The formal transmission of Chinese orthodox Buddhism to America happened after 1960. After more than thirty years of propagation, the number of Buddhists in the increasingly thriving Chinese societies throughout the United States and Canada has grown day by day, and the number of Buddhist temples and societies founded by Chinese people has increased to over 180 in 1995. However, most of these temples and societies have been propagating the Dharma only to overseas Chinese people, and have not managed to attract and influence Americans. The Venerable Master Hua was one of the most successful of the few Dharma Masters who broke out of the overseas Chinese circle and transmitted the Buddhadharma to Americans. Many of the Venerable Master’s left-home disciples are Americans, all of whom are able to toil and bear hardship and to single-mindedly apply themselves to their practice. This is truly a rare achievement.
I have known the Venerable Master for over thirty years. The Venerable Master twice accepted an invitation to stay at Bodhi Hermitage in New York to host a Conference on the English Translation of Chinese Buddhist Texts. During those times the Master told us about his resolves. Even though he was living at that time at Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco, which was in a refurbished old factory, he had vowed to establish a Buddhist University. He also stressed that the propagation of Dharma in the United States should be aimed primarily at Americans, and he was determined to create and nurture a Sangha here. This won my whole-hearted admiration, and even to this day I have not forgotten. His hard work and accomplishments and his unity of resolve and conduct over these several decades are not something that ordinary people would be capable of.
According to my
understanding, the Venerable Master was born in a
farming village in Manchuria, mainland China. He was
intelligent by nature and very filial to his
parents. People called him a “filial son” ever since he was young. His mother died when he was nineteen, and feeling that life was very fleeting, he shaved his head and left the home-life. He taught and influenced people in his native village and brought about many responses. After the Sino-Japanese War in Manchuria ended in 1945, he travelled to and visited other monasteries, paid homage at Potola Mountain, and then continued southward to Guangdong, where he drew near to the Elder Master Hsu Yun, an eminently virtuous master of the Chan School. At their first meeting, the Elder Master acknowledged him as a vessel for the Dharma and appointed him as the Dean of Academic Affairs at the Nanhua Vinaya Academy. Elder Master Yun also transmitted the Dharma-lineage of the Weiyang Sect to him, making him the ninth patriarch of Weiyang. When the Venerable Master left the home-life in his youth, his Dharma name was To Lun. The Dharma name Hsuan Hua was given to him by the Elder Master Yun.
In the fall of 1949, the Venerable Master went to Hong Kong to propagate the Dharma and teach people. He stayed there for over ten years, also visiting Southeast Asia and Australia during that time. In 1962, he came by plane to America and founded Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco. Because of the supreme Dharma affinities, many young Americans came to take refuge and to leave the home-life with the Master, starting a trend of studying Buddhism among young Americans. After establishing Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco, the Master also established such organizations as the Sino-American Buddhist Association and the International Institute for the Translation of Buddhist Texts, as well as other monasteries at other locales in the United States.
In 1976, he founded the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas on four hundred acres of land in Ukiah, California. The Dharma Realm Buddhist University was opened with approval from the California government, a monthly journal was produced, and English translations of Buddhist texts were published. The Venerable Master’s vows were actively beginning to be realized.
The last time I saw the Venerable Master was in San Francisco, when he was already manifesting illness. He indicated that he still had many plans he wanted to carry out, but that he didn’t have time in this life. Without thinking, I replied,
“You should come back riding on your vows.” We smiled at each other in understanding.