With One Heart, Bowing to the City
of 10,000 Buddhas
There is an ineffable feeling of completeness and security in the life of a left-home monk. Having given up private home and personal relationships, the left home person is at home in the world at large. His companions are all beings everywhere. His refuge is peaceful dwelling with the Supreme Knight, the Buddha, the wisdom-lore and the Enlightened Ones of the sutras, and the selfless pure "field of blessings" Sangha members. Has there ever been any greater happiness and peace than this?
Several weeks ago I witnessed a wonderful human-interest story unfold which I've called "The Monk and the Militants". We were bowing in Santa Cruz when a reporter for the local college paper came up to interview Heng Chau. She was moved by our work and vows. She was surprised that all our material needs come from free-will offerings.
The next day after lunch we bowed across Branciforte Creek and the reporter appeared again. She looked apologetic and flustered. Another student stood beside her, a hostile expression on her face.
"I feel embarrassed to ask you these questions, but I have to ask anyhow," she said. The questions were all about politics and economics. They were pointed questions and the language was angry, resentful, full of jargon and political rhetoric. It was clear that the reporter had been under attack by political classmates at school. They had pegged Buddhism as parasitical and exclusive and San Bu Yi Bai as an elitist and frivolous exercise, of interest and of benefit only to members of a rich, white minority in society.
The militants did not pick their opponent well. Heng Chau's answers left the students speechless; the reporter speechless with delight, her angry friend speechless with dismay. Heng Chau is not politically ignorant or naive. Rather he is experienced at the political-consciousness parlor game. Before he left home to become a monk he was a Doctoral candidate in the highly competitive history department at the University of Wisconsin. He cut his political teeth during the red-hot Sixties, the era of marches, sit-ins and consciousness-raising confrontations. It was precisely his disenchantment with the ineffectiveness and the narrow scope of the political answer to the world's problems that led to his discovery of Buddhism. In the Buddhadharma he found real solutions to the suffering that all people undergo. He left the home-life to study and practice the Dharma full-time as a monk.
Here are the questions and answers given that day as the monk met the challenge of the militants:
Q: What is the racial and class background of the members of the Sino-American Buddhist Association?
A: We come from the class of all living beings. SABA is truly international. The Buddhadharma cuts across all divisions of class, race, sex, age, nationality, ethnic and economic backgrounds. It is the direct mind-to-mind language, the teaching of all beings, the teaching of the heart. It is the true classless origin of human beings. No one in SABA thinks in those divisive categories any longer.
Q: How can you avoid the reality of "those categories"?
A: It's all made from the mind. If you want to see the world as rich and poor, black and white, have and have not, then that's how it is. But if you take a step two inches to the left or two inches to the right or look over your shoulder then it all looks different. If you are open to all the possibilities, if you turn your head all the way around then you approach the Buddhist view. Buddhism is the teaching of the mind and all its states. Both have no beginning and have no end.
Q: How can you feel comfortable taking the time to make a pilgrimage like this? No one in the Third World could afford it. Third World people have more primary concerns, like filling their bellies. Your pilgrimage is possible only in a country where everyone gets to eat his fill. Only then are you able to sit around and think of transcendental bliss.
A: No one who understands people could say that the only concern of any person or group of people is filling their bellies. That's just a handy label that Westerners use to identify "the Third World" as they call it. In fact, Third World people are people. They think of birth and death, where they came from and where they are going. All people think about it. We just returned from a trip through Asia and we visited some backwater places, where the Third World lives. People there met the Buddhadharma with an overwhelmingly positive response, as strong and as enthusiastic as anywhere in the U.S.A. Why? Because Buddhism is the language of the heart. Everyone recognizes it. It transcends the simple concern for a full belly. Buddhism is our original home. The rest is superficial.
Q: How are you adding to the world's production? Living like soft parasites in a safe monastery how are you helping anyone?
