INTRODUCING THE EMINENT DHARMA MASTER
SRAMANERA HENG KUNG
By Bhiksu Heng Kuan
Richard Josephson was born in New York City in March 1946. The early years were difficult for his younger sister and him, because of a troubled family life and frequent moving. His father soon became successful in business, and he settled peacefully with his father and sister in Nevada, with all the comforts that money can bring. Heng Kung's attitude toward the wealth was unusual, however. Once he found three hundred dollars on his father's desk, which he immediately tore up and threw in the toilet. In Nevada he discovered the desert and spent several years running around in the wilderness, seeing how far from his house he could get without getting lost.
When he was ten his father became very successful in business and sent the two children to boarding schools in California. Heng Kung's was a military school, and frustrated by the petty regulations of superficial discipline, he convinced his father to let him live at home. Both he and his sister were removed from private schools. His adolescent years were what one might expect, with one unusual exception. At a very young age he had decided to avoid all sexual relationships, and looked upon involvement with women as a lot of trouble. He found plenty of enjoyment in the solitude of the desert.
Later on, from his sixteenth birthday onward, he became very despondent, and didn't know why. His family life was peaceful, and he had many friends to associate with. After reflecting on his attitude? and testing them out in every day life to be sure that he was not deluding himself, he came to the conclusion that the empty feeling he experienced had little to do with his present environment, and that he would have to search in deeper ways for a method to liberate himself from the burden of his own self. Thinking back to this period of his life he said," Material things always seemed empty to me. After many years of hard work my father attained great success in business and bought a mansion in a fashionable part of town. I immediately moved into the back yard to sleep beneath the stars. My father exclaimed, 'Get this kid a nice house and he moves into the back yard. Oh, so much work.' When I was eighteen he offered me the ownership of a business that would earn five hundred dollars a week which I declined."
His depression became so severe that it made him physically ill with constant nausea and frequent vomiting, in spite of the fact that his father sent him on a boat ride around the world as a present upon the occasion of his graduation from high school. He simultaneously became an alcoholic and a Christian, and in a state of blind equanimity he moved to Hawaii.
Faced with an emptiness, which couldn't be filled, he began studying Buddhist and Hindu philosophy, improved his diet and became a vegetarian, investigated herbs, and began meditating one hour a day. He took up residence in an abandoned cement army bunker on the end of a lava flow. He lived a peaceful life, did a lot of surfing, and felt lost, like one who wears a swimsuit to a royal ball, and so decided to sever communications with friends and live in his own mind.
On his twenty-fourth birthday one of his old friends gave him a book written by a Christian mystic which said that within seven words from a psalm of David could be found all peace in heaven and on earth. He thought perhaps this was true and increased his meditation to three hours per day meditating on those words. In these two years he had no experiences while meditating but kept up the meditation faithfully anyway even when on rare occasions he would become intoxicated. When not meditating he spent his time on long walks and reading Buddhist and Hindu books on isolated beaches.
When he was twenty-six he decided that since he was living such a pure life of devotion and still feeling misplaced, he would move to the other side of the world. He went to India with the firm intention of staying five years. After arriving he immediately decided to retire to the Himalayas and boarded a train for the border. From Katmandu he took a bus as far as possible into the mountains, and started walking. In a week he arrived at a beautiful place surrounded by twenty-five thousand-foot mountains in which stood one lone Tibetan Buddhist Monastery. He inquired of the Lama named Sangya Tengzin if lodging for the night might be obtained, and was let in. The next morning he could not bring himself to leave and inquired if he might rest a week. He and the lama got along remarkably well in spite of the fact that they only knew a few words of each other's language, and occasionally enjoyed joyful daylong conversations communicating with only a few words.
One afternoon the lama said that a few stars circle the sky in Tibet and go straight across Nepal. Heng Kung said he knew the stars. The lama said, "No!"
Heng Kung said, "the star serves milk." The lama laughed and said "yes." (He was talking about the Big Dipper.)
One day the lama asked him to become his disciple and learn Tibetan so he could become a lama. Heng Kung declined on the grounds that the book he used said that within these seven words of David lies the big secret. The lama then offered him a small stone house in which his mother had died on the hill above his temple, saying that he was welcome to stay as long as he pleased. Heng Kung stayed a year, saying the seven words between each breath eight hours per day and reading Buddhist literature the rest of the time.
He related the following experience from the mountains:
"About a six hour walk from my hut on the side of a cliff is a cave beside a waterfall lived an old cultivator who twelve years prior had walked in from Mongolia. He was renowned for his austerities, and for throwing rocks at those bringing offerings. No one dared make the difficult journey to visit him. After some time my curiosity became too difficult to bear; with a load of yak butter and potatoes I set out early one morning deciding not to leave without seeing his face. With considerable difficulty due to a sudden hailstorm and sketchy directions I finally arrived at the door of the rock enclosed cave.
I heard him reciting a sutra within and after a long pause called out my intentions. Wielding a club that could kill a bear, but he came. Leaving provisions behind I barely escaped a thrashing. Though his manner is a bit coarse, his lack of greed is evident."
