In the Golden Age of Buddhism in China, there was a network of Buddhist monasteries through that vast land. Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings flourished and the Patriarchs of China systematized them into schools of practice. During that long span of Buddhism’s rise and flourishing, China was rich in the Dharma and the entire country benefited from the presence of the large community of Buddhists who, by actively applying the principles of Buddhism to their lives, served as a protection and support for their nation and the entire world.
In l962, when the Venerable Master entered the United States for the first time, Buddhism’s monastic tradition was virtually unknown to Americans and there were no Buddhist facilities appropriate for housing the Buddhist Sangha and pure laity in the West at that time.
Today, in l996, thirty-four years later, there exists a network of Buddhist monasteries throughout the United States and Canada that links with monasteries in Southeast Asia to form a vast monastic complex spanning East and West. The Venerable Master is the single, vital, moving force that brought this monastic structure into being and nurtured it so that it could stand strong without reliance when the time came for him to loose his supportive hold.
Last year, the Master let go, and all over the world, beings mourn. The grief, held deep inside and carried quietly, is a common bond shared by all who knew him. And all of us who knew him intend to spread his teachings and carry on his work—filling those pure monastic facilities with ceaseless sounds of Dharma; with training centers for those just beginning to study; with pure Sanghans and laity who are dedicated to maintaining the daily schedule of study and practice so carefully given us by the Master; with communities of Buddhists who understand how to make offerings in a way that simultaneously supports and protects the purity of the Sangha community; with homes for the aged where their years are venerated and the fruits of their experiences valued and respected; and with schools to educate the young and give them a foundation in morality and humaneness so they can become beneficent leaders of the future.
Twenty years ago, a group of Buddhists in Los Angeles was inspired to look for a facility that could serve as a Way-place, so that they could invite the Master and his Sangha to Southern California to propagate the Dharma and cultivate the Way there. They found a place and the Master gave it the name Gold Wheel. The Master began to travel to Gold Wheel Monastery regularly. His tasks there were many. First, he continued his fundamental universal teaching of getting people to recognize and confront their faults and afflictions and then getting them to accept and use methods for changing those faults and renouncing those afflictions. After stopping evil, he taught them to do good. The Master tirelessly trained this growing group of laity in the behavior appropriate for protectors of the Proper Dharma, while at the same time ever-reminding his left-home disciples of their behavior as members of the Orthodox Sangha. Also, he secured the boundaries and protected the earth, for the Los Angeles area—the entire West Coast in fact—was constantly receiving predictions of earthquakes, not to mention all the other natural disasters and man-made calamities that occurred non-stop. How skillful and all-encompassing the Master’s expedients were in seeing to the success of all these things!
For instance, on May 7, l977, the second Three Steps One Bow pilgrimage was launched from that first Gold Wheel. In the great scheme of things, it was undoubtedly no accident that the Master’s Bhikshu disciples bowed once every three steps up the West Coast—spanning the distance from Los Angeles near the Mexican border to Mount Baker near the Canadian border. It was also surely no coincidence that the time frame of the first bowing pilgrimage included that gripping moment when a stray comet was discovered to be hurtling straight for our earth, followed by the sweet relief when it missed up by cosmic inches. When it was all over and nothing had happened, the Master led us in Praying for Peace in Seattle.
Nor could it have been chance that the second pilgrimage began shortly after we prayed for rain in Golden Gate Park. Those bowing monks, who headed north from Gold Wheel’s Bodhimanda, venerating the Avatamsaka Sutra with every step, passed through drought-stricken Southern California where the earth was so barren and brittle that the top crust would crumble underfoot to send one plunging into empty pockets of illusory dust. As the monks repeatedly chanted “Homage to the Great Flower Adornment Sutra,” the sweet dew of Dharma, welling forth from the Perfect Teaching, moistened the sterile valleys and brought relief to the starving and thirsty.
And every step of the way, the laity of Los Angeles protected and supported. How many times did they drive long, hot hours to bring offerings to the monks and to join them in bowing? The Master guided both the monks and the protectors, teaching them each their proper roles. The lay community grew and the second Gold Wheel was bigger. The Master continued his work of securing the boundaries and protecting the earth by lecturing the entire Earth Store Sutra during his monthly visits to Los Angeles.
Always careful to conserve, the Master often chose to be driven to Los Angeles rather than to fly there. Whoever accompanied the Master in the car had to be prepared to 1) give impromptu lectures on any topic the Master might introduce; 2) recite from memory and explain any one or several of the infinite Buddhist lists chosen at random by the Master; 3) recite passages of the Shurangama Sutra or the entire Shurangama Mantra from memory; and 4) never, ever fall asleep from the moment the car started until the moment it arrived. After several hours of riding in the car, the Master would usually arrive at Gold Wheel in the late evening. Clusters of disciples would be there to greet him, no matter how late it was. Surrounded by the Los Angeles gathering of disciples, who, so delighted to see him after a month’s interval, couldn’t resist asking their questions and telling their troubles to him right then and there, the Master would patiently listen, thoughtfully answer, and entertain them until they were filled with the joy of Dharma—far into the wee hours of the night.
The community of lay disciples in L.A. kept growing and the third Gold Wheel was even bigger. While it was under renovation, Guanyin Bodhisattva appeared in the sky one afternoon, astride that watery, fish-dragon creature of hers. The skeptical may demand: “Who said it was Guanyin?” Well, some of the toughest, most hard-to-fool guys in the world said so. Guo Rui and his men—the ones who were part of the gang that shot up San Francisco Chinatown’s Golden Dragon Restaurant—said so. They were renovating Gold Wheel on that day and when she appeared, they stood outside the monastery staring up at her there in the clouds, with their mouths open in awe. They saw her with their own eyes. Even Dr. Woo, driving home from a long day of treating the sick saw “something strange” in the sky that evening—right at the spot where she appeared. And I, who was at the second Gold Wheel at the time, heard their eye-witness accounts moments after she finally withdrew.
When the Master sent a huge white jade Shakyamuni Buddha to preside as host at the third Gold Wheel, the group of male disciples who volunteered to transport the several-ton image found their task nearly impossible. The graceful image was so heavy they could hardly budge it. As they heaved and hoed the last few feet and then, with a valiant final effort, set the image on its altar—at that very instant, the heavenly dragons let loose an earth-shaking thunderclap that shook the entire Monastery. I was there and witnessed that spectacular certification. What a grand finale!
Always, the Master worked on to insure that peace prevailed in the South. In April of l978 the Master hosted a three-day Medicine Master Repentance Dharma Assembly—a first in the U.S. His verse manages to capture in a few words all I have struggled to describe above and breathes whispers of things that hadn’t even happened yet.
Medicine Master’s Dharma meeting ushers in good luck.
The City of Los Angeles avoids calamities.
Good and faithful donors alike are vigorous.
Human and divine protectors are busy, busy all.
Sincerity brings responses of more blessings and long life.
Joy and giving, kindness, compassion insure a peace to come.
Shocking heaven and shaking earth like springtime thunderclaps,
The resounding drums and ringing bells alter the ten directions.