That amazing teaching eventually will lead to
a kind of strength to fulfill an "impossible" vow─not with arrogance
but with humility and gratitude.
When I first left home I was very arrogant about my ability to stay awake when meditating while others fell asleep. Then my retribution came, and I got so that I fell asleep as soon as I sat down. It became a big problem. In those days, we could ask the Venerable Master about all sorts of things, and because I was very concerned about my sleeping problem, I pleaded with the Venerable Master to help me with it. Of course, skill in meditation is something one has to develop oneself, and there are no magic formulas to make things easy. However, the Venerable Master employed an unusual method to aid me. It was the L.A. bus.
I had become so desperate to find some way out of my dilemma that I had even made a vow before the great assembly that I would not fall asleep during meditation. Right away a fellow-cultivator planted a doubt in my mind by saying to me and others that I should not have made a vow I could not keep. And I didn't manage to keep the vow. Because I didn't keep it, many things in my life and cultivation started to go wrong. It's hard to interpret what that means when such things happen. One starts to doubt in various ways when right in the midst of such states; but in retrospect they might just be part of a change that will lead in time to progress out of a difficult impasse.
In any case, my turn came to be sent to Los Angeles. In those days, the nuns used to take turns going to live in Gold Wheel Temple in Los Angeles. The Venerable Master went to L.A. every month, and that's when we would go down or come back. Fortunately, the month I went down it was not by car. That month our big bus drove there, and a lot of people went. I believe it was in the early 1980's, although without research I don't know the exact date; and we were staying at the third Gold Wheel which was on 6th Street in downtown L.A. When my turn was completed, I was also fortunate. I say fortunate, because I always carry a lot of things with me when I travel, so I also needed to take many things back with me. But the bus had come down again, so I thought there would be no problem.
However, on Monday morning when it was time to board the bus, the Venerable Master unexpectedly announced, in a loud and displeased voice for all to hear, that I was not allowed to get on the bus. His reason? He told me and all the people who had come to see him off, along with all the people who were going back on the bus, that the bus was not for someone as lazy as I who fell asleep as soon as she sat down! With that, the bus drove away without me, and I was left very astonished and remorseful in L.A.
Actually, it was a beautiful, sunny morning in Los Angeles, and Gold Wheel Temple was filled with joyous light and wholesome energy from the Venerable Master's visit. But I just felt deeply ashamed and repentant. I didn't even try to think of what to do. I just went into what had been my room for the past month and meditated. You can imagine I didn't fall asleep that time! I just reviewed my spinelessness and lack of resolve, and was profoundly sorry. Then after about half an hour we heard noise in the parking lot. The bus had returned and I was allowed to get on it after all! Other nuns told me later that the bus had driven off, and after awhile on the highway the Venerable Master had told the driver to turn around and go back to Gold Wheel─to get me.
I think it's hard for people who did not experience it to realize the amount of energy and resourcefulness the Venerable Master put into teaching his disciples. When I received that teaching, I was, as with many similar teachings, intensely focused on the immediate situation.
But looking back I can see the Venerable Master's incredible compassion and how much he helped me get through a very difficult period─by having a bus travel so far with all those people and then come back, pushing me to the brink of remorse, and then giving me the joy of being forgiven and the underlying assurance that the Venerable Master cared that much about whether I cultivated or not. He had responded to my repeated pleas for help in a most dramatic way, with a lesson that went very deep. How much others might have learned from it as well is also hard to estimate, but certainly must have been part of the teaching.
I'm slow, and it will probably be a long time before I never fall asleep in meditation. But I did improve after that amazing teaching. And remembering it now, I feel that there must have been something planted by it which may take a lot of time to grow, but which eventually will lead to a kind of strength to fulfill an "impossible" vow─not with arrogance but with humility and gratitude.
All Buddhas are like empty space,
Ultimately and eternally pure.
By always remembering to bring forth happiness,
All of one's vows are completed.
Flower Adornment Sutra, Chapter Nine, Light Enlightenment