The Bodhi Lectern



      Upasaka Lai was born in China at the beginning, of the 1920's. In the late forties he left China's mainland for Taiwan, and about six years later took advantage of an opportunity to travel to the United States to do post-graduate work. Until that time he didn't have the slightest interest in any of the world's religions.

Just prior to returning to the Far East, however, he met with a friend who was a very devout Christian. Moved by the man's deep sincerity and solid faith, he resolved to make a study of the Bible, which he did during the month-long voyage back to Taiwan. Having examined the Bible, he came to the conclusion that its principles were non-ultimate, but his curiosity had been awakened and his appetite for philosophical and religious investigation increased.

His understanding deepened, and he began to study the Buddhadharma. After another stint of post-graduate work at Michigan State University and after his return to Taiwan in 1957, he took refuge and became the disciple of the Venerable Yin Hsun, whose works on Buddhism he had investigated in some detail. At that time he spent a week in his teacher's monastery exclusively studying the Dharma.

During the refuge ceremony his teacher announced that it was fine to use a scientific or literary approach when studying the Buddhadharma, but if investigation of the Dharma were restricted to this approach alone, one would never truly achieve deep attainment. He said that compassion is the expression of the enlightened mind, and not only must one intellectually study it, but one must actually train in compassion as well. One important method in this training is to refrain from eating meat out of compassionate respect for all living creatures. Upasaka Lai was moved by this instruction to become a vegetarian, and he has maintained this practice for more than fifteen years.

He came to the United States for the third time in 1965 with his family, and they have lived in this country ever since. Understanding the true spirit of the Buddha's teaching, Upasaka Lai never forced or pressured any of his family to become Buddhists, yet slowly and surely, with the constant presence of his example, his entire family have become vegetarians, and have come to believe in and respect the Buddha. Their affinities with Buddhism clearly reach far into the past, and their roots are deep and solid. For example, his fourth daughter was only eight years old when she spontaneously decided to stop eating meat. She felt compassion for living creatures and resolved to do her share to relieve their suffering. His youngest daughter, although she cannot read Chinese because she had been educated in American schools, has learned by heart the entire Universal Door Chapter of the Dharma Blossom Sutra. This came about one summer when Upasaka Lai decided to teach his children Chinese using Buddhist Sutras as texts. Before long his daughter had memorized the entire chapter.

Upasaka Lai recently passed through San Francis o on his way back to Hawaii and stopped to spend the night at Gold Mountain to pay his respects to the Sangha and taste the flavor of the Dharma. Demonstrating vigor and sincerity, he “endured the ice box” and joined the four-fold assembly for the evening lecture and morning recitation. His daughter Lai Chiu-nan, who is a graduate student at MIT and who also maintains the rules of pure vegetarian eating, visited Gold Mountain several summers ago.

Upasaka Lai is a chemist who holds a Ph.D. from Michigan State University. He currently resides with his wife and six children at 47-170 Pulama Place, Kaneohe, Hawaii.