The Bodhi Lectern

Introducing the Eminent Dharma Protector

UPASAKA KUO JEN WONG

 

                                                                                                         --By Bhiksu Heng Kuan


           Although a true teacher has an unlimited number of expedient ways to reach his potential students, few would expect the martial arts to be an entrance to the peaceful and harmonious life of a Buddhist adept. Even the martial arts, however, need not be excluded from the realm of what is good, but it takes a skilled teacher to find and bring forth the goodness.

      Upasaka Kuo Jen (,Jimmy) Wong was born in Canton, China, in 1948. In 1957his 

parents thought that a move from mainland China was in the best interest of the family, and they journeyed to Macao where they lived for two years. In April 1960 they took up residence in the United States.

      Although he knew no English, Kuo Jen began studying in English school.  Within a year he was able to follow his classes and keep up with the work, but because he had "the strange ways of a foreigner" he was picked on by the other children. He decided to learn kung fu, the well known martial art of China, to protect himself; the first step in his study was to take up the practice of T'ai Chi Ch'uan. He went to the Buddhist Lecture Hail in San Francisco, Chinatown, and there was able to find someone to teach him. In the course of learning T'ai Chi he began asking questions about Buddhism, and was intrigued by tales of the heroic feats and magical transformations of the great masters of history. It was not long before he heard of the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua who at that time still resided in Hong Kong.

      He was immediately impressed by the unsurpassed Way virtue of the Venerable Master. "I wrote him a letter to say hello, and ask him when he was going to come to America," Kuo Jen said, "because I thought he was a great man. I was about thirteen at the time." When the Venerable Master arrived in America, not much time passed before many people wished to become his disciples. Among those at the first transmission of the Three Refuges in America by the Master was Kuo Jen.

      From the time the Master arrived Kuo Jen worked hard studying Buddhism, based on strong faith which revealed itself when he first heard the Master's name. He went to the Buddhist Lecture Hall every night to do his schoolwork and hear the Master explain the Dharma. Before long his English was good enough to translate the Master's words for the Westerners who attended the nightly sessions but were unable to understand Chinese. The Buddhist Lecture Hall seemed like a second home to him. He played the Dharma instruments in ceremonies, and served the Master in many different ways to help him begin Buddhism in the West. He also kept a record and took notes of all the Master's lectures, poems, gathas, essays and the like.

All this time he continued the study of kung fu, and learned many ceremonial folk dances and lion dancing. As soon as he began studying Buddhism he found that he had no need for the martial arts; rather than using these skills for fighting, as was his original intent, he put them to good use to provide constructive and healthful recreation for children and. adults, and to pass on the folk lore of China. In 1967 he began teaching, and has formed a club, which performs at the important Chinese celebrations and ceremonies throughout the year. He has many students of kung fu, tai chi, lion dancing, and the like in San Francisco, and is now in his forth semester of teaching at Laney college in Oakland where he gives courses in kung fu and tai chi.

      In order to find a way to put his high school and forthcoming college training to good use, both for himself and for Buddhism, Kuo Jen took up printing. He worked on many of the first and essential Buddhist books and pamphlets which were published by the Buddhist Lecture Hall, which were instrumental in helping beginning students of Buddhism understand the basic principles. He took up a course in printing technology at City College in San Francisco, graduated with an Associate in Art degree in 1970, and has worked as a production planner at a nationwide printing firm.

      Throughout this time Kuo Jen has drawn spiritual strength and endurance from the Venerable Master Hua, and vividly remembers one event, which made a deep impression on him. Shortly after he arrived in the United States, the Master fasted for thirty-five days. During that time Kuo Jen stayed close to him and was filled with wonder at the Master's incredible skill. During the whole thirty-five day fast he took no more than one cup of water each clay, and during the last two weeks, he did not even take the water; nothing at all passed through his lips. Yet where most people would have been totally debilitated after the first week or so, the Master continued working throughout the entire time, a full day's work, not just a few hours.

Upasaka Kuo Jen Wong currently lives in San Francisco where he continues to serve the Master and protect the bodhimandala. He has taught T'ai chi at the Buddhist Lecture Hall, has assisted in the many publications put out by the Sino-American Buddhist Association, and serves on the editorial staff of Vajra Bodhi Sea. His mother, influenced by her son's sincerity and beneficial pursuits, took refuge with the Triple Jewel and became a disciple of the Venerable Master in 1967. Her Dharma name is Kuo Chu (  ). Kuo Jen's wife, Kuo Chi

(),Regina Lee) Wong is also a faithful disciple of the Venerable Master Hua, as is their 

daughter,(Corinna), making three generations in his family that have become disciples.