The Bodhi Lectern


--By Bhiksu Heng Kuan

The surest sign that a religion is healthy, growing, and providing a strong influence toward improving the conditions of mankind is the presence of bona fide religious experiences among members of the religious community. This fact becomes apparent when the causes of the decline of many of the world's religions are traced; lack of true practice leads to a dearth of accomplished saints and sages who can lead others to experiences of profound insight and wisdom, and consequently the absence of these religious experiences. Why else would miracles be so doubted in this era? Religious experiences are not the province of a select few, privileged with “divine grace,” but are within the reach of every living being who follows the guidance of an enlightened teacher. The obvious problem is the lack of enlightened teachers, a matter of the impotence of the world’s non-ultimate faiths, and of waning practice among adepts.

      In one form or another, this was the realization of Upasika Fong Kuo Hsiang. She was born into a very close family, which respected and honored its ancestors in Vallejo, California, and grew up there. In 1936 her family moved to San Francisco, and at that time she became interested in Taoism, and began studying and practicing. One day as she was helping arrange a funeral for a friend and was looking for someone to perform the ceremonies she happened to meet the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua. She immediately recognized a strong affinity she had for the Master, and began going to the Master’s place to meditate and listen to his meaningful explanations of the sutras. She had felt the power of the Buddha, and believed that Buddhism could teach her more than any other philosophy or religion. During her first days with the Master she learned a great deal and rapidly became skilled at the practices, for she is a very intelligent woman with good roots and sincerity of purpose. She took refuge with the Triple Jewel and was accepted as a disciple of the Venerable Master on December 28th 1967.

      Shortly after she had taken refuge the awesome power of those who have achieved the highest fruits of the Way became apparent to her. Early in 1968, within months of the beginning of her discipleship, while returning from a few days at Lake Tahoe with family and friends, she smelled strange odors in the car which were not like any she had smelled before. They were strange, acrid, and left the impression of evil and harming. At that time the thought that something might go wrong crossed Kuo Hsiang’s mind, but she dismissed it; it was a foggy night, conducive to an active imagination.

      As they started down the long incline leading into the valley, a truck going too fast to be fully in control came up from behind, struck their car, and sent it skidding and sliding along the shoulder more than two hundred feet, careening off guard rails and plowing through various roadside objects. Kuo Hsiang sensed the danger before the truck hit and immediately began reciting the Buddha's name, NA MWO E MI TO FWO. At the moment the truck hit she felt herself lifted right out of the violently skidding vehicle, "much like one might imagine an ascent into heaven," she said. As she felt herself rising up and as all the people and objects around her disappeared, she became aware of a bright light which became so intense that soon there was nothing but this light, blazing everywhere brighter than the sun, filling all her senses and pervading as far as her mind could reach, nothing but light.

      Then as quickly as the experience had begun she found herself back on the ground in the middle of the night. The car had come to a stop, and none of the passengers were hurt. A patrol car arrived and gave them assistance.

      Upasika Fong is a worthy Dharma protector who cultivates the practice of great compassion. She has three children, a son and two daughters, one of whom, Fong Kuo Miao, a sincere and devoted disciple of the Venerable Master, was elected Miss Chinatown, and in that position influenced many as a model of filial respect. Upasika Kuo Hsiang has helped support the beginnings of Buddhism in America, and is always watchful for ways to maintain the Triple Jewel.