The Master constantly manifested the heroic deportment of a monk,
speaking Dharma and explaining Sutras every day without fail,
thus giving people a chance to appreciate the true value of the Buddhadharma.
I took refuge with the Venerable Master thirteen years ago. I have always felt the boundlessness of the Buddhadharma and the difficulty of repaying the Master's kindness. Twelve years ago, in order to draw near the Master, I gave up everything I had in Taiwan and came to a totally unfamiliar environment. Starting out as an errand boy and dishwasher in a restaurant, I later became the manager. After I passed the exam and became a licensed engineer, I helped the Master construct the Buddha hall at Long Beach Monastery. Although the pressures of making a living and the torment of being a minority in the United States are sometimes unbearable, I have never slacked off in pursuing the study of Buddhism and in striving to attain peace of mind and body. I have recorded the following true events, which occurred in the past thirteen years, for the enjoyment of my fellow cultivators.
I. A Strange Dream: One autumn night in 1980, I was at my home in Taipei, Taiwan. That day I had been to a party with friends, and I felt nervous and ill at ease without knowing why. It was almost midnight when I returned home. After I had taken a shower, I lit incense and bowed three times to the Buddha. My watch said it was exactly twelve midnight. I went to bed immediately. Although I still felt uneasy, I was exhausted from the day's socializing and soon fell asleep...
Suddenly I saw myself walking through a public cementery at the foot of Mount Song (Songshan). It was already dark, and I was wandering blindly among the graves. I stopped before a tombstone and read a terrible couplet engraved on it: "Whoever sees this tombstone shall die; the Ghost of Impermanence will come for him tonight!" After reading the first line, I ran in terror. I ran all the way to my parents' old home . I went upstairs to the Buddha hall and saw my parents preparing to do their recitation. I quickly told them what had happened and asked them to recite the holy name of Guanyin Bodhisattva to prevent the Ghost of Impermanence from coming to get me. My parents were very distressed by the news. They hurriedly put on their black Dharma robes and recited "Greatly Compassionate Guanyin Bodhisattva" loudly. I knelt in the middle of the Buddha hall and recited sincerely; my father stood on my left holding the handbell, and my mother stood on my right playing the wooden fish. We all recited vigorously in unison with the bell and fish.
Suddenly I saw two detestable ghosts of impermanence appear above me and come toward me, each holding an iron chain. When they came near enough, they slipped the chains over my head and pulled upwards with force. All of a sudden I could hardly breathe. I desperately kept reciting the Buddha's name in my mind. I didn't have the strength to keep looking at my parents, who were staring wide-eyed as the two ghosts dragged me off. They were too startled to do anything, especially my mother, who started crying.
As the two ghosts dragged me out of the Buddha hall, the last thing I saw was Guanshiyin Bodhisattva's image. After that I was in a pitch black world; I couldn't even see the fingers of my extended hand. My eyes, nose, tongue, and body ceased to feel anything. My ears could only hear the whooshing sound as my body passed through the darkness. I had no idea of time. All I could perceive was darkness, fear, and the sensation of falling.
Suddenly I saw an extremely cute child around one and a half years old. I have always loved children, and I was delighted as I watched him waddle laboriously toward the street. When he reached the curbside, he suddenly tripped and was about to hit his head on the concrete curb. I immediately stretched out my hand to cushion the child's head from the fall. I remember his head feeling warm and very soft as it fell on my hand. At that instant, the pitch darkness turned back into the ordinary colorful world. I felt a sense of warmth and great comfort.
I saw a monk ( I didn't recognize him as the Venerable Master then) before me. He was very tall, slightly hunched over, and holding a walking cane with both hands. Standing in the middle of the street wearing a long monk's robe, he looked extremely compassionate and yet stern and dignified as he gazed at the two ghosts and at me. The two ghosts, upon seeing the Master, had immediately assumed a humble appearance; their bodies regained color, and they seemed much friendlier.
