Three Steps One Bow

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

July 19, 1979
Stewart's Point

Dear Shih Fu,

      "The Bodhisattva is a great master at giving. He can give away any material object whatsoever. His mind is level and equal, without regrets. He doesn't expect a reward, he is not greedy for reputation (as a benefactor), He does not seek benefit. He only  wants to save all beings to benefit all beings, to gather all beings in..." 


      It was exactly five years ago that I was all ready to move out of my Berkeley boarding house and into Gold Mountain Monastery to live as a layman while I finished my degree at UCB. First there was a trip to Seattle for the World Peace Gathering. The Peace Gathering marked the end of the Gold Mountain summer cultivation session for 1974 and was a big success. Bhikshu Heng Lai, who was known as Kuo Hui at the time, and Upasaka Kuo Sun Peterson and I made the trip in Kuo Fa 01- son's pickup camper. We rode in the back, sipped cokes and memorized the Great Compassion Mantra.

      On the way home we stopped in Ukiah to look at a piece of property that was available for sale. It was the Mendocino State Hospital, closed by the Reagan Administration and
standing vacant. The caretakers showed us around
the grounds. It was an awesome place. The maximum security prison was alive and crawling with spirits and heavy vibes. The classroom buildings looked like the afternoon classes had left only moments before. The gymnasium echoed "yes!" to our thoughts of "Could this be an inconceivably fine Buddhahall?" 

      I had a feeling about the place. Kuo Fa
was positive, Kuo Hui doubtful. "Too big, how could you even keep the lawns mowed?" Kuo Sun had a twinkle in his eye. None of us guessed that in two years, almost to the day, Kuo Hui and I would receive the Bhikshu precepts in that same gymnasium, that Heng Lai would be the Director and Kuo Fa the Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds of the world's biggest Buddhist University. I couldn't have imagined that within five years almost to the day, I would be sitting in a Plymouth Station Wagon below Stewart's Point on the California Coast after bowing seven hundred miles to this same magic city.

      We returned to Gold Mountain Monastery and I went upstairs to wash my hands. There was the Ven. Abbot smiling and kind. I had never spoken to him face to face before.

      "Well, how was it?" he asked.

      "We saw the hospital, Shih Fu!" I blurted out.

      "Oh? What about it?" he said with a grin.

      "It's big!" I said.

      "Do you like it?" he asked.

      "Oh, it could be a great Bodhimanda!

      Just like Nalanda" I answered breathlessly.

      He laughed and said, "Oh, is that so?

      Good. You think we should buy it then?"

      "That would be really wonderful!"

Nalanda was the famous and huge monastery and university that pilgrim Hsuan Tsang visited on his journey to India in A.D. 640. It housed thousands of Sangha members and students and was the center of study and practice of the Dharma for centuries. Nalanda is translated as 

  Shr Wu Yan. 'Giving Without Weariness' or 'Untiring Benefactor' and that's what the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is all about: a place for selfless giving of goodness and pure light to the entire world. What a wonderful gift! "We are all here in a dream doing the work of the Buddha. (Master Hua, L.A. 1978). A good dream coming true.

  -Disciple Kuo Chen
(Heng Sure)

bows in respect

Near Salt Point, California
Saturday July 21, 1979

Dear Shih Fu,

"Highway Reflections on the
Dharma Ending Age"

      The Avatamsaka says that all the periods of time are the same. Past, present, and
future are false discriminations,

"All the past, present, and future are nothing but talk."

      Isn't the Dharma Ending Age then the same? Just the prattle of false words? "Everything is made from the mind alone" says the Sutra. However you took at it, that's how it is. Ca11 it the Dharma Ending Age and it becomes the Dharma Ending Age. Call it the Proper Dharma Age and it becomes the Proper Dharma Age. Nothing is fixed. All the differences in the world are in the minds of living beings. Basically it's level and equal in ail places.

      The idea of a Dharma Ending Age really turns people. It feels like a huge false thought, and a burned-out view of the world. This is being turned by external states. It's just tike the demons we meet while bowing. Think about them in advance and for sure they'll show up. Worry and get afflicted with fear and they get worse. Ignore the demons and treat them as "no affair," and they vanish. Don't false think about them and they don't come. Ugly men and beautiful women work the same way. We bring on all our troubles with our false thinking. So it says,

      "When one, attends to the here 
      and now, the false returns to the true."

Gatha for recitation
beads hand & eye #29

      The idea of a Dharma Ending Age is the same. With an untiring, non-retreating thought of, "pure mind, continue, continue!"- the false returns to the true. The Dharma's going bad becomes the Dharma's prosperity. The patriarchs and the ancients didn't follow states -- they made states follow them.

      Before coming to Gold Mt., I heard some talk like this: "Oh, Gold Mt!? All those Buddhist disciples are just too strict and inflexible. They take the precepts too seriously-- especially the prohibitions on meat, intoxicants and sexual misconduct. This is the modern age! They're stupid. In the Dharma Ending Age this stuff doesn't hold. It's every man for himself. But they keep the bitter practices and build way places and now a big university... They don't know how to bend with the times. Why stick your neck out like that in the Dharma Ending Age?"

      In the Avatamsaka it says all is one. To the ends of empty space and the boundaries of the future, all is perfectly fused and interpenetrating without obstruction. There is no time, no coming or going, no place to rely or dwell. So where am I going to hide in the Dharma Ending Age? Under the bed? In a remote temple? Maybe on another planet? Wherever you go you are not outside the Dharmarealm. Our self-nature and the Dharma-realm are one, not two. So where is there a place to hide? What touches one, touches all; what's good for all, is good for one.

