On July 1, 1995, I met with Bhante Aryamaitri in Jakarta (Indonesia). During our conversation, Bhante suddenly mentioned the Venerable Master Hua's completion of stillness. I felt as if I'd been struck by a sudden flash of lightning out of the blue; I was shocked senseless! "What? The Venerable Master has completed the stillness? It can't be! I don't believe it. It must be a rumor." In order to confirm it, Bhante immediately telephoned a Buddhist temple in Malaysia. They said it was true. How could the Venerable Master leave us all so soon? Didn't he vow that if he lived to be a hundred, he would burn his body as an offering to the Buddhas? He was as kind to me as a parent, and I have never done anything to repay his kindness. I had planned to invite the Venerable Master to come to Medan (Indonesia) to propagate the Dharma in the next two years, in order to fulfill a vow that I made ten years ago. But now, it's all turned into bubbles and shadows. Even though the conditions weren't sufficient, it's also because I was too negligent. For various reasons, I didn't keep in touch with the Venerable Master in recent years. I am filled with grief, self-reproach, and regret; tears fill my eyes and my heart aches so much. Fortunately, my son is the Venerable Master's disciple and knows a layperson who goes to Gold Mountain Monastery. Over the phone, he found out that the Venerable Master's body would be cremated only after forty-nine days. This news consoled me slightly. At least I would get to see the Venerable Master's visage.
On my way back to Indonesia after attending the cremation ceremony, whether it was in the plane, in the car, in the hotel, or in my sister's home in Hong Kong, I wanted to weep each time I thought of the Venerable Master's departure. When I saw the
“Call for Papers” in the book In Memory of the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, I wanted to write about how the Venerable Master had cared for me as tenderly as a parent. I hope the reader will perceive the profound sincerity of the Venerable Master's compassionate heart and the nobility of his mission to translate the Sutras and propagate the Dharma.
In 1981, I took my daughter to Taiwan to attend school. (My son's family was also in Taiwan.) Through my daughter-in-law, I came to know someone who is Buddhist. She praised the Venerable Master highly and gave me a card of Gold Mountain Monastery and the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. Based on her recommendation, I came to hold the Venerable Master and the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in high regard. After I returned to Medan, at the end of the morning and evening ceremonies each day, I always prayed that I would be able to pay respects to the Venerable Master and visit the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas one day. Sincerity brings a response─my wish finally came true.
In January of 1985, I went to America on business and stopped by Gold Mountain Monastery to pay a visit to the Venerable Master. The Buddhahall was quiet and empty of people. After I had lit incense and knelt to pray, I looked up and only then did I realize that an elderly monk was sitting on the long bench by the wall to my right, and an American monk was kneeling before him and talking with him.
“That must be the Venerable Master Hua,” I thought to myself. After the other Dharma Master had left, I walked up to bow to the elder monk.
“Where are you from? What's your name? How old are you this year?” he asked. I answered each question. The elder monk moved the fingers of his right hand slightly, and then said,
“You have suffered greatly! You've gone through many tribulations!” How sharp! He's certainly a great cultivator! In a single glance, he could tell me about the bitterness and grief I'd encountered for twenty-odd years. How could he have spoken so positively if he didn't have the Eye of Wisdom? My appearance certainly doesn't indicate that I have suffered a lot or gone through many tribulations! I couldn't help but respect this elder monk! The Venerable Master then gave me some simple instructions, telling me not to be greedy, not to be selfish, not to seek personal benefit, and so on. I didn't understand why the Master was telling me these things, because I wasn't that sort of person! Later I found out these were the Six Guiding Principles of the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.
Before I left Gold Mountain Monastery, I mentioned to the Master that I wished to visit the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. The Master said,
“I just got back from the City! But you can take the Greyhound bus to get there.”
