By American Bhiksuni Heng Ch'ih

Fulfilling the vow to bow every step in a 1,000-mile trek from San Francisco is not the first taste of asceticism, which the two bhiksus (Buddhist monks) from Gold Mountain Monastery have had in their lives. Once while Bhiksu Heng Ju was serving in the Navy he was enrolled by his ship's captain in a divers school—one of the roughest in the nation. The work began every day at 5 A.M. and the pace of deep diving, mud diving, night diving, swimming, and running never let up. One morning Heng Ju collapsed in the front ranks and was trampled by the following runners, and in spite of his bruises he was made to run up and down the pier wearing a fifty pound belt for an hour that evening for a punishment. He graduated first in his class.

Heng Ju spent the better part of five years on and below the surface of the Pacific living in a 340-foot submarine with seventy-two other men. They slept in tiers of five bunks, each bunk the size of a coffin, two feet wide, a foot high, and six feet long. Heng Ju is exactly six feet four inches, but he was able to negotiate and ended up in a bunk adjacent to a five and a half foot-sailor. These dense conditions coupled with a rolling sea, putrid air. And constant awareness of being surrounded by millions of tons of water served as excellent preparation for Heng Ju's present austere practices.

He began his trek on October 16th, 1973, and has now bowed more than 450 miles, first up Route One, and now on 101. He is very near the Oregon border. Hiking (and bowing) north in the dead of winter, he is faced day and night with the merciless storms along the Pacific coast. Floods, battering rains, biting winds and bitter cold may stiffen his body but his conviction is ironclad and not daunted by the perpetual endurance test.

Heng Ju's partner and protector on his Journey north is Bhiksu Heng Yo.  While residing at Gold Mountain, Heng Yo developed his ascetic skills by living out in back of the monastery year round in a makeshift hut which left him vulnerable to the winds, rains, and penetrating cold of foggy Bay Area nights. The hut is only 4x2 feet, and he never lay down but sat through the night practicing meditation.

Heng Yo also was rarely seen in new clothes. He took up the practice of finding discarded clothes and old but useable cloth, which he patched together into, garments. He likes to help others by using only what others can't use for himself, in fact, when he set out to accompany Bhiksu Heng Ju on his bowing Journey, Heng Yo didn't take the precautions of putting on anything durable or warm, but Just wore what he had on, the usual patched clothes.

After the monks had bowed for barely two days, Heng Yo's patched pants began to rip a little each time he bowed, until bit by bit, he was in danger of losing them altogether. Since they were travelling light, and because of his thrifty habits regarding clothes, Heng Yo hadn't packed extras, and his situation became more dire with each step he took.

      Finally he said to Heng Ju, "What am I going to do? If I bow once more I'm going to be standing here naked!" Of course he could have continued bowing without any pants, but it wouldn't have been convenient to do so. Eventually he would either have been picked up by the police for indecent exposure, or else lauded by the populace as the latest in burlesque entertainment—either position hardly a fitting one for a monk to find himself in. Determined not to turn back and yet realizing his situation was fast becoming ridiculous, Heng Yo kept inching along, hardly daring to breathe while he tried to decide what to do.
      He had taken only a few steps after speaking to Heng Ju when he noticed something lying smack dab in the middle of the road up ahead. As he drew near he saw that it was a piece of cloth, and when he got close enough to pick it up, lo and behold, it was a pair of pants! He checked them out and saw that although they weren’t new, they weren’t old either, and, sizing them up found that they were not too big and not too small. In short, they were exactly what he needed. 
      Who is to say how that pair of pants got there in the middle of Route 1, clean, in good shape, and exactly the right size at exactly the right time? If it was not a response to the selfless, compassionate, courageous, and determined vow of the monks, then perhaps it was just coincidence. The fact remains, however, that Heng Ju and Heng Yo, two young Americans recently ordained into the Orthodox Buddhist Sangha, have vowed to do a most extraordinary feat.
The two monks have vowed, life after life, to accompany their teacher wherever he goes to speak Dharma and teach and transform living beings. They have vowed that they will appear again and again as great Vajra-wielding Protectors of the Dharma, and that they will, through their observance of strict asceticism, serve as a model in order to influence others to study the true teachings of the Compassionate Buddha. And so it is that in life after life they carry on this work.

