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.

Monday September 10, 1979
Mt. View Rd. - On the way
to Booneville, California

Dear Shih Fu,

      In a single day how many living beings see me? How many do I see? In a month how many living beings have I crossed paths with and affected? How many have influenced and touched me? Not just people living beings, but those with two feet, four feet, many feet and no feet. Those beings with form and without form; those with thought and without thought, and those with neither thoughts nor non-thoughts. There are beings born from eggs, from wombs, from moisture and from transformation. Some beings inhabit the earth. Some live in the water, fire or air. There are beings who live in space or who are born and dwelt in forests, underground and inside other beings. There is a measureless ocean of living beings in a11 ten directions of the universe (Dharma Realm), and to the ends of empty space. Everything is "alive." Even rocks have a lifespan. We just go so fast we fail to see it. In a lifetime the number of living beings we have encountered is incalculable.

      "A11 these many kinds (of living beings)
      I wi11 accord with and attend to,
      serving them and making gifts to them
      just as if I were respecting my own parents. I will treat them as I treat
      my teachers and elders, as well as Arhats, even as I attend to the Thus Come Ones,
      without any difference in my attitude.

      For those who suffer illness, I wi11 be a good doctor. For those who have lost their
      way I wi11 show them the right road. I wi11 be a bright light for those who are
      in the darkness of night. I will cover and shelter those who are in poverty." The
      Bodhisattva in this way benefits a11 beings levelly and equally.

Universal Worthy's
vows and Practices
vow #9

      If I am good to a11 beings, then they learn goodness and are good in turn, to others. If I am bad to beings, they harbor hatred and resentment and, in turn, pass it on. So if the world isn't good it's because I'm not good. But this is still holding to a view of self and others. If I can expand the measure of my mind to contain the whole world, then a11 is one. A11 beings in a11 the paths of rebirth are parents. A11 earth and water has served as the substance of one of my bodies. A11 elemental air and water has previously sustained the life of one of my bodies. Great Compassion is being one with everyone. Being one with everyone is the substance of all Buddhas.

      "All Buddhas, Thus Come Ones, take the heart of Great Compassion as their

                                                                         Avatamsaka Sutra
                                                                         Chapter 40

      So, taking care of and being good to all living beings is the same as taking good care of myself. And when I respect and serve and make offerings to a11 beings, I'm doing it to a11 Buddhas. It's the same. All beings are the substance of a11 Buddhas. It's said, "A11 living beings are contained within a hair pore of the Buddha's body." And yet what is big and small? Because it's also said,
      "Each and every minute speck of dust contains Buddhas equal in number to the total
      number of tiny dust motes in a11 worlds."

Avatamsaka Sutra
Chapter 40

      The heart of Great Compassion is just simple kindness and goodness shown to all beings. And yet this simple attitude embraces and goes beyond the ultimate understanding of the mind. The Buddhadharma is like that. Modern physics is straining and making revolutionary break-throughs now and coming to the same conclusions that sages knew in their hearts aeons ago.

July 24, 1979

      We are sitting in meditation on the side of the road under a Cypress tree. The air is clean out here. The only fragrance is a burning stick of incense. As the sun sets the wind relaxes. Living outside, one is constantly brought face to face with birth and death.
It says,

      "Within each variety of kshetra
         Are inconceivable worlds.
      Some are being created,
        Some are being destroyed.
      While some, having once existed
        Are now extinct.
      Just like the leaves of a forest,
        Some hang and some fall down.
      So too, within the kinds of kshetras,
        Worlds are created, worlds are

Avatamsaka Sutra
Chapter 5, Part 3

      When we bow through the tall grass and weeds we enter an ocean of worlds of plants, bugs, and microscopic organisms. Some are young and green, some are old and sun bleached. They are all changing - coming into being, dwelling, going bad and destroyed (extinct). The animals, the sea creatures, the people in the small towns and passing cars - we all share this reality. Everything changes, nothing stays. Look at the empty shell of a grasshopper, a falling star, my teeth cavities.

