One day about ten years ago, a friend suggested that I meet with an eminent monk the following Sunday. I don’t know if my thought waves were traveling on Minkowski’s light-cone surface, which contains the past, present, and future, or if I was going back to the future by riding on a tachyon, which travels faster than the speed of light. That night I had a dream in which I clearly saw a great monk sitting perfectly still in meditation with a stern expression on his face. Resting on his shaved head was a metallic object resembling a pictograph of the Chinese character
“mountain” (three mountain peaks). On the day of the meeting, the eminent monk I saw was indeed the one in my dream. They said,
“This is the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua.” He smiled kindly and said,
“They say you saw a mountain-like object on my head.”
“Yes, what was it?” “That’s the Buddha-eye. The Buddha has already seen you!” The Buddha? Which Buddha? Where? ...!?...!? Could it be that the person I’ve been searching for all along is right here, amidst the glittering lights?
This rare experience allowed me to observe and study this Buddhist philosopher from a time-and-space-transcending perspective.
Random Conversations and Incidents
Let me bring up some ordinary incidents and things that others have said, so that the reader may, with his own imagination and judgement, come to recognize the wisdom of this enlightened one whom people hold in awe and yet wish to draw near.
1. Dr. Ron Epstein, one of the Chancellors of Dharma Realm Buddhist University, was the earliest of the many Caucasian disciples who followed the Venerable Master. After being around the Master for several months, he came to realize with amazement,
“He (the Venerable Master) simply doesn’t have any
sense of self.”
2. Once, the Venerable Master was riding in the backseat of my car, and from the rearview mirror I could see that the Master’s eyes were closed. Just as I was driving past a hearse, the Master recited something and made a series of hand gestures to liberate the soul of the deceased in the hearse. His compassion towards living beings extends even to the souls of those who have left their physical body.
“Those in the same boat must have affinities from
past lives. Even a brush of the shoulders in passing
is a condition.”
3. Another time when the Master was in my car and I was driving along the winding and scenic mountain road, the Master suddenly asked me,
“What do you think of Clinton and Feinstein?” Being a very forthright person, I immediately replied,
“Clinton wants to be the Chief Commander of the Armed Forces (President), but he dodged the military draft in his youth. He supports the legalization of abortion, but this is harmful to the country. He’s become a laughingstock with his argument that he
‘never inhaled’ when he smoked marijuana.” Regarding Feinstein, I said,
“In order to get more votes, she is supporting homosexuality and thus indirectly causing the spread of the AIDS virus and the decline of morality.” The Venerable Master added,
“He always goes back and forth and cannot make up his mind.”
“It’s about time you returned to the fold!”
4. The Venerable Master discussed these two candidates with many people, including city council members, assembly members, senators, professors, and scholars. When he disagreed with them, he would not hesitate to criticize them and overthrow their views, not giving them any face:
“Mr. Mayor, if there are two suns or two moons in the sky, how can the myriad things of creation survive?” The Venerable Master’s
‘lion’s roar,’ which cuts straight to the heart of the matter, is not motivated by self-righteousness. Rather, it comes from his great kindness and compassion─he is crying for help on behalf of aborted babies and AIDS victims.
5. In his book, the American author Rick Fields tells the story of a Caucasian disciple. One day he secretly stored away a piece of pie, and after evening lecture, he stealthily climbed the fire escape ladder and snuck onto the roof of the building. Just as he was about to bite into the pie, the Master climbed onto the roof, too. His disciple joined his palms and pretended to be reciting as he walked slowly. The Master did likewise but walked in the opposite direction. After the third round, the Master gave a laugh and asked his disciple,
“How do you feel?” Several years later, this disciple completed a pilgrimage in which he bowed once every three steps to pray for world peace. When he reached his destination, the Master, holding a piece of pie in his hand, laughed again and said to the assembly,
“This monk has bowed a thousand miles for the sake of this piece of pie!” That was the Master’s humor.
6. His open-mindedness: The Venerable Master often listened to his disciples express the beauty of Buddhist poetry through music. The Master’s young novice disciples have performed plays about Monkey’s journey to obtain Sutras. At the International Translation Institute and at the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, he often met with scientists to discuss the points where science and the Buddhadharma are indistinguishable. Whenever there was an important decision to be made, the Master would use democratic methods and have a brainstorming session to gather everyone’s ideas. Finally, he would use his most common phrase,
“Use your own wisdom to decide!” to test and to nurture his disciples’ capabilities.
7. During President Bush’s re-election campaign in 1992, he mentioned in the second debate,
“After I am re-elected as President, I will take a twenty-percent cut in my salary.” This was in response to the Venerable Master’s suggestion that the President not take a salary. The Master had hoped President Bush would become an unsalaried President, a model for the people of the nation and the world.
8. On December 5, 1994, when the Venerable Master’s condition was already extremely weak, he still wanted to renounce himself to help others:
“I am like two people right now. One person is still
going around saving living beings. As for this
person who is me, I don’t care about him. I will not
The Lotuses Begin to Bloom
About 2500 years ago, Shakyamuni Buddha said,
“2500 years after my Nirvana, the highest doctrine (Buddhism) will develop and expand in a country where red-faced people live.” The country of red-faced people refers to America, the home of red-skinned American Indians.
