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.

September 27, 1979
In the mountains, 15 miles
West of Ukiah

Dear Shih Fu,

      These are some reflections from a couple of days bowing Thursday, September 20, 1979

      We leave the quiet, solitary mountains and enter the Booneville area. Shaved our heads and ate lunch under some cool redwood trees in a small county park outside of town. The last few days we've been bowing on a steep downhill grade. It takes a little practice to keep from sliding downhill while in a prostration. The sash and robe get caught under our heels and trip us up now and again.

      Really happy. I don't know why. I don't want anything. Just want everybody to be happy. At the end of the day a11 the traffic stops and it's very still. As we passed under an oak tree the only sound was the falling leaves. Each leaf is different and yet gladly they all return to the one. For all our differences we people are the same. I found myself getting lost in the layers of truth and wisdom of these simple words,
      "Strange indeed. Strange indeed.
Strange indeed. All living beings have the
      Buddhanature, and all can become Buddhas. It's only because of false thinking and
      attachment that they don't attain the fruit."

-Shakyamuni Buddha

      In over 2 years of bowing, two things clearly stand out: at heart we are all the same, and, everyone wants to cultivate. You can see it in the faces and reactions of all the people we have met on this trip. Some say it with words. Some can't find the words, but find other ways to say a farm family handing fresh vegetables and cold water over their front yard fence on a hot summer day with a simple "thank you," or flowers and incense placed on the roadside with a note, "We are all with you;" or a map and a bag of fruit sitting on the car at the end of the day; or a little child giving his allowance money; or a big smile and a wave from a passing logging truck driver. Or in this conversation with a newsman walking with us on Mt. View Rd.:

Reporter: "...I don't know, maybe I'd be a lot better person if I put down my house and cars, wife, and kids; if I just said goodbye to my job and money and all of it...but..."

Monk: "You don't have to do that to be a Buddhist. Just do good wherever you are. If you are a father and a husband, be a really good father and husband. You don't have to be a monk or a nun. Anyone, anywhere can cultivate."

Reporter: "That's nice to know. So I could still do it as I am?"

Monk: "Yeah, sure. Even the 5 precepts are voluntary..."

Reporter: But if you didn't follow the rules, you know by keeping the precepts, then that wouldn't really be being a Buddhist, would it? I mean, what's the point if you don't really want to practice. You'd just be like a lot of other religions who say one thing but do another...1ike killing for example. Buddhism should be different, I feel. I mean, what you have that's really unique is that you actually go and do it! That's rare."

      We walked on quietly for awhile. Then he said, "You know, the longer I think about it, the more I see you've got something here, with Buddhism. It makes a lot of good sense if you stop to look at it. But isn't it back breaking work?"

Monk: "Not if you're sincere and singleminded. Then it's easy. Doing what you don't want to truly do, that is back breaking." 

Reporter: "Maybe so. Sometimes when I'm really absorbed in my writing and on a good story, I can go for hours without a
break and never notice. It stops being work and becomes the same as, I don't know, the same as no work...Well anyway, I like to jog and have naturally pretty much stopped eating meat. Don't miss it and feel a lot better all around. I ate a vegetarian meal once about 5 years ago--it was at your monastery, in fact in San Francisco I believe. It was delicious! Research scientists have found cancer causing agents in even deer meat now..."

      He watched the bowing for awhile. He wanted to stay and cultivate. He asked to see the Avatamsaka Sutra and wanted to know what it was about. "What are some of the things it says and could I look at it and touch it. Is that permitted?" he asked respectfully. Maybe he saw himself cultivating on the highway and using his journalistic skills, to write pieces steeped in the Avatamsaka that were for the betterment of mankind and came from his heart.

      We have met so many people like this man who have the same wish and are nearly bursting with the urge to "put it all down and really go and do it." All these people feel like our family. We hope they all get their wish come true.

      "The Bodhisattva, Mahasattva, equally contemplates all beings just as if they were his
      own child. He wants to cause them all to get a body which is purely adorned and to
      accomplish the world's supreme peace and happiness, the happiness of the Buddhas wisdom
      and peacefully dwell in the Buddhadharma, thus being of benefit to all beings."

Avatamsaka Sutra
Ten Transferences

      The reporter took off his sunglasses and reached out with a big handshake. "Today I've been really convinced of something, but I couldn't say exactly what. You folks are regular, on-the-level. Take care, good trip."

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

September 28, 1979
Milepost 7.97 Booneville Road

Dear Shih Fu,

      We're thirteen miles from home. The scenes and experiences of our last two and a half years are spinning in my mind like leaves in the wind. Have we changed? What have we learned? Yes we have changed. No we haven't really changed, we're more the same than ever. How is this?

      The biggest change inside has come from learning to respect and follow the rules. It's called "offering up your conduct according to the teachings." Every time we put our whole hearts behind true principle and the Master's instructions, we make progress in the Way. Every time we follow our own ideas or break precepts we tumble off the road like cars in the ditch. The Buddhadharma we have absorbed, stands pure and solid in our minds amid all the debris of false-thinking and bad habits. True principles guide our steps through the narrow paths of the mind, the way highway signs keep drivers on the alert. "Rough road," "Falling rocks," "Slippery when wet or frosty."

