As a young person, it was through the family culture and tradition that I had contact with Buddhism--its temples and its environments.
Although I had tasted vegetarian food, I had never really questioned or understood the profound meanings connected with eating meat or the importance of being a vegetarian. Needless to say, I was a meat lover: beef steak, Mongolian beef, roast duck...you name it!
At that time, I did not know Master Hua personally. I had seen him once, and gotten only a quick glance at that, in l994. It was through my sister, who has a profound respect for the Master, that I know about his books. In July l995, during my stay in California, I visited the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB) and, for the very first time, saw Master Hua closely. I respectfully bowed three times.
My second visit to CTTB was the most memorable visit of my life. I came to CTTB with doubts and some false thinking. I feared the discomfort, the food without meat, the hot weather, and the long hours of praying. I feel ashamed of my false and negative thinking. Yes, shame on me!
Although my first day at the temple was difficult, to my surprise, I quickly became a full vegetarian for the rest of my five-days’ stay without any complaints and without thinking about meat. During those five days, I learned more about Buddhism and its culture and rules than ever before. I saw Bhikshus and Bhikshunis living in such harmony. I saw the people full of respect for the Master and Buddhism. The temple environment was in such harmony that one felt easily at peace. I even saw a peacock listening to the entire evening lecture on the biography of the Master. The next morning I witnessed the same peacock walking slowly but elegantly to the Vietnamese altar and bowing respectfully to the Buddha. I was moved at that scene. I felt so small compared to that peacock so elegant. I attended not all but most of the ceremonies and prayers. I tried to follow along even though I did not understand a single word of it. I have to emphasize this point: I do not speak, read, or write Chinese; however I enjoy singing along in the prayers, especially the four o’clock morning ceremony.
On July 26, I heard about the special ceremony for taking refuge under Master Hua. Even though I had heard so much good about the refuges, their meanings and their importance, and despite people telling me that it was the last opportunity, the very last chance, to have Master Hua as my Master, it seemed that nothing could convince me or motivate me to join the ceremony. I had the whole day to register, but I waited until the very last second and it was simply too late to register. In the Buddha hall, I prayed silently and with deep thinking. I talked silently to Master Hua, asking him to bless me, and that if this ceremony was the opportunity and the right time for me to take refuge, then I would accept his decision. Among the crowd, a friend of my sister came forth to ask me if I had already registered for the ceremony. After my explanation, she told me if I wanted to, I could attend the ceremony. I did. It was only during the refuge ceremony that I discovered who Master Hsuan Hua was. His wisdom and his generosity touched my heart profoundly. I then understood the meaning of taking refuge and the responsibilities it involves. To my surprise, at the end of the ceremony, I got a certificate. A Dharma Master said,
“After taking refuge, outside we will be the same,
but inside we will have already changed.”
Today, three weeks after that ceremony, I realize that what the Dharma Master said is true. Indeed, somehow I have changed inside since then. It is incredible and I do not know how to explain it. The result is: I am not afraid of ghosts any more for I now understand who they are. I can eat and enjoy vegetarian food, for I simply started to love it. I simply have no desire to eat meat. I am not a good follower, for I cannot simply obey and believe without questioning and understanding first. I feel I have so much to learn. There is so much to understand, to learn, and to do. But first I have my 10,000 bows to finish!