“This is my first time in America. I don't know the place, and I don't know how to get there!” The Master paused, and then said,
“Then come back on Thursday (two days later). Bring some clothes along, because you'll be staying overnight.” I was so happy! When I was about to leave, I gave the Master two English books that I'd written. One was an English translation that I'd done, and the other was called Getting to Know Buddhism (which I had written on the fifteenth anniversary of the leaving home of the Abbot of Vihara Borobodur in Medan).
That Thursday, I went to Gold Mountain Monastery as planned. There were over ten people at the Monastery. After lunch, one by one the laypeople bowed to the Venerable Master and departed. In the end I was the only one left. I thought it was kind of strange: Hadn't the Venerable Master told me to come on that day? Did I hear wrong? Or was the trip cancelled? I was filled with disappointment. I then asked an American Dharma Master, who said,
“You're still going! You're the only one the Venerable Master is taking along!”
“He's taking me alone?” I could hardly believe my ears. The Venerable Master's utter kindness made me want to cry!
On the road to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, the Venerable Master's voice came from the backseat:
“Laywoman Lin, are you afraid of the dark?” “No.” “The streets in the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas aren't lighted. You're not afraid?”
“Venerable Master, I'm not afraid.” “Are you afraid of the cold?”
“Yes, I'm quite afraid of the cold.” I was the world's number one for being afraid of the cold. According to the weather report, that year's winter was the coldest one America had had in thirty years.
It was already nighttime when the car reached the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. It was indeed pitch black in the streets. One needed a flashlight to shine the way. When I looked up, the sky seemed very low. The entire sky was filled with twinkling stars─a beautiful sight!
After I was taken to a single room, the Dharma Master explained the dorm situation to me. Suddenly, in the dim light I saw the Venerable Master approaching with a package in his hand. The laywoman who had driven us was following behind him. When the Master reached the door of my room, he pointed to the package and said,
“This is an electric blanket for you to use, so you won't feel cold.” I saw that it was a brand new blanket, still unopened and untouched. It must have been an offering to the Venerable Master from some layperson. How could I presume to use it? I said,
“Venerable Master, I don't need it. There are three heavy blankets on the bed already, and I'm wearing thermal underwear and several layers of cotton. I shouldn't be cold.” The Master said,
“No. You're from a hot climate, so you'll certainly fear the cold. Just use this blanket, and it will be enough.” I declined a second and a third time. The Venerable Master asked,
“What? I've brought it, and you won't use it?” His voice was full of disappointment. He was like a concerned father, afraid lest his child freeze in the severe cold of winter; yet his child was very stubborn and failed to understand his father's concern. How could the father not be disappointed? I hastily said,
“I'll use it! I'll use it! Venerable Master, thank
you for your kindness!” The Venerable Master's
expression seemed to be telling me, “Ah, now you've
done the right thing!”
In my room, the electrical outlet was too far away from the bed. The Venerable Master was talking with the laywoman about moving the bed, while at the same time telling the Dharma Master to take me to dinner. Before I turned around to leave, I seem to remember the Venerable Master actually helping to move the bed!
That evening, I was the only person who took dinner. A laywoman had cooked the meal. While the Dharma Master helped me to get a plate full of food─bread, cheese, an apple, and so on, she said to me in Chinese,
“Please sit down. Don't be polite.” I was deeply touched by the Dharma Master's kindness and concern.
After I finished dinner, I went back to the dorm to wash up. I didn't know how to turn on the hot water, so I had to use the freezing water to wash myself more or less. When I returned to my room, my whole body was shivering and my teeth were chattering. But as soon as I got under the electric blanket, in an instant, a warmth spread throughout my body─extremely comfortable. Snuggled under such a warm blanket, I ought to have entered the dreamworld very quickly. However, I couldn't fall asleep. As I lay there, my tears kept falling─tears of deep gratitude. The tears kept flowing without stop. I don't know how long it was before I finally fell asleep. Oh Venerable Master! Your fatherly kindness will forever be engraved in my heart─I will never be able to forget it!
I stayed at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas for two nights. I loved the purity of the City. It is an ideal place for cultivators. My only regret was that I didn't get to visit the Ordination Hall. Before I left the City, the Venerable Master asked and found out that the Dharma Master didn't take me to visit it. The Venerable Master also seemed to feel regret, but there was no time to go then.
On the return journey, the Venerable Master asked me if I wanted to live in America. I knew that he wished me to take part in the work of translating Sutras. I felt tremendously honored by the Venerable Master's consideration. The translation of Sutras is a sacred, noble, and very difficult task, not something that can be done by ordinary people. However, I'm ashamed to say that my Chinese and English are both mediocre. And my eight children and my husband still needed me to take care of them. What's more, the Buddhism of Medan still needed me. So I politely declined the Venerable Master's generous offer. The Venerable Master was still kind to me, and gave me many Buddhist books, such as the
Shurangama Sutra with commentary, News of True Cultivators, and
Talks on Dharma, before I left San Francisco.
During a conversation with the Venerable Master, I once invited him to come to Indonesia to propagate the Dharma (without specifying that the place was Medan, Indonesia). He very kindly said with a smile,
“Okay! But when I come, it'll be with ten or more people.” I was at a loss, because my family's financial resources were limited. This was especially true since I had been raising funds for the expansion of Vihara Borobodur in the past few years, and people had become afraid of me for being a
“tax collector.” So the matter of the invitation was set aside.
Probably it was in 1986, around the time that Elder Master Guangqin completed the stillness in Taiwan, that the Venerable Master and two disciples came to Jakarta. Because they had been unable to get visas, the immigration office refused to admit them. Fortunately, Sunter Agung, a Theravadan Buddhist temple, sponsored them and so they were able to come in. My two sisters who lived in Jakarta both went to pay respects to the Venerable Master. The Master told them he had come to Indonesia at the invitation of a certain laywoman (me). He said,
“If you sisters know of my coming, she will surely come, too.” Unfortunately, I happened to be in Singapore and no one notified me. I didn't find out until I returned to Jakarta. Ah, the Venerable Master's great compassion! He knew I really wished to invite him but didn't have the means, so he came to Indonesia on his own initiative to fulfill my wish. But his kind gesture was in vain. It's impossible to describe how bad I felt! I reproached myself for being so stupid and forgetting to tell the Master that I lived in Medan. I also grieved for the people of Medan, who didn't have the conditions to listen to the teachings of a greatly wise teacher who was the manifestation of a Bodhisattva.
In 1987, I founded the Buddhist Compassion Society (Yayasan Mettayana Buddhis) and made plans to build a Buddhist hospital. Seven months later, my husband suddenly passed away. With his death, I lost a powerful source of support in fundraising, and with the addition of various other pressures, I began showing symptoms of Parkinson's disease. My son-in-law's doctor not only gave me a medical prescription but also urged me to drop the Buddhist hospital project. My eldest daughter accompanied me to take a holiday in America and Canada. That was around April of 1988. When we passed through Taiwan, Laywoman Zhao, the director of the Banqiao Lotus Society, told me that she had discovered some typographical errors in the Venerable Master's books. Although it was only a few characters, they were very important characters. I agreed with her, and so she asked me to show them to the Venerable Master when I went to the United States.
Our itinerary only allowed us to stay at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas for one night. If we were delayed because of the text, it would be a great hassle. So in the afternoon of our second day at the City, I went to the Administration Office to ask to meet personally with the Venerable Master. The Dharma Master said the Venerable Master was resting and could not be disturbed. I said,
“I have something very important to tell the Venerable Master.” He said,
“You can tell me, and I will tell the Venerable Master for you.” I said,
“But Dharma Master, I must speak personally to the Venerable Master! And we have to go to San Francisco this afternoon, because...” No matter how I pleaded, there was no way. My daughter said,
“Why don't you forget it, Mom?" I said, "I haven't done what I have to do. How can I go?” In my agitated state, I couldn't stop myself from blurting out,
“Dharma Master, could you just tell the Venerable Master my name? Maybe the Venerable Master would like to see me.” The Dharma Master gave me a strange look, but I didn't blame him, for even to me, my words sounded like I was some kind of god or sage. But I had no choice! The Dharma Master finally said,
“Okay. I'll call the Venerable Master and ask.” In a short while he returned and said with a smile,
“Please wait a moment. The Master is coming.”
