The Bodhi Lectern
INTRODUCING THE EMINENT DHARMA PROTECTOR
UPASIKA KUO TSONG BACH
Upasika Kuo Tseng (Sunny) Bach was born in September 1948, and raised in New York City, one of two daughters. When she was still an infant visiting her grandparents she died, temporarily, and then rumbled back to life with violent internal shaking. As a young child she was very sensitive and aware of her surroundings, and even then she wondered how people made it through the suffering of life. When she was twelve she discovered a picture of the Buddha in a magazine, and made an altar for it, an unusual thing to do for someone who had not studied Buddhism, had no Buddhist friends, and young as she was, had no contact with Buddhism. She has maintained an altar to the Buddha ever since.
After a typical high school career, she went on to many majors at five different colleges. She took an assortment of different Jobs, and tasted a variety of cultural artifacts and styles in the same experimental way—looking, searching, investigating, and always finally penetrating through to find them false and illusory. Not yet having discovered the ultimate teaching which reveals the emptiness behind all appearances, she moved restlessly from one thing to another, worked, studied religions, dropped out, traveled, and finally got married.
Continuing to travel and search after she was married, while she and her husband were visiting some friends in Oregon, she heard the name "Abbot," and instantaneously knew, in a moment when everything became unusually clear and understood, that he was to be her teacher. She also heard the Great Compassion Mantra, and contemplating "great compassion" she settled into a solid feeling of protection and security, and could "see very well in the dark." With her interest in Buddhism awakened, she spent the next period of her life in a small seacoast town investigating the teachings and learning the Heart Sutra. Later she and her husband traveled to Canada intending to take up farming with some friends, but an intense desire to meet her teacher, the arrival of several issues of Vajra Bodhi Sea, and a desire to meet people who were honestly cultivating cut this trip short, and she and her husband left for San Francisco and the Buddhist Lecture Hall.
When they arrived In San Francisco to study with the Venerable Master Hua and became disciples they began to study the Sutra of the Past Vow of Earth Store Bodhisattva. The Sutra spoke primarily about filial piety, which is what the Master lectured on the first night they heard the Dharma. The Sutra also mentioned certain things to do if, for instance, a child was expected to be born, and the parents wished for a good child. The Sutra said that, the name of Ti Tsang (Earth Store) Bodhisattva should be recited ten thousand times within a short time after the birth, and that no parties involving liquor or meat should be held on behalf of the child.
Since they were expecting a baby they did what was required. The baby, when born and for several months thereafter would cease, crying upon the recitation of Ti Tsang's name. Now she likes Amit5bha. She is an especially bright and happy child, and is also a disciple of the Master with the Dharma name Kuo Fang.
Kuo Tsong decided to mantra the baby's crib with the Great Compassion Mantra as a precaution against possible disaster. Not long afterwards a fire burned most of the top of the apartment building In which they live, and their apartment on the top floor was covered with flames and thick smoke. After the fire was put out it was found that the crib, and all the blankets and baby toys in it did not even smell of smoke, how much the less show signs of being scorched, and the image of Avalokitesvara the Bodhisattva of great compassion, above the crib was also untouched. Outside in the street while the fire raged they recited the Great Compassion Mantra and felt like they were on lotus flowers, and "none of the local demons could get near them." Before they chopped through the wall where the altar was placed, the firemen carefully moved the altar and all the images to a safe place.
On another occasion her little daughter, Kuo Fang, ate a big piece of hard candy. It became lodged in her throat in such a way that it wouldn't move, and she couldn't breathe. She turned blue and collapsed, and when her father picked her up she was limp and still. Her parents were panic-stricken, and rushed the child before the Master, pleading with him to save her. He didn't touch the child but merely pointed his hand at her throat. All of a sudden Kuo Fang came to life as the candy miraculously melted.
Her family has had many remarkable responses from reciting Earth Store Bodhisattva's name. They have been free of illnesses, and ever since some serious skin rashes immediately disappeared upon recitation of the name, they have recited it 1,000 times a day. Once when Kuo Tsong was getting very scattered in her recitation she watched-first amazed, then awestruck and terrified—as a creature grew out of the image of Earth Store Bodhisattva. She started reciting more vigorously and then noticed that the creature didn't have any teeth. The situation then became a little humorous, and the creature merged into the immediate environment, where it now seems to be lending its benevolent protection. Kuo Tsong has said that she knows that many blessings have been derived from reciting Earth Store's name, and that they have witnessed only minor manifestations of a truly inconceivable response.
"Ever since I became Involved with the study and practice of Buddhism I have witnessed inconceivable responses which always help to pull people out of the suffering of their own karmic net. Once when I was about to scold my mother a ray of light shot out of the Master's picture and stopped me cold. Later when we took the picture out to reframe it we found that it had reproduced itself on the backing paper. So many times I have had illnesses of body and discomforts of mind cured by a rap on the head at Gold Mountain. Sometimes it only takes walking in the door.
"On another occasion I had a terrible headache and recited Earth Store's name. As I recited I suddenly remembered a friend of my sister who had died in childhood. The memory was extremely vivid. I put up a memorial plaque in the Monastery, and the Sangha held ceremonies for her, and then my headache disappeared."
"Since I became a disciple of the Venerable Master when we arrived in San Francisco in the autumn of 1970, things have worked with a perfection that requires no thought or plan. "Daily affairs have taken on meaning as a part of an enormous intertwining net of karma through which we work. Hopefully we can turn our blessings into virtues. If you hear of the Abbot, if you hear his name at all, that in itself is rare. Should you then come to Gold Mountain, hear the Dharma, and then offer up your conduct in accord with it, you have taken advantage of the rarest opportunity in the world. Don't miss your chancel!"
Upasika Kuo Tseng is an extraordinarily sincere disciple of the Triple Jewel and of her teacher. Not only has she worked to support the growth of Buddhism; but she has become a vigorous cultivator in her own right. In addition to the practices mentioned earlier she also regularly attends the Master's Sutra lectures and studies the teaching school, and is an active member of the Buddhist Text Translation Society who did a lot of invaluable work in the preparation, proofing, and typing of the Earth Store Bodhisattva Sutra. She also attends many of the meditation and recitation sessions at Gold Mountain. All this, of course, is done in addition to raising a family and holding down a part-time job at the U.C. Hospital, while her husband, Kuo K'uei Bach (introduced in VBS #29) takes a degree in Chinese. She herself is studying Chinese at San Francisco State so that she will be able to translate Chinese children's stories and stories about the Pure Land. She understands what few understand, practices what few can practice, and her wisdom, faith, and devotion are extremely rare in the world. Her vows are as follows: