With tear-filled eyes and a heart filled with sadness, I faced the waves of the Pacific Ocean and thought of my elderly father who loved me so dearly, my mother and siblings who had studied Buddhism together with me, my compassionate yet stern Master─although I had only known him for two years, he had transformed my aimless existence into a life full of meaning─and the Dharma friends of the same age who had been my constant companions. The Master’s last instructions before I left echoed in my ears:
“Bring glory to Buddhism.”
Now, many years later, I reflect back on how much time and energy he devoted to teaching and nurturing us─a group of unruly young adolescents─to become citizens of wholesome character and ideals. The Master used a different method to teach each individual, enabling us to firmly maintain our responsibilities as Buddhists in face of the decadent temptations of Hong Kong society. What he did was not easy at all.
Hoping to groom a young generation of Buddhists, the Venerable Master exhausted every means. He spoke with us all night. He saved the most delicious pine nuts for us to eat. Sometimes, he even neglected other important guests in order to tell us stories. In order to get us to follow the rules, the Venerable Master could appear very stern and not eat or drink anything for the whole day. He would scold us severely if we strayed down the wrong path. It is only now that I have come to truly understand his great pains. Reflecting on the course of my cultivation, I feel I have not repaid my teacher’s kindness and have let myself down. I can only look to the future and work hard to bring glory to Buddhism.
No matter where the Venerable Master went, he was always followed by a group of children. He spared no effort to nurture the younger generation. Even if nine out of ten of his students failed, he wouldn’t have minded. His hope was that if even one person could become a vessel for the Dharma, then the teaching would be passed down from generation to generation and Buddhism would flourish. Whether it was holding the precepts or cultivating, the Master encouraged his disciples to practice in earnest and not be casual. He taught that the straight mind is the place of the Way. Thus, those who could not take it would voluntarily renounce the precepts and return to lay-life. The Master once said,
“It’s not easy to come to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas,
but one is free to leave at any time.”
For the sake of propagating the Buddhadharma to every corner of the world, the Venerable Master did his best to train his left-home and lay disciples to expound Sutras and speak the Dharma. I remember that during my youth in Hong Kong, the Venerable Master asked us to take turns translating his lectures into Cantonese. In the beginning I had stage fright, and I’d be so nervous that my hands would shake so that I couldn’t even take notes properly. Yet I could hardly disobey the Master, so I forced myself to do it. This kind of training afforded me inexhaustible benefit and laid the foundation for my later career in education.
If the Buddhadharma is to be propagated, the Sutras have to be expounded and the Dharma has to be spoken. There would be lectures every weekend at the Buddhist Lecture Hall in those days. The Buddhist Lecture Hall was established not only for the elder Dharma Masters, but also to groom the young Dharma Masters of the future. The Venerable Master required all his disciples to speak, whether they were male or female, young or old. Even an old woman in her sixties who always recited the same verse would speak. The Venerable Master trained his disciples to lecture on the Sutras in a unique way: He encouraged us to speak straight from the heart, to open our mouths and say what we thought, without using notes. This method is still being used today.
After the Venerable Master established Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco, he continued lecturing on the Sutras every day. As he said,
“If I do not speak the Dharma for one day, I will go without food that day.” At the International Translation Institute, he would have one Bhikshu, one Bhikshuni, one Upasaka, and one Upasika go up and speak the Dharma to an audience of over a hundred. What if they were bashful? This is only a Dharma. The Dharma is basically unproduced, so how can there be bashfulness?
I remember that when the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas was first established, the Venerable Master would hold classes for his disciples and would also ask his disciples to go up and speak the Dharma. Yet no one had the guts to do so. They were afraid of saying something wrong and afraid of being in front of so many people. Can you imagine what happened? The Venerable Master actually knelt at the door of the classroom and bowed to his disciples. He said it must be because he was an ineffectual teacher that his disciples didn’t listen to him and were afraid to go up to speak the Dharma. His disciples were so ashamed and remorseful, yet had no place to hide; who would have dared to disobey then? The Venerable Master used this method to train people so that in the future they will be able to propagate the Dharma and cause Buddhism to flourish.
Later, the Master founded Dharma Realm Buddhist University to educate individuals who are committed to Buddhism. He also set up Developing Virtue Secondary School to teach students to become good citizens who are filial and loyal to the country. He opened Instilling Goodness Elementary School to instill the virtues of filial piety, fraternal respect, humaneness, and love and to sow the seeds of kindness and compassion in children’s minds. The Master would pass the money offerings that people gave him to his disciples who were studying for their Master’s or doctoral degrees at well-known universities. Seeing the Venerable Master’s unselfish spirit of dedicating himself completely to the Teaching without seeking personal benefit, we as disciples should certainly admire and strive to emulate it. How could we be lazy and not work hard to make Buddhism flourish?