The Master tapped his cane on the ground and said, "This is the end of the Eastern Mountain and the beginning of the Western Mountain. You may not pass beyond here." In my half-asleep state, I thought he was the local deity giving directions to us. I didn't even know enough to bow to the Master. I asked the Master, "How can I go back? I don't have any shoes." The Master smiled but didn't say anything. One of the ghosts said, "I can carry you on my back." Then, without waiting for a reply, he hoisted me onto his back. While straddling the ghost, I felt extremely buoyant and quite happy. We flew back to my old home in a moment; the whole journey was filled with light and peace.
As soon as we passed through the roof and entered my house, I saw an image of the great, compassionate, and splendid-looking Guanyin
Bodhisattva hanging on the wall of the living room. I broke
down crying, rejoicing at being able to return to life.
While crying, I woke up from the dream. My whole body was
drenched with perspiration, and my heart was beating fast. I
felt as if my soul had just returned. It was two o'clock in
the morning. In two short hours, I had made a trip to the
realm of the ghosts. If the Master hadn't saved me, my soul
would have gone over to the Western Mountain. I knew that
the monk who saved me in my dream was not the Dharma Master
I had taken refuge with. And so I began searching for this
monk on the one hand and reciting the Buddha's name on the
other, praying for the Bodhisattvas to help me find him.
II. Meeting the Master : There is a thin book of several dozen pages entitled The Life of Chan Master To Lun, which is written in classical Chinese and records some miracles that happened when the Master was in Hong Kong. I was greatly moved when I read it.
In March 1981 someone read a book called The Tolling of the Bell at Midnight. It relates in great detail how Chan Master To Lun established the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in California, and how foxes and bats took refuge with him. At that time I thought this was probably the Master I was searching for. Starting then, we bowed not only to the Triple Jewel, but also toward the West, praying that the Elder Dharma Master was healthy and that he would soon come to Taiwan to spread the Dharma.
In early October of 1981, a Dharma friend told me the good news: "Dharma Master To Lun is coming to Taiwan to attend the World Sangha Conference." Everyone was very excited, especially me. When a friend suggested that I organize a car escort to pick up and transport the members of Dharma Master To Lun's delegation, I was both delighted and apprehensive-- delighted because I would be able to personally drive the Master, and apprehensive that I might make a mistake and be rude to the Master.
Every day of waiting for the Master to arrive seemed like a year. On December 1, 1981, several hundred people went early to the Chiang Kai-shek Airport to welcome the Master. We prepared a yellow banner with golden words saying, "We Respectfully Welcome Dharma Master To Lun's Visiting Delegation to Taiwan" Half an hour later, the Master and twelve Chinese and Western disciples arrived at the main lobby, where everyone was kneeling in welcome. I was extremely moved by the sight of the Master－he was the monk who had saved my life in my dream, the wise teacher I had been searching for during all these years. I immediately bowed three times to him.
That evening after checking in at the Grand Hotel, the Master immediately wanted to give a Dharma talk at Universal Door Bookstore despite his tiring journey. Despite the short notice, over a hundred people arrived for the lecture, crowding the bookstore until there was no space left.
The Master arrived punctually with his twelve disciples and commenced the lecture. Everything he said had Chan meaning and was very interesting. To the surprise of the audience, the Master had all his disciples given short speeches and he spoke only at the very end. Then disciples asked questions and the Master gave simple but thought-provoking answers. After the lecture, everyone felt as if they had been bathed in a spring breeze and had grown in wisdom.
On the morning of the fourth, I received an urgent message to take the car escort to the Grand Hotel because the Master wanted to pay a visit to Elder Master Guangqin. When I arrived at Yuan Shan Hotel, the Master immediately got into the front seat and three Dharma Masters sat in the back. I was overjoyed to have the chance to drive the Master to Chengtian Monastery. On the way there, they spoke very little and it was quiet in the car, but there was a powerful feeling. The Master asked a few questions from time to time, and the Dharma Masters gave brief answers.