      "Do they remember their vows from life to life?" one may ask. The shock of birth is often likened to the pain experienced by a tortoise having its shell ripped off, and the pain of death like that experienced by an ox being skinned alive. The traumas of birth and death cause people to forget where they came from and where they are going, to forget who they are and what they are doing.

      Even sages become confused in the process. Sages who have ended the cycle of birth and death often make compassionate vows to undergo birth and death again and again in order to come into the world and teach others how to end the cycle. However, the defilements of the womb confuse the Arhat (a sage who has ended birth and death), and the shock of birth befuddles the Bodhisattva. They, too, temporarily forget everything and must rediscover their inherent enlightenment.
      If this is the case with sages, how much the more disturbing is the impact of birth and death on ordinary people, who, in the clutches of their karmic retributions, are powerless to transcend the involuntary, habitual, and endless round of birth, old age, sickness, and death. Yet vows, because they are powerful wishes, which penetrate into the deep reaches of consciousness, can withstand and span the numbing shock of birth and death.
      We are what we do. If you want to know what you were in the past, you need only look at what you are doing now. If I want to know where I will be going in the future, I can look at where my steps are leading me. It is our karma (laws of cause and effect) which keeps us in a state of perpetual motion, but our vows can govern the pattern of our flight.

The pattern of our present movement traces the shape of future karma, and so it is that one who, while still bound by karmic retributions involving desire and form, can quit his own frenzy and stop careening through all kinds of rebirth Just by maintaining vows to do so. In all cases, of course, the power of the vows is in direct proportion to the selflessness of the vows and the extent to which they are maintained. How inconceivable then, must be the effects evinced by the vows of a sage—who already dwells in purity. Certainly he can cause the earth to tremble—or not—and can turn heaven's evil omens into lucky stars.
      It is the sheer power of their vows which lead beings, both commoners and sages, to meet a good teacher, one who has returned to save others through the power of his own vows. Such a one can help others remember, reaffirm, and reenact their former vows. Since the wise man never uses force, knowing that no one can tell another what do to, each person decides for himself what must be done. Heng Ju spontaneously resolved to fulfill the practice of bowing once every three steps in the course of a thousand mile Journey, after reading accounts of the Venerable Master Hsu Yun's three year bowing pilgrimage across China. Bhiksu Heng Yo, upon hearing this vow, vowed to accompany Heng Ju, saying that he felt so compelled to do this work that he could not put his mind at ease until it was completed.
      Since awakening to the work at hand, the bhiksus have not rested since setting out from San Francisco, but have pushed hard to maintain an average of 5 miles a day of bowing. They have bowed over 450 miles to date, and are now near the Oregon border on Route 101. The intensity of their concentration, the deftness of their developing skill, and the extent of their determination have already been a positive influence on thousands and thousands of people.

Buddhas Birthday

The Sino-American Buddhist Association, Gold Mountain Dhyana Monastery, and the Vajra Bodhi Sea Publication Society cordially invite you to attend the celebration of Sakyamuni Buddha's Birthday, to be held at 12:30 and at 6:30 P.M. on April 28th, 1974, at Gold Mountain Dhyana Monastery, 1731 15th Street, San Francisco. You are welcome to take part in any or all of the activities: Morning recitation: 4:00-4:50 A.M. Meditation: 5:00-7:15 A.M.  Alternate sitting and walking meditation of the Buddha's name: 7:30-9:30 A.M.  Ceremonies honoring the Buddha's birth: 9:40-10:30 A.M. High offerings: 10:40-11:00 A.M. Vegetarian meal: 11:00 Bathing the Buddha ceremonies and talks on Buddhism by eminent Buddhists: 12:30 P.M.

Following the noon ceremonies and talks, periods of sitting and walking meditation on the Buddha's name will be held the Jeweled Hall of the Great Heroes. At 6:00 P.M. a documentary film entitled Buddhism in China will be shown.

At 6:30 P.M. amidst the traditional splendor of golden Buddha images, lights, flowers, incense, and ancient musical instruments, the major and most important event of the day will begin. A brief welcoming speech will be followed by a series of chants and mantras, which will continue while the Buddha bathing ceremony is again enacted. Come to bathe the Buddha and thereby symbolically cleanse your self-nature, recite the Buddha's name, chant mantras, and hear talks in honor of the occasion.

      There is no cost for any of the activities, and we hope you will feel free to bring guests and friends. We would appreciate a call telling us you are coming. 415-621-5202.