Three Steps One Bow

Letters to the Venerable Master Hua from Bhiksus Heng Sure and Ch'au on their bowing pilgrimage to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

Near Pt. Reyes National Seashore

April 1979

"He leads all living beings through the wilderness of birth and death with its places of danger until they safely arrive at the city of Sarvajna. He and all living beings do not experience disasters. Therefore the Bodhisattva should never be lax."


Dear Shih Fu,

Every day I eat, sleep and wear clothes. I'm not the least bit lax about this. Why do I eat, sleep and wear clothes? So I can cultivate, not so I can eat, sleep and wear clothes again tomorrow. The focus of my effort and thoughts should be cultiva­tion. I should be vigorous and hurry up, cross myself over so I can lead others "through the wilderness of birth and death."

Last night I thought, "Here you are in the middle of the ultimate path and you still drag and cheat. All your instructions are pearls, hard to meet with in a million kalpas, and you don't truly follow them. You want to cross over and truly realize your hearts resolve to end suffering for all beings, then don't be lax! Start with the bowing and meditation."

Don't do any false thinking. Whatever you feel you can't put down, put it down the hardest. The mind, this mind, it's all within your own mind, not outside. The absence of false thoughts and defiling attachments is enlightenment. Concentrate to the extreme while walking, standing, sitting and lying down. Single minded concentration crosses all over to the other shore.

Simple instructions, deep truth.

Last night, during, meditation, I was struggling with the pain and nervous ninny mind that wants to always quit and do something else. Out of the blue, this verse from the Avatamsaka appeared:

His mind does not falsely grasp at dharmas, which have passed by.

Nor does he greedily attach to things, which have not yet come.

He does not dwell anyplace in the present,

He understands the three periods of time are completely empty and still.

All my false thoughts are rooted in the three periods of time. With a single mind, there is no time and there is no not time. There's just nothing at all. Everything is "completely empty and still." "In bowing and meditation, from now on, you should look at it this way. Just be with "no mind." Don't worry or get nervous. Don't get all hung up. Let all your doubts and false thoughts go."

What about attachments? I think about things I like and things I fear things I want and things I don't want. Things, things, all these things. Things I long for from the past, things 1 hold onto in the present. Things that are in the future. "How are you going to get free of all these things that tie up your mind?" I thought. Then just like before, the Avatamsaka appeared like an empty space in my mind,

"If the Bodhisattva is able to not be attached to all dharmas then he is also not liberated from all dharmas. Why? There is not the slightest dharma, which exists. Whether presently produced, already produced, or about to be produced. There is not the slightest dharma, which can be grasped. There are no dharmas, which can be attached to. The true appearance of all dharmas is this way; it has no self nature"

Bang! How could it be more clear? Within these two passages is all I need to quiet my worried, rambling mind. I have no more excuses to go on, like I have in the past: cultivating some, false thinking some cultivating some, attaching some.

      Somehow, last night, a door was opened in my mind by the Avatamsaka. Its wisdom gave me the kick needed to get on with being right on. Only the practice of uninterrupted "pure mind, continue, continue" remains. If I don't finally put to rest all my doubts and mind's stupid clatter they, who will do it? There's no place outside on which to rely, there's no place inside to hide. I know now really clearly that my false thoughts are not ok, my attachments are not the real thing. Almost two years and only now am I truly ready to start bowing with a single mind to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

It's spring. The whole world is speaking the Dharma. The Avatamsaka is everywhere. Everything keeps saying, "It's all made from the mind alone. It's all made from mind."

Grateful and happy in the Way.

Disciple Kuo T'ing (Heng Chau)

Bows in respect 
 Near Pt. Reyes, Calif. April 1979

Dear Shih Fu,

Some people say, "Get a job! What a waste of talent." Others say, "Yes, by why do you give up all of the good things in life? You could be really comfortable...a good job and all."

