When we set eyes upon him, our hearts palpitate in fear.
And all our bad habits and faults flee.
If we don’t cultivate diligently,
Then the karma of many past eons will manifest
And it will be difficult to enter the Way.
Becoming a Buddha is the most difficult of difficult things.
The teacher leads us in the door,
But we ourselves must cultivate.
It’s through our own mind that we become Buddhas
It’s also because of our mind that we fall.
The myriad dharmas are made from the mind.
I remember when I went to the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas for the first time in May of 1987 (that was my first contact with Buddhism and the first time I saw the Venerable Master), the instant my eyes met the gaze of the Venerable Master, I felt as if my heart had been dealt a heavy blow. I was both startled and frightened. It was as if all the mistakes and wrong deeds I had done in the past were presented before the Venerable Master. I didn’t have any chance to hide. All of my personal habits and faults sprang forth from my body in a rush. When I got home, of my own initiative I told my wife that I would never drink alcoholic beverages again. Given my fondness for drinking and my habit of wine-tasting, which I would never have given up before, I couldn’t imagine why such a change had taken place in me.
Later on, I had opportunities to draw near the Venerable Master and receive the Master’s teachings. It was then that I began to perceive that the Venerable Master’s awesome virtue exhausted the bounds of empty space and pervaded the Dharma Realm. When ordinary people face the Venerable Master’s gaze, it is like facing a demon-spotting mirror. We lack proper views and proper knowledge and do not know the direction of the proper path. Whether we are moving or still, sleeping or awake, interacting with people or handling affairs, we are never apart from our bad habits and faults. The Venerable Master points out each of our problems, constantly telling and reminding us. I recall the Venerable Master often saying,
“Why are some people afraid of me? Because they have
ghosts in their hearts. Since they themselves are
ashamed, they are afraid of me.”
Temper is like Mount Sumeru.
Attachment to self is an impediment to the Way.
If these things are discarded
So that they vanish into thin air,
Then as easily as opening a door,
one sees the Western land.
In one step, one enters the Buddha country.
A bad temper causes people to give rise to afflictions. Before I met the Venerable Master, my temper was as high and as great as Mount Sumeru. I would lose my temper over a trifling matter.
The first time I went to the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas to attend the Dharma session, I remember that after lunch and after the refuge ceremony, the Venerable Master would sit in the Buddhahall and allow people to bow and make offerings to him, gathering in people in this way. Because I didn’t understand anything at the time, I thought to myself,
“Why is everyone bowing to the Venerable Master?” I reluctantly knelt in front of the Master and said,
“I have a very bad temper. How can I change?” The Venerable Master’s reaction was to shake his head and say,
“Have no temper.” Not understanding the meaning of the Master’s reply, I stupidly knelt in front of him for several more minutes before leaving. After I got home, I discussed it with my wife. My wife said that the Venerable Master’s meaning was,
“You should not lose your temper no matter what.” At the time I said,
“How could that be possible?”
However, now I want to say that I will try my very best to do this. Why? Because afflictions are just Bodhi. Stupidity represents darkness and wisdom represents light. The Venerable Master symbolizes light. He leads everyone to leave darkness behind and to walk towards the light. That’s why he is always reminding everyone not to lose his or her temper.
If one cannot get rid of the five desires,
Then the six sense faculties, six sense objects,
and six consciousnesses appear.
With false thoughts and attachments,
One is made stupid and cannot see the nature.
If one can cast off attachments,
Then one will be at ease.
If one wishes to go to the Land of Ultimate Bliss,
What need is there to worry that one cannot reach it?
Before I became a Buddhist, I was a music lover. During high school and college, I liked to play music, and my favorite kind of music was rock-n-roll (demonic music). I especially enjoyed playing the guitar. Even after I took refuge with the Venerable Master, I couldn’t give up the guitar─I would still play it occasionally.
I remember once, the night before we were going to the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas
to participate in a Dharma session, after I had
finished evening recitation, I had an urge to play
the guitar. Just as I was intoxicated by the
guitar’s music, my wife reminded me, “We’ve already taken refuge with the Venerable Master. You should concentrate on cultivation and not be playing the guitar.” At the time I felt as indignant and angry as a little kid who is playing with his favorite toy when it is suddenly confiscated by an adult. So I flung the guitar at the dresser and retorted angrily,
“I won’t play it anymore in the future. If it gets broken, I won’t be able to play it anyway.” I had completely lost my sense of reason.
The next day we went to take part in the Dharma session at the Sagely City. Before the noon meal, I went into the dining hall to check the sound system as usual. Suddenly the Venerable Master appeared in front of me and said to me with a kind smile,
“Sam Jing, please help me carry something.” I very reverently followed the Master to a small room in the back of the dining hall. The Master opened up a cabinet and said,
“This is it.” I was shocked to see a guitar lying in the cabinet. I was scared out of my wits, to put it mildly. The Venerable Master said,
“A certain Dharma Master used to be very attached to his guitar, so five years ago I took it away from him. Now he understands the principles, so I am going to return it to him. He can use it in activities that are beneficial to students.
This incident shows that the Venerable Master’s Dharma body is constantly with us. Every time we make a mistake, the Venerable Master sees it clearly down to the last detail. In the course of cultivation, the Venerable Master also uses different methods to instruct and teach his disciples according to their individual dispositions. He wants us to see through and renounce the five desires and not let ourselves be turned by the six sense faculties, six sense objects, and six consciousnesses anymore. If we can successfully put them down and not cling to them, then we will be at ease and free of impediments. According to our vows, in no time we will certainly be born in the Pure Land.
Arrogance and self-conceit
Are absolute taboos in cultivation.
They cause you to cut off your own good roots
And refuse to listen to good advice from others.