American author Rick Fields, in his book
How the Swans Came to the Lake, named the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua as the first Chinese monk to come to America and transmit the Buddhadharma to Westerners. The book mentions the prophecy that the Venerable Master made in 1968 in San Francisco:
“This year, five lotuses will bloom in America.” In 1969, five Caucasian disciples travelled to Haihui Monastery in Keelung, Taiwan to receive the complete precepts, thus becoming the first fully ordained Caucasian Buddhist monks and nuns in America. This event is of great historical importance, for it is only when the Dharma is transmitted by local people to local people that Buddhism will be considered to have sent its roots down.
After this first swan flew over and landed in the lake, Buddhism has been developing step by step, and other Chinese Sangha members have begun (especially recently) to follow it to America to transmit the teachings and propagate the Buddhadharma. The scene is one of prosperity. There’s a beautiful saying:
“The voice of the nightingale sings through the sky.
The calling of the sparrow adds to the joyfulness of
Great Master Huineng Appears
When Filial Son Bai (the Venerable Master) was living by his mother’s grave, one day while meditating he saw the Sixth Patriarch come before him and say,
“You will turn the five schools into ten... Your disciples will be as numerous as the sands of the Ganges. You will go to the West to propagate the Buddhadharma, and that will be the genuine beginning of Buddhism in the West.” Only after he had escorted the Sixth Patriarch out of his hut did he remember that the Patriarch had entered Nirvana long ago (in A.D. 713).
The “world citizen” and humanist Schweitzer was praised as a great disciple who was most able to practice the teachings of Jesus.
In the “Universal Door Chapter of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva,” there is a lovely Buddhist verse:
Sweet dew sprinkles constantly from her vase.
In her hand she holds the willow branch for countless autumns.
Prayers come from a thousand places, and in a thousand places
In the sea of suffering, she is a ship that crosses people over.
A “ship that crosses people over” and a
“saving ferry” are all tools by which the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas carry out their vows of great compassion.
“Saving ferry” (To Lun) is the Venerable Master Hua’s Dharma name. If we think about it, isn’t the Venerable Master Hua─as the Mendicant from Changbai Mountain, as Filial Son Bai who stayed by his mother’s grave, as the
“ant” who allowed others to walk over his body─the most compassionate, caring, pure, adorned, and selfless enlightened one since Shakyamuni Buddha?
The Great Way Flows Away
On March 22 of this year (1995), I wrote in my diary,
“Yesterday I dreamed that the Master completed the stillness (even though I haven’t taken refuge, I call him the Master). I was pushing a car up a hill (actually, it was a barrel). The Master was walking towards the clouds. I told the Master I wanted to write to him... Two weeks ago I also dreamed of the Master dressed all in white and lying on a platform (when everyone went to visit him). He seemed a bit embarrassed as he smiled at everyone...” Not long after this, one day (in early April), I brought a friend by the surname of Shen to the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. When I returned from Ukiah, there were messages from two of the Master’s disciples on the answering machine. The Master wanted me to call right away. The Master only said three short lines:
I’m about to leave. Take care of yourself. You still have work to do!
I didn’t realize that would be my last conversation with the Venerable Master Hua. Did the Master know his itinerary on this planet? Did he plan his own itinerary?
In 1948, the Venerable Master Hua travelled over three thousand kilometers to pay respects to the Elder Master Hsu Yun, a greatly virtuous monk of the Chan School, at Nanhua Monastery in Baolin, Guangdong Province. When the two worthies met, they were like old friends. The Elder Master Hsu Yun knew that the Master was a vessel of Dharma, and several years later, transmitted the Dharma to him. This event was widely talked about by everyone in Buddhism, for at that time the Master was only a young monk in his thirties.
More than forty years have passed. When the Venerable Master’s affinities for teaching were about to come to an end and he was lying sick in bed, he solemnly named Dharma Master Heng Lyu as the Chairman of the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association. The Master used the term
“president” in stating his intent, saying, “All of you must support him well.” Although his voice was weak, his words were in earnest─every word resonated endlessly in my ear:
“new star, new president [new abbot].” In particular, the Master’s voice seemed to rise in pitch when he said the last phrase. We sincerely hope that every member of the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas will take the Master’s wish as his or her wish, and support this young Abbot.
This indicates that the end of an era is the beginning of another era. Things continue to move ahead; as modern scientists say,
“All things and beings are nothing but events and
Coming Back on His Vows
“I came from empty space, and I will return to empty space.” This is the great and perfect beauty of liberation and self-mastery, in which form is just emptiness, but it always makes me think of Laozi’s line:
“Being great, it flows. Flowing, it goes afar. Going afar, it returns.” These words are the most beautiful expression of awakening to the Tao that the universe has ever seen from ancient times until now. The beauty of the Tao lies in its flowing and impermanence. When it flows to the farthest point, it will return to its original source.
I’m very attached! The Master has not fulfilled his eighteen great vows yet. On the path of flowing, going afar, and returning, he is certain to come back riding on his vows. This is a prophecy that is sure to come true. Let me use a beautiful verse by Tagore to express the Dharma-bliss I will feel if I, as I hope, reverently meet with the Venerable Master Hua again in an unknown time-space continuum.
Someday, I shall sing to you in the sunrise of some other world:
“I have seen you before, in the light of earth, in
the love of man.”