Steps One Bow
|Letters to the Venerable Master Hua from
Bhiksus Heng Sure and Heng Ch’au
on their bowing pilgrimage to the City
of Ten Thousand Buddhas.
January 2, 1978
of Half Moon Bay, Calif.
Dear Shih Fu,
I had a dream last month that really moved me to work harder: Dream: It came silently gliding in from outer space, passing galaxies and covering incredible distances in seconds. It was huge, black and a totally evil thing. Attracted by a foul, amber smog, it was honing in on our galaxy. The smog was a color, a smell, a texture and vibes of a bad energy that permeated our whole universe. This "fly" was drawn to it like a bee to honey.
At the top of a tiered flight of stairs, in an awesome idyllic place lived an absentminded professor type. I asked who he was, "Oh that's God." someone said. "God the Father." It blew my mind! I'm going back to work!" I thought, "to fight the fly." The force of the fly was way beyond God's power of influence. He was having a party, and like the carefree child, waiting for the next surprise delight. He knew only bliss.
In a weird, yin mortuary temple, devotees dressed in long white Greco Roman robes were engaged in bizarre rites about death and the dead. It was like a deviant Forest Lawn. They were pouring oils and wines over a corpse, laughing and merrymaking. The fly was there, unemotional and very at home.
A radio station in a big city. It looks on the up and up out front, but inside it's a nerve center for the fly. It may have even beamed the fly in with its broadcasts.
An urban, young unmarried "people's politician" is at the radio station. It's his campaign headquarters. His aides excitedly tell him there's a major revolution going on in the High Schools and Junior Highs. The station is broadcasting the takeovers of the schools and tormenting the violence, "Orange Grove Jr. High has been occupied by...Glendale High School has been taken over by...The East wing of..." The politician is cool and calculating. He is going to ride the revolution to political power. There is a bloodbath children are killing their parents and teachers.
People were in heavy trances, like under a spell. Their hearts and minds were numb and beyond the reach of reasoning or pity.
On an airport runway already to go like a 707 was a fighter jet plane with an ominous rocket/missile mounted on its nose. The rocket could not be stopped. It could penetrate anything and be shot anywhere. The missile was like a silver metal sliver and it could kill a single person by entering the eye, or wipe out an entire country. There were lots of them.
The Sangha was working day and night in groups and teams. They were not under the spell and could see the deviant energy of the fly in all its manifestations. We traveled everywhere fighting it and planting good seeds, neutralizing noxious vapors. Our weapon was the Great Compassion Mantra and other mantras. Wherever the Great Compassion Mantra was recited a circle of pure, bright light was produced. The light was sunny and correct like the colors on the coast after a rainstorm when the sun comes out. The color of the fly smog was the dense, choking amber of an old photograph, a stuffy attic without windows.
"I should be a light for all living beings, and cause them to attain the light of wisdom, Which eradicates the gloom of stupidity. I should be a torch for all living beings, Which breaks through the gloom of ignorance. I should be a lamp for all living beings and cause them to dwell in the place of ultimate purity."
The Sangha was pure lights travelling to all places, afraid of nothing. We told people just to sincerely recite the mantra and "Light up their minds, see the nature." The mantra helped all invisibly. Lots of people had responses to the Da Bei Jo. "Lighting up your heart these words registered deep inside and cut through the smog. Wherever it was recited a clear and wholesome goodness broke through the gloom. All who saw it returned to the good.
We moved around on foot, on bikes and scooters, telling our friends and all with whom we had conditions and affinities. But the fly was huge and our efforts seemed like trying to stop a typhoon with an eyelash. And yet the power of the mantra was indestructible and unsurpassed.
An electrician teamed up with us and was able to cross some wires in a panel in the bowels of the radio station. The station looked like an ordinary public service company, but with the electrician's skill we were able to see that inside was the fly, the deviant death rites, the politician and a constant wave of broadcasted evil.
Everyone knew about the fly. But they saw it as auspicious. They were blind to its true nature because they were immersed in the smog. People said, "Oh groovy, far-out just like science fiction!" They were merging their minds with it like in the mortuary cult. Even though the fly was eating them up and sucking up their lives, they were in a trance and getting off on it. No one could tell right from wrong, true from deviant they didn't have "true eyes" anymore. The collective blindness was chilling and horrible.
