With One Heart Bowing to the City of 10,000 Buddhas


February 21, 1979
San Francisco!

Venerable Master,

"When you reach the place of 
        seeking nothing,
       There are no worries."


Shih Fu, our passage through Pacifica has been most wonderful. Yesterday Heng Ch'au and I reached the top of the hill looking south we saw Devil's Slide and the town of Pacifica, looking north, inconceivably, we saw the orange towers of the Golden Gate Bridge, Mt. Tamalpais, the Mt. Sutro T.V. spire San Francisco; It seems only yesterday we were in Santa Monica contemplating Highway One and the mind boggling journey ahead. Now in less time than a finger snap we have bowed into the Bay Area and left Highway One for the trek through the City. Life is surely like a dream. As the Sutra says:

The past, present, and future are nothing but talk.

Yesterday could have been day one of the pilgrimage for this disciple. I learned a les­son in my heart that took twenty-one months of study and patient practice to fully grasp. Have I really got it now? I hope not because each time I attach to a state, I'm ripe for another fall. What is the lesson? It's called "don't seek."

The Master has given these instructions dozens of times in a variety of expedient ways: Don't seek anything. Don't seek Buddhahood, don't seek great wisdom, don't seek enlightenment. Seeking is putting a head on top of your head. It's nothing but greed. Simply cultivate with a single mind. That's enough. Cultivate without a thought of self benefit. Cultivate just the way you eat, dress, and sleep. It's a necessity, that's all. And don't have that second thought. Be single-minded.

The Avatamsaka Sutra specifically instructs the Bodhisattva not to seek.

The Bodhisattva only wants to uphold the pure precepts. He does not seek great power, high class, and status, abundant wealth, beauty and style, nor the throne of a king. His thoughts are attached to none of these.


The Bodhisattva is a great master at giving. He can give away anything at all and his mind remains level and equal, without regret. He does not expect a reward, he does not seek reputation as a benefactor, nor is he greedy for benefit or gain.

As clear as the message is somehow it did not connect with my deepest heart. I thought I was in control of my greed. In fact, I am controlled by it.

We talked with Gold Mountain on the phone one day last week. Heng Ch'au gave our new route to the office and I translated a story that happened to us that morning. It was a thrill to be so close to home. But back on the street bowing I felt suddenly upset and worried. Why? I thought, "Wow, nearly two years I've been at this work and what have I got to show in the way of any real accomplishment? Have I changed in any way?"

In short, I was seeking inside of the Dharma. But because the object of my search was enlightened wisdom and compassion I allowed the thoughts to dwell, feeling that they were a "purified desire." The longer I reflected on myself, the deeper the afflictions grew.

Then I got my lesson. Three young boys walked by me on Monterey Road as we bowed up the hill in the rain. The boys were full of light and smiles as they passed. But at the first sight of my face all three lost their light immediately. Their smiled turned to sad and worried looks. I saw my forced effort, my seeking, mirrored in their eyes. I turned them off completely. What their faces silently said was "Hey, this guy is nothing special. He may be a monk but he's as unhappy as anybody. He's got something that he's looking for and he, has not found it. What a disappointment; What is he? A Buddhist? Phooey."

Shame on me. By seeking for results from my cultivation I hurt those three boys and maybe turned them from the Dharma.

Seeking nothing, there are no worries.
Doing holy work to get something out of it defiles the purest of Dharmas. If you seek enlightenment because it's the best of all good deals, it isn't going to happen. Wanting results prevents them. I realized this huge obstacle that I held on top of my head was just the ego, the self, seeking benefit. I gave it away on the spot and suddenly felt a great black cloud lift off my shoulders. I'm not doing this work for myself, I'm going to relax and just take it as it comes.

When the effort is complete,

Accomplishment happens naturally, all by itself.

Not for himself does he seek benefit,

He only wants peace and happiness for all beings.

Not for an instant does he give rise to frivolous debate.

He only contemplates all dharmas as empty and without a self.

-Avatamsaka Sutra

Instead of false thinking about self benefit, how much better to take that energy and use it in faith on the method of practice. What a simple truth and how long it's taken me to see it.

The Bodhisattva thinks again, "Throughout the long night I loved this body and was attached to it. I took food and drink because I desired to fill it up. Now I will use this food to give to other living beings. I vow to eternally sever all greedy attachment to my body."

-Avatamsaka Sutra

Everyone has a favorite flavor. Until I began the bowing pilgrimage, I had a big sweet tooth. Things changed when bowing started to generate more yang energy. I found that sugar dispersed my concentration. Now I can't even look at sweets without feeling the flush rise in my face. It's my temporary state others have no trouble eating sweets. Ultimately any discrimination can obstruct one's view of the basic unity of the Dharma nature body.

Two Garbage Poems


Sugar is this bhikshu's bane.

Just one bite can fog my brain.

One sweet cookie melts my spine, gets me drunk as quick as wine.

Turned by sugar that I ate, I forgot to cultivate.

Red of face and short of breath, unconcerned by birth and death.

Sugar makes me want to rap, makes my tongue begin to flap.

Makes me want to laugh and play and wander from the Buddha's Way.

Sugar makes my mouth run on 'til all samadhi's lost and gone.

This monk’s eaten his last dose of dextrose, syrup, and sucrose.

Sugar's fine for one sweet lick but greed for pleasure makes me sick.

Sugar used to taste just great.

Now I would rather concentrate.

Sugar is the lover's friend, sweet and sticky to the end.

Sugar is the family glue, sticks him to me and me to you.

Of all the flavors I confess, I'm attached to bitterness.

So when it comes to sugar treats forgive me if I pass the sweets.

One day to be really true I must put down sugar, too.

