The Bodhi Stand Presents

Upasika Kuo Choo
by Upasika Kuo Chi Cassell

Q. Were you born in Malaysia?

KC. Yes.

Q. Buddhism is practiced in Malaysia; were you practicing Buddhism as a child?

KC. No, I wasn't practicing Buddhism as I now understand it to be. Somebody said that the Chinese people are a very tolerant race. They can combine the elements of Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism into their way of thinking. I grew up in such a family. At that time I was only aware of religion as merely making offerings, burning incense, and bowing before the images in the temples and on the prayer altars. It was only when I started reading about Buddhism that I came to know that there were profound principles underlying all the phenomenal aspects.

Q. About how old were you then?

KC. I was in my teens.

Q. What made you start reading more about Buddhism?

KC. This is a cliche, "I felt something was missing." I felt I needed something, so I looked for it. I read about many religions. I kept going around and around, but I kept coming back to Buddhism.

      As the years passed it was more and more obvious that I was bored. Very, very bored. I kept looking for something and Buddhism was the only thing that made sense.

Q. So did you start practicing Buddhism then?

KC. I didn't actually go around to the Buddhist temples. I was too confused, so I was trying to stick to the very, very bare essentials. I took to the Eight Noble Paths as a guide—almost tike a life-line. I just sort of hung on to that Dharma.

Q. Did you start feeling better? Did life seem to get better for you?

KC. It's difficult to give up everything overnight. Maybe over a few years one can do it. Sometimes you reach a point where you are undecided whether or not to give everything up. You may have given up a lot of things, but you know it's not enough. It's like having one foot each in two different worlds, one is trying to walk the Buddhist way of life and the other is walking a worldly path. well, when you are on the worldly way you sometimes have to fight. Even if you don't feel like it, you have to be aggressive and nasty to get your point across. You know it's wrong, but you feel you have to do it. It's tike letting go of so many things and yet still being undecided--one foot on each path. There's a point where you don't know where you stand. It's either this or that, but you still hang on to both, so it's really confusing. But perhaps this is a period during which the worldly ego is cut down a bit.

Q. Is this how you feel right now or was this before?

KC. It was before I came here. Now I feel a sense of direction--positive direction.

Q. What caused you to begin searching for Buddhism in your teens?

KC. when I was young, say about ten or twelve, I decided that I was finding life very dull. Sometimes I would forget about it, but sometimes, when my mind was clear, I would remember again. Still, I forget it, and then it comes back again. It recurs again and again--that leading an ordinary life in the world is meaningless.

      But even though I consciously denied having this idea, it persisted subconsciously. Relief of a sense came in the form of a Buddhist meditation group I joined. Slowly I became drawn to Buddhism as a way of life rather than ideas expressed in books. I was very fortunate because my meditation master was a forest monk who really cultivates and it was from him and my friends that I came to know of the meaning of cultivation--leading one's life according to Buddhist principle. A whole new world opened up and I even accompanied my meditation master and the group on a pilgrimage to Southern Thailand to visit two teachers there.

Q. Was there an effect of the monastic way of life on you?

KC. When I went to Thailand I saw the monks meditating, chanting, and really practicing. That made a strong impression on me. They spend most of their life meditating. It was the first time I'd seen such diligent practice of the principles of Buddhism.

Q. what led to your coming to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas?

KC. I just couldn't take the boredom of life anymore. There was no meaning to it. I just couldn't accept the way people live--the way I lived, what was I going to do before I died? I felt it was forcing myself to pass each day--working, feeding myself, clothing myself. It was really unbearable. But even then I found it very difficult to give up what I was familiar with. I had lots of hesitations about coming here.

Q. At what point did you hear about the City?

KC. I learned about it from people in the meditation group. Before I came to the City 
I was totally unfamiliar with Mahayana Buddhism. I was more familiar with Theravada because my meditation teacher was a Theravadan monk. But even then, I didn't really learn much Buddhism. I mostly meditated and didn't attend many lectures.

      In 1979 when the City officially opened, there was a group from Malaysia who came. One of those people said many wonderful things about the City to me when she returned to Malaysia. I kept that in mind. Last year when I heard another group was coming, I was interested. But I didn't know what to expect! and I'11 never put my foot into something which I'm not familiar with. I must make sure. And yet this time there was no way to be sure--I couldn't find out anything and even from what I heard, I just couldn't picture anything. I was realty terrified! But not as terrified as I was bored. So I came to the Earth Store Bodhisattva Session at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

Q. Now that you're here, what do you think?

KC. Great! I don't want to leave! I never met a person like the Abbot before, there's no 'buts' about him.

      And as to the City, voicing the Abbot's words," "This is a unique place. There's nowhere else like it in the whole world. What I feel about the activities here is that they are real. I don't have to force myself to think that I should say it's good or bad. Here we direct ourselves to work for the good of others. We translate Buddhist Sutras from Mandarin into English and other languages so that others too can share the store of wisdom in Buddhism. In cultivating, we learn to shed our egos and become Bodhisattvas who help living beings. More wonderful than all of that, however, is the fact that among us here at the City is one who has gone forth on that path, but who has vowed to wait to complete his journey, turning back so that he can help us get on the correct path to bliss. To me, the Abbot is reality personified--in kindness, compassion, joy, and giving."