It was all tied together: the fly, the rocket jet, the radio station, the revolution in the schools, the strange religions and the slick politician. The fly was going into underground missile silos to spawn its eggs. The radio station and mortuary were its nest. Much of what went on was behind the scene. It took the mysterious electrician to penetrate the radio station.
God was like the card playing fire chief who doesn't notice he's about to be burned by a forest fire. Right below his happy heaven were all these destructive missies in silos, ready to be shot off. The missile silos looked like organ pipes or art sculpture and no one could see the fly go in and lay its eggs.
The electrician let us listen to the radio announcer say in a polished, sonorous voice, "And remember friends...Kill, Kill..." Then there was a fade in to a popular folksinger masking the evil message with a simple song, "This land is your land..." It made it palatable.
There were lots of people engaged in a colorful ceremony hanging themselves. It was a religious group. They were killing themselves in order to obtain some kind of spiritual state and salvation. Death and ignorance were feeding each other. They were in a trance too and had no light of wisdom.
When I awoke my resolve was deepened. Heavy demonic forces and darkness created from bad karma could only be stopped by cultivation. What really counts is the 42 Hands and Eyes, the Great Compassion Mantra and the Surangama Mantra. And most of all, a pure heart a vast, unselfish, kind, and pure heart. That's where the light was coming from in the dream, pure, peaceful, happy people reciting mantras and transferring the benefit to all living beings. The politician had color but not light. It was the color of good food and cosmetics not the light of wisdom and compassion. The people of goodness in the dream were like little suns of kindness, compassion, joy and giving. Even though our efforts seemed small in the face of big darkness, they were pure and done with big hearts for everyone.
"I should be like the sun which shines universally on everything without seeking repayment for its kindness. No matter what kind of evil comes from living beings I can handle it. I would never give up my vows on account of it...
Rather I vigorously cultivate the transference of good roots to universally cause living beings to obtain peace and happiness.
Even though my good roots may be few, I gather in all living beings and using a mind of great happiness, I transfer it on a vast scale.
If there were good roots and I did not desire to benefit living beings, this could not be called transference."
Unselfishness and great compassion is where it's at. Peace in the Dharma,
Kuo Ting (Heng Chau)
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Dear Shih Fu,
"As for the place of language of all beings
Within it ultimately there is nothing to obtain.
If you understand that the labels are all discriminations
You clearly see that all Dharmas are totally without a self."
Bowing along a deserted stretch of highway Mt. Tamalpais National Forest to the right. Pacific Ocean to the left crisp blue morning air silent and pure. Inside my mind, just the opposite, a regular circus of sophistry, foolish debate about what to cultivate in order to cut off discriminating thought and reach the place of selflessness.
Walking under a great burden of instructions, all misunderstood. Checking every move, every step with principles got to do it just right. Right? Wrong! Why? Because thinking is not the cure for false thoughts. Every time I think I've got myself and cultivation all figured out, I haven't. It's the figuring out that is false. To discriminate with words about words is an endless maze, a trap of afflictions, a dead end and a big drag.
What's wrong here? It's attaching to the greedy notion that within the realm of words and thoughts there is something to get. It's seeking, and as the sutra says, "Ultimately there is nothing to obtain."
I applied this verse to my mental block and bingo, the whole circustent fell silent. My mind, suddenly light as a breeze, entered into the pure space of this Marin County corner of the Dharma realm.
"At the place of seeking nothing, there are no worries."
It's all a play! None of it is real. Ha! I get so uptight seeking this or that small advantage and then catch myself in the act. Affliction is Bodhi if you can flip it over.
The Bodhisattva knows it's all a big play. He doesn't get hung up in the props, he doesn't get attached to the sets or the scenery, he doesn't take his lines seriously. He wants to let everyone else in on the secret: don't get attached to any dharmas, including the body. None of it lasts. As soon as you take any part of the world as real and true you're in for suffering.
The basic truth of the Buddhadharma: all existence is suffering because of the accumulation of ignorance and desires. It's based on the false view that "me" and "mine” exist, and it comes home to me every time I try to control the world with force in my thoughts, in my speech, in my actions. When I let it all go and just cultivate the Way with a happy, pure heart, everything works out just right. "The Bodhisattva transfers (the merit) to the Dharma realm's measureless, level equality and escapes (from suffering)."
