in a Single
Dharma Master Heng Ch’ao was born in 1949 in Biloxi, Mississippi to Chester G. and Betty R. Mitchell. A few months after his birth, his father, a career Air Force sergeant, was transferred to a base in Haiti where his family spent three years. After Haiti, his family moved to California where his father served a tour, and then on to Alaska, Michigan, and so forth, moving every year or two through Heng Ch’ao’s childhood. The transient nature of his life was an education in itself1 a breadth of experience which taught him patience and confidence in new and unusual situation. It gave him a special vision, an understanding that sees clearly the worldly cares of existence are basically empty. When he was young he preferred solitude to deep friendships, and determination and hard work to laziness. When he was twelve, he received a severe injury, and was suddenly deeply impressed by the impermanence and suffering of his body. Almost in tears he reflected on the painful state of his body and recognized that even at this age he was dying.
For a long time he had known that he would have a high place and significant duties to perform in the world, but was uncertain as to what they would be. When he was fifteen he heard about the stock market, and was at once intrigued by its complexity, power, and mystery. Like a starved animal he studied every book and report he could find on the subject, often studying far into the night. At sixteen he started speculating, using his mother’s name because of his young age. At seventeen he began speculating in real estate, and owned lots, mountain cabins, and several houses. His enthusiasm for speculation carried over into gambling. He again studied with diligence, practiced hard, and his successes even led him to discover the craps tables in Las Vegas. But these interests did not bring him the sense of having fulfilled his earlier vision of his life’s work. He realized their shallowness compared to the immense problem of the suffering that comes with being human, and by the time he entered college these interests lost all flavor. At college he found no curricular interests that compared to the study of his own nature, and so he devoted most of his time to that study and neglected his schoolwork.
In his sophomore year, when he was eighteen, a professor of philosophy at the University recommended that he read a book called The First and Last Freedom, by Krsnamurti. Although he could not fully grasp the full import of the book at the time, the words stirred him deeply, more than any of his experiences. He wore the book out and bought another, living with nothing else. Within two months he had quit school to devote himself to the study of liberation.
After a period of intensive study and meditation,, he returned to school the following year. He hoped to find a way to increase his knowledge about the way of liberation, because it is within the Universities that teachers of our society are found. This time he found not only that the University did not have the knowledge for which he sought, but that the teachings of the University were meaningless to him and leading him into suffering. Heng Ch’ao and the University again separated.
Throughout this time he was becoming more and more absorbed in his work. One evening when he left his room to take a walk after long hours of meditation and study he gazed at a grove of trees. Suddenly his thoughts melted,, the top of his head opened up and his body was lost. Within and without became one immense flow of energy; he became that flow, and there was no place that he was not. In a few moments he returned to normal awareness.
After this experience his desire for liberation became even more intense. He ate less, slept less, worked hard, spent less time in idle chatter, and desired no close friendships, preferring solitude and cultivation to the point that he rarely left his place of study and meditation. He would often spend weeks at a time deeply involved in his work and not go outside.
He realized that although he was closer to the path he wished to follow, he had not yet arrived at his true work. He wished to seek out a pure place to live and a teacher to open the wisdom that was beyond present grasp. He had read about Japan and Zen, and could think of no other alternative. At that time he had an opportunity to go to Japan with his father, but nothing developed on this trip. When he returned to the United States, he made an extensive search of many places of meditation and self—cultivation, but his investigations only reveiled that none of them could fulfill his hopes, and he had not yet found a teacher. Finally, after much effort, Heng Ch’ao decided that he was wasting his time searching for the Dharma in the United States. Then one day he met an old cultivator who said very little to him, but told him, ”The Abbot of the Buddhist Lecture Hall in San Francisco is your teacher. You have past conditions with him, and so you shouldn’t think of looking elsewhere. This Abbot is the highest teacher in America, and probably in the world.”
The next day Heng Ch’ao requested permission to live at the Sino American Buddhist Association, saying that he also wished to leave home. He was allowed to take up residence there and since that time has been instrumental in the work on the new Gold Mountain Monastery on 15th and Albion in San Francisco. He and a few other disciples installed the 18,000 square feet of ceilings, 18,000 square feet of flooring, plumbing, and furnishings in less than three months. During this time he improved his cultivation, and began the practice of eating only one meal a day and not lying down to sleep at night. This shows remarkable devotion and courage since he undertook these practices while working a twelve hour day and attending in addition morning and evening recitation and a Dharma lecture every day. Because of his sincerity he became a disciple of Master Hsuan Hua and in July of this year left home to become a sramanera under the Master. He is presently participating in the Summer Session at the Sino American Buddhist Association and is preparing to take the complete precepts of a Bhiksu.
His parents were both well pleased to give their support to their son’s decision to leave home. Very much desiring him to cultivate the unsurpassed way, they offered to pay all expenses for his trip to take the Bhiksu precepts in Taiwan. His mother recites mantras and the name of Kuan Shih Yin, and practices meditation. She recently visited the Sino—American Buddhist Association to meet and make offerings to the Abbot and the Triple Jewel, and is now studying Buddhism preparatory to taking refuge with the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua.
Of the 84,000 Dharma—doors, one of the most wonderful is matching lines (tui lien). This practice a fine art in China, is learned through much study and meditation. Teachers can use this method to inspire and lead students to awaken to their original wisdom. Here at Gold Mountain Temple, every week Master Hsuan Hua writes a line. A perfect match not only completes the meaning of the first line, but is written so that the meaning, tone, and style is matched character for character, and so that the first and second lines although complete in themselves, also are paired to make a sense as a whole. When one has attained the fruit of this cultivation, he can produce complete and perfect tui lien as spontaneously and naturally as he breathes.
This is the first time in the West that this Dharma has been taught and we would like to share it with our readers. The first pair was written by the Master. The second couplet was introduced by the Master and completed by Upasaka Li Kuo Wei.
Every single living being enters the non—dual Dharma—door and realizes the triple enlightenment ground.
A hundred realms of Buddhas sit on their thrones of a thousand flowers adorning the heaven of ten thousand virtues.
The idea of the ultimate meaning of the Middle Way. The stupidity of my being turned by External States.