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.

Booneville Road

Dear Shih Fu,

      "The Bodhisattva vows that all beings dwell peacefully in purified Buddha1ands...that they dwell in the ultimate path and in places of peace and happiness."

Avatamsaka Sutra
Ten Transferences Chapter

      "My mother has escaped (from a country at war). No one has heard from her. She may be lost at sea. I hope that you will think of her in your prayers."

      We were deeply moved by this girl's sorrowful request. Why do we study and practice the Buddhadharma? Because we have found pure goodness within it. Buddhadharma is the best medicine on earth. It can cure the suffering of afflictions. If everyone behaved according to these ancient universal rules, all wars would stop and suffering would vanish instantly.

      For example the Bodhisattva on the First- Ground makes great vows. Afterwards his heart changes. He obtains the ten kinds of minds or attitudes.
(1) The Mind of Benefit. Who benefits from wars? Demons. Undertakers. Corpse worms. Bomb- bui1ders.
(2) A Soft, Pliant Mind. The mind that does not force itself on others, how much the less does it want to fight a war.
(3) A mind that Accords. "Will you monks please be careful up ahead, maybe walk past our construction vehicles and bow on the other side where it's safe?" "You bet we will will, Mister. No problem."
(4) A Mind that is Tranquil. "You
better tell me what you're doing or I'm going to break your heads." Heng Ch'au, with a sincere smile, "We're Buddhists, making a pilgrimage. We bow and pray." "Oh yeah? Buddhists? I thought you was those (X). Oh well, good luck to you."
(5) A Mind that is Subdued. I would sure like to polish off that plate of dofu but I'm
nearly full. Principle says to stick to the Middle, not too much, not too little. Principle is the truth, my thoughts are false. I'll be patient and subdue my greed. Well, look at that. The host who brought us this offering and stayed to share it with us was hungry too. if I had grabbed the extra food he would have suffered. Good old principle! Can't beat it!
(6) A Mind that is Still. Better take off my scarf. No, wait. Concentrate. Don't think about yourself. Hey the wind's coming up. I'd better put on my hat. No, wait. Don't move. Concentrate. Oh, time to meditate.
(7) A Humble Mind. My good fortune in getting a complete and healthy human body is one in a billion. If I break the rules I can find myself in a cow's body, or as a swarm of these green grasshoppers on a lonely dirt track here in Point Arena, all in the wink of an eye. Only through the great kindness of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, my parents and eiders, have I been prevented from falling into the hells or suffering long as a hungry ghost. My greed and anger are as large as the Rocky Mtns. My greed offenses are as many as the sands of Arizona
and New Mexico. My deviant views would fill up empty space if they had shape and substance. How can I be lazy and not sweat blood to cu1ivate repentance and reform? How could I dare to show anger at any being?
8) A Moistened Mind. The drought of 1976-1977 turned Southern California into a yellow, crackling mirage. Everything was thirsty. Every plant was brittle and thorny. A11 the animals were scrawny and scaly. There was no fertility, no forgiveness in the land. This is my state of mind when I am greedy, when I seek self-benefit. When I am angry and harsh my mind is just this way. As soon as I remember to moisten my mind and heart with the water of great compassion and kindness, it turns into May of 1979 in Marin County. Wildflowers fill the fields, fat cows graze, sleek Morgan co1ts gallop in herds across the ridges, shorebirds sing and fish jump in the lagoons. A moistened mind is a happy, growing place. Wars? Why bother? What insanity.
9) An Unmoving Mind. "You crazy goofs, Get up from there!"

"This is the work of Great Bodhisattvas." "You are my good advisor. You remind me of my boundless offenses of flattery and climbing. I vow to dwell in the heart of level equality towards all beings. I bow to you in gratitude. We will become Buddhas together." 
10) An Un-turbid Mind. We read Buddhist Sutras. We don't keep up with the news. We
don't hear advertising. We don't listen to recorded music. We eat plain food. Our desires are reduced and our needs are few. We are happy and content. Our thoughts are not hot, fast, or warlike. We don't think ahead or left or right. We repent of past offenses and guard against desires. We pray for the welfare of a11 beings. We are learning to respect the rules.

      We have found much happiness and peace in cultivation as we
      "Subdue ourselves and return to principle."

      It's the surety of following the old, old, old, rules, and discovering their deep harmony within ourselves. It feels like coming across the buoy channel markers in a fog. You know that soon you'll be in port. The old rules tell us how the universe really is before thought and debate, before words and speech. The Buddha's Way is the ancient road back home. It feels like the first view of the landing lights on the airport runway after a rough-weather plane ride.

      As unruly, freedom-loving people, we have reached defensively to the notion of "rules." That ideas sounds all to much like courts and cops, lawyers and prison. But respect for the real Rules and worship of them in thought, word, and deed, brings true freedom. That's the Buddhadharma's great gift to us all.

drawing left on the monk's car by anonymous fellow-traveller

      Heng Ch'au and I have the feeling that the True Principles of the Buddhadharma are the "deep contours" of the original mind. We all share them, that's why the Dharma is the language of the heart. We met a Sioux Indian in Stinson Beach who said, "You guys are neat. My teacher is the medicine man of the Rosebud Sioux. He says that when you're neat, you never have troubles. You just slip right on through all situations."

      Who is the Buddha? He's a living being who came to be so "neat" at following the rules that he disappeared inside them. He lost himself by perfecting his conduct
according to the teachings.

      What is the Dharma? The rules. How to live. How to walk, talk and think as we make our way back to the Original Home.

      What is the Sangha? It's the lucky people who have found the trail through the dense forest of confusion. People who give up what's false in order to protect what's true.

