The Bodhi Stand Presents
UPASAKA KUO P'AN PENNERS
Dharma Master Heng Ch'au relates in an entry dated Wednesday, January 11, 1978:
An excited young man named Steve stopped as we
bowed on the freeway frontage road. "I know you are busy, but could you
spare just a few minutes? I mean, I know what you are doing...! Just know...
and, well, I've been looking for this and I think I've found it!" he said,
half out of breath.
"I am really seriously looking for a spiritual community to go to the ultimate and also help others. I don't want to just do my own thing and withdraw." This was Bodhisattva talk Steve was voicing.
He concentrates and seeks only proper enlightenment. This thought he does not forsake for an instant. The Bodhisattva, in this way, reverently contemplates and thoroughly practices all kinds of vast and great deeds.
-Avatamsaka Sutra Ten Transferences Chapter
Steve was interested in the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. "Do you practice the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold Path? Can a layman study there and work in the community, too? Are there enlightened Masters there to teach the real thing?" he asked. "I want to learn how to hold precepts and read a sutra firsthand. All I've seen is the superficial stuff that's not very deep—you know the little paperback books on Buddhism. I want to really get into it. Can I do that there?"
"Yes." I replied. "It's all there. Everybody holds the precepts. It's a very pure Way-Place. Everyone there is devoted to getting enlightened and ending suffering of all kinds for all beings. That's the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in essence."
Steve took a map, grinned a big thanks' and drove
off for Ukiah in his van. Bound
With deep faith in the Buddha and the Buddhadharma
As well as faith in the path traveled by all Buddha’s disciples.
He believes too in unsurpassed, great enlightenment.
Thus the Bodhisattva first produces the resolve.
-Avatamsaka Sutra Worthy Leader Chapter
Twenty-two year old Steve Penners remembers the contrast of fresh air beaches in San Diego with the later smog-choked suburbs in Los Angeles during his formative years. "Not only was the atmosphere of Los Angeles unappealing, but my own emotional states of mind depressed me as well. I remember the astonishment of my eighth grade teacher when I told her that I wished to be separated from all emotional states," relates Steve.
Avoiding the social scene of high school, Steve withdrew and developed an interest in computer programming and quickly mastered several programming languages. This new interest became such a preoccupation that he began to attend school less and less regularly so that he could devote more time to it. But eventually he saw that it wasn't leading anywhere and began looking elsewhere for contentment.
Hiking and backpacking attracted him because the mountains were a place to escape from the busy world. "Actually, it wasn't the busy world I was trying to retreat from, it was my own busy mind," reflects Steve after going on an extended journey through the California Sierras. Summing up that experience he says, "There were many unforeseen hazards and we had several close calls with death. After the snows melted, the going got comparatively easier physically, but personality differences created new problems and we ended up parting company 300 miles short of the destination."
Returning from that experience, Steve moved in with his father and family and began to meditate. "It wasn't long afterwards that conditions ripened and I encountered the Proper Dharma. Passing through Aptos on their way to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, Dharma Masters Heng Sure and Heng Ch'au had decided to bow in place for three or four days almost right in front of our house. At first I was afraid to approach them. Gradually my courage grew and I decided to go ahead and talk to them. To my surprise, when I met Heng Ch'au, it was as if he were an old buddy I had known for years. Somewhere deep down there seemed to be a recognition that extended for unknown lifetimes into the past."
Steve went to the City, as Bhiksu Heng Ch'au relates above and participated in several weeks of winter sessions. "On the first day of 1979, right in the middle of a Ch'an session, I took refuge with the Triple Jewel under the tutelage of the Venerable Master Hua. From that point on, I had pretty much made up my mind to stay and live at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.
"Currently I am living in Tathagata Monastery and attending Dharma Realm Buddhist University. Participating in the monastic activities and attending a university keeps one quite busy most of the time. However, instead of exhausting one to the point of collapse, it has a very opposite effect of raising one's spirits and energy. I find that keeping oneself busy like this is very good at helping one avoid falling into lazy habit patterns. And quite naturally it becomes easier to return the light and illumine the mind ground as one continues to practice vigorously and to not be lazy. By developing this practice of watching the mind, it is possible to cut off thoughts of greed, hatred, and stupidity, which are the source of all the derivative emotions that I expressed frustration about as a child. It is said:
Karma ended, emotion emptied is the true Buddha.
Karma heavy, emotion turbid, is the living being."
WHAT ARE WE LIVING FOR?*
Tonight everyone was given an opportunity to speak. After this, every Friday there will be a chance for everyone to practice lecturing.
To give a lecture, you must be inspired. If you get an inspiration, then get up and speak. If you have no inspiration, you don't have to lecture. I just said that the women had lost because they didn't lecture, but I was just joking. Lecturing isn't a question of winning or losing. Whether you lecture or not isn't the point. The point is: what is your motive? If you are lecturing just to make a good impression, then even if you "win" you have "lost." If you lecture in order to present true principle, even if you "lose," you win. You can't just copy other people and say the same things they do, being a "copy." And you don't have to get all flowery about what you say, either. You just have to speak with true principle. Today, several people said, "Why are we living?" "We" isn't "you." "We" includes not just me, hot just you, but you, me, and everyone else! It means all of us together. It means, "We people in the world—why are we all living? Why did we all come to this world?"
"I know why we came to this world," you say. "We came here to pick garbage."
Right! We came to pick garbage, the things other people won't have anything to do with. We take them as treasures. But you just copy other people and follow their style. You have not investigated your own creative potential and discovered what your own "style" is.
"But I don't have a 'style'!" you say.
Then why does everybody else have a style? By copying other people you are just adding a head on top of a head, casting aside the roots to grasp at the branches. You're just copying other people. You haven't discovered you own genuine wisdom.
In reality, we aren't here just to pick garbage!
"Then are we here to get rich?" you ask.
No! So what if you get rich? When you die what use is it? None at all. Ultimately why are we here?
We have come into this world to do merit for the world, to do acts of virtue for people and to benefit all living beings. That's what we should be doing. That's our responsibility. You shouldn't hang out in the world just to benefit yourself. That's being petty; it's of no worth. You should work on behalf of all the people in the world, and benefit other people. Now, benefiting other people simply means not getting in other people's way, not obstructing them. You shouldn't benefit yourself and injure others. When you hurt or harm other people you are simply being wrong. That's my explanation. Me people in the world should exhaust our efforts to establish merit and establish virtue.
The ancients said:
Whether or not you "establish words" doesn't matter because words are marks and appearances. Merit and virtue have no form or appearance. True merit and virtue resides in the place beyond the path of words, the place of the mind's function has been cast away and there is nothing-nothing at all. Okay—that's it for today!
-Master Hua March 21, 1980