When we arrived at Chengtian Monastery, several Dharma Masters came to open the car-door for the Venerable Master and to bow to him. As the main Buddha hall was under construction, Elder Master Guangqin was waiting to receive the Master in the Earth Store Hall. After the Master entered and bowed to the Buddhas, he grasped the Elder Master's hand in a firm handshake. Then they each sat in a rattan chair and began a heart to heart exchange. Their historic conversation will be remembered for many generations. Even today many people like to talk about it.. I had taken my camera and was shooting pictures left and right. One shot of the Venerable Master sitting next to Elder Master Guangqin on the rattan chair has become a treasured picture that many people bow to. It was even published in a Buddhist magazine.
As I was driving the Master back, he told me about Elder Guangqin's life and asked me some questions. I also took the opportunity to ask the Master some questions, and he patiently answered them all. That day, I felt as if I were a golden dragon flying through the clouds, carrying the greatly compassionate Guanyin Bodhisattva on my back as she went around rescuing suffering beings. I also felt like a brave steed of enduring stamina carrying Tang dynasty's Tripitaka Master Hsuan Tsang from India back to China, where he would widely propagate Buddhism. Although I had seen the Master in my dream a year ago, it was a great honor to drive the Master around for a whole day in real life.
When the Master returned to America four days later, several of us eagerly wished to follow him to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. We packed our after-work hours and holidays with activities such as attending Dharma sessions, reciting the Buddha's name, making pilgrimages, visiting hospitals, and liberating lives, thus accumulating the "provisions" for making a trip to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.
That summer when we received news that the Master was unwell, we were very sad and worried and began a seven-day 24-hours-a-day recitation of the Shurangama Mantra at the home of the elder Upasaka Zheng. We recited the mantra 10,000 times and dedicated the merit to the Master, praying that the Dharma-protecting gods and dragons and the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas would aid him. For seven days and nights we did not leave the Chan hall, and finally, exhausted to the bone, we fulfilled our goal. We recited until we were parched and dizzy, but filled with the joy of Dharma. There were various responses during the seven days. Some people saw the Master sitting beneath the Buddha image, smiling. A rare fragrance pervaded the Chan hall for the duration of the session.
In the ninth month, before Guanyin Bodhisattva's left-home Anniversary, we held another seven-day session for reciting the Great Compassion Mantra. Our goal was to recite the mantra nights without leaving the hall. This time 180 laypeople came to join the session, and we finished 100,000 recitations within the seven days. I personally recited the Great Compassion Mantra over 80,000 times. I reached the point where I could recite the mantra in 15 seconds. When I closed my eyes, the words of the mantra appeared in the sky, and I could recite it silently instead of out loud. I also had several visions of large Sanskrit letters with special meanings appeared in the sky. I came to understand a little of what the Buddha-recitation samadhi was all about.
Between ten and twenty of the laypeople who participated in these two seven-day sessions later left the home-life, some going to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, the majority staying in Taiwan to work hard at their cultivation. These were very good circumstances.
Although the Master returned to America, the spirit of his cultivation remained in Taiwan. He cultivated in the same way for over sixty years, taking only one meal at midday and not lying down to sleep. He achieved genuine spiritual skill following the three principles of not scheming, not begging, and not asking for anything. The Master constantly manifested the heroic deportment of a monk, speaking Dharma and explaining Sutras every day without fail, thus giving people a chance to appreciate the true value of the Buddhadharma.
III. The History of Dharma Realm Buddhist Books Distribution Society in Taiwan :
In October 1982, with great joy and excitement I came with a dozen fellow cultivators to America to visit the Venerable Master and the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. When I saw the Mountain Gate of the City after all the hardship I went through to come here, I got down on my knees and began bowing down once every three steps until I reached the Gate. Because the City had been in my mind for so long, I did not feel like a stranger at all. I felt very much at home, and I was overjoyed to see the Master. That evening I rode in the same car as the Master back to San Francisco's Gold Mountain Monastery, where I spent the night. That evening I was in euphoric high spirits. I dreamed that the Venerable Master and Elder Master Guangqin were standing beside me. I bowed to both teachers and then requested the Venerable Master to transmit the Forty-two Hands and Eyes to me. Elder Master Guangqin looked at the Master, and the Master nodded. Then, in Gold Mountain Monastery's Buddha hall, Elder Master Guangqin transmitted three of the hands and eyes to me. The dream was extremely real. When I woke up in the early morning and did morning recitation, I could still see it clearly in my mind, and I will never forget it.
