Several decades ago, the Venerable Master travelled from America back to Taiwan to propagate the Dharma. Not many people in the Buddhist world knew of him then, and he didn’t know very much about the Buddhism in Taiwan either. Because the Venerable Master was little known, there were few Taiwan Buddhists who were concerned about or supported him. One day he brought five or six Western disciples to Hongfa Monastery in Kaohsiung. I invited him to stay at Hongfa Monastery and Lixiang Monastery, and also arranged for him to lecture on Sutras and speak the Dharma in Kaohsiung. The Master was extremely happy about this, and he retained a deep impression of Hongfa Monastery for this reason.
I have an ideal for Buddhism:
“We should be concerned with the entirety of Buddhism. We should especially be concerned with and respect Dharma Masters who propagate the Dharma abroad.” I didn’t know much about the Venerable Master Hua at that time, but I knew he was propagating the Dharma in America, and I knew it wasn’t easy. Therefore, I thought I should show concern and be hospitable to the best of my ability. I very much admired him for having influenced some Westerners to leave the home-life, for no Westerners had ever left the home-life in Chinese Buddhism at that time. He could be considered the first Chinese monk to convert Westerners.
The Venerable Master was the first Chinese Dharma Master to sow the seeds of Chinese Buddhism in the minds of American people. He could also be called a pioneer in propagating the Buddhadharma in America. His patience to convert Westerners won my deep respect. Those were the initial conditions of my acquaintance with him.
In order to investigate the actual conditions of the development of Chinese Buddhism in America and to create extensive affinities in the Dharma, I visited the United States for the first time in 1988. On July 2, I travelled from Seattle to Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco to pay my respects to the Venerable Master. The following day, the Master asked a disciple to take me to visit the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas occupies a very large area, but unfortunately it was not completely developed then. Because the Venerable Master had been to Hongfa Monastery in the past, he treated me with the warmest hospitality and drove me around in his three-wheeled golfcart on a tour of the entire City.
The Venerable Master was an ascetic monk. His lifestyle was extremely frugal: he took one meal a day, did not lie down at night, wore coarse clothing, and ate simple, vegetarian food. His left-home disciples emulate his ascetic practices, and thus this special tradition of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas was established.
In his early years, he drew near the eminent monk, Elder Master Tanxu, and studied the
Shurangama Sutra under him. He had a deep understanding of the
Shurangama Sutra and diligently cultivated the Shurangama Mantra. Consequently there were some rare events and responses. Sometimes he would subdue demons and heal diseases for living beings. His disciples came to believe that he had spiritual powers and recorded some of the events of his life. Occasionally he would also say something that seemed to indicate he had spiritual powers. After having a long conversation with him at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, I discovered that those comments that seemed to imply spiritual powers were expedients that he used to teach living beings. We must realize that when the Venerable Master went to America to propagate the Dharma and teach people, he went through a very difficult period. At that time Americans had very little understanding of Chinese Buddhism, so it’s not difficult to imagine the hardships he went through teaching living beings in the very beginning. We can also see his unwavering determination and resolve from this.
The Venerable Master had his own views on cultivation. He especially emphasized the precepts and rules of deportment and was deeply pained by Buddhists who did not practice according to the Dharma. He would bluntly criticize the things he felt were wrong, and as a result he came to be regarded as different and even unwelcome by those in the Buddhist circle. Out of his concern for them, the Venerable Master often scolded his left-home and lay disciples, wishing for them to improve. However, overly strict demands may lead to misunderstanding and discontent.
Speaking from my own understanding of the Venerable Master, he went to America alone and opened the frontier of Buddhism in America. He practiced austerities and worked energetically in hard situations, establishing adorned Way-places and a strict style of cultivation, translating the Buddhist scriptures, and teaching living beings. The merit of these deeds will never perish.
The Venerable Master was extremely straightforward, and he often criticized others bluntly. I once suggested to him,
“You have come to Taiwan to propagate the Dharma and benefit beings. You ought to widely create good affinities. You should say pleasant things more often and not criticize so much.” The Venerable Master smiled and humbly said,
“I’ll obey your instructions.” This reveals an endearing aspect of his character. I think it must also be his sincerity in protecting the teaching. I don’t know what other people’s opinions are, but I feel particular admiration and respect for him, and wholeheartedly praise him.
Now that the Venerable Master has completed the stillness, I hope his disciples will preserve the strict traditions of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. His American disciples in particular should widely propagate the Dharma transmitted by the Venerable Master, enabling the Buddha-light to shine throughout American society and in every American family, so that the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas will write a glorious page in the history of American Buddhism.
Written at Hongfa Monastery
August 15, 1995