      Why do we bow? Universal Worthy's ten vows instruct us to. His Ten Kings of Vows are foremost among the rules.

      We bow to worship and revere all Buddhas. We bow to praise the Thus Come Ones. We bow as an offering to them and to a11 beings. We repent of a11 the times in the past we've broken the rules. There are six more vows.

      We bow to the King of Kings of all the rulebooks, the Flower Adornment Sutra. It is the map of the universe. Nature's own blue-print. Like Virginia from Morro Bay said when she heard about the precepts, "Boy, when you follow the rules, it realty takes a load off your back, doesn't it?"

Disciple Kuo Chen
(Heng Sure)
bows in respect

September 17. 1979
9 miles above Booneville

Dear Shin Fu,

      (When the Bodhisattva gives...) he
      does not expect a reward, he does
      not seek fame or reputation, he is
      not greedy for benefit...he gives
      only to gather beings in.

      Why do we have faith? Because we have been greatly given to. Our feelings have been deep1y moved by the giving we have witnessed and by the boundless gifts we have received.

      Why are Buddhas and Bodhisattvas greatly happy? Because of one basic quality: the kind of giving that they can do. On the other hand,

            Greed kills,
               Desire is death.
                  Selfishness ends the world.

This is what we've learned on the pilgrimage. As pilgrim monks we have seen lots of "true-life adventures" and of all the good and bad deeds we've witnessed, the scenes that will live longest in our hearts are the acts of kindness, compassion, joy, and giving.

      Kindness: Sunday morning. Sea Ranch. A police car stops, turns and slowly creeps back around the curve 200 yards ahead, to where our car is parked. Suddenly a white pick up truck guns its engine and squeals away, the cop in hot pursuit. A break-in prevented, two grateful monks. Another debt of kindness to repay.

      Compassion: Mendocino City, road crew grades the highway. The dust turns the air to pea soup, each time the sweeper passes. We can't breathe. It blots out the sunlight. Then a big caterpillar bulldozer stops. The driver says to Heng Ch'au, "I want to apologize for all the dust and noise we're making. I hate to bother anyone in their worship. Do you plan to be here long because we'll be working and making lots of dust." Heng Ch'au gives him a handout sheet. As he takes it he says, "You fellas from that place out of Ukiah? I hope to see that some day. (He is referring to the goals of our work described in the handout sheet). See ya later. God Bless." From then on the sweepers lift their brushes as they pass our bowing.

      Joy: Foggy morning in Gualala. Big white truck passes, stows, stops. Tall, bearded man in heavy work boots approaches Heng Sure. His face is full of emotion and light. Is he crying or happy? He bows slowly, holds an apple in both hands above his lowered head. He's happy. He stands, hands the apple to the monk then joins his palms and says, "Thank you, brother." He turns and disappears into the fog.

      Giving: Labor Day, 1977. Three cars full of monks, nuns, and laypeople get up at 3 A.M. and drive seven hours to Santa Barbara arriving just on time to bring food, goods, and high-voltage cheer to us. The vibes are pure white, yang, and vitalizing. Their reward? No reward. A long, hot drive back to San Francisco in Labor Day traffic. They gave us Dharma, wealth, and fearlessness. Everyone was greatly happy. This is the kind of selfless work that Buddhas and Bodhisattvas do. It gives us faith. It teaches us how to give.

      Giving Away the Fruit
      The Open-handed Harvest.

      "Faith causes all the roots to grow
      clear and sharp...
      Faith can grow a Bodhi tree."

Hsien Shou
Chap. 12, Part 1

      On our altar are three round red fruits: a crimson tomato, a red Delicious apple, and a scarlet nectarine. They came from people in the Point Arena area. People offer the produce from their gardens with special happiness. Each time, there is an extra touch of magic in the giving. "These came from our labor on this land. I want to share the fruit of my work with you because I believe in what you do."

      Cultivation feels this way. The Bodhisattva's path of transference makes possible a rare, special kind of giving. The gift is pure goodness, yang 1ight blessings, merit and virtue. The Sutra calls it "good roots." All Buddhas giving of their good roots the foundation of their cultivation.

      What we give away is ourselves. Since our egos are as big as Mt. Sumeru we have a lot to give. There are offerings to the Buddha, giving to all beings, renunciation of personal benefits, forsaking of evil, all are included in the Buddha's practice of happiness.

      But the fruit of this work is never harvested. The Bodhisattva exists only to work. He takes no vacations and expects no rewards. His only satisfaction comes from the gradual growth of his effectiveness. As he gets better at giving Dharma he gets to do more of it. Kuan Shih Yin Bodhisattva bestows happiness from a thousand hands and eyes. His joy at giving is always the same as the happiness of the Point Arena gardeners, only multiplied by a thousand. Maitreya Bodhisattva is the "happy Buddha" because his big bag is ever full of gifts to all beings. Kids flock to him. His joy Is as full as his belly.

      We've been Buddhist disciples for only a few years and each step we've taken along the path has taught us more about giving. While we never forget our vows to realize the fruit of Buddhahood even this is an open-handed harvest, not to be grasped or owned.

      Sometimes the suffering of reducing our attachments to self seems bitter and hard to bear. A single thought of transference makes it light and joyous. Pure seeds planted in the Buddha's field of blessings nurtured with hard, selfless work, produce a rich harvest that we can share with a11 the world.

      "I hope you pilgrims will enjoy this produce. It came from our garden. You are in our prayers, too. Bless you." (note left on bag of vegetables and placed on our car).

Disciple Kuo Chen
(Heng Sure)
bows in respect