If anybody had said to me eleven years ago that I would be called away to a city some 1000 miles away, I would not have believed it. Being away from the nest of my family, let alone living on my own, was not even in my imagination at that time.
That time was 1984. I was just another ignorant person occupied with studying at a college in Pomona, California, to get ready to earn money. That was the normal path that everybody around me seemed to be striving for, I guess.
Being an introvert, I was inept at making friends in college, and had just enough ability to keep up and complete the engineering studies. The final hurdle was to
“pass” the job interviews. So it was a complete surprise for me and for my family members when a job offer, the one and only one, came from a company in Seattle. After letting the happy news sit for a while, my father felt comfortable to let me go, with an understanding that I would come back with a couple of years of experience. My mother was to go with me and help me settle in a foreign city. (In the back of my mind, I had a suspicion that there must be another purpose in my going to Seattle, since it was unusual for a person like me to leave my family.)
About two years passed, and I started to look for a job back in Los Angeles where my family lived, but without success. Almost three years later, in 1987, a religious proselytizer came knocking at my apartment door. After he left, I started to wonder about myself: I considered myself a Buddhist, and yet I did not know about Buddhism. With that thought I started to investigate the depths of Buddhism.
I was born in Burma (Myanmar), a country rich in Buddhist faith, as seen in many stupas and pagodas. I remember going to pagodas and paying respect to the Buddha; I remember offering food to the monks when they solemnly came up in front of my family residence. So ignorant was I that I had never had enough curiosity to look into the deep meaning of the root of suffering and the working of Cause and Effect.
My Bodhi seed aroused (fourteen years after I left Myanmar), I made a wish to look for a Buddhist temple that I could attend. One Saturday I saw a religious note in a newspaper. There was in small print an announcement for the Ten Thousand Buddhas Repentance ceremony at Gold Summit Monastery. The next day I went and visited the place.
I found books and Sutras in English at the monastery. When I started reading Three Steps, One Bow, I found myself constantly thinking about it, even when walking from my car to my office and from morning to night. That account of true practice caused me to see through the clouds of delusion and inspired me to study further. I am grateful that I had a chance to listen to the taped lectures of the Venerable Master on the
Sixth Patriarch Sutra and the Shurangama Sutra. It is said
“It is difficult to encounter the Buddhist Sutras.”
In the English class at Gold Summit Monastery,
Three Steps, One Bow and later Herein Lies the Treasure-Trove, a collection of Venerable Master Hsuan Hua’s instructional talks, were used as reading textbooks. Each person would take turn reading a paragraph; the contents were then discussed in terms of English usage as well as Buddhist context. There was always something in the passages that kept the class alive and charged. To me it was like an introduction to Buddhism.
The more I studied and contemplated on the principles in the Sutras, the more I became aware of the law of Cause and Effect. I became a vegetarian and took refuge with the Triple Jewel in October 1988. Three of my sisters and my mother also became vegetarians, and we all became Master’s disciples.
Along with fellow Dharma friends from the monastery, we would take trips to Vancouver, Canada, to listen to Venerable Master lectures. The Venerable Master’s kindness and compassion extends even to the smallest matter. I remember one time I took a friend to go to a lecture at the University of British Columbia. I went along with her to see her friend. After a long visit and finding our way on unfamiliar streets, we arrived late at the lecture hall. We took our seats. Determined to capture the words of Dharma, I hurried to record the lecture. As I fumbled to insert a tape in my cassette tape recorder, suddenly as if on cue, the lecture stopped. The speaker, a Dharma Master sitting next to Venerable Master, stopped abruptly. In those several seconds that I was awkwardly setting up the recorder, everything was quiet and no one spoke, except my friend next to me, who said,
“They’re waiting for you.” After I inserted the tape and was ready to record, the speaker resumed talking as if on cue. Thus was Venerable Master’s wordless teaching of the paramita of Kindness.
Venerable Master’s lectures were always vigorous. He spoke with full concentration and energy, and one could not fail to pay attention. During one of my visits to my family, one of my younger sisters played a video tape of Venerable Master in Malaysia lecturing on the Great Compassion Mantra. She decided to light incense at the altar next to the television. As the incense burned, from the beginning of the lecture, the ash from the incense stayed unbroken, bending toward the video being played. We watched as it slowly came down; the unbroken incense ash continued bending until, at the end of the lecture and at the bottom end of the incense, it kept its straight-line formation, making a 90-degree angle from the leg of the incense. That lasted for about thirty minutes. It was like a confirmation of the Master’s unbroken, constant concentration and single-minded effort in his speaking of Dharma.
The Master has taught, “If you concentrate, it is efficacious. If you get scattered, the effort is lost.”
“’Everything is made from the mind.” In Herein Lies the Treasure Trove, the Master said about a ingle thought’:
“Good and evil are each contained in a single
thought. I often say people’s minds are like motes
of dust, knocked around in space. Suddenly you’re in
the heavens, then suddenly among the animals, hungry
ghosts, or in the hells. There’s no end to the
bitter sea of suffering, so hurry up and come back
to the other shore. There’s nothing esoteric about
it. It’s simply a matter of getting rid of your bad
habits and faults.”
How straightforward is this advice and yet how difficult to practice under innumerable circumstances! However, I will do my best in this aspect and be mindful of my three karmic actions of body, mouth, and mind to bring harmony and benefit to others. May all beings joyously receive the Dharma. Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu!