Everyone is travelling the same path of life. Each person’s life is precious because
“the human body is hard to obtain.” And I have been even luckier in that I have encountered the Buddhadharma, and moreover, among the multitudes of people, I have met the Venerable Master Hua. The Master often says that he is a tiny ant. To me, this statement carries deep meaning. Who could count all the ants in this world? And how extremely difficult it would be to find this one particular tiny ant among all those ants. If it were not for conditions developed in the past, how could I have met him? It must have been fate.
After meeting the Venerable Master, my life underwent a great change. My heart and soul underwent repeated tests and I was troubled by inner struggle and conflict. Life is full of perversity, and the mind is very stubborn. What a dangerous situation we are in, not knowing what we did in previous lives, not knowing what will happen in lives to come, and not knowing what we should be doing in this life. It is of utmost importance that we have a teacher to guide and rescue us when we are thus confused. And that is why an invisible force has guided me step by step to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. How did it all begin? Could this be a response?
My name is Agis Gan, and my Dharma name is Guo Ri. I was born in 1951 in Malaysia. When my mother conceived me, she considered getting an abortion. But it was not time for me to die, and so after a ten-month pregnancy, I was born. I was afflicted with many illnesses in childhood and was always scared of dying. Whenever I heard people talking about disasters or accidents, I would always wake up from nightmares in the middle of the night and seek my mother’s protection. My family was poor, and I was the only one who was fortunate enough to be able to study at a university. I graduated from the Department of Physics Education at the University of Malaysia in 1976 and later became a teacher at a high school that was four hundred miles from my hometown. During that time, I didn’t know anything about the Buddhadharma, but I respected and admired Islam, which emphasizes purity. Ninety-eight percent of my students were Muslims, and I envied them for having a belief to rely upon.
In 1982 I began to have contact with Buddhism, and I took refuge with Dharma Master Hui Yuan. At that time my first daughter had just been born, and she would usually cry nonstop at dusk every day. My mother-in-law thought there had to be a reason behind this and suggested that my wife and I send our four-faced Buddha image to the Buddhist association to have an initiation ceremony performed on it. The day we went happened to be the Buddha’s birthday, and Dharma Master Hui Yuan asked me if I had taken refuge. I asked him what taking refuge meant and what the Triple Jewel was. He answered,
“If you bow to the Buddhas, but fail to take refuge with the Triple Jewel, you can only be considered a Buddhist sympathizer.” I was astonished, and so, after my wife and I asked about the details of the matter, we both took refuge with Dharma Master Hui Yuan.
My colleague, Upasaka Huang Shiguang, seeing my sincerity, introduced me to another layman, Michael (Guoxin) Yang. From him I learned that the Venerable Master had founded the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in the United States, and that his disciples had just completed a pilgrimage of prostrating themselves every three steps. Full of admiration, I borrowed a copy of the book
The Records of the Life of Dhyana Master To Lun. After reading it, I lamented that I was only a poor teacher who did not have the resources to make a trip to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in America.
In 1983, I moved to Kang, Selangor, and took a teaching post in the school there. At that point, I reasoned that since I wasn’t able to meet the Venerable Master, I could at least first request to take refuge with him. I wrote a letter to the Master requesting to take refuge, and to my complete surprise, the Master agreed and also instructed my wife and me to bow to the Buddhas for two hours each day, in the morning and evening. The Master also told us he would let us take refuge at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. The day we took refuge was Shakyamuni Buddha’s birthday.
In 1985, my wife encouraged me to move to the City and help the Master by doing some work for Buddhism. So I wrote a letter to the Master and received the Master’s reply:
“When the conditions are ripe, the matter will take care of itself.” Therefore I temporarily set this matter aside. Afterwards, Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda Mahathera was looking for volunteers to preach in jail. My wife and I agreed to take on this job, but we felt a bit uneasy, so we wrote a letter requesting advice from the Master. The Master instructed,
“When an upright person speaks deviant dharma, the deviant dharma becomes proper; when a deviant person speaks the proper Dharma, the proper Dharma becomes deviant.” Our minds were set at ease and we worked for about two years.