One day the lama showed him a picture of the Venerable Master Hsu Yun in a book a hiker had left behind and he was greatly taken by it. Not long after he moved to a cave above the ashram of a living incarnation of Krishna in the hot south Indian Desert. He relates the following experience about his journey south: "While in transit I stayed several weeks in Calcutta as the guest of the Hasan family who exemplified the wonders of Indian hospitality. Thinking their home was a church I went to sleep in the driveway, which turned out to be the driveway of a Government official's home, Mr. Hasan Haran, who upon finding me took me in as a guest of the family. A funny incident happened with these folks. After not seeing them for about six months, I decided that on my return trip to Calcutta I would not cross the threshold of their door until each member vowed to become vegetarian one day per week. If I failed in this goal I vowed I would not take food for one week nor enter the home. When I arrived I told the son my intentions and he instantly agreed on behalf of the whole family. Knowing them to be religious Christians, I did not let things pass so easily and required each member to make a vow with hand on the Bible to do as mentioned. All slowly made the vow except the father who ran out on the pretense of a business appointment. I waited a few hours for his return, Bible in hand standing at the front door. Upon seeing me he could not help consenting and also made the vow."
Established in a cave above the ashram, Heng Kung meditated seated saying the words of David between each breath eight to ten hours a day without fail, and ran around the hot desert the rest of the time. He recited like this six months, and never uttered a word to anyone except once a week when he procured food at the ashram below. The people in the village thought he was a yogi from the North and occasionally came to his cave to pay reverence, which made him, feel awkward.
Usually he saw no one and after a few months started having interesting experiences. Once he dreamed of a process by which he could reverse his thinking and arrive at the first thought of ignorance. When he woke his cave was filling up with light. As soon as he thought of telling the elder of the monastery below, the light vanished. Another time while sitting on a rock he felt a peculiar rumbling in his head that he could not place. Slowly his head lowered and his eyes fell upon buffalo grazing in the valley below; he became aware in a most detached and magical way that the rumbling in his head was in fact his ear organ performing its function.
During these last few years he considered himself a Buddhist when asked, but still prayed to God for guidance and meditated on a Christian topic. One night he was crying in his cave, asking God what he was doing wrong. He told God that he was a vegetarian and meditated eight hours a day, and could not figure out why he was not at peace. God said he should eat once a day, to which he replied that the only people doing that were the Buddhists and should he too become a Buddhist he would also eat only once, otherwise he would content himself with three square meals a day.
Shortly after this episode the village authorities got wind of the fact that the North Indian yogi was an ex-hippie trying to make good and inquired after Heng Kung's passport and papers. Unfortunately he had neglected his passport for about two years and was commanded in the subsequent proceedings to leave India.
He returned to California and spent a week with his family and then went to San Francisco with the intention of continuing his devotions at a meditation center there. After about a week Heng Kung became aware that his ideas of devotion differed from theirs and wanted to leave, but did not know where to go. One day he was asked to drive a group to a mountain ceremony. He had no desire to go and was on the verge of declining when the thought occurred to him that it is better to give when there is a doubt. This he did and as it turned out one of the fellows he was transporting told him of a twenty-one hours a day Ch'an session held by Dhyana Master Hsuan Hua. He immediately decided such a place was worth investigating. Upon looking into the matter he found things much to his liking and decided to continue his cultivation at Gold Mountain Dhyana Monastery.
After years of travelling and looking, he finally felt he had come upon a place where he could cultivate the Way, and eagerly put himself under the direction of the Master and became a disciple with the Dharma name Kuo Hang. He then earnestly beseeched the Master to receive him as a disciple who has left the home life. The Master shaved his head in the autumn of 1975, transmitted the ten novice precepts to him at that time, and gave him the name Heng Kung.
Sramanera Heng Kung has augmented his previous diligent cultivation with several ascetic practices, which, in spite of the fact that he has just left the home life, make him a model, and standard that some of the elders in Asia would be wise to follow. Unlike the many bhiksus in Asia who have turned away from the Buddha's instructions to refrain from amassing wealth, Dharma Master Heng Kung has vowed never to touch money, in spite of the fact that his father generously volunteered to support him, and in spite of the fact that he would one day be an heir to millions. He eats only one meal a day, which, of course, is taken before noon, speaks only a few essential words a day, and never lies down to sleep. Lately he has been cultivating the practice of kneeling before the Buddhas some four to six hours a day, and often stays up late into the night reciting sutras and mantras, only to rise again at 3:30 to awaken everyone else for morning recitation.
He is deeply devoted to his teacher, and is always ready to serve him, whatever the task might be. His ascetic practices also greatly benefit the assembly; he makes sure that the whole monastery is spotlessly clean and bright, and puts the same care and attention into this work that he does his own cultivation. Dharma Master Heng Kung is currently delivering lectures on the Ten Great Vows of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva to the great assembly of disciples at Gold Mountain. His own vows, kings in their own right, which he made before the Buddhas, the Venerable Master, and the four-fold assembly on New Year's Day this year, are found below.