A: People at Gold Mountain Monastery and the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, and at the International Institute for the Translation of Buddhist Texts are deeply concerned with the suffering of beings everywhere. We believe that we must,
"Truly recognize your own faults, don't discuss the faults of others. Other's faults are just my own. Being of one substance with everyone, This is truly great compassion."
But we don's just talk about it. So we eat just one meal a day. Some of the monks eat just one bowl of food per day. Why? Because there people in the world who do not get enough to eat every day. We add to production by not being greedy.
We do not solicit anything. All that we have and use are offerings given freely. We do not use money for food. We get our vegetables from what the markets throw away, or we grow it in our fields. We live on the scraps of the U.S.A. Any money that is offered is used to build Way-places and to print books. No one holds private property; it all belongs to the church. Our clothes are not bought. We recycle the clothes that other people no longer want. We are not concerned with stylish appearances. There are no waterbeds at our way places. Most of the monks and nuns and even some of the lay people never lie down they sleep sitting in meditation posture. We don't turn on heaters in our monasteries, no matter what season it is. We do nothing for name or for gain. We do not lead personal lives. The monks and nuns are celibate, they believe in eliminating all selfish desires. Now this is genuine revolution. Our Three Great Principles are these:
"Freezing to death,
we do not climb on conditions.
Starving to death,
we do not beg.
Dying of poverty,
we do not scheme.
We accord with conditions
but do not change.
we accord with conditions.
These are our Three Great Principles.
We give up our lives
to do the Buddhas work.
We shape our lives to create the ability
to make revolution within the Sangha order.
Our business is illuminating principles
so that our principles are revealed
in our practice.
In this way we carry out
the pulse of the Patriarch's
When we follow these principles we truly help the Third World and all living beings. The answer to the world's suffering is not simply to give the Third World what the U.S. has. Rather we must turn our abundant blessings into merit and virtue through hard work and cultivation of our own natures. It's said that
"To receive suffering
is to end suffering.
To cash in blessings
is to exhaust blessings."
Buddhadharma teaches that the reason the world is in a mess is because our
winds are a mess. If we want to clean up the world we must first
purify our own minds. We do not tell other people to wash their dirty
clothes. Buddhists do our own dirty laundry. All of the problems in the
world come from selfishness and the desire for self-benefit. The heart of
Buddhism teaches us to have
On Sunday afternoon Heng Chau told me the story of his encounter with the students. He said, "I gave some thought to my answers and there was much more I could have said. But that was not the time or place to go into depth. I would explain the principles of compassion and cause and effect. These two principles really expanded my own mind from my former materialist and divisive political views. My thinking used to be really narrow. It was purely intellectual. The materialist view is one-dimensional, it divides the world, it's based on fighting. Either side of the coin, capitalism or communism, both are dead ends. There's no heart there. People are not as simple as mouths and bellies and greed for wealth.
That's what led me to change my mind. I looked into my own heart and realized that there was more inside than concern for my own benefit. How could I assume that that's all there is in others? Buddhism is based on kindness, compassion, joy and giving. It includes everyone, no one is excluded. Great compassion is grand and magnanimous; great division is petty and full" of hatred.
What does our teacher have to say about class? He says:
"All beings are my family,
all the universe is my body,
empty space is my school,
the invisible is my name,
kindness, compassion, joy and giving
are my functions."
After you hear this truth who could ever be satisfied with class struggle and washing others' dirty clothes?
I understand now that it's cause and effect that determines the worlds that we live in. If you waste your blessings and don't cultivate merit and virtue then even if you have wealth you can loose it in this lifetime. If you do nothing but exhaust your blessings and follow greed then in the next life you will certainly come up short. This is what's really going on beneath the surface of the materialistic world.
"It's not difficult to see beyond the purely political view of the western intellectual," said Heng Chau. It's got no heart to it. There is a really arrogant and superior attitude towards people within it. The basic assumptions are that poor people are worse off than we are and won't be happy until they have what rich Americans want. If you see the world that way then that's how it is. It's a blend of greed and guilt. If the Third World does not want what we have then how does it make us feel about our excess? Are two cars and a color t.v. really our righteous share?
