Three Steps One Bow
Letters to the
Venerable Master Hua
Sea Ranch, California
Today: Hot sun. Long hours of bowing in solitude down Highway I lined with tall pine trees. Your whole life passes in front of you while you keep a steady rhythm of 3 steps, one bow. You see where you went wrong and where you did right. Cultivating the Way stands above everything you've ever done like the midday sun. It's the center of brightness and all that's good and true in your life.
My parents, teachers and elders I want to repay and be filial to (the fruit blossoms because of the roots; and, the fruit in turn goes back to the roots). My friends I want to see free and happy. I feel like I am old friends with all living beings. We meet again and again looking for a way over to the other shore. People, animals, and all the beings we can't see stop, watch and ask, "Have you done it yet? Are you for real and true doing it? Is the Buddha's Way really possible? Can we all become Buddhas?" Without words we ask each other and look for a place to take refuge and something to believe in.
We are all one body, we are all one
heart... A young person stops with
After two years of bowing the
roads, it's so clear to us that the only
Good man, of all the offerings, the gift of Dharma is the highest kind. That
To really put down all the greed, anger and stupidity; to get rid of all the false coverings and phony masks; to cast out all thoughts of jealousy, arrogance, and doubt; to light up your mind and see your true nature and let shine your original face -- this is a real gift. This gift is "the highest kind" and most difficult to obtain.
Everyone is looking for a
"true one." We look around outside but the
"true one" we really want to find is our own true
self. Being a true one is giving the gift
of Dharma. Pure, peaceful and happy and no
false thinking. A clear, cool pool. An
unlimited heart of kindness, compassion, joy and
giving that is as pure and selfless as new
fallen snow, and a mind like empty space. It's
Below in a fenced-in private home development, people are playing tennis and swimming. The whole scene is identical to one we bowed past two years ago in a country club in L.A. The things of the world are empty and impermanent, and yet they never seem to change. Some people die and new ones appear; just like the changing of players on the tennis court. The game of suffering and searching goes on like tennis match after tennis match.
What a clean and fine feeling, right to the bones marrow, to have met up with the Buddhadharma! Bit by bit I am slowly remembering how to be a real person. We know we are finally walking the right road. The giving of Dharma will come naturally, like the rain, as our steps become naturally true and without tracks.
At the end of a solid day of bowing, our lives feel so simple and genuine - so easy and natural, and yet nothing in the world can touch it. Three young men out to see the world with packs on their backs stop and ask us for some water. The have one small canteen between them. "Hey who's that in the picture?" asks one looking at the Ven. Abbot's photo. "Hey your hair's growing back" chides another in good humor. And then he asks honestly "was it hard becoming a monk?" His friend is reading our sign in the window and looking at the Buddhas picture next to it. He looks up. "No, I bet it was hard not being a monk," he says with conviction. He took the words right out of my heart. As they walk away they say "Hey ya know that's a really neat thing - doing it for everyone. I mean, so all beings will get peace and happiness. That's a neat way to be." I hear them and once again see that the principles of Buddhism are in everyones heart - the Bodhisattva path is our natural mind. In their attitude without knowing it maybe, they are speaking the Dharma,
"People's minds are the Buddha;
May we all accomplish the Buddhaway together, real soon. Peace in the Way to all beings everywhere.
Disciple Kuo T'ing,
Sea Ranch, California
Dear Shih Fu,
If you make great vows you can't do any
false-thinking. If you make a
-Master Hua 1973
Shih Fu, this disciple
trying to dig his way into hell
with his tongue.
As soon as I went out to bow I realized that with my note and my gesture and my attitude behind it, I had just sent myself to Hell for slandering the Triple Jewel, slandering the Proper Dharma, committing the of offense of false speech, breaking the Bodhisattva precepts against a) praising oneself and slighting others b) disrespectfu1 and rude behavior towards teachers and elders c) baseless slander d) treating Dharma teachers with contempt.
I repented on the spot, my mind dumb-struck that I could be so careless. After lunch I wrote this note to Heng Ch'ao: My quick story on Ven. Master Hung Yi this a.m. is the causes and conditions of slander, false speech, duplicity, harsh speech, frivolous speech and gossip. It is the source of boundless offenses and obstacles. I must not do it any more! I don't have the stature to talk about great monks in this way. How stupid to defame our own virtuous elders! It's like cutting off my hands just for laughs. First of all I don't even know if the story is factual- it's just heresay, id1e gossip. I do know that Ven. Master Hung Yi's purity in the Vinaya is totally admirable and deserving of great praise. This is shameful conduct on my part. It's my own funeral, a fast train ride to the Hells. With so few Sanghins in this age and fewer still of accomplishment in Vinaya practice, and I make it my business to casually slight one of the highest of them. Insane! If I don't cultivate control of my tongue, what Way am I cultivating?
This afternoon as I bowed I repented again, feeling greatly fortunate at being able to repent. The Shami Lu tells the story of a monk who slandered an Arhat by saying he sounded like a dog when he recited. The Arhat forgave the monk immediately and kindly advised him to repent. Because of the Arhat's compassion, the monk was saved from falling into the uninterrupted hells which was his due. He was reborn as a dog instead.
Just last week we read in the Third Ground chapter of the Avatamsaka about the cultivator who has the Heavenly Eye spiritual penetration. It says,
"...he can see how beings get reborn in good or evil destinies depending on the karma they create. If a being accomplishes evil deeds with the body, or evil deeds with the mouth, or evil deeds with the mind, if he slanders worthy sages, if he is endowed with deviant views as well as the karma of deviant views and their causes and conditions, then when his body decays and his life ends, he will certainly fall into the evil destinies and be reborn in the Hells."
