SRAMANERIKA KUO CHUNG
Born second youngest of six children, Kuo Chung was raised in a Catholic family and attended a Catholic school from grades one through three. There she received a good moral foundation but even as a youngster she questioned Catholicism. For instance, concerning original sin, she told her second grade teacher that she just didn't see how a little baby who can't even do anything could have sinned. A frighteningly scornful stare was her answer. The teacher couldn't explain cause and effect, karmic debts and their retributions, and though Kuo Chung never dared question it again, the doubts still remained.
From the fourth grade on she attended public schools and as she neared adolescence, she heard a lot of people disclaiming faith in the Catholic Church, in the educational system, and in the "system" in general. Being rather impressionable and prone to the sway of emotional appeal, her doubts increased and her confusion deepened.
Out of it all, some theories made sense, like the time a vegetarian debated with her. As an animal lover, she always had pets and took good care of them, but he asked her, "If you 'love' animals, how can you kill them?"
"I don't kill them," she denied.
"Your eating meat is just condoning the raising of animals for slaughter." So impressed was she by that answer that she only ate two cans of green beans for the next two days. It took years before she actually became a steadfast vegetarian, but the seeds where planted.
As Kuo Chung went through adolescence, she became a classic case of rebellion against any and all authority, no matter how reasonable. She refused to take advice and as her father once put it, was "a scholar in the school of hard knocks."
At age fifteen while attending classes at the University of Washington, she had her astrological chart read and it was found she would probably dedicate her life to a religious pursuit. Seeing her startled look, the reader remarked, "That doesn't necessarily mean in the Catholic Church." The comment hit home and Kuo Chung began to wonder where she would meet her teacher.
Her search lead her into "outside ways" described in detail in the Fifty Skandha Demons section of the Surangama Sutra. Years later when she heard this section at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas she shuddered at the memories it invoked and thought, "Oh! Sakyamuni Buddha knew what trouble I'd be in and spoke this Sutra for me too;" The text states:
And the demons will tire of them, leaving their minds and bodies like the dry rot of a potato and they'll fall into trouble with the State.
Despite the confusion and danger that her association with sects that held to no moral values put her in, she managed to get her high school diploma. After a try at another religious discipline which was short-lived she was drawn to Gold Mountain Monastery where she "felt the stir of ancient kalpas past, that something beyond the reach of conscious memory."
Eventually she attended a weeklong Great Compassion Mantra Recitation Session at Gold Mountain and as she puts it,
"With the skillful reassurance of my sister (Heng Jieh, who left-home shortly thereafter) who knows my traits, I managed to sit out the seven-day session. I took refuge and received the five precepts and took up abode at the Translation Institute.
"I knew, I knew, that I would leave home, but the spring of 1976 I ran off to Seattle to be filial.
"Filial, my foot! I ended up 'growing sloppy of mind and tasting that wine' as the story goes. It took a year and a half, three false starts, constant encouragement from my sister, and one terrible accident to get back." "I had vowed to "leave home after seeing my mother in her post-operative condition—ashen gray lips and cold, pale hands-she wasn't coming around. So in all sincerity I offered my life in exchange. And then I tried to forget, to skip out on my end of the bargain. Or at least to put it off as long as I could. But you can't cheat King Yama; I bought my own ticket."
She moved to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in the fall of 1977, and still allowed her false thoughts to continue uncurbed. Her indecision kept her on edge: the resolve to leave the home life and the indulgence in false thoughts of desire.
As she sped down Highway 101 one rainy Friday morning she had just one false thought too many: "I don't have to leave hone; how can I convince him to marry me." At that point her car swerved over toward the rear half of a Golden Gate transit bus and in a futile attempt to avoid a collision she lost control and smashed straight into a 12" x 12" post with guardrail siding. She recalls,
I came to
as the car lurched backward in tow, saw bones sticking out the back of my
"'Is there anyone you want us to call?' the policeman repeated again and again until the words finally rang through.
"Yes; Call the Abbot of Gold Mountain Monastery and tell him I've been in an accident.'" I yelled out again and again until they said 'What's Gold Mountain Monastery?'
"It's my church!'
So then I was rising, going upward and I felt light and happy. But there below were red lights flashing, all the people, oh, an accident. I looked closer, "Hah-h-h-h that's my body. Where is it going?" I opened startled eyes to the face of a medic.
"Where are we going?"
'"It's ok, we're taking you to the hospital.'"
A contused heart and lungs bleeding inwardly compounded wrist fractures on the left and multiple elbow joint fractures on the right. A shattered knee cap and a broken femur. "You can't keep it forever, and during those hours I almost lost it. My disfigurement is a lasting lesson in impermanence."
Still in shock she told Heng Yin, "I bet you know what I was false thinking about."
"I knew the cause, I'd set all the conditions," she admits. "I remember being cold, dreadfully horribly cold and I'd wake and couldn't move my crushed and broken limbs and I'd cry out in silent anguish."
|After they'd cleaned up the bone splinters and temporarily set what was left she was told she had to try really hard to cough up the fluid. "Hah, I could scarcely manage a shallow breath and they wanted me to cough? But I did that night, amidst the constant watch of my left-home Dharma protectors' recitation of the Great Compassion Mantra I coughed up one hard little clot and the next day my x-rays showed clear lungs and my heart beats' rhythm steadied." Trained as they are, the doctors could not mask their surprise when they made the rounds the next morning. With that problem resolved, Kuo Chung could go on to the second hospital for a second surgery, a steal rod for the thighbone.||
song Heng Yin composed during the hours it took to complete that operation
Turn the light around shine it on the mind-ground;Listen to your own sound that's where joy can be found.
In people's faces I can read a book of endless misery.
Turn and run, till I can run no more.
The Buddha's wisdom is a treasury
The Dharma light shines bright on me--
Head in the clouds, feet on the other shore.
Morning sunrise clear in blue skies
Over mountains filled with golden light.
Wisdom's real prize within yourself lies.
Cultivate it here by day and night.
Kuo Chung had twenty-four hour attendance by someone of the Sangha. Hospital policy gave way to the people willing to sleep in a chair next to her. She couldn't feed nor attend to herself, turn pages in a book or even ring for the nurse. The third hospital, two weeks later, set her arms with four steel pins in her elbow and two pins in her left arm." She improved so rapidly that the prognosis of six months in the hospital turned out wrong when she was released a month later, able to stand on her own.
Kuo Chung has by now recovered practically all the functions of her arms and leg. She left home shortly after getting out of the hospital and is training to receive full ordination in the 1979 Precept Platform at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. Besides attending Dharma Realm Buddhist University to wok on her B.A., she is the bookkeeper for Instilling Virtue School and does technical work for the Buddhist Text Translation Society and Vajra Bodhi Sea.