In Asia I heard many people, particularly older people say that as their countries gave up simple lives and moved closer to big cities, everyone got more nervous. There was no time to enjoy life anymore. All people knew was chasing the buck, desires grew, simple toys, simple thoughts no longer satisfied people. Families break down, headaches and problems increase as soon as First World culture is imported.
"What's more, the Buddhadharma faces squarely the big matter of birth and death and its suffering. Poor people embrace the Dharma because they see the emptiness of life and the universality of suffering up close. They aren't cushioned from it the way we are in the West," said Heng Chau.
"The turning point in the encounter with the students came when I explained the actual practices of the members of SABA. Up to that point the interviewers assumed that we were just students too, wearing funny clothes and playing the same political game. They assumed that we ate the same food, listened to the same music, danced to the same rhythms. When they heard about the bitter practices of SABA's Dharma-revolutionaries the conversation quickly became very real. Great compassion is such a wonderful heart. As soon as you include all beings instead of dividing them up, discrimination and hatred just shrivel up," Heng Chau said. "Like the Master told us in L.A., once you grasp any of the fundamental Buddhist principles then there's no one you can't win over in debate. Who can refuse to stand inside the peace and happiness of the Buddha's light? The Buddhadharma is truly the highest of all teachings. It is "without sophistry"; it "goes beyond words and thoughts". It's inconceivable!"
Kuo Chen (Heng Sure)
November 13, 1978
"Heard you are sick...hope you die."
Today the Master and a bus full of bright-eyed Dharma friends came from the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas to give the bowing monks "a little gasoline" as the Master put it. How did we run out of fuel? I ran out of fuel by running outside looking for women. I ran and ran until my fuel was gone. Then I got sick. When the Master stepped down from the yellow dragon bus he started whisking away our obstacles and afflictions. "I heard from Xuo Chou you were sick. I asked him if you had died. He said no. So because you haven't died yet, I have come to see you. If you had died I wouldn't have come. Do you understand?" The Masters strange words went straight to my heart. Finally, I understood. This is the whole story:
I should have left home the first time I came to Gold Mountain Monastery almost three years ago. I had come home and knew this was where I belonged. But I couldn't put down my selfish desire for women. So I turned my back on enlightenment and went back to the dust. The purity and happiness I experienced at Gold Mountain soon was exhausted. Shortly after, I got all afflicted and hung-up, trying to act like a monk at home. I was cultivating the Way and romance at the same time. It didn't work. At the peak of this self-inflicted crisis, with my girlfriend threatening to leave, I called Shihfu expecting sympathy. The Master wasted no words or phony emotion... "SO!? So she leaves. Good. No one is dying are they? Don't have any false thoughts or attachments." The Master warned me to be careful and act according to principle. I did not listen. I just couldn't cut off my desire and so things got worse and my sickness drained my strength.
When I left home the Master remarked, "I believe you can leave home and cultivate the Way because you have put down your girlfriend. Be vigorous and advance!" Then Shihfu addressed all the monks present informally and kindly, "You can't be sloppy or casual, especially now in America. This is the only way Buddhism will be established in the West. Most important, don't attach to women...that is the most important example for you to show America. You can't be too close to women or too far away or you're wrong. You are all my precious jewels. I won't sell anyone of you. Don't waste your light-treasure!" Did I understand? No.
All throughout the bowing pilgrimage my false thoughts about women brought a hornet’s nest of troubles. Bad dreams and demons, harsh weather and hassles all came because of this mau bing (sickness) of mine. In Santa Barbara while false thinking about an old girlfriend a lemon flew off of a passing garbage truck and hit me in the jaw, sending me to my knees. I said to myself, "Just a coincidence. If it really hit me because of my mind for women then if I keep on thinking about them it should happen again." So I went on wondering if my old girlfriend had found another man and ZAP! Another lemon hit me square in the back knocking me down again! Later the Master said, "Those sour lemons were from your sour thoughts about your girlfriend. Now that you know your false-thinking isn't ok, don't do it anymore." Did I understand? No.
