THE BODHI LECTERN
Introducing the Eminent
UPASAKA KUO YU LINEBARGER
--By Bhiksu Heng Kuan
Kuo Yu Linebarger was born in February 1949 in San Luis Obispo,
California. In less than a year his family moved to Los Angeles where his
father worked in electronics, and during the seven years he spent there he
remembers his family's incinerator being outlawed in one of the first
attempts to keep the environment clean with smog laws. In those days L.A.
was just growing up, but after an ephemeral adulthood the city is taking
on that musty look of old age.
In 1957 his family moved. For Kuo Yu this changed everything, for it carried him out to sea on the sleek deck of a surfboard. Corona del Mar is a section of Newport Beach, and it didn't take Kuo Yu long to discover the ocean and all the many things that could be done immersed in it and bobbing around on top of it. He abhorred walls and even more any kind of work, and learned to sail, surf, water ski, and skin dive. For a while he proved to be an excellent worker, no matter what the task was, because finishing it was the most expedient way to get him quickly to the beach.
In the early days he enjoyed school and did well, but as he grew older he liked it less and less. Discouraged by the growing war, the ethics of materialism, and a culture which seemed to be trying to destroy the environment he liked so much, by the time Kuo Yu reached high school he was fed up with the studies which seemed to be teaching him to value what was harmful. Consequently he spent most of his mental energy on finding a way to get out. Being intelligent and sensitive enough to know what was going on around him, he realized that there was a discrepancy between what he innately knew was good for people, and what was actually going on in the world. This led him to question the nature of existence with great intensity, and caused him considerable discomfort and occasionally, pain.
Wanting to see more of the world, thinking that travel might ease off the insistent questioning, less than a week after he finished high school he made it to central Mexico and was soon absorbed in sampling beaches and the brightly colored ocean bottom. After he had been in Mexico about a month, the rain season hit, and with it friends with stories about life and the simple pleasures of the outer islands of Hawaii. He decided to see for himself.
Young Americans live fast, and after some time surfing in Hawaii, he gradually lost interest. What caused this change? After staying in a dormant volcano for a few days pondering the questions of existence, his thoughts began speeding by faster and faster until, one after another, they began spinning off leaving spaces of void filled with light. Kuo Yu has described this experience: "I began by pushing into my thoughts until I discovered many events and feelings forgotten since childhood. My attention was like a lance piercing each and every thought until I came to the core of myself, which was totality. Everything was incredibly bright, and face to face with myself there was no separation of body and mind. Later, when slowly one by one thoughts began drifting through like scattered clouds on a clear day, I discovered that the sun was on the opposite side of the crater rim that a whole day had passed. I also realized that I had come down."
Finding his friends he was struck by their uninterrupted interest in the delights of existence and lack of concern about finding the truth of its nature. Things began to pale, and everything that had captivated him began to bore him. The ocean didn't hold the answer, neither did any of the other pleasures he had grown accustomed to and all his running around hadn't accomplished a thing. He didn't understand many of the far out experiences he had encountered, and thought that he would like to find a teacher. A friend of his had been receiving letters from his brother, telling him about a wonderful teacher who lived in San Francisco. Kuo Yu thought it over, made up his mind, and returned to the mainland to find out what he wanted to know: why he was born, why he had to die, why he experienced great pleasures, why he suffered, how he got into this bag of causal connections in the first place, and how he could get out.
Kuo Yu arrived in San Francisco with the brother of Kuo Li and Kuo Shan, Nick and Susan Mechling, two close disciples and Dharma protectors of the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua. A few hours after their arrival Kuo Li asked Kuo Yu if he would like to hear the Master lecture. When Kuo Yu first met the Master he was put off because the Master smiled and was peaceful and happy, whereas Kuo Yu thought that getting himself enlightened was a deadly serious affair. After meditating for an hour he heard the Master talk about the Great Master Hsu Yun.
When he got home he couldn’t forget the Master’s words, and stayed up late pondering everything he had heard.
next morning when he got up the first thing he did was make arrangements
to meet and talk with the Master. That evening he went to Chinatown and
slowly climbed the four flights of stairs to the temple. Everything
seemed much different from the night before, and on top of that he was
terrified. When he arrived at the top of the stairs he didn't know
whether to knock or just go in, so he did both. The room was lit by one
small bulb, and facing him at the front of the room before the altar was
the Master, sitting motionless on a cushion, meditating. The Master
opened his eyes and invited Kuo Yu to sit next to him. After talking for
nearly an hour, Kuo Yu was certain that he would study with the Master.
This was in December 1967.
February 7th, 1968, Kuo Yu had the opportunity to take refuge with the
Triple Jewel and become a disciple of the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua; he
has been a diligent student, cultivator, and a faithful Dharma protector
ever since. He attended the Surangama Summer Session in 1968, and
meditated five or six hours a day and studied the Sutra Text. By then he
had given up his former bad habits and the easy days on big waves for a
serious study of the, self—nature. During the past five years he has
kept up a steady and heavy pace of cultivation and work.
I met Kuo Yu in the summer of 1969 at the Sixth Patriarch Sutra Session,
he was working three or four days a week to support himself and the
Bodhimandala, and cultivating and studying Sutras the remainder of the
In the autumn he went on to study Chinese at San Francisco State
College, and kept up the same diligent practice of morning recitation at
four-thirty, a few hours of meditation, and then off to work or school,
only to return in the evening for more meditation and the evening Dharma
assembly and Sutra lecture. What is remarkable is that he maintained
this schedule on one meal a day and without lying down to sleep at
night, and in the midst of a busy schedule always had time to be
friendly and helpful. He took the Bodhisattva Precepts in September
Upasaka Kuo Yu is a devoted supporter and protector of the Bodhimandala. He spends much of his free time at Gold Mountain Monastery, helping with the building, working on the translation of Sutras, and cultivating, and faithfully attends the Master's Dharma lectures which are held nightly. He graduated from California State University in San Francisco with a degree in Chinese Studies after two years of intensive work, which included a summer studying on Taiwan. Accompanied by his wife, Kuo Wan, who is also a disciple of the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, he traveled in both Taiwan and Hong Kong, and visited many temples and monasteries.
Upasaka Kuo Yu's preparation will make him an effective scholar, translator and interpreter of Buddhist literature, because he combines practice with his study. He took up the study of Chinese in order to be of the greatest use possible in helping to introduce and spread the upright Dharma in the West, and is beginning graduate work in Chinese this autumn which will lead him to a Master's degree from California State University in San Francisco. Upasaka Linebarger has contributed articles and translations, which have appeared in Vajra Bodhi Sea, and is an active member of the Buddhist Text Translation Society of the Sino—American Buddhist Association.
Upasaka Linebarger and his wife are currently living in San Francisco, and have one child, Kuo Ch'ing who is also a disciple of the Venerable Master.