      As the tea water comes to a boil, the rays of the setting sun hit the steam clouds. The cloud of steam is made up of billions of tiny swirling particles. They rise up and then vanish into empty space. I never saw this before. All the countless tiny particles! I turn and look at the incense smoke. It's the same, but made up of even smaller particles. "Now you see it, now you don't." In physics, this is basic: everything is made up of the same atoms. Matter and energy are not really created or destroyed. It all simply changes shape and appearance. In the Prajna Paramita Sutra it says,

      "...whatever is form is emptiness;
      whatever is emptiness is form."

      A couple stops and asks, "What's a Buddha?" and "Do you believe in God or do you have your own God?" I can't find words to answer. I'd like to he able to say "Well it's this way or that way," but I know so little about how it really is. A year ago I would have piped right up with the answer. Now, we just bow, and learn from everybody and everything.

      Our minds are coming apart at their one-dimensional seams. I want to grab and hold on to something. We are used to figuring things out and putting them into nice words. But now it's all becoming like the tea steam, incense smoke and the grass and weeds. They can't be got at and yet they still exist. 

      "All dharmas are non-dual and there are some which are not non-dual. It's just
      like empty space. If you try to find it in any of the ten directions,
in the past,
      present, or future, you will fail to get at it. However,
it's not the case that empty
      space does not exist.

      The Bodhisattva contemplates all dharmas in this way: they are totally unobtainable.
      But it is not the case that all dharmas do not exist."

                                                                   Avatamsaka Sutra
                                                                   Ten Practices Chapter
                                                                   Chapter 21, Practice #8

And God? God cannot be got at either. Even among people of the same faith they can't agree on what God is. Everybody has their own God. Because everything is made from the mind alone. That's why the ultimate state in Buddhism is non-attachment.

      People ask us, "Well, isn't Buddha your God?"

      The answer is no. Because where most religions believe in "My God alone is true," and take to know, love and serve this God as the ultimate state, Buddhism says all beings have the Buddhanature and all can become Buddhas. The ultimate state in Buddhism is non-attachment, an "unattached, unbound, liberated mind" as the Avatamsaka says.

      I remember overhearing a conversation between the Ven. Abbot and a disciple while riding in a car in Kuala Lumpur,

      Disciple: "Master, some people say there's only one Buddha and others say there are many Buddhas. How is it? Are there many Buddhas or only one?"

      Master: "Basically there's not even one Buddha. There is just great wisdom."

      Sometimes, at the end of a long, good day of bowing when the body is soft and quiet and the mind doesn't know whether my nostrils are pointing up or down, I get a little glimpse of the way the Sutras say it is. It must be so.

Peace in the Way
Disciple Kuo T'ing (Heng Ch'au)
bows in respect

Mountain View Road
Mendocino County
September 3, 1979

Dear Shih Fu,

      "The Bodhisattva never uses the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of desire to
      trouble any being."

                                                                     Avatamsaka Sutra
Ten Practices Chapter

      "While the Bodhisattvas cultivated their practices during measureless kalpas, they
      never troubled a single being so as to cause the loss of proper mindfulness."

                                                                      Avatamsaka Sutra
                                                                                                                                            Ten Practice Chapter

     After lunch I was still hungry. I debated going back to the car for a cup of tea so I wouldn't suffer so much. In my false thoughts I pictured myself standing by the Plymouth's tailgate with a cup of tea in my hand. A car passed and I recognized the woman passenger. She was enticing and smiling. As I watched, she suddenly lifted her whole face like a vaudeville mask on a stick. Beneath the mask her true face was hideous, a grimace of pain and suffering.

      I knew she was my teacher speaking Dharma for me. She said, "This is the Saha world. It is all suffering. It comes from desire. You wanted tea, desiring to suffer less. Your desire flowed out of your tongue. I drove by and you stared at me. Your desire for forms flowed out of your eyes. Shocked you, didn't I? You thought there was something good to get here in the Saha world? You looked for a bargain, for flavor? You're still full of emotion. You should just be still. Don't have so much emotion. Whatever you seek causes you to suffer. Whatever you can endure in stillness sets you free."

      Later that afternoon as I bowed, I contemplated Universal Worthy Bodhisattva's fourth vow "to repent of karmic obstacles." I repented of the heavy offenses I have created by talking frivolously. Frivolous, misleading speech disturbs people. It is born of emotion and comes from the desire to be famous and special, #1 and unique. It's the same as the desire for flavor in food. Plain, simple food has never been good enough for me. I've always sought flavor and tasty, exotic combinations, sensational seasonings. It's a desire and it obstructs my cultivation. Truly:

      All desires are one desire.