Why aren't we "successful"? When I was in graduate school there were more students than jobs. Everybody was uptight and ner­vous, really worried. There was intense competition to the point of cheating and nervous breakdowns. Some people were literally "worried sick."

Not just teaching was this way, but all the good jobs were glutted and hard to get. Many of my fellow students were married and had families to support. Making ends meet was not easy. I also saw that many good paying jobs involved a lot of compromise. Personal integrity and freedom seemed to take second place to not rocking the boat and keeping in good standing. This made people even more nervous and confused. They worried they wouldn't get a good job, and then they worried about losing it.

I looked for jobs nobody else much wanted. Partly I felt there would be one less person to worry about getting ahead of or losing out to for a job, grant or scholarship. It felt honest and not a big thing. It eased the pinch a little for others and I liked living marginally. It gave me time to look into things-like yoga, tai chi, hiking and meditation that didn't pay off but were really interesting.

When I started to teach I saw students were under a lot of stress and not at all sure about their lives. They had questions "who am I, where am I going, there's a lot of injustice and poverty in the world, what am I doing that matters?" What I was sup­posed to teach didn't deal with their real needs. It was irrelevant. They did it to get a grade and I did it to get a paycheck. How could something that made my colleagues so worried and didn't help my students be worth pursuing as a career just to pull in $15-20,000 a year?

Fellow students had rejection letters pinned to their office doors-hundreds of them from all over the country. During the doctoral exams the fellow in the test room next to mine froze in panic. He just stared at the wall for eight hours. It was his last chance to pass or be kicked out and lose his fellowship to Europe. He just couldn't take the pressure. When I shared my feelings with a senior faculty professor he matter of factly said, "That's why I chose this can avoid these matters." Things never felt right after that.

Whenever I went after a good job or a name and fame position I felt burdened and not honest. In my mind I knew I was climbing and cheating and turning my back on the path with heart. At that time government and business were rife with corruption and scandal. Almost any of the good jobs implicated you in this bad energy and added more suffering to the world. The way of the world was "your loss is my gain every man for himself." I couldn't participate knowing this. I couldn't put it down either. Why? Because I wanted to be #1 at everything. The desire to be the best, to be #1 kept me from being real and tied me in knots.

Even the marginal jobs entailed "eating crow" (as a teacher once called backing down on your moral principles Co "make it" in the world). I ended up working the night shift at the hospitals psychiatric unit because I couldn't get along with electric shock treatments, drug "lobotomies" and pretending to know what I was doing. "Eating crow" is everyone's loss.

I didn't have the guts or the vision to do more. I straddled the fence between selfish desires and doing what was right. Not until I came to Gold Mt. Monastery did I get off the reuse and take a stand. The Bodhisattva Path was home.

"He (Bodhisattva) can take himself across and cause others to cross over. He can liberate himself and cause others to gain liberation; subdue himself and cause others to be subdued; gain still tranquility for himself and cause others to obtain still tranquility. He can gain peace and security for himself and cause others to gain peace and security. He can leave defilement and cause others to leave defilement. He can purify himself and cause others to be purified. He can enter Nirvana and cause others to enter Nirvana. He is happy and he makes others happy.

      "Disciples of the Buddha, the Bodhisattva has this thought: I should follow all Tathagatas and leave all practices of the mun­dane world. I should perfect all the Buddha's Dharmas, dwell in the supreme place of even equality, with a level mind contemplate all beings. I should clearly penetrate through all states and leave behind all mistakes; cut off all discriminations and forsake all attachments. I should use clever skill to make my escape with my mind constantly dwelling in peace, in supreme, inexpressible non reliance, unmoving, mea­sureless, boundless, inexhaustible, formless, deep, profound wisdom.

Disciples of the Buddha, this is the Bodhisattvas, Mahasattva's second practice, that of Benefiting."