In 1986, my wife brought forth the resolve to attend the Ten Thousand Buddhas’ Jewelled Repentance Ceremony. At that time I felt very bad because I didn’t have enough savings, but I still told her to go ahead and register first. By the day she was to leave, I had saved up enough for her to make the trip. During the repentance session, she experienced the pure life and lofty practices of the City, as well as many responses, and consequently she didn’t feel like returning to Malaysia. Right before she left the City, she prayed to Guanyin Bodhisattva to give me a chance to come to the City in the following year. After she returned to Malaysia, she could not forget the City and wished to come back. I didn’t have the same hope, for I thought she was already lucky enough to go to the United States that year and there was no need to dream about getting another chance in years to come. I never expected that I would also come to the City the following year.
In 1987, upon the Master’s invitation, I made a special trip to attend the Water, Land, and Air Dharma Assembly and the World Religions Conference. On the plane, when I was half-asleep, I saw the Master board the plane and welcome us. There was another monk, whose Dharma name I didn’t know, standing beside the Master. After I arrived at the City, I discovered that the Bhikshu in my dream really existed. When I saw the Master, I thought to myself:
“The Master has countless disciples; I wonder if he will remember who I am, especially since we have never met.” Then I started introducing myself to the Master, saying,
“My name is Agis, and I came from Malaysia.” The Master said,
“Your last name is Gan, right?” I was utterly astonished and delighted. During my stay in the City, I asked the Master,
“What can I do for the City?” The Master replied, “Don’t work only for the City; work for Buddhism.” When I asked again what particular work I could do, the Master said,
“Pull weeds.” “How about my wife and children?” I asked. The Master replied,
“I don’t know, either!”
After I went back to Malaysia, I showed pictures of the Water, Land, and Air Dharma Assembly to my students, who praised it greatly. Some of the students in the Buddhist Association also ordered Sutras and books from the City. One of my students, after graduating from school, brought forth the resolve to study the Buddhadharma at the Proper Dharma Buddhist Academy in Taiwan. She has already left the home-life at the City and is now working to propagate the Dharma to benefit living beings.
In November, 1988, the Master again went to Malaysia to propagate the proper Dharma. Later he assigned Dharma Master Heng Su to stay in Malaysia to manage the Buddhist affairs. Some people suggested that we look for some land and establish a Way-place in Malaysia so that it would be convenient for the Master to go and propagate the Dharma. When Upasaka Yang Guoxin mentioned this project to my wife, she suddenly recalled a dream she had in which the Master had a Way-place in nearby Broaga and was propagating the Dharma there. She and Upasaka Yang went to look at the land there; unexpectedly, it was up for sale, so Upasaka Yang’s brother bought it. Not long after that, we invited Dharma Master Heng Su to my place to give a lecture, which more than seventy people attended. After he left, I was filled with the joy of the Dharma and went to sleep. That night, Wei Tou Bodhisattva appeared in my dream: At first, I was in an old temple and Wei Tou Bodhisattva’s image was covered with dust; then his hand began to emit red light and gradually, the dust fell away from his body and he appeared as a majestic general. The Bodhisattva first wanted me to drink a bowl of clean water; then he grasped me under both armpits and lifted me into the air. The Bodhisattva wanted me to look around. I saw endless space in all directions; under my feet and over my head were colorful clouds never seen before in the world; in front of me was a dragon’s head appearing within the white cloud. As I was puzzling over all of this, I turned my head to look for the Bodhisattva, but he had already disappeared. Then I returned to the old temple again.