Until then I would rather be bitter sweet and sugar free.

Food is one of the five desires.

Food is neat; I like to eat.

But greed is really common.

Overeating pleases me, but only for a moment.

Knees on fire, hot desire spoils my meditation.

Just a touch too much at lunch obstructs my cultivation.

Not too little. Guard the middle.

Just don't crave sensation.

What a shame if greed for food kept me from liberation.

When my belly's full my mind for Bodhi is retreating

Food is nice but what a price I pay for overeating.

"Take Ch'an bliss as food and be filled with the joy of Dharma."

These are the last words recited every day before bhikshus and bhiksunis take their one meal of the day at Gold Mountain and the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

The five desires are dharmas that obstruct the path even to the point of preventing one from realizing Unsurpassed Bodhi. For this reason I will not permit myself to have even one thought of desire. My mind will be as pure as the Buddhas'.

-Avatamsaka Sutra

With one mind, bowing to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

Disciple Kuo Chen (Heng Sure) bows in respect.

February, 1979
Daly City, Ca.

Dear Shihfu,

Yesterday morning while waiting for our clothes to dry in a Laundromat I realized something very clearly: all my problems and all the problems in the world come from false thinking. In less than a second this simple truth lit up and cut through aeons of confusion. I could never put it into words, but right after seeing this, I had the thought, "Almost two years of bowing, Heng Ch'au, and you still are false thinking; What are you false thinking about? About me. About "the self and all that pertains to self." Then I went on with this self talk and asked, "But why is a thought of self false? I mean here you are right here in the Laundromat. If that's not a self then what's true? Isn't this me?"

Who is me 
I am who
You ask me 
I ask who.

This verse keeps answering my question. "There is no me. That's why self is a false thought. The self does not exist." So the Avatamsaka Sutra says,

Discriminate and contemplate within yourself in this way:

"Why am I inside?" If you can understand it in this way then you will realize that the self does not exist. This body is falsely set up. It's dwelling place has no fixed position. When one truly understands this body, then within there is nothing at all to attach to.

Contemplate the body well and see it all clearly,

Be aware that its dharmas are empty and false.

Do not use mental effort to discriminate them.

Who is it that gives rise to your life?

Who is it that takes it away?

It's just like a twisting ring of fire--

­     No one knows its beginning or end.

Avatamsaka Sutra
Bodhisattva Enquires Chapter

This is such right on straight talk! It's so simple and yet I still haven't even understood the very simplest truths. I get so caught up with being smart and putting on clever words and phony faces that I can't even see the obvious. Last week a jogger showed up to help me wake up from this dream.

We were standing outside the car in the early A.M. getting dressed for bowing after exercising. Like a wind this jogger suddenly ran up. He was strong and muscular, clean and straightforward. Maybe about 45 years old. There was something unusual about him. He came right up without a pause, almost aggressive. Around his eyes and head we both could see an energy like dancing flames. It was hard to look at him because his glance was so penetrating and hard not to look because he commanded a certain respect. He wasn't the least polite or respectful.

He asked Heng Sure if he talked at all and Heng Sure indicated to talk with me. "Oh, so you talk, huh?" He challenged and came right up to me.

"Are you the guys who are trying to get rid of greed, anger, jealousy, arrogance, and all those other bad things and find the truth?" His tone was teasing and almost mocking, like he didn't believe a word of what we said we were trying to do. I felt defensive and couldn't answer. He pressed closer until he was just inches away from my face. This guy was making me nervous.

"Well, ah, yes, we are..." I finally squeaked out

"Well it occurred to me that any truth you find would have to be a simple one," he said. He was looking right through me without even blinking, waiting for an answer. I felt that anything I could say would be stupid and phony, a pretense at being wise and at ease. The fact was I was squirming and feeling like a fool,

"Don't you think?" He pressed, holding a stare that cut through all my defenses and false coverings. Then he smiled and said, "Well good luck;" and jogged away.

      After he left I realized why he made me so nervous. I was still hiding behind my words and thoughts. I was using the "path of words and language" to hold on to a view of self. With my tongue and pen and false thoughts I was creating an artificial reality to avoid facing the simple truth: "the truth of no self."

At the most intense points of the pilgrimage, especially in Big Sur, the emptiness of all my words and ideas stared me in the face just like the jogger did. I was ready to put down my pen, clocks, calendar, and tongue and just bow and sit until:

The path of words and language is cut off.

The place of the mind's workings is extinguished.

Right in thought, one is apart from thought.

One thinks, and yet has no thoughts.

But I hadn't been able to put it down. The good knowing jogger was right on and reminded me that "the truth" is very simple. There is no self. If I really understood this then "even one word would be too many." But it is because I can't put to rest the last word that I still haven't seen through the emptiness of self. If I had really understood this principle then how could I feel nervous in front of the jogger? "Who" was squirming and feeling cornered?

People ask what is the biggest obstacle or hassle you've met on the pilgrimage. My own mind is the biggest obstacle. I am my worst enemy. My mind wants to keep going in its mad circles and make something out of nothing. Where there's no problem, I make problems; where there's no business, I make business.

      After the jogger left I felt resolved. "He's right!" I thought. "Don't pretend and hide behind anything, not even one word or a single thought for self. Go for the real and true. Don't be so smart."

When one attends to the here and now

The false returns to the true.

With one thought unproduced

The entire substance manifests.

What time is it? What day, month, year? How many miles this way or that way? When will you arrive? What will you do when you get there? What did you do before? What will you do tomorrow?

      These are all false thoughts. "Who" needs to know? It's time to be a big dummy to bow with a single heart, to shut my mouth and open my mind.

Peace in the Way
Disciple Kuo Ting (Heng Ch'au) bows in respect