      "When Bodhisattva's see deeds which the Thus Come One has warned us about, (deeds
      which are) stained with afflictions they completely forsake them. If they see deeds
      which accord with the Bodhisattva path and which the Thus Come One has praised, they
      completely cultivate them."

Avatamsaka Sutra
4th Ground

Principle: "Don't attach to states. There is nothing good in the Triple World. Suffering
and bliss don't exist at all."
State: Giving Rise to Greed and Delusion.

We're meditating in the car after sunset, parked beneath the redwoods on a deserted mountain top. There are five minutes to go before evening ceremonies begin. Because I nodded and dozed while meditating, I haven't completely "smelted" the energy in my body, there's still a lot of fire and juice circulating as I sit. Just a few minutes more will do it. Oh, there's the be11. Too late. Bummer. Now I won't be able to sleep until I smelt after the Sutra. I've got to sit with these burning legs all through the ceremonies. I'll probably boil over. Heng Ch'au has caused me a lot of pain. It's his fault!

Mistake: Anger and Broken Rules.

Because I attached to greedy thoughts for a body-state, I got angry. During Sutra lecture with all the visible and invisible beings present and listening, despite my vows to speak only Buddhadharma and true principle according to the rules of the 2nd Ground, I shot out my steam at Heng Ch'au, criticized him and spoke harsh speech.

Retribution: As soon as the angry words left my mouth, I felt all my Dharma protectors quickly retreat. Heng Ch'au says my inner light went out just like a candle. I felt cold and numb. During the night I had a dream of a demon who stole my energy. I woke up spent and unhappy.

      Why? Harsh speech is one of the Ten Evil Deeds. So is greed. So is anger. So is stupidity (deviant views).

      The single thought of attaching to a state of bliss during meditation broke the rules and lead to the chain of delusion, karmic error and retribution.

      If I had let the state go, followed instructions and been patient with my body, then everything would have been fine.

      I should have returned the light and recognized my own mistakes. I slept when it was time to sit and then tried to cover the error and force the schedule.

      If I had done so I would have been right on the Middle Way. I behaved instead like a living being and wound up angry. Bodhisattva's practice kindness and being humane. They do not blame others.

      Yen Yuan asked Confucius, "What does it mean to be humane?"

      "Subdue yourself and return to principle," answered Confucius.

      The bowing pilgrimage has been full of humorous and unexpected learning experiences. The central lesson: follow the rules. We two are head strong, falsely-independent American men. To give up our rational minds, to stop trying to control the world with our ideas and views and egos has been difficult.

      Why do I say we are more the same than ever? As normal American men we value freedom and the spirit of self-reliance. We have come to our deep faith and delight in the Buddha-dharma because it teaches the way to true independence.

      On Tuesday we found a card on our car window. At first glance it was a Mastercharge. It was promotion for a Christian sect made up to look like the familiar orange and yellow credit card. It said, "Give Christ charge of your life." We reflected that this was a good idea as long as Christ represented universal principles like kindness, compassion, joy and giving.

      But reliance on any individual is still an attachment. The Buddha teaches total self-reliance. Ananda asked the Buddha, "When the World Honored One enters Nirvana, whom shall we take as our teacher?"

      "The Buddha answered, "Take the precepts as your teacher."

      In other words, don't rely on others, follow the rules. This is the road to ultimate freedom. What are the rules? Simply the Dharma. Foremost is faith. Next is giving. Then comes morality. Patience, vigor, concentration, and wisdom are all Dharma-rules.

      As for faith and giving, two weeks ago as we climbed the coast ridge on our way East to Wan Fo Cheng, it was really hot. The air was thick with smoke from forest fires, and the road burned our hands, knees and foreheads. We made sunhats , out of bandanas and bowed along thinking cool thoughts of faith and renunciation.

      Earth Store Bodhisattva lives in the Hells all the time! We didn't have it so rough. He's vowed to stay there until all hell-dwellers are liberated. That's real giving. Mindfulness of Earth Store kept us going. He gave us faith and strength. I recalled the story of Desert Pete from an old Kingston Trio song. Desert Pete kept a well for thirsty travelers in the desert. By the well was a small bottle of water and a note.

      The note read, "Don't drink the water in the bottle, use it to prime the pump. There's lots of water down below but the pump won't work unless it's primed. "Be patient friend, and you will get your reward."

      The chorus went,

      "You've got to prime the pump, you must have faith and believe. You've got to give
      of yourself before you're worthy to receive. Drink all the water you can hold, wash
      your face,
cool your feet, leave a bottle full for others. Thank you kindly. Desert

      Desert Pete understood the principle of giving "when you give up one part, you get ten thousand parts in return." And he taught and transformed many thirsty travelers in this way.

      Each time we offer up our conduct in faith to true principle, we get ten thousand parts in return. It never fails.

      Autumn has come. It's county fair time and the road is full of happy faces. This is a year of bountiful harvest. The Buddha-dharma has come to the West. America has a new city of light and goodness. Our hearts are full and grateful.

Disciple Kuo Chen
(Heng Sure)
bows in respect