From then on, I brought forth deeper faith in the Master’s work of propagating the Dharma. In April of 1992, another delegation from Dharma Realm Buddhist Association came to Malaysia and held a Ten Thousand Buddhas’ Jewelled Repentance Ceremony. I requested a leave of absence from work and worked as a volunteer during the three weeks of the ceremony. After the ceremony, the temple in the Kuala Lumpur moved to Tze Yun Tung Temple. In August, a group from Tze Yun Tung Temple went to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas to attend the second Water, Land, and Air Dharma Assembly. My wife again wanted to go with them. I said that since we had sold our small house, the travelling expenses would not be a problem and she might as well take the four kids and give them a chance to visit the City. Our only worry was getting the visas for an adult with four children. We were a bit apprehensive going to the U.S. Embassy, but the officer was very agreeable and granted the visas.
When they arrived at the City, my children liked it very much and applied to stay and attend elementary and secondary school there. When I received their letter back in Malaysia, I worried about their tuition, but then thought: Perhaps they can study at the City for two or three years until the money runs out and then return to Malaysia. I went to visit them in November that year. Some Dharma Masters suggested that I resign from my job and become a volunteer teacher in the school at the City. My wife also told me that the Master had agreed that I could teach in the school. Therefore I applied to become a student at the Dharma Realm Buddhist University (DRBU), so that I could study the Buddhadharma at the same time that I taught in the school at the City.
In February of 1993, DRBU sent me a letter of acceptance and I started to debate whether or not to go. If I went, I would have to quit my job and go to place with an unknown future; besides, not only I, but my family─all six of us─faced the same problem. It was very hard for me to make a decision. If I didn’t go, I didn’t want them and myself to miss the chance to draw near to the Buddhadharma. After I made up my mind to quit my job, another problem came up: I had to send in my resignation six months in advance, but I could only apply for a student visa two months before I planned to leave the country. What if I quit my job and then my visa application was rejected? What would I do if I had no work and yet couldn’t go to the City? In the end, I still decided to hand in my resignation. In this way, I was busy running here and there for six months. First I received a letter approving my resignation, and later my student visa was also approved. Only then was I able to heave a sigh of relief. My wife also returned from the City, so we hurriedly sold whatever could be sold, gave away the things that could be given, and came to the City with our youngest daughter.
Everything in the City seems so familiar to me. The view behind Unicorn House is exactly the same view of the pine forest that I’d seen in my dream when I attended the Water, Land, and Air Dharma Assembly. I also dreamed that many Bhikshus were walking in single file through the forest, wearing their yellow-orange sashes and looking very adorned. And now I was actually living in Unicorn House.
After all this, I found out more things. The Venerable Master is so compassionate and magnanimous. For the sake of the Buddhadharma, he undertakes all kinds of hardship and never once complains of weariness. It is because of his incorruptible character and moral fortitude that the entire range of Buddhist activities has been established. Even all the help provided by his disciples is not enough to set up all the activities of Buddhism. In ancient China, the emperors built Way-places for high monks to carry out the translation of Sutras, but nowadays in America, where can you find such an emperor? Where can you find a multitude of disciples to make offerings? How can we maintain so many Way-places, where so many left-home people and laypeople devote themselves to working for Buddhism without any income? Aside from making possible the propagation of Dharma and the translation of Sutras, the Venerable Master must also worry about and devote his efforts to paying for the expenses of Buddhist activities. This is not a job that an ordinary person would be able to do well.
Dharma Realm Buddhist Association needs more people to contribute their strength and money. Those people who have already come forth to help should unite and work together to establish a better system for our organization and give our organization a stable financial basis. Under the Venerable Master’s leadership, we should make longterm plans and goals to establish a solid foundation for the future development of Buddhism and open the way to a bright future for the proper Dharma.
The Buddha’s power is limitless, and his is the same way;
Just like space, it has no boundaries.
In order to cause living beings to obtain liberation,
For a million kalpas he diligently cultivates,
Yet does not become weary.
He goes along with the still extinct Dharma of Nirvana,
Dwelling without striving and without any reliance.
His mind, like ultimate reality, is unequaled.
He only goes towards Bodhi without ever retreating.
Chapter on The Merit and Virtue from First Bringing Forth the Mind, the
Flower Adornment Sutra