A native of Shantung Province, Dharma Master Hui Ch'ao was born in 1931, in the province of Hopei. The only child of the Li family, he was named Shueuh Shr. His youth was marred by the long war with the Japanese. He remembers fleeing together with millions of country people in the wake of bomb scares and air raids. Life was laced with pain; scanty clothes and a meager bowl of congee were hard to come by. War was a tiresome journey through the night. During the scuttle from village to village, with the enemy pressing close at their heels, Shueuh Shr lost track of his mother in 1948 and hasn't located her since. In 1947, his father Li Kuang Ming died in combat at the battlefront. Upon hearing this news, the young man was jolted into an awareness that all life is impermanent.
In 1957 he began studying Buddhism under the guidance of a neighbor, an elderly gentleman. Upon hearing the verse:
A few sprigs of plum blossom harken spring's arrival.
This foremost flower stirs up such sentiments!
Take heed, traveler, do not seek outside.
The very nostrils your mother gave you
Can emit heavenly fragrance.
He understood the principle of "one turn of the head is the other shore." 'Before one turns one's head around, one is tossed ceaselessly in the riptide of birth and death; after one comes back to shore, there is safety and freedom.
In 1974, Dharma Master Hui Ch'ao became a novice under Dharma Master Wu Ch'ih of K'ai Yuan Monastery in Tainan province, Taiwan. In 1975 he was ordained with the full bhiksu precepts at Taipei's Chi Hsian Monastery.
Dharma Master Hui Ch'ao was impressed by the repute of the Venerable Abbot and drawn by the lifestyle of cultivation at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. He arrived in June 1978, and now enthusiastically participates in the Avatamsaka assembly. He also assiduously studies the wealth of Chinese philosophy, psychology, the Sutras, and Ch'an literature of the Patriarchs, part of the curriculum offered at Dharma Realm Buddhist University.
Master Hui Ch'ao delights in the swift, incisive touch with which the
Abbot transforms the most ordinary, day-to-day affairs into supreme
teaching devices. Once, upon hearing disciples complain that other people
were slandering their teacher, the Abbot emitted a gentle smile and said
nothing, totally unmoved. This struck Dharma Master Hui Ch'ao as a mark of
real kung fu--spiritual skill. Buddhism is not divorced from worldly
dharma; the two can become one and the same. The secret is transcendence,
total letting go. The difference between a sage and the common person is
right within this single thought.
One discipline Dharma Master Hui Ch'ao is intent upon investigating is
Ch'an meditation. Although he has not completely conquered the pain that
wells up from sitting for long periods in lotus, he is determined to
master this Dharma-door of the Mini Manjusri Bodhisattva once said,
one can sit in stillness even for a split second,
Only if the student of Ch'an is willing to apply relentless effort can he or she fathom the depths of the waters and pierce the secrets of the heavens.