That's the secret. The Bodhisattva uses the Dharma, which tells him that all dharmas are level and equal, empty and selfless. And with this wisdom he is liberated from suffering. With no self who worries? With no self who feels pain? What is there to desire when the self no longer seeks advantages for "old #1"?
The fruit of retribution comes from the karma that we create.
But the creator does not exist. This is what all Buddhas tell us.
The average person before he begins to cultivate, might hear this and say, "But how can this be so? Look at the stack of unpaid bills on my desk! Look at the newspapers full of endless evil and suffering! Look at those bags under my eyes. I've got to go run the rat race again today and I'm sick of it! Here's the Sutra telling me it's a play. How can I believe it?"
All that can be done and what is (actually) done
Are produced only from the action of thoughts.
How can we know that this is so?
Because nothing exists outside of this.
So why not put down the false and cultivate the Way? Why don't we realize the Buddha-dharma's supreme place of pure, still, level equality? Why not indeed? It's because from past lives since beginningless time we've been trapped on stage, wandering through the endless acts of the Big Play. Covered by doubts, pushed by fears we haven't believed in the road to escape. Cultivation is totally up to the individual. As we plant the seeds so do we harvest the fruit.
It's like a pure bright mirror.
Depending on the object that stands before it,
The different images appear.
And the nature of karma is the same.
It's like the seeds planted in a field.
The seeds do not know of each other.
Yet they naturally grow forth by themselves.
And the nature of karma is the same.
The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas patiently tell us over and over again "Everything's okay. Basically there's no problem but we make all our troubles by ourselves." "Stop the mind's chatter and all things are done."
Do we believe it? Sometimes I can. Like on this morning on the coast. But ultimately belief and disbelief are still hung up on words. The magic of the Buddhadharma comes from what is practiced. By cultivating the Middle Way without thoughts of self all of the wonder and the supreme truth contained within the Avatamsaka Sutra naturally appear and fill up all of space and the Dharma realm. It's true and real, just like the Buddha spoke it. Whoever practices in this way can realize it.
He seeks no benefit for himself
He only wants to make others happy.
He never for an instant gives rise to thoughts of sophistry (foolish debate)
He only contemplates all Dharmas as empty and without a self.
I can write of this very easily today. But due to the nature of my heavy past karma of ignorance and seeking, I'm very likely to go out and start forcing the Way in my thoughts again today. I did it yesterday, and caught a cage full of demons. I'll continue to do it until the seeds I've planted in the past are exhausted. But meanwhile I'm not going to stop my practices and wail over my bad luck and past stupidity. I want to plant good seeds now. My faith in the Buddha's field of blessings grows stronger each day. There's so much goodness and light in cultivation that it makes any other work feels like a waste of time. All the light and goodness is within our hearts, the work is in erasing the obstacles and ignorance that hide it. Patience and hard work will certainly succeed.
We were bowing in gale winds this week, faces black with dust and grit, concentrating on our dan tyan "gyroscopes" in the center of the body so as not to be blown backwards each time we stood up. A man stopped his pickup truck and said "Amazing. You just use your mind to overcome all obstacles and pain, eh?"
I thought, "Yeah, and isn't it funny how the mind is also the source of the obstacles and pain? If you know it's all a play and don't let your mind attach to good or run from bad, just go out and cultivate pure practices to benefit others, then obstacles and pain don't stop you, and they don't make you unhappy. It's all level and equal. It doesn't hurt less, but it doesn't bother you anymore. Nothing is a problem, not even birth and death. It doesn't matter anymore. "If you can truly understand 'Everything's okay, just this is wonderful beyond words," said the Master last month near Bolinas Lagoon.
The Sutra says,
If one can, while in the mundane world,
Leave behind all attachments and be happy,
With an unobstructed mind,
Then one can get enlightened to the Dharma.
He asked, "You don't have any special gear that you use?" I thought, in fact we do. It's this precept sash that makes it all possible. We have a Sutra that shows us the Way. We have a Good and Wise Advisor who protects us and gives us instruction. We have a growing heart of faith in the Triple Jewel. We have a sense of shame for how long it has taken us to wake up and get to work cultivating for real. This is all gear. But it's available to everyone. It's our work to bring it to the West and to keep it alive in the world forever.