Three 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.
July 1, 1979
Dear Shih Fu,
powerful magic of the Avatamsaka Sutra turns our days and nights into an
endless adventure of discovery. Cultivating the Way is constant learning.
Our teachers are everyone, our classroom is the world, our training rules
are kindness, compassion, joy, and giving. Our courses include faith,
vigor, single mindedness, concentration, and wisdom. Patience is our
proctor. Great Compassion is our constant aspiration, the Buddhas' Bodhi
is our future graduation.
day I see more of my bad habits unfold before me. The light of cultivation
shines into the dark corners of my mind. The harder I work, the happier
and better I feel. Like opening the doors and windows in a musty attic,
the fresh air of the Dharma makes useful space out of the parts of my life
I've neglected for too long. I want to be a Buddha. I've got a lot of
changing to do first.
learned how to fight for what was called "success and
happiness." It divided into the struggle for power, pleasure, wealth,
profit, and fame. When it got confused with politics, it was called the
"struggle for freedom." In the end it is just a lot of fighting.
was trained to fight for success. I was groomed to win. I was sold on the
notion that more success brought more happiness, no matter what I had to
do, no matter who I had to step on, cheat, or I was hurt in the process.
The point of the game was to get more of everything. There was only one
rule: win No matter what: win big. We glorify our rule break outlaws, and
clever crooks. It's upside down.
tried hard to win at this crazy game of success. The better I got at it,
the more unhappy I felt. "Oh, it's lonely at the top," says the
popular song. And the part of the game no one told me about was that in
the end there are no free lunches. When you break the rules to win, you
lose. You may not get the results back right away like in a horse race,
but cause and effect is really true not off by an eyelash.
bowing pilgrimage has opened my mind to my past training. Only this month,
after two years of bowing, have I seen how deeply I am programmed to
fight. Leaving home and making vows set my feet on the right path. It
takes a lot of pick and shovel work to uncover the roots of my bad habits.
Because of the power of repentance and reform, I've gotten lots of help in
returning to health.
example, my name is Kuo Chen, fruit of truth, because I am by nature a
phony, an actor. I tell lies, slander, scold, and mislead people. I never
really knew it or took it seriously until I got some vivid feedback and a
straight talk explanation from our good advisors. My teacher told me both
directly and expediently that I have heavy bad karma regarding my tongue.
But I am slow to learn. I had to really taste the bitter fruit I've grown
before I appreciated the ultimate truth of cause and effect.
we bowed through the sleepy suburb of Daly City we picked up a lot of
hostile vibrations from young men. We heard shouts of "They're
kissing the ground! What perverts!" "Get up from there. You kiss
the sidewalk again and I'm going to shoot you!" "You can't do
that here. Go somewhere else and kiss the ground!"
thought, "Good grief! We've come nearly six hundred miles and not
since the very beginning have people thought we were kissing the ground.
offense of telling lies can cause beings to fall into the Three Evil
Destinies. If reborn as a human, one will have two kinds of retributions:
the first is that one will be greatly slandered. The second is that one
mill be deceived by others.
Ten Grounds Chapter.
day we received a copy of the San Francisco weekly newspaper. The reporter
had interviewed Heng Ch'au in Pacifica. The story about us was on the
front page the week we passed through Daly City. Somehow the reporter got
the idea we kissed the ground as we bowed. He said it twice in the text of
his article. It offended a lot of people. We felt the negative response.
And it wasn't true. It was a lie, it was slander. It hurt our work because
it turned people off to our real purpose. It obscured their vision of our
religious devotion and made it look perverse, tainted. And there was
nothing we could do to change it once it was in print and on the air. As
far as everyone was concerned, we were kissing the ground because someone
told them so.
Did I understand the principle of slander it hurts. Because we represent
Buddhism to many people who've never seen it before, they now believe that
Buddhists kiss the ground. So I've done harm to what I believe in. And in
effect I've slandered the Dharma again, indirectly, and without meaning to
but certainly. Once the wheel is set in motion, it' hard to stop.
he does not create bad karma, bad karma does not obstruct him. Because he
does not give rise to afflictions, afflictions do not obstruct him.