In a short while, I saw the Venerable Master seated in a rectangular, two-wheeled, uncovered wooden car (that's how I remember it looking). There was a lever on the right-hand side of the car, and the Master moved it back and forth to steer the car towards us. After the Venerable Master had come into the Administration Office and seated himself, I bowed to him, and the Master kindly told me to sit down and speak. I first reported the matter that Laywoman Zhao had entrusted to me, and then we talked about other matters. I again invited the Venerable Master to come to Medan, Indonesia, to propagate the Dharma. He suggested that I organize a group tour to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, as the people from Malaysia had done. I promised to do so when I went back. (But after I returned to Medan, I came down with a strange sickness for several months, which Chinese and Western doctors both domestic and abroad treated to no avail. It took two or three years for me to fully recover, and so I failed to carry out my promise.)
When I said goodbye to the Venerable Master, he asked why I didn't stay a few more days. I told him I had other obligations, and he didn't say more. When I walked out of the office, I planned to ask the Dharma Master to help me rent a car to return to San Francisco. I happened to see the laywoman who had driven us to the City the first time. She had just brought several Hong Kong disciples to the City, and the Venerable Master arranged for her to take me back to San Francisco. On the way I told the laywoman that I felt very embarrassed to give her so much trouble.
“Don't worry,” she said, “You're an honored guest of the Venerable Master.” Honored guest! What striking words! What virtue and ability and status did I have that the Venerable Master considered me an honored guest? No! I wasn't an honored guest! I told her,
“This is just the Venerable Master's compassion─his
fatherly concern and protection towards me!”
The ancients said, “If one receives a drop of kindness, one should repay it with a bubbling spring.” The Venerable Master's kindness to me was as deep as the sea. Yet I haven't done anything to repay him. Although the Buddhist view is that all things have their conditions, the matter of inviting the Venerable Master to come to Medan was delayed time and again. It is because of my negligence that the people of Medan did not get the opportunity to behold and draw near to the Venerable Master. Every time I think of this, I feel regret, and tears of grief fill my eyes.
On my way back to Indonesia after the Venerable Master's cremation ceremony, during my last night in Hong Kong, in the midst of my grief, a thought suddenly flashed through my mind:
“I know, why don't I reprint the book In Memory of the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua and circulate it widely? Even though the people of Medan didn't get to meet the Venerable Master─this greatly wise teacher, the manifestation of a Bodhisattva─when he was alive, they can read this book and be moved by the Venerable Master's magnanimous and selfless spirit, his eighteen great vows, his compassionate wish to take the sufferings of living beings upon himself, and the touching accounts of his kindnesses towards disciples...and his wise and courageous pioneering efforts to translate the Sutras─this
is a sacred deed of monumental merit that will be
remembered for endless generations.”
Reading this book, one will surely feel that one is listening to the Venerable Master's teachings in person and be filled with the joy of the Dharma. The book is currently being reprinted. I hope that this will help me repay a small portion of the Venerable Master's kindness!
I wish the Venerable Master will ride upon his vows and quickly return! I have firm faith that the Venerable Master will return, for he is Earth Store King Bodhisattva of Great Vows!
I wish that the Venerable Master's teachings will not only flourish in the West, but will spread around the globe!
Opening the Light Verse for Thousand-handed,
Thousand-eyed Guanyin Bodhisattva
A thousand eyes observe and a thousand hands reach out
To direct living beings who are confused at the crossroads.
He vows that all sentient beings will leave suffering.
And ascend to the other shore with Maha Prajna.
──by Venerable Master Hua