How could I be so stupid as to try it out for myself? It felt really hot. I was miserable. I couldn't breathe, my inner beings were arguing, fighting, full of fear and doubts. My head was a little corner of Hell. I went to relieve myself and in the process, stuck my hands with long sharp thorns.
I repented to the Triple Jewel and to my teacher. I apologized to Ven. Master Hung Yi. I said, "whatever I've got coming I want to take on. I'm not afraid of suffering, knowing full well that I've planted an evil seed and will surely meet my retribution. I fear only that my vows will be obscured and that I won't be able to accomplish my way-karma and be of benefit to all beings." I humbly requested that I be gathered in by the Triple Jewel, if I could be of any use in the future in propagating the Dharma, that I'd be forgiven and returned to purity.
Just as I made this request, a car came speeding out of nowhere. It made a deliberate pass at us, zooming over onto the road shoulder where we were bowing. The car door flew open as it passed, missing us by an inch as it passed by. This was nearly the end of the pilgrimage. I believe it was a compassionate rescue by the Triple Jewel from an "instant karma" payoff of my debt. I recite the Great Compassion Mantra and carry the Surangama Mantra on my person at all times. These mantras have inconceivable power to overcome the karmic trespasses of sincere but ignorant living beings. I believe that I can still write this letter only due to the compassionate regard of the Triple Jewel and the power of repentance. I'm really lucky not to be roasting in the hells. Instead I have another chance to cultivate the Way.
Why did I make the stupid statement in the first place? Three years ago the Ven. Abbot said to the assembly from the high seat, "Those of you who keep gossiping will fall into the Hells. I don't want you to, but cause and effect is really true. I'm powerless to prevent it. Be careful!" How come I haven't learned my lesson? Why does my mouth obstruct me, despite my best efforts to control it? It's because of the bad seeds I've planted in the past, it's the karma of anger.
Universal Worthy Bodhisattva explains it this way, "A Bodhisattva who has thoughts of anger or hatred towards other Bodhisattvas, will be obstructed by the following 'million gates of obstruction..." (among these is) He will always give rise to the four kinds of mistakes in speech and thereby create the obstacles of bad speech karma."
It's the story of my life and if I hadn't begun to cultivate the Dharma, I'd never would have recognized it or had the chance to hear it and change it. I would have carried my mountain of offenses through this life and the next one and the next, never reducing it, always adding to it, unaware of the source of my suffering. I never considered myself as having much anger. I came back to the car this afternoon and took a good look. The rear end was dented, the tail pipe broken off and the bumpers twisted. The same car that buzzed us, first had paid the Plymouth a call, Heng Ch'au informed me. When they couldn't break in, they rammed it from the rear trying to push it into the ditch. Is this not an angry act? How can I deny that it's my retribution returning to me?
I recalled the beer bottle that broke the window behind the picture of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva. The bottle spoke Dharma for me then as the car spoke it today. It said, "Good Man, where in empty space is there a need for your fighting? Who told you you have to be #1. Who makes you struggle to be special and different from everyone? You're not, you know. You're just like a11 beings and that's good enough. Have compassion, brother. Everyone makes mistakes. Be more yielding. Let that anger go. See what it brings you when you do so much false-thinking?"
I thought of the Buddha as I saw my own sad reflection in the Plymouth's dusty window. The Buddha is a perfect person. He has eighteen qualities that are special to him. Among them are these: his body, mouth, and mind never make mistakes. He never sees anything or anyone in the world as different. His mind is never unconcentrated and he never fails to renounce himself to benefit others. He arrived at these powers and this great compassion by cultivating for a long time. He certainly endured a lot of suffering but he took it without fear and without anger. When he woke up to cause and effect he stopped swallowing the poisons of greed, anger, and stupidity, and quite naturally he got better. One day he reached perfect health: Buddhahood.
The whole experience today strengthened my resolve to work hard in cultivation and not do so much false-thinking. It deepened my faith in the power and purity of the dharma of repentance. I felt like a father looking at his stubborn child who won't listen to reason. The child's face is all scratched and bruised, he's run his bike into the curb again and fallen off. The father picks him up and straightens the bike's handlebars. He points him back on to the street and reminds his son that as long as he rides on the level path, and in the middle, his way will be unimpeded. "It's true for you, son, and it's true for everyone else too. Be careful and ride well."
The Buddhadharma is like this, it keeps us from smashing our lives on the curbs of karma while we head for the Buddha's City. We're all on this road, we all make it safely.
The repentance lifted a huge cloud of darkness from my shoulders. I recalled how three weeks ago a tiny bug caught my eye. It appeared on a rock below my nose as I bowed. As I watched, the bug, no bigger than a pin-head, defecated on the rock; a minute squirt of pee. It rubbed its little hands together, wiped its face and hopped away. I thought, "There I am. That's me. No different than a bug every time I forget to cultivate. Life is more than eating and defecating. Don't be so selfish, Kuo Chen. Go plant pure causes. Work hard! Don't be just another bug! Don't worry about yourself. Don't think! Cultivate the Way!"
I don't mean to slander insects. Bugs can be the best of good advisors. I am truly of one and the same substance with insects. Their bodies transform and decay in an instant, mine takes just a little longer. But I don't want to be a lazy bug. Lazy bugs get dragged all over the universe by their karma. Vigorous cultivator bugs, one day when their work has been done well, find themselves "in control of the thousand changes and ten thousand transformations, totally free to do anything you want to do" as the Master put it in December of 1977 at Gold Wheel Temple.