With One Bowing to the City of 10,000 Buddhas

Letters to the Venerable Master from Bhiksu Heng Sure and Sramanera Heng Ch'au an their hewing pilgrimage to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

1/3/79 Below Half Moon Bay

Venerable Master:

He vows that all beings get pure Ch'an gates

--Avatamsaka Sutra

Patient Ch'an meditators know that when pain in the knees and ankles, legs and back occurs, the pain from long hours of sitting, one reaches a point when it suddenly disappears. It's as if a gate opens and one passes through to another world, free of pain and affliction. It's a wonderful experience.

On the way through the gate however, it takes a lot of determination and patience not to be moved by the discomfort.

What others cannot endure, you must endure. While sitting in Ch'an everyone must go through the experience of leg pain. We all must pass through the stage of taking what others cannot take. And when we reach the point of bearing the pain that others cannot bear, then you can get good news. This is called "getting through the gate that is difficult to enter," and "breaking through the difficult barrier."

-Master Hua Ch'an instruction December 1977.

In our station Wagon I sit in the well where the back seat folds down. Heng Ch'au has to crawl over my knees to reach his seat in the back. Our meditation schedules are different and one evening he was returning from standing meditation just as I was reaching the point of extreme pain in the knees during sitting meditation. I was really sweating. It hurt a lot but I was determined to take it. The happiness on the other side of the gate is quite fine.

Now we are in the Ch'an Hall and why don't we have any samadhi power? You hurt a little and can't take it...even to the point that in being unable to take it, you want to cry...you haven't broken through the barrier of pain. Now, we want to break through it. We break through these barriers and we can be at ease with the pain...

Listen and Think page 115-116.

I was at the point of extreme pain and because of my normal impatience I was debating whether or not I could make it through the gate. The pain had gone on for what seemed like aeons. In fact it was more like half and hour, but I was ready to cry and moan. It's a place where you feel as if a fly landed on your leg it would be just too much to take. Every cell is straining to hold on to full lotus.

...pain to the extreme, to the point that we forget there is ourselves and others...

Listen and Think

Heng Ch'au has a trick of closing the car door with his foot as he climbs in over my seat. He hooks his toes into the door handle and pulls with his back leg. The door swings shut without his having to turn around on the narrow doorjamb. It's a nifty move, only this time it didn't work. Heng Ch'au slipped on the ledge and landed with all his weight right smack on my long-suffering knee.

Kerzatz! Pain to the extreme; Electric blue and white pain! So much pain that there wasn't any pain any more.

How can there be pain? There is no pain. No matter what it is you do you should do it to the ultimate point. When you've cultivated to the extreme, your light is penetrating.

Listen and Think

If I have ever emitted light this was surely the time. I must have blazed like a torch for a few seconds. Tears ran down--tears of laughter. My nose watered and I could only laugh. It was such a ridiculous scene and the pain was just huge. Heng Ch'au apologized, he knows this point of pain in meditation and he felt compassion for my misery. His comment, "Did I put you through the gate?" was right on. He had. As my eyes dried I realized that I was still in full lotus and I was on the other side of the difficult barrier. The pain was gone and my mind was quiet and still.

      There was no Heng Sure and no Heng Ch'au. No Plymouth and no Ch'an meditation. It was really a tranquil state. Cultivating the 42 Hands and Eyes in this place of stillness is a really inconceivable state.

I don't recommend that Ch'an cultivators rely on externals to pass through Ch'an barriers but sometimes Wise Advisors use all types of expedients to take us across when our determination to endure the pain is solid and firm.

Disciple Kuo Chen (Heng Sure) bows in respect.

Dear Shifu,

It's truly as you say, "The straight mind is the Bodhimanda." I remember when I took precepts it was said that each precept brought with it five Dharma protecting spirits. As long as one holds the precepts these spirits protect you. But if you break a precept they retreat, leaving you wide open to attack from the retinue of demons. Why do things go wrong with our lives? Why do we meet with disasters and bad luck? It's just because of not following the rules, not keeping the precepts. When the mind is straight one's Bodhimanda is secure and lucky. When the mind is crooked, the Bodhimanda meets hard times. The Bodhimanda is just our own bodies and minds.

Out here bowing, every time we break a rule or false think, we get trouble. In the Avatamsaka Sutra it says:

As one thinks, so one receives in return.

This week we really put our minds to working hard and keeping the rules. It was very peaceful and natural. The car, supplies, weather, our health—all effortlessly worked out just right and went well. Then I attached to a pleasant state in meditation and felt, "Hey, I've got something here." Within minutes cars were honking and people were yelling at us. Strange people appeared, pale looking and hungry for our light, wanting "to talk and rap." You see, after I got my state I got sloppy. I figured, "You don't have to start on time; relax, don't force it." So I got lazy and hung around the car making tea. Then I thought, "Well, I'm still hungry and that half an apple should be eaten." So I ate it even though we had ended the meal. I didn't protect the Bodhimanda but left it open to strange energies and hassles with my false thoughts and broken rules.

I realized that all the disasters in the world begin in this way. There is no boundary or fence for our thoughts. They are free to purify or pollute to the ends of empty space. If I kept the rules and purified my thoughts, it could benefit a lot of living beings and improve the world. The Bodhimanda begins with a single thought and our own bodies, but has no end. The self and the Dharma-realm are not two.

When we were in Hong Kong, the delegation went to visit Western Bliss Gardens,

A Bodhimanda the Master built years ago in the steep hills of that city. It is a very pure place. Even though Western Bliss Gardens is surrounded by urban noise, smog and pollution, as soon as you enter the gate it's as quiet as mountain wilderness. The air is clean and the water that flows out of a rock is the purest I've ever drunk.

There's a Bodhi tree growing in a corner and I got the notion to pick a leaf from it to bring back to the U.S. and carry with us on our pilgrimage. Clearly this was just greed and climbing on conditions. While everyone was inside I ran over to pick a leaf. But every time I reached for one I couldn't touch it. It was as if I was being restrained. Not only that, but every time I found a perfect leaf--just the right shape and size etc.--when I reached for it, the perfect leaf suddenly revealed a flaw or didn't look like the one I wanted. This went on for about five minutes. Just as I finally found
the leaf I wanted, when I touched it, I felt all sorts of itching and stinging on my legs. My socks were full of ants! They were biting and crawling all over my legs. I ran out from under the tree and starting jumping up and down shaking off the ants and scratching the bites. The Master came out and someone said, "Come on, time to leave." I never got the leaf, but I got a good lesson: greed and self-seeking bring disasters; and "everything is made from the mind alone." The Bodhimanda is created by pure thoughts. It's not outside.

      In the midst of a Hong Kong slum is a peaceful and well-protected Way-place. In the midst of the pure and peaceful California coast and countryside we meet with hassles, strange people and don't feel secure. Why? Thoughts. A pure mind can turn any place into a pure place. A defiled mind can transform even the purest place into mud. If I want a peaceful and well-protected Bodhimanda, I should clean up my own mind and not try to steal it by picking other people's Bodhi trees.

      Defilement and purity,

In measureless kshetra-seeds

      Come about from living beings' thoughts;

      They are held up by the strength of Bodhisattvas.

Peace in the Way,
Disciple Kuo T'ing (Heng Ch'au) bows in respect.