Those who have read the Venerable Master’s Instructional Talks know that the Master was one who emphasized both understanding and practice. He practiced what he preached. While encouraging his left-home and lay disciples to investigate the Sutras, he stressed even more the strict observance of precepts. With the exception of those who are very old, the monastics eat only one meal a day and many of them do not lie down at night. Only by upholding the precepts can one develop concentration and wisdom, and only with wisdom can one skillfully apply expedients to teach living beings.
The Venerable Master’s aim in speaking the Dharma was to let his disciples understand the principles of Buddhism and to cultivate according to them. Only then would they live up to the title of Dharma Master. If they were to engage only in the study of Buddhist terminology, then they would be treating Buddhism as a branch of knowledge to be investigated, rather than as a process of faith, understanding, practice, and certification. They would then spend their lives applying effort in vain.
For example, when explaining the
“six sense faculties,” some scholars of Consciousness-Only only give an explanation of the biological structure and function of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. The Venerable Master bases his explanation of the
“six sense faculties, six sense objects, and six consciousnesses” on the doctrines found in the Buddhist Sutras and emphasizes that
“when one faculty returns to the source, all six faculties are liberated.” While Consciousness-Only scholars give very clear theoretical definitions of the terms greed, anger, stupidity, pride, and doubt, the Venerable Master very practically tells us how to get rid of the greed, anger, and ignorance in our own minds. The Venerable Master tells us that as soon as a thought of greed, anger, or stupidity arises, we must detect it right away. In thought after thought, we must get rid of evil dharmas and increase wholesome dharmas. Finally, we will understand that
“all dharmas are without self” and reach the state of seeing that
“all dharmas are originally devoid of dharmas, yet in the voidness of dharmas, the dharmas are still there.” After reading the Venerable Master’s explanation of the Shastra on the Door to Understanding the Hundred Dharmas, I finally understood how I should go about getting rid of my own ignorance and correcting my shortcomings. The Dharma Masters trained by the Venerable Master not only know how to lecture on the Sutras and speak the Dharma, they also strictly maintain the precepts.
The Venerable Master Hua gave simple, easy-to-understand explanations that reveal the profound meanings and principles of the Buddhist Sutras. During the first summer session at the Buddhist Lecture Hall (in America), the Venerable Master lectured on the Shurangama Sutra. The Shurangama Sutra is an important Sutra in Buddhism. The Sutras say that when the Buddhadharma is about to perish, this Sutra will be the first to disappear. The Venerable Master said,
“The Shurangama Sutra represents the Proper Dharma. It is a demon-spotting Dharma.” Some people claim that the Shurangama Sutra is inauthentic, but the Venerable Master rationally exposes the errors of such an argument. Because the Shurangama Sutra is a bright lamp illuminating the path of cultivation, the deviant demons and externalists all want to extinguish it. In order to refute the prophecies uttered by evil people, the Venerable Master vowed,
“If the Shurangama Sutra is inauthentic, I’m willing to fall into the hells forever.” Who else can be like the Venerable Master in renouncing his life to protect and maintain the Proper Dharma and the Sutras spoken by the Buddha? Thus, the Venerable Master’s disciples diligently memorize and study the Shurangama Sutra and the Shurangama Mantra. I hope the students of Buddhism will unite their hearts and strength to protect and uphold the Shurangama Sutra and the Buddha’s Proper Dharma.
When the Venerable Master was young, he had already set his mind on propagating Buddhism and causing it to prosper. Back in Manchuria, China, he built a simple hut by his mother’s grave and stayed there in observance of filial piety. He sat in meditation day and night and underwent incredible hardships. As a result, he made swift and courageous progress in cultivation.
When the Venerable Master went to Nanhua Monastery in Guangdong to pay homage to the eminent Venerable Elder Master Hsu Yun of the Chan School, the Elder Master regarded the Venerable Master very highly and chose him to become the Ninth Patriarch of the Weiyang Sect. (The transmission of the Weiyang Sect was once interrupted. Elder Master Hsu resumed the lineage as the Eight Patriarch, composing a fifty-six character verse for the continuation of the lineage. He also composed a Dharma-transmission verse for the Venerable Master.) The Master changed his name from
“To Lun” to “Hsuan Hua” in order to honor the Elder Master Hsu’s sincere wish. The Venerable Master seldom told others that he had received the transmission of the Weiyang Sect.)