We have a "good job." It's called, benefiting. Trying to be #1 is a waste. A waste of blessings and the jewel within. It leaves the whole world poorer. We work for the Buddha. It's the best job. "He gives (to all beings) the doing of the Buddha's work." (Avatamsaka)

Disciple Kuo T'ing (Heng Chau)
      bows in respect.

P.S. As I finish this letter two men look over into our car we are in a parking lot of a Laundromat. "What are you reading dude?" asks one, looking at the Avatamsaka sitting in my lap. He shakes his head and says, "Get a job!" I was looking up this quote:

"He does not defile the Buddha's household nor abandon Bodhisattva precepts. Taking no delight in worldly matters. Constantly he benefits the world."

I thought, "We have a job. It's "taking no delight in worldly matters."

April 1979

Dear Shih Pu,

"Your words are false and your excuses many.

(When you) Value your energy you can become a Buddha.

Still dreaming?  Stop talking and do no more false thinking.

Awakened?  Originally there were no words in it at all."

This is the verse the Master gave me in Pacifica. My name is Kuo Chen, Fruit of the Truth, because I have been a liar. My mouth karma is extremely heavy. Only after practicing "returning the light to shine within" and "seeking the completion of one self" have I begun to recognize the depth of my bad habit of false speech. It permeates my bones.

"The Bodhisattva accomplishes the foremost honest and true speech...he obtains the non dual speech of all Buddhas in the three periods of time."


I wrote a half dozen notes to Heng Chau over the past two weeks and each one was misunderstood. Each note backfired and required more writing to clarify the meaning.

I realized that my hu-fa doesn't believe what I say! It's my karma as a liar. I vowed to stop writing altogether using the principle "originally there are no words.

Then by continuing to return the light I understood more. The answer is not to cut off my tongue but to cut off the self and its defensive habit of lying.

"Master, why would someone tell a lie?" I asked.

"Because he wants to cover over his ugliness. He only wants others to see his long points and he hides his faults by telling lies." the Master replied. "Don't you think that's how it is?"

I realized that the answer is not to lie to myself. I don't believe "hat I say either. I am not true within my mind.

"Your words are false and your excuses are many."

All day I do things with an eye open for self-benefit, for a way to slip around the true principles. Words fly by in my head without any charge of sincerity. I make excuses for myself endlessly and allow cheating behavior without shame. I don't hold myself to the principles I know to be true. Nothing that I write seems to count, it comes and goes like the wind on the Bolinas Lagoon that we're bowing beside.

Last month in meditation I asked the Mas­ter in my mind "Shih Fu, when will I become a Buddha?" Telepathically he spoke in my ear, "When will you stop lying to yourself and be true?"

The road to the purification of liar's karma is to have faith in myself, to choose principle and value it over selfish greed for advantage and benefit. Practice principle and do not tolerate the slightest deviation. No excuse for selfish thoughts. Give away the good behavior as an offering to the Buddhas and transfer the merit to all beings everywhere. Send the defiled self and its bad habits back to emptiness where they came from.

No wonder my Ego is still in charge of my life, I don't have any virtuous practice that can transform it. I don't have any "inner power" of virtue to move the beings of my self nature to change for the good.

When my faith in my true self is not dual then my words will be believed. How to achieve it?

"Value your energy and you can become a Buddha. Still dreaming? Stop talking and do no more false thinking..."

In other words, cultivate! Don't try to figure it out in words, it's the words that are the sickness. Concentrate instead on the real treasures, the wordless tools of the practices; the vajra sword, the bowing method, the pure, non retreating Dharma wheel. Return the light, in every thought sincerely repent. Hold faith that the powerful yang energy of the Dharma can transform my liar's tongue into "the non dual speech of the Buddhas of the three periods of time."