You will not be able to develop proper views,
Nor enter the proper path.
Such cultivators will certainly end up
Next door to the demons.
Once when the Venerable Master was instructing us, he described people with big egos as being
“stinky” [in Chinese, the character for “stinky” is composed of the characters for
“self” and “big”] and therefore repulsive to others. On the other hand, the Buddha’s kindness and compassion makes everyone want to draw near him. In the course of cultivation, an inflated ego and self-conceit are the greatest impediments to practicing the Way.
Before I took refuge in 1987, I remember saying to my mother-in-law at home,
“I don’t think there’s any need for me to kneel in front of anyone else. I don’t even kneel in front of my parents, so why should I bow to the Venerable Master?” That Sunday, the Venerable Master gave a Dharma talk at Mission College. After the talk was over, everyone was bowing to the Venerable Master, and I was deliberating over whether I should go bow or not. Finally, there seemed to be an invisible force pushing me forward, making me bow before the Master. The Venerable Master said,
“You’re such a tall guy. Aren’t you afraid you’ll lose face by bowing to me?” I was shocked, thinking,
“How did the Master know what I had said at home?” Later I analyzed the matter and realized that my unwillingness to kneel and bow was due to my arrogant character. Because the Venerable Master immediately instructed, taught, and subdued me, pulling me out of my deluded, ignorant world and setting me on the proper path, I am where I am today. If I had been unable to accept his teaching, I would have continued living with my mistaken notions without ever getting an opportunity to walk on the proper path of cultivation.
I also remember that during the year of 1988, the Venerable Master would sit on the sofa in front of the Buddhahall every Saturday afternoon at Gold Mountain Monastery. On those occasions I had the opportunity to draw near to the Venerable Master and converse with him a little bit. I was rather naive, thinking that I had read the Venerable Master’s books and gained some insight from them. I had gotten rid of some of my vices─drinking, meat-eating, and gambling─and smugly thought I was quite pure. So once I asked for instruction from the Venerable Master, saying,
“I don’t have enough samadhi power.” The Master shook his head and put me off neither gently nor harshly, saying,
“You’re not ready to talk about samadhi yet.” It’s true, I’m not ready to talk about samadhi, because I haven’t been able to maintain the precepts strictly yet. So of course I’m not ready to talk about samadhi. From the Venerable Master’s instruction, I realized that I still had a lot to learn! The only way to learn would be to seek instruction humbly. With self-conceit and arrogance, one is like the shallow and short-sighted frog at the bottom of a well.
I also remember when I accompanied the Venerable Master to Hualien, Taiwan, to propagate the Dharma in 1989. Before we went to visit the Mercy Salvation Hospital, the Venerable Master repeatedly reminded the laypeople that we should be respectful to Dharma Master Cheng Yen and not be proud or arrogant. The Venerable Master was always reminding us of the importance of not being arrogant. Also, in 1988 when I followed the Master to propagate the Dharma at Wonderful Dharma Monastery in Taoyuan, because there were many visitors I had to go into the Master’s room to report to him many times. Every day I was scolded by the Master, but I knew the Master was only testing me and driving away my arrogance and conceit. These valuable experiences have told me that if a person cannot be humble and lower himself, he will not be able to accomplish his work in the Way. If a person is self-conceited, then even if he were to master the classics and Sutras, he would still end up in the retinue of demons after all his cultivation.
I was in worry and difficulty.
At a loss for what to do.
My teacher helped me without my knowing,
Bathing me with his kindness.
Only after a long time
Did I learn that this was my teacher’s doing.
In gratitude to my teacher’s grace,
I resolve to follow his teachings.
After graduating from graduate school, I got a job as an engineer in an electronics company. Before I encountered the Venerable Master’s teaching, I didn’t understand any principles and didn’t know how to be a proper human being. I created many bad conditions with people and constantly lived amidst the afflictions of self and others, rights and wrongs, without being able to pull myself out. After I took refuge with the Venerable Master, I still had some afflictions. My supervisor in the company where I worked often gave me difficult problems to deal with, and that caused me to think of leaving the company. However, the job application letters that I mailed out over several months’ time seemed to have sunk to the bottom of the sea like stones. At the same time, the company was trying to cut down its staff. Under this double-sided pressure, I felt extremely miserable. One Saturday I went to Gold Mountain Monastery and requested to see the Venerable Master. When I told the Venerable Master my situation, he said,
“Keep trying.” The following week, I had three interviews and three job offers. I immediately went to Gold Mountain Monastery to bow to and thank the Venerable Master. The Master said,
“No need to thank me.” I know one thing: As long as a disciple has faith in the Venerable Master, when he is in difficulty, in a single thought the Venerable Master will invisibly come to his aid, and after the matter he will not acknowledge that he did anything, either.
Six years afterwards, I started my own business. Actually, it was under the Venerable Master’s guidance that the conditions for starting a business ripened. When the International Translation Institute first moved to Burlingame, the Venerable Master said that some furniture would be needed and that if the opportunity arose, we should purchase some for future use. So I kept my eyes open for auctions. In purchasing furniture, I discovered some equipment related to my work, so I could enter that line of business.
When I was an engineer, I often wished I could have a job that would support my family so I’d have more time to work for the Way-place. The Venerable Master knew about my wish and guided me onto that path, allowing me to fulfill my wish.
It was only after I had my business that I realized all this was made possible by the Venerable Master’s step-by-step guidance. I will forever remember the kindness the Venerable Master has bestowed upon me. I venerate the Venerable Master with all my heart.
Now that the Venerable Master has completed the stillness, we should more than ever, with the attitude of
“taking the precepts as our teacher,” respectfully practice the Six Great Principles. Let everyone unite under the Venerable Master’s spiritual inspiration to make the holy teaching flourish again.