Because he does not slight dharmas, dharmas do not obstruct him. Because
he does not slander the Proper Dharma, he is not obstructed by
Later that same day
two young men made it their job to instruct me further about my bad mouth
karma. They threw eggs, milk cartons, copies of the rolled up newspaper,
and rocks. All of these missed their target, but I got the message all the
same. The boys were vigorous in their efforts, however, and bold. I went
down for a bow and heard footsteps approach. Something soft and gooey
splattered my head from directly above. An entire cup of rancid butter
slid down my cap and covered my left ear. How did it feel? I knew
immediately that it felt like slander: sticky, hard to clean off, a real
mess. Injury from empty space. How could I have used my tongue to hurt
people in this way for so long?
was the fruit of my search for success at any cost. How does a Bodhisattva
by nature do not tell lies. They always speak real speech, true speech,
timely speech. Even in their dreams they do not allow speech which is
covered. They do not consider speaking falsely, how much the less do they
do it deliberately.
Bodhisattva uses the Dharma to transform all beings with a kind mind that
never injures or harms.
That's the way it
goes in our school. We have experiences as we bow and the magic mirror of
the Dharma Realm, the Avatamsaka Sutra, gives us the straight road out of
our confusion. The timing is uncanny. We will hear a passage and think,
"No wonder I got so afflicted. I broke the rules." "What a
relief to hear the truth!" "I'm going to cultivate it!"
On the one
hand you might say the tuition to Flower Garland Highway Academy is free.
On the other hand, it costs us everything we've got. That is to say to
really study the curriculum we have to give up our thoughts, our
afflictions, and our habits. We've got to recognize our faults, forsake
our attachments, and cut off desires. Casting out selfish laziness is the
first requirement. Greed, hatred, and stupidity flunk us every time and
broken precepts bring suspension, probation, even expulsion. But who wants
to hold on to all this poison anyway?
enrolled in this school because the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are perfect
people, the highest, happiest beings who ever lived. The Buddhadharma is
true principle, pure and good, ultimate and supreme.
the Bodhisattva way brings happiness and benefits the goodness of the
world. Why look further for something good to do in life? What I have come
to see is how much turning around I have to do, how much my ego and my
habits get in the way of my heart's wish to be a true Buddhist disciple. I
understand now that fighting to be number 1, famous and successful, is
greedy seeking. It's desire and part of the causes and conditions of
killing. It's the source of all the suffering in the world. It's purely
selfish. Individual success in the world doesn't bring freedom or peace of
mind, or happiness when it's done at others' expense. Ambition moves us
off center. Winning is losing when you break the rules. Breaking the rules
brings retribution. Power, wealth, fame, profit, and pleasure are empty
and have one flavor: suffering. Nothing survives past the grave but the
real things: cultivation of Way virtue and creation of karmic offenses.
way of people is harmony
merit and virtue interspersed,
virtuous deeds you rise,
make you fall.
has nothing to do with anyone else at all.
Dharma Realms Poem
fight. They don't compete. They don't discriminate among any beings. As I
grew up I learned to discriminate social class at a glance, all based on
competition to be first. "Keeping up with the Joneses" was the
name of the game. The distinctions were based on surface externals, like
the chrome trim that makes one's car look different from another. I wear
gray, ragged robes and have dirty hands most of the time. I see people
react to my appearance and I recognize how I used to size people up based
on false coverings and costumes. I was never satisfied. The people with
more style than I had made me feel jealous and inferior. Those with no
style made me feel superior, like a winner. What a trap I made for myself
with false discriminations. What a burden.
joke is this. Only this week did I recognize that I still thought this
way. After being a Buddhist for six years and a monk for five I still
carry my habits of discriminating with me. My seeking and desire to win
are my deepest programming. Really hard to shake!
did I find out about it? We read these words of truth in the Sutra last
offense of greed causes beings to fall into the three evil destinies. If
born among humans they will obtain two kinds of retribution. The first is
one' s mind/heart is never satisfied. The second is one will have much
desire without ever getting satisfied.
