The Bodhi Stand Presents

Upasika Kuo Chi Cassell
compiled by Bhikshuni Heng Chih

Each of the sufferings exerts pressure,
and all attack together,
Accumulation is feelings which beckon,
each unlike the other.
Only through extinction can the ultimate joy
be attained.
Therefore, this is the Way that should be
practiced, to awaken to the emptiness of dharmas.

-Heart Sutra Standless Verses
by Master Hua

      Kuo Ch'i Cassell's introduction to the Four Noble Truths has certainly been step-by-step.

      Each of the sufferings exerts pressure, and all attack together.

"Most of my growing up years were spent in 'show business' working in the theater, on t.v. and on radio, but because of my religion, I was discriminated against by people where I lived and many of my classmates in school were told they couldn't be friends with me by their parents. I never could understand this, but eventually accepted it as a kind of ignorance and hatred.

"For my part, I often wondered who 'I' was. I saw my physical body, but I was curious as to who or what was running it, as it were. On screen and off I was the eternal 'little girl,' and true to the image, I remained prim and proper, carefully staying within the rules for a long time. But when I hit high school I did a complete turn around, learning to say 'yes' to what before had been 'no,' getting confused about right and wrong. Ours was the age of love and peace. How could our lifestyles not be right? I reasoned."

      Accumulation is feelings which beckon,
         each unlike the other.

"I was always restless. I'd stay on a job for a year or less and then move on to another. My work was good. Rather, it was the idea of being in a place 'forever' that got to me. The people I met while on the job never seemed truly happy either at work or at home. The stories they had to tell became predictable in their commonplace sameness and their suffering and unhappiness inevitably came through their smiling faces. Traveling to Europe only helped to confirm that rich and poor alike suffer.

"I continued to run away from myself and look for external pleasures to keep me content. And yet, how could I be so happy and full of love on the one hand and then so angry and full of hate on the other? When the highs wore off, things weren't lovely any more. I got to where:

      The master of disguise,
      loses his original face.

"I moved to California and tried a new lifestyle, but bad habits crept back in and I soon was doing the same old things. I also got married. I thought that was something that everyone did sooner or later and it just seemed the thing to do then. As time went on, I felt smothered. What was marriage accomplishing? What happened to all that 'love' we had for one another? Where was the fun? How come we didn't even like each other any more? We spent most of our time working and paying bills. Soon, love turned to hate and the marriage became a strain for both of us.

"My mom had been fighting cancer for several years, in and out of hospitals, but never finding anyone who could help her much. Then suddenly in 1979 my dad contracted cancer too. That spring I flew to Florida to be with them--my dad in the V.A. hospital and my mom in one across the street. It was like a bad dream. Being confused inside, I never did feel that I did much for them during that time. Basically my parent's appearances told the story. There I was, watching sickness and death. It was something I had only read about in books or seen in the movies--and it had never been depicted like this. My mom passed away in June and my father went three weeks later. I stood face to face with death-- twice. Since it was my own parents', the situation was pretty unreal to me. They looked like wax figures. I saw 'shells' of my parents. Where 'they' had gone I wasn't quite sure. My sister and I could only say so much to help each other and then the words just became words. My husband offered no support. I decided it was time for a divorce."

The truths of extinction and the Way were still unknown to Kuo Ch'i as she set out on a trip to Malaysia with a couple who asked her to join them. She did learn about reciting Kuan Yin Bodhisattva's name, however, and visited temples.

      "During that difficult year I had tried to look for some spiritual help in the
      Temple and had even gone to church a few times, but the feelings I got were not the
      same as the one that came to me upon entering the Buddhist temples. I felt a certain
      awe I had never felt before."

Returning to the States only long enough to clear up matters, Kuo Ch'i sold everything and headed back for Malaysia. For five weeks she traveled around, visiting the Buddhist temples daily and praying to Kuan Yin Bodhisattva. At the Temple of the Reclining Buddha a monk blessed her and gave her a medal for 'good luck.' In Kuala Lumpur she was given some books and in them found the Four Noble Truths.

      "I would read every evening in my room and found that Buddhism was something that
      made a lot of sense to me. It spoke of birth, old age, sickness, and death. These
      things were very real to me. It also spoke about how to end them.

      Only through extinction can the ultimate joy be attained.
          Therefore, this is the Way that should be practiced to awaken to the emptiness of

"Then one day I was walking around the open market in Kuala Lumpur when a lady tried to get me to buy some clothing in her shop. All of a sudden she spied the medal the monk had given me and called out to her niece to get me a stool. She offered me a soft drink and plied me with questions about how I, an American, came to be Buddhist. I explained what had taken place and they invited me to lunch. After eating, I was given a brochure on a place called the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas and Dharma Realm Buddhist University which was located in California. I wrote down the information and was told that if I did go there, I should ask to pay respects to the Venerable Abbot. I told them I wasn't sure whether I would be going back to the States, but if I did, I would check it out.

"Originally I had no intention of returning to the States, but the signs kept pointing in that direction and I found myself back in California. A few days later I checked in at Gold Mountain and was encouraged to visit the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas to see for myself. That is what I did. I liked it immediately. It felt right to be here. I wanted to go to school, to study Buddhism, and to learn Chinese. I moved to the City by the end of that week. I felt like I was being looked after by Kuan Yin Bodhisattva and that this was a response to my recitation.

"The Abbot is a wonderful and remarkable person. He's genuinely concerned about all living beings and is completely unselfish in devoting his time and energy to teaching us the Buddhadharma.

      Practice the Way, cultivate yourself,
      and do not search outride.
      The prajna of your own nature.
      is the deep and secret cause.
      White billows soar to the heaven,
      the black waves cease;
      Nirvana, the other shore,
      effortlessly is climbed.
      Time and again, time and again,
      don't miss the chance;
      Care for it, be diligent, take hold of the divine innocence.
      Unclear mirage: thus the news arrives;
      Now it's there, now it's not--
      see what is originally esteemed.

-Heart Sutra Standless Verses
by Master Hua

I'm very fortunate to be here at the City. I want to cultivate and put an end to birth, old age, sickness, and death. Getting rid of my attachments and false thinking, which most people in the world take for 'pleasure,' is what this is all about. I don't want it to end with myself, though. I want to see all living beings liberated from their suffering some day and I would like to have a part in helping this happen."