The Bodhi Lectern


--By Bhiksu Heng Kuan

Upasaka Kuo K'uei (Craig) Bach was born in Evanston, Illinois, in July 1946. After his parents divorced when he was four, he lived with his grandmother for two years until the circumstances were resolved and he was able to rejoin his father and begin life with a new mother and three older stepsisters. It was a tough childhood and Kuo K'uei couldn't foresee living past twelve.

When his twelfth year passed without any major demise, he went on to a college preparatory course in high school, concentrating on the sciences, at the mercy of Sputnik like the rest of us, even though he had a knack for languages. In the midst of Sputnik, however, his perceptual apparatus experienced a violent readjustment when he had the opportunity to pass some time living in the Rockies. Other lands, other; ways of life unknown to a fifteen year old boy, cool mountains that went on and on, and the refreshing silence of infinity, the visual awakening upon first living in the mountains was enough to carry Kuo K'uei right out of the other side of two years at college into a life wandering.

Although a military reject because of the after effects of some childhood bone damage, the therapeutic guitar strumming he had done set him up in music, and soon he had a band and traveled around playing for awhile.  He spent much of his time camping and hiking, a slave of nature and a life out-of-doors until it was time to look into new modes...

Like a General Motors foundry, where he worked in a scene from some description of the hells you've read the total effect of tons of 2800° liquid iron splashing around. It was at this time that he had an extraordinary experience which gave him a whole new sense of direction and purpose after what seemed to him aimless years of wandering around. It began, after an all night shift at work, with a feeling of buoyancy, and for about two weeks following he was able to see, hear, and understand things that were totally out of the range of any state of consciousness he had experienced before. Much of what had previously been confounding or out-of-reach became remarkably clear to him, and the understandings he had during that time were to change the course of his life. Leaving behind desire for possessions, wealth, and the more conventional pursuits, he set out on a trip with his new wife, Kuo Tseng, that would last a few years, but would eventually find them sitting at the feet of the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua studying the Mahayana Sutras and learning the skills of dhyana meditation and other contemplative practices.

Although on the surface their decision to move on seemed to be more of the same wandering, they set out from Illinois with a strong sense of purpose based on a very solid inner vision. By following their noses, blink luck, and a keen intuitive sense for making the right move when opportunities came up, they were able to resolve and disperse the darkness of the obstacles that occluded the light of their vision. Their vision? If they had set out to make a million dollars it would be easy to describe, but it wasn’t like that.

The story of their travels and experiences, which could fill a volume in itself, is fascinating because they were compelled not by any outward desire for achievement or accomplishment, but by a strong drive to find what they sensed to be an important part of their lives. Buddhists would call this phenomenon a very clear example of the poignant coincidences that occur when good roots--ie, the momentum of a close association with the Buddhadharma in past lives—reveal themselves. No matter how their trip is regarded, it is extraordinary that two individuals would have the dedication to resist, for nearly two years, anything less than the total resolution of their intuitive sense of purpose. Operating on the subtle frequency of an inner vision, and not on a gross outward sense of desired accomplishments, for such a long period of time, is remarkable.

Although the journey took them farming in Oregon, land hunting in Canada, living in many cities on the West coast, in places in the country, and in a cabin on the shore, the most significant event was the first mention of a Master referred to as "The Abbot," who dwelled at the Buddhist Lecture Hall in San Francisco. As soon as they heard of "The Abbot" they were filled with a strange desire to see him. They memorized the Heart Sutra, and were eager ears for any news or stories about the Venerable Master, "The Abbot," seeking out people who had known of or met him. Although they encountered many Buddhists groups, so-called Buddhist groups, different schools of Buddhism, and Masters throughout their travels, Kuo K'uei saw that they all "had only a small corner of the Buddha's robe.

 " He was not snagged by what seemed to him to be people who were long on dogma, short on principle, and without the accomplishments of true spiritual cultivation.

After a while they discovered Vajra Bodhi Sea, and by that time had heard so much about the Buddhist Lecture Hall that they decided to take a look for themselves. One night a friend of theirs recited the Great Compassion Mantra. Although Kuo K'uei and Kuo Tsong had not heard it before, they immediately wanted to learn it. As the friend recited, his face transformed into that of an elder Chinese man's, with a bearded chin and a mustache. When he finished reciting his face returned to normal--beardless and with glasses. Later when they saw a picture of a bearded monk in a file of photos at the Buddhist Lecture Hall, they were immediately struck by the resemblance to their friend's face as he recited the mantra. The only difference was that his glasses didn't disappear as the friend recited, even though the monk's face appeared, and the monk didn't wear glasses.

The Bachs drove to San Francisco without much delay arriving in the fall of 1970. They quickly took refuge with the Triple Jewel, became disciples of the Master, and have not left since.

Kuo K'uei Bach's remarkable adventure is not only an unmistakable example of the manifestation of good roots, for he has followed through since meeting the Master with diligent and vigorous practice of meditation, mantras, cultivation of Earth Store Bodhisattva's dharmas, serious sutra study, and cultivation of the Dharmas of Great Compassion. In addition he has worked hard to provide for his family, and at the same time has been a devoted protector of the Triple Jewel and the bodhimandala, giving a great deal of time, effort, and talent to Gold Mountain Monastery, Vajra Bodhi Sea, and the establishment of the orthodox and proper Dharma in the West.

The direction of Kuo K'uei's intentions are clear: "The time for Buddhism in America is ripening. The Master has been in the country for more than ten years. Before there were no American Bhiksus and Bhiksunis, and now there are over a dozen. A great Monastery has been established, making it possible for those who sincerely wish to study the Way to have a place to do so and a teacher to instruct them. As the Great Master the Sixth Patriarch said. When you are unable to help yourself, you should seek out the instruction of a Good Knowing Advisor, who will lead you to see the nature."

Upasaka Kuo K'uei's high standards of cultivation include a restricted intake of food, and cultivation of the ascetic practice of not lying down to sleep, but constantly maintaining the sitting posture in order to deepen his practice of dhyana meditation. 'A renewed interest in languages has led him to enroll in San Francisco State College where he will complete work on his college degree. He will specialize in Chinese, and hopes to have the opportunity to teach and translate Sutras in the future. He is currently a member of the Sino-American Buddhist Association's Buddhist Text Translation Society, and works with the translated texts.

He lives in San Francisco with his wife and daughter, Kuo Fang, (Jhana), who are also disciples of the Venerable Master.

The Bachs are faithful disciples who attend the Venerable Master's explanations of the sutras every day, and who make the teaching school a regular part of their cultivation.


The VBS Publication Society will pay two dollars each for issues number one and four. Simply mail in any number of these issues and receive two dollars for each one.


September 29  Dipankara Buddha’s Birthday.
October   21  Anniversary of the Great Master Ch’ang Chih’s Attainment of
              the Way.
October 22  Tripitaka Master Ch’ang Jen Left the Home Life
October 25  Anniversary of the day Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva Left the
            Home Life.
November 5  Birthday of Medicine Master Buddha.
November 10 Birthday of Patriarch Bodhidharma.
December 22 Amitabha Buddha’s Birthday.