Sutra Ten Grounds Chapter
The next day at
lunch I saw a car pull up, a Cadillac. A sun tanned, well dressed man got
out and I pegged him right away as a success. Probably a professional man.
Then something changed in my eyes. I thought, "Hey, wait a minute.
You don't know what's in his heart. Why do you do this act of competing
with others? You do it so that your own ego can survive. Don't do it!
Great Corn passion does not fight. Say no to your self. Leave him alone.
Cultivate your own path. Return the light. Don't fight. That man is your
father. He's your teacher. He's you! Vow to take him across no matter who
he is. He will certainly become a Buddha sooner or later, so will you.
Don't obstruct both of you with the causes and conditions of fighting and
killing. This is not a joke. Cultivate the Dharma, as much as you
night the Sutra spoke principle for me again.
Bodhisattva further reflects, "All beings distinguish self and
others and mutually harm each other. Fighting, conflict, anger and hatred
without cease. I should cause them all to dwell in unsurpassed
My heart melted on
the spot. I felt some more rotting timbers fall away from my old habits.
New good wood replaced them. Slowly bit by bit we are cleaning out the
the way it goes in our school. The Dharma realm is our classroom.
Everything speaks the Dharma everyone is our teacher. In the school of all
beings, the school of people, the school of the heart. We're really lucky
to study Buddhism.
Kuo Chen (Heng Sure) bows in respect
Wednesday June 27, 1979
Dear Shih Fu,
likes to hear about themselves. Who doesn't want to know who they are and
where they came from, where they are going and the deeper reasons behind
what they do? Even the most skeptical could sit for hours and listen
enthralled to their own horoscope, palm or tarot card reading. The I Ching
and geomancy, psychic readings and the ouija board, and all the other
occult forms of divination prosper because everyone knows there's more to
life than the visible and tangible; there's more to each person than
molecules, food, clothes, and sleep.
night we came to the section on the Ten Good Deeds in the "Ten
Grounds Chapter" of the Avatamsaka Sutra. Ah, how wonderful! As Heng
Sure translated I sat absorbed. I could have listened all night. It
details the retribution one undergoes for committing each of the Ten Evil
Deeds. This is the real thing! Unlike fortune telling, which is laced with
half wisdom and a lot of flattery, the Avatamsaka transcends the small and
narrow and rises like the sun above all the worldly dust. Not only
divination but even the psychological sciences aren't very explicit on how
to change your fate or personality. It's all touch and go, trial and
error. The Buddhadharma is clear and complete. It covers all the paths of
rebirth and how to get out.
sutra simply says that everything that happens to you comes from what you
do. Good deeds bring good retribution, evil deeds bring suffering and
obstacles. It's not off by a hair, and has nothing to do with anyone else
but yourself. Heng Sure and I got hit right between the eyes as we read
the Avatamsaka Sutra. It's over three thousand years old and yet it spoke
right to our hearts sitting in an old car on the California coast in the
I read this
passage and understood the core of my personality. What was unclear now
was clear. What I couldn't see about myself, these words exposed like
ripping off an old Band-Aid.
offense of greed also causes one to fall into the realms of the hells,
animals, and hungry ghosts. If born as a human, one obtains two kinds of
retribution: the first is one's heart is never satisfied; the second is,
having much desire without ever netting enough.
me!" I thought. I've had all the fortune telling and readings and
thought I understood myself. But last night the Avatamsaka Sutra opened my
eyes and heart like nothing I had ever experienced before. It was clear
and straightforward. Without frill or mystery the message was the
"sound of a hammer hitting steel." I knew beyond a doubt that
what the Flower Adornment Sutra said was truth within truth. It deserves
to be called "the ultimate understanding of the mind and all its
states." It's the highest teaching and deepest wisdom of all living
wasn't a bummer or an ego trip to hear who I really was. The Buddhadharma
isn't like that. The truth is revealed without emotion and no punches
held. The Sutras were spoken only to help all living beings end suffering
and attain bliss. It was just like having a candid and kind doctor tell
you right out exactly what sickness you have and what you need to do to
have never known sufficiency. "My" mind is never satisfied.