And remember cultivation is about growing healthy new, natural wisdom-sprouts in the place of the old diseased habits. Guide the growth gently, with kindness, don't smash it. Use wisdom. Let it expand and contract naturally like the heart, like the tides. Force kills and distorts. It stops the Dharma "Although he does not rely on the path of language, nor does he attach to not speaking." -Avatamsaka

Disciple Kuo Chen (Heng Sure) 
      bows in respect

The following essay and verse were written by the Venerable Master Hua in commemoration of the arrival at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas of Dharma Masters Heng Sure and Heng Ch'au, which marked the fulfilling of their vows to bow once every three steps seeking for world peace. Their journey of 800 miles began at Los Angeles and took two and a half years to reach the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.


(True. This is Dharma Master Sure's Dharma name).

All of you cultivators should possess the determination and vows of firmness, sincerity, and perseverance, so that in the face of a thousand demons you will not change, and in encountering ten thousand hardships you will not retreat.

The heavens are high, my practices should be higher than the heavens; the earth is thick, my resolve should be thicker than the earth; vajra is solid, my mind should be more solid than vajra; the sea of fragrant waters is deep, my vows should be deeper than the sea of fragrant waters.

      Practice what is difficult to practice, endure what is difficult to endure. Renounce yourself for others; seek neither name, profit, nor offerings. Relinquish your body for the Dharma, respectfully practice and truly fulfill the teachings. Enhance and glorify the marrow of the Avatamsaka Dharma; reveal and propagate the principles of the Great Vehicle. In the present be a guide for those who have lost their way, in the future be the model for living beings. Then the Buddhas will be happy, and Bodhisattvas will smile. Sentient beings will leave suffering, and ever those without affinities will be saved. Thus, the work of the great hero will be accomplished. This is my wish for you do it as best you can.

The verse reads as follows:

Moving mountains and over turning seas,

This is not strange at all.

Reversing the frenzied tide of madness,

Awaken those confused and dreaming.

Supporting the Proper Dharma,

Cross over the multitudes.

That all beings become Buddhas

Is the vow of Earth Store Bodhisattva.

Vast cultivation of offerings

Is the wish of Universal Worthy.

Bowing in reverence to the Tathagatas

Is Paramita.

And Mahaparamita is the same

As Bodhi


(The royal court. Dharma Master Chau's Dharma name).

Modesty is a virtue; over-reaching modesty becomes deceitfulness.  Frugality is a good practice; over-reaching frugality comes close to stinginess.

That is why the ancients fortified their character and established their virtue as they sought the Middle Way. They never went to excess and avoided not doing enough. That means not to flatter the wealthy, not to be arrogant with the poor, not to tire of the old, not to crave the new. In poverty, at the very least take good care of yourself; in positions of influence, you should benefit all those under heaven.

Be gentle and good natured, genial and equal to all. Most of all guard against so much arrogance, the view that there is no one else but you. Those possessing real wisdom never praise themselves; those possessing virtue never slander others; those truly possessing the Way are never complacent; those possessing merit are never boastful. Do not imitate the insane one who said, "Others are filthy, and I alone am pure; people are drunk, and I alone am sober." In shocking the world and deliberately setting up his own style, he is mistaking fish eyes for pearls. Such a one confuses people's hearing and seeing, and he flows with the dirt. A thief among the virtuous, he is a nuisance to society. My wish is that you will pay heed to this.

The verse reads:

      Confucius ordered the execution of Shao Cheng Mou

      Whose rhetoric was false, his debate an attempt to flaunt his skill.

      A thief among the virtuous, he injured his own kind.

      Snakes and scorpions at the Dharma Gate are about to take a bite.

      Guard and protect the sagely teaching, and fear no toil.

      Support the Humane One, and quickly be vigorous,

      Enlighten to this; originally it was so,

      Why was I so confused and fooled right from the very start?

*When Confucius first assumed the position of magistrate at the Kingdom of Lu, he first took care of the matter of Shao Cheng Mou. Shao was a crafty orator who bewitched the people with his cunning rhetoric. After three months of righteous administration, the country of Lu arrived at a remarkable state of peace and order in which the citizens "did not lock their doors at night, and did not pick up whatever others had left on the roadside."