In Malaysia I couldn't subdue my eyes or thoughts and got turned up side down. But this time my fuel reserves of merit and virtue were used up. I got so sick as a result of scattering all my energy by false thinking about women I nearly died. Shihfu saved my life and brought me back from King Yama in Malacca. While I was bedridden I saw clearly as never before, in my dreams and waking thoughts, that sexual desire is the root of birth and death. The Master would come to my bed, rub my head and recite mantras, at the critical times, breaking the fever and purging toxins. All the while he kept smiling and asking, "Good, good. Did you die yet? Are you going to die?" In Singapore and Hong Kong the cause and effect of my false thinking about women and getting sick was uncanny and undeniable. Less than an hour after my mind would move I would become sick. The Master kept saying, "Sick again? Good. I hope you die soon." Did I understand? I thought so. But habits are stubborn and my ignorance deep. It's hard to "die" even when you try your best. Never again I vowed, never again.
When we returned to the U.S., Heng Sure and I began bowing near Santa Cruz. We went into town to contact and inform the police of our journey. Surprise! The cop was a woman. I got turned and started smiling and rapping with her. That night I took ill again. Either my mind for women was going to die or I was. It now was clear to me that all desire was just sexual desire. Running outside one's own nature and seeking anything is death—the slow death of outflowing. Literally, the blessings and wisdom of the original nature dribble away until all that is left of one's bright Dhanna jewel is dog shit. It is just like it says in the Avatamsaka:
"Moreover, living beings
are bound in the net of love.
They are covered over with ignorance
and attached to their existence.
They follow it and cannot give it up.
They enter into a cage of suffering
and do the deeds of demons.
Their blessings and wisdom are exhausted
and they forever harbor doubts.
They do not see
the place of peace and tranquility.
They do not know the path of escape,
and, without rest,
I've had a lot of time while slowly recovering in the back of the Plymouth to reflect on my "sickness" and how to get well. What I took for happiness in the world is really suffering and what I once thought to be suffering (cultivating) is really happiness. Things aren't always what they seem. So it says,
"I do not seek the unsurpassed Path for myself, nor do I cultivate Bodhi Practices in order to seek the states of the five desires or the many kinds of bliss in the three realms of existence. Why?
Of all the happiness in the world, there is none which is not suffering..."
Man, that is straight talk! In my heart, in ways no words could express, I now know this is so. This is what the Master meant when he asked when I was going to "die". His words were full of compassion and wisdom. It is the false mind that runs outside after desire that must die to cure the sickness of birth and death. The Master's words were the finest of medicines. "When your mind for women dies then you can be free. If you can't kill it when you'll always be locked up in a cage. Do you understand?"
"Yes Shihfu," I answered, "I tried to but I didn't quite pull it off."
I'm a lousy teacher. I can't teach and transform my disciples. All I can do is talk unlucky talk and say I wish they would die."
I write to tell the whole story so no one will think the Master's words were inauspicious. I am a lousy disciple. Even after the Master saved my life I can't man age to die. So Shihfu and all our Dhanna friends braved the cold and rain to bring a little gas to the bowing monks. "Try your best" grinned the Master as everyone climbed back aboard the bus. A storm that had been gathering suddenly broke up and the sun shone down on all of us. I was so full I wanted to cry. Truly we are all one heart bowing to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas! Then I had the thought, "Just try your best, Kuo Ting. Don't cry, just die."
Like Bodhidharma with the bird in the cage the Master has showed me a way
to escape from the cage. But "mistaking what's before my
eyes..." I fly back in, taking the cage for a palace. Hence the name,
Heng Chau. Truly a "monk in the cage".
in the Way,
Disciple Kuo Ting (Heng Chau)
bows in respect.