Contentment was always around the corner in the next job, the next town
the next year, but never right now in my own heart. No matter what it was
women, education, food, even exploring our own body and mind I had to have
more, always more. How many times have I passed over and stepped on
exactly what I sought and reached out for more and better. Always seeking
further and higher. I "gave up the near and went seeking for the
far." I never knew when to stop or how to say, "enough."
Too much is the same as too little.
few weeks ago the Venerable Abbot and a group of disciples stopped to
share a meal offering. As we sat together under some trees outside of
Valley Ford, I was feeling quite content and natural just being quiet. I
had nothing to say no questions to ask. Happy, seeking nothing. My good
wise advisor within said, "Ok, Novice, you've had enough to eat.
Remember, originally you have all you need inside. You don't need to seek
outside after anything. All troubles, afflictions, and disasters come from
seeking and desiring more. When you stop seeking, all worries
then my bad knowing advisor counseled, "Hey, all this good food. A
couple of more bites won't hurt. You can burn it up bowing. Take a little
more of this and a little more of that, quick! Before the meal's
over!" So I did. Then suddenly the emperor inside said, "Look at
this. All these people and juicy conditions. You have not said a word. Now
everyone's leaving. Let's climb on it. Baby." And once again I
couldn't resist. I opened my mouth and asked the Master a stupid question
just to make my mark. I made my mark and immediately lost my light 'pstt'
just like a flat tire.
and unaware the Dharma vessel topples.
The Master's reply
was swift and direct, "Eat more, cultivate more, stoke the fires
more. Go on like this forever. More, always more. Everything should be
more." The Master voiced the "sutra" I have been reciting
in my mind all my life. Because I was never content with what I had in the
past I now am undergoing the retribution of "having much desire
without ever getting enough." Buddhism is not a head-trip. The things
the sutras talk about contain the secrets to our own minds and the
a way, the whole pilgrimage is an effort to reduce our "greed for the
flavors of desire." All disasters come from desire. Each inch of
greed we are able to cut back brings that much understanding inside and an
equal amount of peace in the world. All the troubles we have encountered
come from seeking. All the problems in the world wars, famine, disasters,
and calamities, families falling apart and individuals feeling lost and
alienated none don't begin with a single thought of greed and seeking
you reach the place of seeking nothing
have no worries.
From the gross to
the subtle, from the coarse to the fine, we have traced back all our
troubles to one thought of greed. All our hang ups can be tracked down to
a single thought of seeking. Small disasters enter into big disasters. Big
suffering is grown from little suffering. Big and small are just words.
The world doesn't know these differences. The Dharma realm and the self
nature are non-dual. Why are there disasters and calamities? It is because
I am greedy and full of desire.
Sure and I used to feel happiness was more and better food, fame, wealth,
sex, and sleep. But now we know that "Of all the happiness in the
world, there is none which is not suffering." Avatamsaka Sutra. And
of all the suffering in cultivation, there is none, which is not
happiness. This passage from the Flower Adornment Sutra has become the
primary theme of the bowing.
do not seek the unsurpassed path for myself, nor do I cultivate Bodhi
practices to seek the states of the five desires or the many kinds of
bliss in the three realms of existence. Why? Of all the happiness in the
world, there is none which is not suffering, or which is not the realm of
many demons; which is not what ignorant people are greedy for and which
the Buddhas have not warned us about. All disasters that arise are caused
by these (the five desires).
hells, animals, and hungry ghosts King Yama's region of animosity, hatred,
conflict, slander, insult all of these evils are caused by greed and
attachment to the five desires. The Bodhisattva contemplates the world in
this way and reduces his greed for the flavors of desire.
Ten Transferences Chapter
have just crossed a small bridge entering Sonoma County. Ahead is 125
miles of bowing and a chance to "reduce our greed for the flavors of
desire." Who is this who's so greedy? Even though we don't watch
television or listen to the news or read the newspapers, we still can feel
what's happening in the world. The whole world is contained with in our
self nature. We are going to try and do a good job. We know that now is
the time to turn around and really do it right put it all down and bow to
the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas with a single heart. Peace in the Way,
bows in respect