      My desires for fame and flavor have caused others to bring forth emotion, to move their minds, to lose mindfulness, to break off pure practices and to seek flavor and desire. Today I repented of my desire-born offenses of frivolous speech. The repentance verse says,

      "I have defiled the Sangha's pure
      dwelling and broken up the pure
      practices of others."

      And I realized suddenly that the beings I have troubled by my frivolous speech live both outside and inside my mind. The reason I can't concentrate and lose mindfulness is right here! I speak misleading, loose and emotional talk inside my mind! I still allow myself to feel excessively happy, angry, sorrowful, and fearful. I still attach to love and hate and desire. These seven emotions confuse me and stir up the waters of my originally still, pure mind. I trouble the living beings of my own nature. A11 along I've assumed that merely holding my tongue and not talking on San Bu Yi Bai would reform my bad-speech karma. But I still haven't put down emotion and false speech inside. The Master spoke it for me back in Los Angeles twenty-six months ago:

      "You're not talking outside? Good!
      Don't talk inside either. If you're
      quiet outside but fighting in your
      mind, it's just the same as if you
      fought with other people, isn't it?"

      I've been deaf to this lesson all along, even with great help. Last month at Sea Ranch I had a big lesson in awareness. Bowing along after lunch I was really getting into praises and making offerings to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the Avatamsaka Assembly, according to Universal Worthy Bodhisattva's Great Kings of Vows. I got rhapsodic and emotional about it. Tears of joy flowed. I felt waves of shame and sadness for my past selfishness and ignorance. My repentance was a sloppy, tear-jerker from a T.V. soap opera. Suddenly out of nowhere, a big water-balloon flew from a passing car and smacked the ground behind me. My robe and sash were soaked. I was dumb-founded. Here I was being so sincere. How come I got a water balloon?

      If I had looked at it with a straight mind, I would have understood. The water balloon spoke Dharma for me. I was indulging in emotion and attaching to states. The Buddhadharma is not this way. The water balloon was my good advisor. How wonderful to get this kind of unexpected help in cultivation.

      National Master Ch'ing Liang vowed

      "My nature will never be defiled by states of love and emotion."

      The Buddha's eighteen special dharmas, 4. no thoughts of (anything being) different, and 5. unfailing concentration, describe the proper state.

      Even though I was using effort, it was deviant vigor. Emotion moves the mind and disturbs living beings. It does not lead to "the unsurpassed place of level equality" which the Bodhisattva in the Second Practice promises to attain.

      National Master Ch'ing Lianq speaks directly in the Hua Yen Su Ch'ao Prologue.

      "When emotion is produced, wisdom is cut off."

      But I wasn't able to return the light and apply the teaching to myself until today. We have reached the end of our twenty-seven month journey beside the Pacific Ocean. This week we turn East on the Boonville-Mt. View road and head for the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. Today I vowed to leave behind my emotional desires. I vow to cut off my seeking for fame and flavor and specialness and the offenses of false speech that they create. I want to return to proper mindfulness and still concentration. I want to "dwell in the unsurpassed place of level equality" with no thoughts of difference. I want to benefit all beings with this work.

1) I vow never again to use words, gestures, expressions, or postures out of the causes, conditions, methods or karma of emotion or desire.

2) I vow to speak only Buddhadharma, true principle, and words in service to the Triple Jewel, according to the rules of the Bodhisattva's Second Ground of Wisdom.

3) I vow never again to seek the desires of fame or flavor. I vow to transform my nature by cultivating these ten hearts:

1. A true and real heart.

2. A straightforward, direct heart.

3. An unmixed, undefiled heart.

4. An upright, proper heart.

5. A level and equal heart.

6. A clear and cool heart.

7. A humble and respectful heart.

8. A heart of faith and joy in the profound, unsurpassed, subtle and wonderful Dharma.

9. An able-to-endure heart.

10. A heart of Great Kindness, Great Compassion, Great Joy, and Great Giving.

                                                                        Disciple Kuo Chen
                                                                        (Heng Sure)
                                                                        bows in respect