The Venerable Master’s state in Chan meditation was very high. During a Chan Session at Kongqing Mountain in mainland China in 1947, he sat for seventy days with Elder Master Mingguan. Yet the Venerable Master always exhorted his disciples to recite the Buddha’s name, because the Dharma door of Buddha recitation
“aids those of superior, average, and inferior faculties and gathers in both the sharp and the dull.” Anyone who honestly practices can be reborn in the Western Land at the time of death. Living beings in the Dharma-ending Age have inferior faculties. If the Master had only taught his disciples the meditative practices of Japanese Zen or the contemplations of the Small Vehicle, they could easily have been misled to think that those practices can lead them to become enlightened and to end birth and death in this very life, and then they would spend their lives in confusion. Therefore, since ancient times, the Greatly Virtuous Ones of the Chan School, such as Chan Master Yongming, have exhorted people to recite the Buddha’s name. The Elder Master Hsu Yun of contemporary times became enlightened through Chan meditation, yet he also taught people to cultivate the Pure Land Dharma door.
One of the Venerable Master’s lifelong vows was to have the Buddhist scriptures translated into all languages and propagated to all nations of the world. To this end he established the International Institute for the Translation of Buddhist Texts and brought together many people with bilingual abilities. Due to their hard work, the Venerable Master’s vow is gradually being realized.
I remember the Venerable Master explaining the Buddhadharma to us in Hong Kong. He not only explained what the Triple Jewel was, but also told us stories from the Taoist book Lives of the Seven Immortals of such people as Qiu Changchun, who was too intelligent for his own good, and Sun Buer (“non-dual”), who disfigured her face in order to cultivate the Tao. These stories served to teach us about cultivation. The Master also used the stories of the honest and frank Guo Qing and the crafty Huang Rong from the Lives of Eagle-Shooting Heroes to tell us about the choices of life.
The Venerable Master’s talks would sometimes be very straightforward, hitting the nail right on the head. For example, in explaining the word
“ignorance” in the cycle where “ignorance conditions activity, activity conditions consciousness,...,” the Venerable Master pointed out directly that ignorance is simply lust.
“What is ignorance?” he asked. He put it in the simplest words: It is just lust. The Shurangama Sutra says,
“If one does not get rid of lust, one cannot leave the dust (worldly defilement).” Thus we know that if we do not eradicate thoughts of lust, we cannot be liberated from birth and death.
Once we possess such proper knowledge and views, we will be able to tell that
“paired cultivation between men and women” and the idea that one can become a living Buddha by getting married and having children and not leaving the home-life are deviant theories. For ordinary people, it is still better to leave the home-life and strictly uphold the precepts. Then, it will be easier to cultivate and attain the proper fruition.
The duty of a Buddhist disciple is to carry on the Buddha’s legacy. The Venerable Master said,
“After Christ died, his disciples propagated Christ’s teachings to all parts of the world, and thus Christianity became the largest religion.” The Venerable Master hoped every Buddhist disciple would take upon his own shoulders the great responsibility of spreading the Buddhadharma and not pay attention to sectarian differences. Thus, at the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, the fourfold assembly of disciples cultivate the five sects of Chan, Doctrine, Vinaya, Esoteric, and Pure Land together, and they have never shown prejudice against Taoism, Christianity, Confucianism, Islam, or other religions. The Buddha’s teaching can be actualized only through the united and cooperative efforts of all schools of Buddhism.
After mainland China became Communist, Buddhist monks and nuns went south to Hong Kong in great numbers. The Venerable Master Hua and many other greatly virtuous Dharma Masters devoted their complete energy to propagating the Buddhadharma. Thus the Buddhadharma in Hong Kong showed signs of great vitality. No longer did people spit upon seeing left-home people or say unlucky things about them. The young generation developed an enthusiastic interest in studying the Buddhadharma. Many Buddhist youth groups, free schools, charity hospitals, and so forth were established. From this we can see that as long as the Sangha is united, it can cause the Buddhadharma to flow into every person’s heart. I hope American Buddhists will also set aside sectarian differences and do their best to cause Buddhism to flourish throughout the world and to turn the Dharma-ending Age into the Proper Dharma Age. This is also the first big step that disciples should take in taking the Master’s resolve as our own resolve and repaying the Master’s deep kindness for making the great vow to stand in for living beings and take their suffering.
He is born in the family of the Buddhas of the three periods of time,
And is certified to the Thus Come Ones’ wondrous Dharma Body.
Universally for the sake of the flocks of beings,
He appears in many forms, just like a magician,
There is nothing he cannot do.
Chapter on The Merit and Virtue from First Bringing Forth the Mind, the
Flower Adornment Sutra