The Master said,
The most important thing in cultivation is
to benefit living beings.
That exemplifies what the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas has always been about. Ever since its establishment in 1976, the spirit of the City has been to benefit living beings.
When we first came here, we didn’t even have clothespins to hang up our clothes in the monastery. Everything was very basic. The food, clothing, bedding, and everything was much more basic then than it is now. The Master used this as a method to teach all of us who came and studied with him. It didn’t matter what we had; we all worked hard. There was a certain spirit－cama¬raderie－among the people who were cultivating and trying to follow the Master’s example. One of the points he taught us was that
In benefiting living beings
we should learn as much as we can.
The Avatamsaka Sutra talks about how a Bodhisattva can do just about anything, from being a very skilled and wise teacher who can lecture Sutras to being a carpenter, a sculptor, a farmer, and so on. A Bodhisattva knows all these skills. Why? Because he has to teach all different kinds of living beings.
The Master also emphasized education. All of us took part in learning many things. We didn’t specialize in one thing. The Master taught us to learn everything we could. He taught each person according to their propensities－according to what they were best at. When it came time for recitation and meditation sessions, because everyone was working together and working vigorously, the attitude carried on to the sessions. Months before we would have a session, we would be arranging our schedules so that we could attend it as much as possible.
In the past we used to have Chan sessions at least three or four times a year, and they would last three, five, six weeks...up to 108 days. Everyone was always very excited to have the opportunity to cultivate this dharma. It was almost like a vacation from all the work. Why would you think suffering from 2:30 in the morning till 12 midnight would be a vacation? It’s because we really worked hard, and this was a chance to single-mindedly practice one Dharma-door.
During a session, all you have to do is follow the schedule. The session is such that you will gain a lot of benefit just by following the schedule. People who live in the monastery or the Joyous Giving House (nuns’ quarters) are required to come to the lectures every evening. You can’t run off to sleep or visit friends or chat or whatever. You have to come to the lectures. The lectures are the bread and butter－the food. If you live at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas and you don’t come to lectures, other people will say, “Well, this person doesn’t go to lectures, so I don’t have to go either. I can rest in my room or go talk to people.” You’re not only being lazy yourself, but you’re creating an offense by influencing other people not to attend.
The Master’s lectures－even though they were spoken twenty, fifteen, or ten years ago－are very pertinent to our life right now. Just because it’s a taped lecture doesn’t mean it’s not equally as important. I remember one time at Gold Summit Monastery, we were all listening to his taped lecture and he came to visit. He walked downstairs and sat in the Buddha Hall, and he used his hand to bless everybody. The way I took it was: This is what he does whether he’s there in the flesh or not. He told us that time: “If you attend my (taped) lectures, then I’ll try my best to benefit you.” The way I understand it is, it doesn’t matter whether or not he is physically present at the lecture; he’s still there, and he’s still helping us.
Once a laywoman said after attending a session: “Well, nothing special happened to me.
I asked her, “Well, did you get angry?”
She said, “No.”
“Did you feel bad in any way?”
She said, “No.”
“Well, that’s already a really good thing.” Think of all the people in the world, especially in the West, who pay thousands of dollars to doctors just so they can feel good for a little while. Being peaceful and happy is already a big benefit.
During the sessions, we go to the Buddha Hall for morning recitation at four o’clock in the morning and stay in the Buddha Hall cultivating all day long until the end of the Great Transference at nine-thirty at night. The only time we leave the hall is during lunchtime.
The style of the recitation session is quite simple－usually we use only one slow tune and one fast tune. When we recite one way the whole time, we can actually hear the Buddha’s name recited even when we are not reciting.
I remember once during a Guanyin Session in the summertime, there were fans in the Buddha Hall, and after a few days of reciting, people were hearing Guanyin’s name coming out of the fans. When you’re quiet or even when you go to sleep, you can also hear the Buddha’s name, because you keep repeating the sound over and over throughout the day.
The Master emphasized that reciting the Buddha’s name is something everyone can practice. He would have heaters in the Buddha Hall so the old people wouldn’t be cold. Young people don’t mind the cold, but old people are very bothered if they are cold or they can’t relax as they are reciting the Buddha’s name.
The method that the Venerable Master taught us was to recite half an hour walking, recite half an hour sitting, and recite half an hour in silence. That gives people a lot of time to concentrate and to meditate.