When President Bush began his second term in January 1989, he invited the Venerable Master Hua, the first eminent Chinese monk to come to America to spread the Buddha’s teachings, to attend his inauguration, thus showing his respect for Buddhism. That was the Venerable Master’s first visit to the nation’s capital.
When the Master arrived in Washington, D.C., he requested to stay in a Buddhist temple instead of in the hotel arranged for the guests. However, there was no Buddhist temple in Washington, D.C. at the time. There was only the small house of the Buddhist Association, which could accommodate a couple of people overnight. Not disdaining the simple accommodations, the Master stayed at the Buddhist Association and kindly delivered a talk to the local Buddhists that day.
A layman named Guojin Yeh and his family were extremely sincere Buddhists who had long admired the Venerable Master. When Upasaka Yeh heard the Master was coming to Washington, D.C., he couldn’t wait to meet him. Yet he had to wait until the following day before someone could drive him over to meet the Master. Upasaka Yeh relates that he felt like he was sitting on pins and needles that night. He was so excited that he couldn’t fall sleep; he could only wait for the day to break, so that he could meet and bow to this great Buddhist teacher whom he had admired for so long. During his visit with the Master, he sincerely requested the Master to start a Buddhist temple in the Washington, D.C. area in order to propagate the Dharma and give the local followers a fuller understanding of Buddhism. Since the Master felt that conditions with Buddhism were not deep there, that there were few followers, and that his numerous other temples already needed him to visit often and give talks and expound Sutras, he did not grant the request.
In March 1989, the Master was invited to go to Philadelphia to propagate Buddhism. At that time, the Washington, D.C. Buddhist Association invited him again, so he visited the capital, held Dharma assemblies, and expounded the Dharma for the benefit of living beings.
In June 1990, the Master responded to an invitation from devotees in New York and went to New York City, the largest city on the East Coast, to hold Dharma assemblies and expound the Great Vehicle Dharma to benefit beings. At the invitation of Buddhists in Washington, D.C., he hosted a Dharma assembly at the University of Maryland and lectured on Mahayana Buddhism. With his expedient and skillful teachings, the Master pointed out a bright path to confused living beings. At that time, some of the Washington Buddhists again requested the Master to start a temple in the Washington area.
Upasaka Yeh had lived in Washington, D.C. for many years and was convinced that Washington needed a Buddhist temple. Therefore he went time and again to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in California to beseech the Master to grant his request. On his third visit to the City, the Master, moved by Mr. Yeh’s sincerity, promised to establish a temple in Washington, D.C. so the Buddhists there could study and practice the Dharma.
After searching many times for a suitable place, the Master, in the latter half of 1990, decided to buy a house on the bank of the Potomac River in Maryland, which he named the Avatamsaka Hermitage. The house, nestled in the woods of Potomac (a suburb of Washington, D.C.), surrounded by hills and overlooking a creek, was a peaceful place perfect for cultivation. The second story of the main house of three stories was renovated into a Buddha hall and a library. To its left is another house, which has been converted into a three-story Buddha hall over four thousand square feet in area. The large Buddha hall on the second floor can hold over 150 people for Dharma assemblies. The third floor is for meditation and quiet cultivation, and the first floor, whose renovation has not yet been completed, serves temporarily as a resting and work area.
When the temple was first bought, the Master sent some disciples to practice in seclusion and do some renovation work. In April 1992, the Master accepted President Bush’s invitation to an annual dinner at the White House. After attending the dinner with his disciples, the Master held a Dharma assembly and delivered Dharma lectures at the Washington, D.C. Buddhist Association. He also visited the Avatamsaka Hermitage and held a formal ceremony to dedicate the temple. From that time on, people began coming to the temple to cultivate.
On the first Sunday of May this year (1996), the large Buddha hall was used for the first time for a public Dharma assembly. More and more people have been coming to worship and bow to the Buddhas. It was truly kind of the Master to set up such a wonderful Buddhist temple for his disciples and followers in Washington, D.C.
It is worth mentioning that, from what I have heard, although the laypeople showed the Master several places that were spacious, conveniently located, and easily accessible to the public, the Master did not agree to them. Yet as soon as he saw the present location of the Hermitage, he immediately agreed to buy it and did not mind the high price of one million dollars. Later the laypeople figured that one of the reasons the Master chose this place was that over a hundred years ago, when the white men were killing the American Indians and chasing them out of their own territories, the Indians retreated to this final refuge and lost their lives here in the end. The Master must have bought this place in order to help the many resentful spirits that were still around.