Ordinary people may think that an outstanding person is one who only pays attention to great matters. Actually, this is not the case. A person must be able to take care of great matters as well as small matters if he wants to accomplish great deeds. By regarding all people with a fair attitude, one will be able to understand them better.
Thus, it is not so strange for someone like me who’s rather idle and not very active to know the Elder Master Hsuan Hua (To Lun), a person who is busy propagating the Dharma from morning to night. I first met the Venerable Master Hua at the Conference on the Reprinting of the
Great Prajna Sutra held in Hong Kong. Several decades have passed since that meeting.
Thirty-five or thirty-six years ago, I printed a small book called
New Chan Talks by Cheng. I printed 1000 copies and gave them to people for free. When the Elder Dharma Master saw it, he printed 5000 copies using the same kind of paper and format. After I went to Cambridge University in England, I didn’t meet the Elder Dharma Master again for a while. During the time he was in the United States, the Elder Dharma Master also had the editors of the monthly journal of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas print selected passages of my book. Meanwhile I printed another book called Questions and Answers. When the Elder Dharma Master saw it, he again told his disciples to translate it into English and publish it in the journal. I will always deeply remember the Elder Dharma Master’s liking for these small books.
When the Dharma Realm Buddhist University was in its initial stage, my name also appeared on the name list. I would occasionally go to teach there in the summers and stay at the monastery, which gave me a quiet and peaceful feeling.
The first time I spoke with the audience at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, I tried to speak in as ordinary a way as possible as I discussed some current issues. Afterwards the Elder Dharma Master said to me,
“A modest person─you are now well-known.”
More than once, the Elder Dharma Master exhorted me to move to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas to live and teach at the Dharma Realm Buddhist University. He also asked other people to suggest this to me. I once replied with an analogy:
“I dare not write a check for the future.” The reason was that if I wrote it, I would have to be able to cash it. Since I couldn’t guarantee that I would have the money to cash every check in the future, I didn’t write it.
I have lived in the Midwestern United States for over twenty years. If I wanted to move, it would take me at least six months to look at all the papers that have accumulated over the past twenty-some years, not to mention anything else. I can’t just pick up and leave. The Elder Master once said he could send two lay disciples to help me move my things. I said moving was easy enough; taking care of the disorganized papers was the difficult part─I didn’t dare to promise I could do it. Since I can’t write a check for the future, at present I can only seek temporary peace of mind.
The Chinese and Western disciples at the Elder Dharma Master’s Way-places eat one meal a day and follow very strict rules. When guests come to stay, they can go to the dining hall in the evening to have dinner which is prepared in advance. Sometimes the Elder Dharma Master would also send people to deliver crackers to me. He showed the utmost concern.
Several times I said to the Elder Dharma Master that when guests come to the Way-place, they may be ashamed of their own impurity. They see the monastics striving to be as pure as possible, and yet they themselves find it hard to avoid the turbidity of the mundane world. When they see others practicing such strict self-discipline, they feel they cannot match up. Thus, they end up feeling discouraged.
Several years ago I went to visit the Elder Dharma Master in California when I was sick. He immediately had someone send me to a Chinese medical clinic, and then he kept calling the doctor, paying special attention to my treatment. After the medicinal herbs were taken back to Long Beach Sagely Monastery, his disciples carefully boiled the herbs, poured the decoction into a thermos, and brought it to me. I drank it down in one gulp. This shows that the people in the monastery, aside from being kind and compassionate, have a warmth and devotion which people outside the monastery cannot imagine.
Whenever I went to the Elder Dharma Master’s place, we would talk about everything under the sun. In recent years he told others that I was his old friend. I can barely accept the adjective
“old,” but for him to occasionally call me his “bosom friend” makes me extremely remorseful, and I certainly dare not acknowledge such a title.
I once said, “If I am worth
thirty points and later I come to have a value of
thirty-two points, then I have made some progress.
But if someone suddenly judges my value to be eighty
points, then even if I were worth over thirty-two
points, I would feel very ashamed, how much the more
since I’m still far from being even thirty points.”
In all these decades, I have never given the Elder Dharma Master a present, aside from making small contributions to Dharma Realm Buddhist University. The Master seemed to understand my situation as a
“scholar living a simple life.” He often asked me if I had any new writings to print. I know that he had several lay disciples who were knowledgeable and skilled at printing books. However, I didn’t want to trouble others and felt more comfortable writing out, copying, and binding the books myself. Thus I personally printed the small booklets I’ve written in recent years, without troubling others despite their eagerness to help. Morever, since these booklets are mostly on artistic and literary themes and not of much use in a monastery, I decided it would be better to print them with my own labor. The Elder Dharma Master’s concern towards me and his enthusiasm for cultural education shall always remain in my memory.
The last time I saw the Elder Dharma Master was in the summer of last year (1994). I flew to Los Angeles and was picked up at the airport and taken to Long Beach Sagely Monastery by the Master’s disciple. I had a very pleasant chat with the Master. Before I left, some other guests came to visit the Master, including a Chinese herbal doctor who specialized in treating bone and ligament problems. The Elder Master, despite being very busy, asked the guest to examine a sprain in my left arm. After a massage, it seemed that a knot had been released in my arm. I had not felt so comfortable for several months. After that my left arm regained its former agility. On that visit, I really benefitted greatly. In the state where I live, there are no Chinese herbal doctors. If I hadn’t gone to California, it would hardly have been so convenient to receive such treatment. Because that guest happened to visit the Elder Dharma Master, I had an unexpected opportunity to be helped in such a great way.
Such a dull person as myself could actually engage in a conversation with the Elder Dharma Master for several hours. A stranger observing us might have thought I was a talkative visitor. Actually, it has nothing to do with whether I am talkative or not. I would just say whatever came to mind, without any deliberation. In the outside world where it’s difficult to distinguish the good from the bad, as soon as one makes a slip of the tongue and speaks too frankly, offending the mischief-makers, one may become the subject of rumors that are far from the truth. At that point, to try to explain oneself would simply be a waste of time. I didn’t think it necessary to explain myself to begin with, and later I decided to simply ignore such senseless talk. Under such circumstances, even a talkative person would find it hard to demonstrate his eloquence. However, with the Elder Dharma Master, I didn’t have to explain or defend myself on anything. He understood my true nature long ago, and I didn’t have to pay heed to the art of conversation. I had no reservations. And so I conversed very freely with him, speaking plainly and not hiding anything. Because of this, our conversations always lasted a long time.
When I read about the Elder Dharma Master Hsuan Hua’s completion of stillness in the newspaper, I was truly taken by surprise. I never expected him to leave so soon, so early. Of course, everyone is certain to be shocked. I am seriously ill here and cannot go to say good-bye to the Elder Dharma Master. Feeling ashamed is of no use, so as much as my blurred vision has allowed me to, I have blurrily written these few pages as a brief expression of my respect.