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.
August 12, 1979
Near Anchor Ray,
Dear Shih Fu,
We're taking our midday meal in the back of the Plymouth. Outside it's
blowing cold and swirls of dust clouds. An old,
feeble woman slowly staggers to her seat in
the car parked behind us. She grips the car
for support. Her gait is stiff and
unsteady. Eyes and ears are failing. Her world,
who could know it? She looks up slowly and
fixes her gaze out to sea. A bowl of food
sits in her lap. It doesn't interest her. As
she shifts around in the car, the windshield
glare makes it seem like she disappeared. Alt
that can be seen is the reflection of overhead
passing white clouds where once the old
"This day has already passed,
Tonight as we sing this verse I'll remember the old woman. I'll remember
the pine cone
in the Way
Dear Shih Fu,
This letter has a title:
"Moreover there are
Flower Store World
Chapter 5 part 3
verse spoken by
San Bu Yi Bai has given us a great gift of faith in the Buddhadharma. It's hard to pinpoint what part we believe in most. It's like asking which drop of ocean water is wetter than the others, or which ray of sunshine is more bright and more pure than the next. The Buddhadharma is all true. Our faith increases the more we cultivate. And the more we cultivate the more we find to believe in. It's like an ever increasing bank account. For one who cultivates becomes fabulously wealthy in faith.
Probably the fundamental lesson I have learned on this trip is the truth of cause and effect: as you plant, so do you harvest. Why did the page-boy Wart pull the sword out of the stone when none of the noble knights could budge it? Because he had the causes and conditions from the past that allowed him to grow up and become King Arthur. Why did the poor wood gatherer passing through the market place hear one sentence of the Diamond Sutra and become greatly enlightened on the spot? Because of past causes coming ripe he became the 6th Patriarch.
Why do the seals gather on the rocks outside Anchor Bay to bark and speak the Dharma of seals? Because in past lives they behaved like seals and now they live in seal bodies. Abe Lincoln became a President and was shot in the head by a stranger because in the past he killed the killer and it was time for his retribution.
All things in creation have their reasons for being. It's said,
"If you see
things and understand them,
One morning last week I rounded a curve in the fog just in time to find a dead skunk on the black top. He had been hit only minutes before. He was still warm, a five-pound adult male with sharp, curving, meat-eating fangs. I removed him from the traffic lane, gingerly holding his sad corpse by the tip of his white-striped tail. The skunk spoke Dharma for me. He said, "In the past I was greedy and killed out of anger and stupidity. Now I've got my due. It's not enough that my body stinks so no one likes to get near me. Today I lost even this flesh bag. A11 because when I was a person I didn't do a good job of keeping the rules. I killed myself by swallowing the poisons of greed, hatred and stupidity. It's all my fault. There's no one else to blame."
I said the Pure Land mantra over
the dead skunk and thanked him for the
lesson. I thought, "how glad I am to
have the chance to cultivate the Way. Being a skunk is
a lot of suffering. You can't sit in full
lotus, you can't bow to the Buddhas, you can't
make offerings. Good thing I'm a
Here I was planting the seeds of skunkhood and going along with it! When I recognized what I was doing, suddenly the cause and effect became as clear as night and day. I couldn't turn around fast enough. Who wants to swallow poison? Monks think pure, lofty, monk thoughts. From this small place they eventually become Buddhas. Skunks think smelly thoughts and eventually wind up like the dead polecat I mantra'd last week.
All along I've been running through the Dharmarealm looking outside for dharmas to blame, to criticize and find fault with. All this time dharmas are not at fault. My own body, mouth and mind are the source of all my suffering and all my joy. No one can make me do anything. I choose to be a monk or a skunk in every new thought.
The Buddhadharma gives us the rules. What we practice in our minds creates Buddhalands or bathrooms out of our every waking minute. As the Master said to Heng Chau in his visit last week at Sea Ranch,
"If you don't want to be
What a gift of compassion the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have given us! I have another chance to try my best today to be a good janitor, to use every second to flush my own clogged toilet in my mind. I can turn my bathroom into a Buddhahall. Why do it? Because it makes possible the highest giving of all. Using the magic of the Great King of Vows of Universal Worthy Bodhisattva while I bow and make transference, I clean out a corner of the universe as well. I truly believe that cultivation of these vows is the ultimate work, the best thing anyone can do in a life-time. No matter how stinky a skunk I've been in the past, when I can keep the precepts and fully complete Universal Worthy's practices and vows, I can become a Buddha. They are the Supreme rules of the Dharma realm. I bow to them in deep faith and respect in every thought and to the Sutra that contains them. How inconceivable is the Avatamsaka! That we have the causes and conditions to meet with it here and now is great good fortune. As National Master Ch'ing Liang says:
"Moreover, when one meets a
We bowed before the Anchor Bay Campground entrance. Inside, packed like sardines were campers and mobilehomes with names like Wilderness, Open Road, Southwind, Explorer. The smoke of the cooking fires and the hubbub of the jammed-in vacationers felt just like the most crowded marketplace in downtown Kuala Lumpur. Why would people come to the middle of the deserted coast in expensive get-away cars to stand elbow to tailbone just like in any big city? Because of past affinities with each other. Someone died right there this afternoon. The rescue vehicles roared by. Don't know who it was or why. It was a Bodhisattva, speaking Dharma for us all saying, "Try your best. Keep the rules. Go towards the good! And flush the toilet." The ambulance rolled away, we bowed up the hill, the smoke of grilled hamburgers filled the air, and out on the harbor rocks the seals bathed and barked.
-Disciple Kuo Chen