the Master’s powers and abilities.
Often in Taiwan he wouldn’t sleep for days, choosing instead to stay up and talk with the line of seekers outside his door, which did not diminish day and night. They came hoping for a chance to draw near and make their request, and to be touched by his compassion.
None of us disciples could stand in for him or pick up even a finger’s worth of his burden. Yet he feared no toil or pain. He existed only to dispense the teachings of sweet dew. The teaching of the Great Good and Wise Advisor relieves the suffering of living beings. I opened my mouth and spoke the following lines from the
Avatamsaka Sutra that I had memorized long ago on a hot Sunday afternoon on a highway outside San Luis Obispo:
The Youth Good Wealth contemplated and reflected upon the instructions of his Good and Wise Advisor: He was like the great sea, which receives the rains from the great clouds without satiation. He had the following thought:
The Good and Wise Advisor’s teaching is like a spring sun in that it produces and makes grow the roots and sprouts of all good Dharmas;
The Good and Wise Advisor’s teaching is like a full moon, in that it refreshes and cools everything it shines on;
The Good and Wise Advisor’s teaching is like a snow mountain in summer, in that it can dispel the heat and thirst of all beasts;
The Good and Wise Advisor’s teaching is like the sun on a fragrant pool, in that it can open the lotus flower of the mind of all goodness;
The Good and Wise Advisor’s teaching is like a great jeweled continent, in that the various Dharma jewels fill his heart;
The Good and Wise Advisor’s teaching is like the Jambu tree, in that it amasses the flowers and fruits of all blessings and wisdom;
The Good and Wise advisor’s teaching is like a great dragon king, in that he playfully roams with ease and comfort in empty space;
The Good and Wise Advisor’s teaching is like Mt. Sumeru, in that limitless wholesome dharmas of the Heaven of the Thirty-three are situated in its midst;
The Good and Wise Advisor’s teaching is like Lord Shakra, who is circumambulated by his multitudes and assemblies, in that none can overshadow him, and who can subdue bizarre cults and hosts of Asura armies. In this way he reflected.
I brought the verses out from my memory effortlessly, I was too tired to think up any doubts or my usual discursive thoughts. The Venerable Abbot seemed very happy, as with a broad grin he said,
“See? Everything I teach you has its function and
its purpose. Now do you understand?”
As the bus started to roll on up the hill, he said,
“Who else wants to speak the Dharma? Don’t be lazy.
These people have spared no expense to bring you all
the way here from America. Can you just eat your
fill and wait to die? You owe them some teachings to
repay their kindness. Who will be the next Wise
Advisor? Don’t wait for me to spoon-feed you all
your life. All right, who will it be? Step up here.
Verse on Universal Worthy Bodhisattva
The realm of living beings may be exhausted, but his vows have no end.
When afflictions are severed, his practice only goes deeper.
He bows to all Buddhas in sincere reverence.
In praising the Tathagata, he greatly extends his vow.
Vastly cultivating the giving of offerings, he develops his blessings.
He repents of karmic hindrances, eradicating his offenses.
It is difficult to finish praising Universal Worthy Bodhisattva.
He compassionately reverses his ship and comes back to turn the Dharma wheel.
──by Venerable Master Hua