Introducing the Eminent Upasaka Kuo Yi Foorman


--By Bhiksu Heng Kuan

Upasaka Kuo Yi (William) Foorman was born into an old San Francisco family in March 1950. His ancestors arrived in California shortly after the gold rush, set up a home and went into ranching. Around the turn of the century, his grandfather had the opportunity to begin a food brokerage company, which has prospered and is now a substantial corporation under the direction of his father.

Kuo Yi, his older brother, and his younger sister were raised in a beautiful and protected environment in Oakland's East Bay Hills overlooking the San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and an immense western horizon extending up the coast into Marin county. He attended Oakland Public Schools where he did exceptionally well and was active in student affairs and sports.

In spite of being brought up in such pleasant and peaceful circumstances where pain seemed to be something illusory and far away, Kuo Yi was soon to develop a deep understanding of the suffering that comes with being human, an understanding that has led him, to an extraordinarily clear insight into the nature of existence. In 1959, when he was only nine, his mother died after a four-year fight with cancer, and intense questioning into the causes of birth and death led him to the discoveries, which would later bear fruit.

In 1963 his father remarried and soon had another daughter. Kuo Yi has always looked out for the wellbeing of all the members of his family, and has been especially respectful in his care of his grandparents. This innate understanding of the concepts of filial piety is rare.

With no other way to put his understanding of the illusory, playful and impermanent nature of life into practice, he decided to continue his study of drama at Occidental College in Los Angeles. At about that time, however, he met the woman who was later to become Bhiksuni Heng Ch'ih, and impressed by her earnest dedication to cultivation and study of the Buddhadharma, and her understanding of the nature of things, he went to hear her teacher, the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, explain the Earth Store Bodhisattva Sutra. When he arrived he met the members of the Sino-American Buddhist Association and heard the Master's lecture. It was as if he had met up with old and familiar friends, and he felt at home in the tough and disciplined atmosphere of the Buddhist Lecture Hall. In spite of the fact that each day began before sunrise, and each person's life style was governed by strict regulations, the most important of which included prohibitions against drinking, smoking, lying, stealing, killing, taking drugs, promiscuity, and eating after noon, he immediately signed up for the Sixth Patriarch Sutra Study and Meditation Session that summer and participated in an intensive six weeks consisting of seven hours of daily meditation, four hours of sutra study, and three hours of chanting, with the remaining hours devoted to study periods, the one meal of the day, and five or six hours sleep under the stars. I remember him standing in the kitchen late one evening cutting off his foot long hair and beard; this was at about the same time he severed his bad habits and stopped taking drugs. It was at this session that Kuo Yi laid the foundations for the ascetic practices he pursues, practices which were popular among ancients whose hearts were set on the path, but which are little known these days, not only among laymen but even in the Sangha, for the traditions of strong cultivation are rapidly dying out in Asia. Everything about the teachings of the Buddha rang true to Kuo Yi, and were completely in accord with his understandings about the transient nature" of existence and the relentless workings of the laws of cause and effect. A deep faith in and respect for the Master's Way virtue had awakened in him, and he took refuge with the Triple Jewel and became a disciple of the Elder Master Hsuan Hua in August 1969.

He returned to college in the fall, and the next summer took up residence at the Buddhist Lecture Hall, getting up before dawn each morning for morning recitation and meditation, going out for a full day's work, and then returning in the evening to hear the Master's explanations of the sutras and for more meditation and chanting. It was during this summer that he began holding the ascetic practices of eating only one meal each day, and never lying down to sleep. There are few Sangha members, not to mention laymen, in the world with the faith, vigor, and understanding to support such difficult cultivation. Needless to say, Kuo Yi had become a strict vegetarian.

In 1970 he had the opportunity to travel, and lived in Kamakura, the ancient capital of Japan for a year while he was enrolled in the International Department at Waseda University in Tokyo. He received a thorough grounding in the Japanese language while there, and had the opportunity to travel and observe Buddhist practices and organizations, and to meet influential Buddhists in many Far Eastern countries, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Korea.

      The following year he returned to the United States to continue his study of Buddhism with the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, the Sangha, and the members of the Sino-American Buddhist Association at Gold Mountain Dhyana Monastery Commenting on his journey and its relation to his study of Buddhism Kuo Yi has said.

      "Everywhere in the Far East I witnessed evidence of Buddhism' a glorious past and the past eminence of the Buddha's law as it was transformed by artists and architects.

Upasaka Kuo Yi Foorman

As Buddhism withers in Asia, believe that it is time for the West to receive the Dharma rain. There is a crisis in the world today, a crisis which has been made by man and which manifests in many ways. In my short life I have watched a beautiful land with long coastlines, abundant forests, and mighty ranges of mountains being slowly gobbled up by a greed which afflicts modern society, a greed so completely dominating that many seem to be unaware of its hold over them as they destroy their surroundings and themselves for the sake of personal profit and success. The Buddhadharma teaches the principles of the self-nature, and the methods to relieve the strange-hold of greed. This is foremost in my thoughts: preserving not only the environment, but mankind itself by helping to preserve the tradition of enlightenment in the world. Can we survive forever in a world that is antagonistic and hostile? People must stop waging wars against one another. The wisdom of the Patriarchs can teach us to accomplish this, for they teach the ultimate doctrine of everything made from mind alone."

      Living at Gold Mountain Dhyana Monastery, Upasaka Kuo Yi follows a rigorous schedule of daily cultivation in addition to maintaining his ascetic practices and holding a full time' job with the Wyman Foorman Company. He is currently studying at the Avatamsaka Dharma Assembly, and in addition is serving as a language instructor in Japanese for the Sino-American Buddhist Association. Upasaka Kuo Yi is a vigorous Dharma protector who devotes his energy and resources to protecting the Bodhimandala and supporting the growth of Buddhism as it begins in the West.