Seventeen years ago (1978), my year of study in America ended.
On December 22, I went to Gold Mountain Monastery, which was still on Fifteenth Street then. Compared to temples in Taiwan, Gold Mountain Monastery appeared very poor and humble.
I couldn’t find the front door of the monastery. Standing in front of what looked like both a door and a window, I couldn’t decide what to do. Suddenly, waves of warm energy passed through my chest and spread through my body. All of a sudden, I became very alert and clear-minded. Someone inside waved to me and stepped out through a small door on the right side. A Caucasian monk spoke a few simple sentences in Chinese to me, telling me he was an American disciple of the Venerable Master. I indicated that I wished to attend the three-week Winter Chan Session at the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. The Dharma Master led me inside with a smile. I saw a few Chinese people and a young Englishman who had just arrived from London for the Chan Session. The five people, including me, got a ride to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. On the way there they said,
“In the Chan Sessions at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas,
laypeople have never managed to stay for more
than two or three days.”
I had recited the Buddha’s name for fifteen years, but I had never participated in a Chan Session before. All of a sudden, I felt very uneasy. Just what was a Chan Session all about? What were they hinting at?
In the winter, it became dark quite early. At dusk, in the car I smelled a very heavy and strong scent of sandalwood, which didn’t disperse for a long time. We drove for another half an hour before reaching our destination.
The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas was very poor and humble then.
During the Chan Session, every night the Venerable Master would lecture on a short passage from the
Flower Adornment Sutra and give an instructional talk. In the evening of the second Sunday, the Venerable Master said he needed to make a trip to Los Angeles the next day. That night, he especially spoke a four-line verse:
In 1978, we hold a Chan Session.
Be neither fast nor slow, and don’t get nervous.
Continuously and without a break, be diligent and vigorous.
Soon you will reach the Buddhas’ ground.
He also instructed us: “In investigating Chan, one should not be afraid and one should not be lax. Among you, someone will definitely realize one of the Dharma-doors of the Twenty-five Kinds of Perfect Penetrations.
When I was bowing to the Buddhas after the lecture, I saw five large Buddhas sitting in the air at the level of the Venerable Master’s shoulders. A purple-golden aura brought his red sash into relief as the colors inter-reflected.
After bowing to the Buddhas, the Venerable Master asked,
“Did any of you see any responses? Speak up and tell everyone about it.” I felt the Master’s question was rather peculiar. I also vaguely remember the Master saying,
“If you have any responses in cultivation, don’t speak about them, unless your Master agrees or encourages fellow cultivators to do so, but even then, you should just touch upon them,” and so forth.
The Venerable Master seemed to know that I was confused. He asked two more times. I still vacillated. Finally, he said,
“Speak up and let everyone know that the merit and virtue of Chan meditation is absolutely not in vain.” I finally spoke.
When I was bowing to the Buddhas, I looked up. Above the stage where the Venerable Master was sitting, at the height of the Master’s shoulders, there were five cylindrically shaped Buddhas with purple-golden bodies about ten feet tall, sitting in full lotus in mid-air. At the time, I was about a hundred feet from the stage.
To tell the truth, the Venerable Master did not make a deep impression on me during those two weeks of Chan. It was only when I saw the Buddhas that I suddenly woke up: In such a humble Way-place, what kind of virtue did the Venerable Master have to receive the protection of five Buddhas?
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Venerable Master, you have suddenly gone. The disciples at the Sagely City have suddenly lost the one they relied on. Everyone is distressed and flustered. In this Dharma-ending Age, deviant teachers and deviant theories are everywhere. The spreading of evil dharmas is frightening to see, deluding disciples of the Buddha, hindering them from bringing forth the resolve for Bodhi, and seriously harming students of Buddhism.
Venerable Master, you alone know that I kept hesitating and didn’t want to write or speak about my experience. In 1984, you encouraged me to translate Sutras and said that after a book was printed, you would reward me with an honorary degree. But after I translated twenty pages of the
Sixth Patriarch’s Dharma Jewel Platform Sutra, in 1986 I had a vision in which the Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng warned me,
“Don’t contend, and you will naturally find peace.” Therefore for nine years, I have followed the principle of taking care of myself and hiding my light─I neither spoke nor wrote.
But this time, I didn’t need you to ask me. This ought to be the time when I cannot refuse to repay the kindness of the Buddhas and the Venerable Master. This article
“Investigating Chan and Seeing the Buddha” will be published in the two books The Venerable Master Hsuan Hua To Lun─Responses and Deeds and Chan Is the Only Truth (in 1983, Patriarch Bodhidharma instructed me to do this).
Venerable Master, I will tell the public about my experiences in studying Buddhism and what I have gained from cultivation. The first reason is to repay the Buddhas’ kindness and to thank you for setting a good example, battling resolutely in the face of hardship, sacrificing yourself for the Dharma, establishing a City of Dharma, and protecting the Proper Dharma in this evil environment. Your every word and deed, your spirit and example, serve as a standard for those of future generations to follow. Secondly, I wish to encourage people by telling them how wonderful and sublime the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is. Buddhists who investigate Chan and cultivate at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas constantly receive the great spiritual aid and mindful protection of all Buddhas. It is truly a Way-place of the Proper Dharma which is rarely found in the world. Genuine Buddhists ought to sacrifice themselves to protect this City of Dharma. Thirdly, I wish to encourage the disciples at the Sagely City not to be moved by changes in people and affairs, to rely on the Venerable Master’s teachings, fulfill their responsibilities, honestly practice, guard and protect the City of Dharma, and be at ease within the Dharma.
Venerable Master, although you are not the Master I study under (I disagree with some of your teachings, and I hardly ever drew near to you; none of your disciples know me), your lofty integrity and your stubborn determination win my praise and endless admiration. I didn’t learn any Buddhadharma from you, Venerable Master. All I learned was your
“hard bones” spirit. If one’s bones are not hard, it’s difficult to attain the Buddha Way. Even if someone were to kill you, slice you up and eat you, Venerable Master, you’d probably say,
“I’m not dead!” Disciples at the Sagely City, after the Venerable Master’s completion of stillness, he is still the same as he has always been. At a time when I needed it most, he inspired and taught me. He’s truly a compassionate Bodhisattva!
Venerable Master, how could death touch you?
I hope this brief article will give some revelations and thoughts to the assembly.
Finally, I wish the fourfold assembly at the Sagely City boundless Dharma joy!
Namo Amitabha Buddha!
Bowing in respect,
Sun Dongbo, disciple of the Buddha
Director of the Ch’an Buddhism and Acupuncture Research Center
Sacramento, California, U.S.A.
October 21, 1995
Two spears contending over gold, the killing energy is high.
For its sake, everyone chatters too much.
Those who know how to use it can transcend the Triple Realm.
Those who don't will have difficulty escaping their evil retributions.