In the two years that followed, I lived in San Francisco and worked and went to school. Every week I had one and a half daysoff, during which I would take the cable car to Gold Mountain to help edit the Vajra Bodhi Sea journal. That's how I developed a very close relationship with Upasaka Guoli Zhou, who lived at Gold Mountain for many years transcribing the Master's lectures on Sutras and serving as editor of Vajra Bodhi Sea..
I was in closer contact with the Master during those two years than at any other time. Every week when the Master came down from the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, he would chat with me and teach me a few things, benefitting me greatly. It was while helping out at Gold Mountain that I became aware of the Master's great vow to translate the Chinese Buddhist Canon into the languages of the world, so that the entire human race would be able to read the Buddha's scriptures. I also found out that the Master had been lecturing on Sutras for several decades and had given detailed modern-language explanations of such major Sutras as the Shurangama, the Lotus, and the Avatamsaka. His colloquial explanations of the Vajra Sutra, the Earth Store Sutra, and others had already been translated into English. The Master's spirit to lecture on Sutras and speak Dharma every day for several decades is truly admirable and praiseworthy!
In those two years I was often together with the Master. In my spare time I read the Master's commentaries on the Sutras. I was totally engrossed in the Dharma, sometimes not going to bed until dawn. Sometimes I helped Guoli Zhou to proofread the Master's commentaries on various Sutras. Truthfully speaking, I had never read books so diligently or carefully before. At that time, the Master and Upasaka Zhou both urged me to write some stories of responses and of cause and effect to encourage people to study Buddhism. I wrote a dozen or so articles which appeared serially in Vajra Bodhi Sea.
In the summer of 1984, I returned to Taiwan for the first time to visit my parents. Before the trip I conceived the idea of starting the Dharma Realm Buddhist Books Distribution Society in Taiwan on a membership basis, for the purpose of printing and distributing high quality books of the Master's Dharma so that the ten million Chinese-speaking people in Taiwan, Southeast Asia, and the world would be able to deeply enter the Sutra Treasury and have wisdom like the sea.
As I knelt before the Master in Gold Mountain's Buddha hall to bid the Master good-bye, I told him of my plan. The Master agreed immediately and advised me to be careful in handling the financial matters. He wanted Upasaka Zhou to communicate with me and supervise the project. Upasaka Zhou had full faith in me and heartily agreed.
In Taiwan I met with my old Buddhist friends. We were very happy to see each other and had endless things to talk about. Then I formally called a meeting and asked eight laypeople to present the proposal for setting up the Dharma Realm Buddhist Books Distribution Society. Everyone gave their unanimous approval, but there were no funds and a location had yet to be decided on. For the sake of convenience, we decided to house the Society on the second floor of my old house for the first year. The Society was formally founded on October 1, 1985. The toil and suffering that made it possible can never be fully described or recorded.
In that period of time, I myself and the Vice-President of a construction magazine would often go to the printing shop and the binding shop, and we did much of the layout work ourselves.
In that period of time, I myself and the Vice-President of a Commentary on the Sixth Patriarch Sutra, I single-handedly oversaw the proof- reading, layout, cover design, printing, and announcement all of printing. When the book came out, I held it up respectfully with tears of joy in my eyes: what a treasured and beautiful book it was! I knelt before Guanyin Bodhisattva and the Venerable Master for a long time, unable to compose myself. I thought to myself, "Well, at least I haven't let down the Master. I've followed his instructions. I haven't disappointed Upasaka Zhou's hopes either." I remember using the highest quality design, editing, and paper to print that book, because I wished to correct a popular misconception. At that time there were many Buddhist Sutras being given away free. They were printed very poorly and on cheap paper, and people would throw them away after reading them. This was truly an insult to the Dharma. I wanted people to carry the Venerable Master's modern-language commentaries on the Sutras as reverently as if they were carrying a box of gold. If I could publish a serious and high quality book the first time, it would set an example for other Buddhist books to follow.