      In Cambria, California there are some people who don't think it's the Dharma Ending Age. For them, things are starting to look up, not down. Don is an insurance salesman who used to be a school teacher. He and his family came out one Sunday, "just because bowing is so peaceful and nice to be around." They made offerings and watched quietly. Later Don came back and related that his job was in jeopardy, and "frankly, there's a whole lot about life that's pretty upsidedown and meaningless," he said. He was very interested in Buddhism. He wanted to be a good father and husband, and to help other people but couldn't get an anchor down inside his own mind. Traditional religions left him cold. He started reciting the name of Gwan Yin Bodhisattva every night in a quiet corner of the house. A few weeks later he came back. He looked younger and centered, back on solid ground. He told us he got a new job and "all sorts of things have started to look better." Then he said, "You know, the other night while I was reciting Namo Gwan Shr Yin Pusa, a strange thing happened. The face of an old man with long white hair and a beard appeared. I felt very relieved and not the least bit afraid of him." The description he gave fit the Venerable Hsu Yun.

      Tom and his wife and three children operate a motel near the ocean. They came out with an offering and said, "We envy you. This is what we should have done with our lives. But now it's too late. We got married young and have children." They thought the only way one could practice Buddhism was as a monk and nun in a monastery. They were happy and surprised to hear about all the levels of involvement and especially of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. "You mean people can cultivate and bring their kids along too!?" Tom later came back and told us he was really at loose ends. He had got involved with drugs and drinking, acquired a lot of debts, and felt hemmed-in by relatives and the responsibilities of being a parent. He was ready to despair. Then on an intuition, he sent to Gold Mt. for a copy of The Shramanera Vinaya and Rules of Deportment. Its basic and solid stuff on how to base your practice on proper morality. Tom really identified with the principle that "everything that happens to you comes from what you do." He felt that the reason his life was a mess was because he didn't follow the rules.

      A year later Tom and his family stopped
on their way to a weekend outing. They were all real happy and obviously back together again. Tom was confident and relaxed. All his bitterness and pessimism was gone. The children now looked natural and bright, where before, they were uptight and disrespectful. "You know," said Tom, "that book really changed my life.. our lives... I can't tell you what a difference it has made!"

      The McCauley family were devout Catholics all their lives. But they "left the Church" said Mrs. McCauley, "because it just didn't go far enough. This is the Space Age and there's a new spirituality. Our children especially, are asking questions and looking into things we never had the courage to when we were young. We are all really happy to see this pilgrimage and to hear about the city up north. (CTTB) Buddhism seems to take everything in and still meet a person's quest for personal enlightenment. Our sons have followed you and are really hungry to go where our traditional religions never explored. It's healthy and I'm all for it. My husband and I will follow right along and learn. You know," she said quietly, "there's a lot of us seeking out from the bushes and hiding in the closet watching and waiting..."

      A Bodhisattva makes four great vows and
never retreats or takes a vacation, even in the Dharma Ending Age,

      "Living beings are boundless, I vow to save them all.

      Afflictions are endless, I vow to sever them all.

      Dharma doors are limitless, I  vow to study them all.

      The Buddhaway is unsurpassed, I vow to attain it."

Some people say, "World peace is impossible. Ending disasters and suffering is dream talk." So what? All the more reason to try. Or many say "Society and the family are falling apart." That makes the Buddhas teachings even more relevant and necessary. How are these reasons to roll over and belly up? It is just because of peoples suffering that the Buddhas appear in the world.

      "The Buddadharma arises out of difficulty."

      If everyone were enlightened and free from all the sufferings and the evil destinies, then what use would the Dharma be? The Dharma is medicine. The more suffering and confusion there is, the more the medicine is needed. "But this is the Dharma Ending Age. It's useless. You're stupid to stick your neck out. No matter what you do the Proper Dharma is going to go extinct." That's just the reason to do it. Because it's stupid. When the world is being driven to the brink of collapse by smart ones, it's a good sign that there are still people who don't know how to look out for themselves, and just stick out their necks like it didn't matter.

      So I ask myself, "If you save your neck, monk, what are you saving it for? When you die and have to part with it, what good will you have done with it? The Ghost of Impermanence will just take it anyway. So big deal. Might as well put it out where it can do some good." The Bodhisattva not only sticks his neck out, but he gives away his arms and legs, eyes, ears, even his bone and marrow to benefit living beings. "No problem" he says, "I only want alt beings to end suffering and attain bliss. I'm not the least bit concerned about saving 'me and mine' or anything that belongs to a 'me and mine'. Being one with everyone is called Great Compassion. My body is the Dharma body." The Dharma Ending Age is just another day to take as it comes.

      "He never retires from the vows of a Bodhisattva. Even though all kalpas might be exhausted, his heart never wearies. He does not grow weary of enduring all kinds of bitter suffering. None of the many demons can move him. He is protected and thought of by all Buddhas. He cultivates the bitter practices of all Bodhisattvas. In his cultivation of the Bodhisattva's  practices he is earnest and vigorous, not careless or lax. He never retreats from his Great Vehicle vows."

-Avatamsaka (Ten Practices Practice #8 "Hard to Obtain")

      Why? Because at some point it becomes
clear that "every man for himself" isn't where it's at. The realm of all beings and the universe (Dharmarealm) are non-dual. All things are one. They don't increase or decrease. They aren't produced or destroyed. There's no self or others, no anyplace to attack or rely on, much less to hide. Cultivation is forever.

      "It is like drilling wood to make a fire. What fire can do is inexhaustible, yet fire itself is never extinguished. The Bodhisattva is this way as well. His transforming of living beings is an inexhaustible matter, yet he always dwells in the world without cease."

                                                                                                                                                   -Avatamsaka (ibid.)

                                                                        Peace in the Dharma.
                                                                        Disciple Kuo T'ing,
                                                                        (Heng Chau)
                                                                           bows in respect