From then on, we published one volume every month, and the spring of the Venerable Master's Dharma bubbled forth ceaselessly, giving a systematic introduction to Buddhism. The membership soon grew from several dozen to several thousand people. Gradually we purchased computers, increased our staff, and divided the Society into various departments: publications, printing, manager, accounting, and secretary. Under everyone's cooperative efforts, the Society continued to expand.
We organized pilgrimages, visits to orphanages, and regular Dharma assemblies. Due to everyone's hard work, we were formally recognized as a branch of the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association in America. The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas sent Dharma Masters to reside at the Society and bought a permanent location in Songshan. Aside from printing Sutras, the Society propagated the Dharma and served as a pure Way-place where people could gather to practice. The Society trained many people and provided them with the skills to work for Buddhism. Many of the volunteers and members also left the home-life in order to devote themselves to cultivation. The promise I made to the Master and the toil I put forth have blossomed and borne wonderful fruits. I have thus fulfilled one of the vows I made when I decided to follow the Master many years ago.
IV. Temple Construction : When I came to America to begin a new life in 1982, I followed the Master for nearly two years and made the following major vows:
1. To set up a center to distribute the Master's precious Dharma treasures of several decades' worth of Dharma talks and lectures on Sutras, in order to help people grow in wisdom and
approach the Buddhist path. Regarding this, I got together with fellow cultivators who shared my vow and we set up the Dharma Realm Buddhist Books Distribution Society in Taiwan in 1985. The Society is devoted to printing and distributing high quality books of the Master's talks and lectures. To date it has published several hundred books. Later it also began publishing audio and videotapes, which have been very popular. The Society is now in its ninth year.
Although I have come to America and am no longer involved in managing the Society, the laypeople who run it continue to work very hard. Now that the Society has become a formal branch of the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association, my first vow has been fulfilled.
2. To build a great Buddha hall at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. My profession in Taiwan was interior design. Having done renovation work on various temples in Taiwan, I hoped to build a great Buddha hall for my own teacher after coming to America.
From 1982 to early 1986 I spent most of my time working in a restaurant, but I always hoped to return to the field of engineering. In the beginning of 1986, I found a job working for the engineering division of Dazhong Corporation. I studied like crazy day and night, hoping to acquire professional knowledge and skills in housing construction so that I would be able to build temples for the Master. After five years of working in construction and receiving guidance from a Mr. Ceng--heaven never disappoints a person with a will－in February of 1991 I finally passed the test and became a licensed building engineer in California. The following year I made five trips to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, bringing workers to set up partitions and install water and electricity in various dormitories. I was busy but happy.
On Chinese New Year in 1992, I accompanied the Dharma Delegation of Dharma Realm Buddhist Association to Taiwan to help the Dharma Masters fix up the permanent location of the Dharma Realm Buddhist Books Distribution Society. In February of 1992, I received an invitation from Guoxiang Woo, a disciple of the Master, to construct a 3,200 square foot Buddha hall at Long Beach Monastery in Los Angeles. Upon receiving the government permit and the building blueprints, I was overwhelmed with excitement and gratitude. Guanyin Bodhisattva was so kind! Now I could finally fulfill my vow of building a temple.
During the nine months, the Master came for several short stays, and we were often together, just as we had been at Gold Mountain Monastery in the past. The Master often came to inspect the work, and would also summon Heng Zhang Shr and myself to ask us about various matters.
In the beginning of April 1993, we overcame various difficulties and completed the Buddha hall on time. It was used for the combined celebration of the grand opening of Long Beach Monastery and the Venerable Master's birthday.
Over a thousand people attended the celebration. The Master smiled and chatted gaily, and composed and recited poems. No one could match the Master's wit and learning. Disciples performed and organized various programs, and the celebration concluded with a Liberating Life ceremony. It was followed by the Repentance of the Emperor of Liang, which lasted until mid-April. I was the happiest person of all, for I had fulfilled my vow of helping the Master to build a temple.