Bhiksus and Bhiksunis from Gold Mountain Monastery
give talks to students at San Francisco State (above) and

 at the Jones Gulch Seminar on Buddhism (part of a course
taught at U.C. Berkeley) in response to invitations from
professors and students. (Spring 1975)


By Bhiksu Heng Kuan

      More that eight years ago, on Waverly place in Chinatown, San Francisco, the Sino-American Buddhist Association began in a fourth floor cold water flat. More than thirty people lived in twelve hundred fifty square feet, which included little more than the Buddha hall, an eight by eight-foot kitchen, and a three by four-foot bathroom. How did they live? Many took up residence in packing crates on the roof, using the confines of a wooden box to aid their practices of constantly sitting and never lying down. There is a lot mote that could be told about those early days, but not in this article.

After the Association moved to Gold Mountain in 1970, times were still bitter. Although the ch'an cultivators were not crowded into such small spaces, the Monastery was still a bare brick building, with no conveniences.  Having only enough financial resources at that time to propagate the Dharma, the members of the Association gave up their desires for comfort and good food, and put all of their energy and resources into the growth of the Dharma. For their own subsistence they ate food found in garbage cans, and at night wrapped up in old blankets, as there was no heat in the building. People called it the ice box, and to many, life at Gold Mountain in those days was a lot of suffering, years of one bland meal a day, of cold winters, cold nights, and drafty rooms without furniture. Comfort amounted to a few extra hours on the wooden meditation bench.

During the last six months Gold Mountain Monastery, the largest orthodox Buddhist Monastery in the Western Hemisphere, has undergone a thorough renovation and is ready to be opened to the public. One of the remarkable things about this first home of the orthodox Dharma in the Western Hemisphere is that it has no doors or windows. This refers to the one great door of non-discrimination, an open attitude which makes Gold Mountain an ideal place of cultivation for those of a variety of religious beliefs, for all the sects within Buddhism and for Theravada and Mahayana cultivators alike. Without prejudice or discrimination, and regardless of where a person is from, if he is truly on the path to the highest enlightenment, he is welcome at Gold Mountain which is called a monastery of the ten directions because sincere cultivators from all over the world are welcome. In fact, there is room for hundreds of people to work in comfort in the Monastery, and the Sino-American Buddhist Association will provide room and board and give complete free time to anyone who can meditate for twenty hours a day. 

The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Kuan Yin) with 1,000 compassionate arms now housed at Gold Mountain Monastery. Another Avalokitesvara with 1,000 hands and 1,000 eyes, standing 18 feet high, will arrive at the Monastery soon.

The four-fold assembly of bhiksus, bhiksunis,
upasakas and upasikas chant Sutras before the
Buddhas in the Buddha Hall at Gold Mountain.


      In this age, which is strong in fighting and strife, disasters and war increase daily. We must find a means to rescue mankind and prevent the annihilation of the entire world. Consequently, in order to protect the country, eliminate disasters, and seek peace and blessings for all peoples, the members of the Sino-American Buddhist Association have decided to transmit the Complete Precepts of the Thousand Buddhas on the 200th anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America. This Dharma Assembly will last for one hundred and eight days, beginning on July 4th, 1976, and ending on October 19th, 1976. Buddhists of all countries and nationalities throughout the world are cordially invited to attend and receive the Complete Precepts of Sramanera, Sramanerika, Bhiksu, Bhiksuni, and Bodhisattva. The merit thus established for mankind as well as the benefits accruing to those of the future are truly unlimited.

Those interested in taking part should be aware of the following items:

1. Since San Francisco is an international city in a nation which takes an active and important role in the world community, the percept Transmitting Master, the Karmadana, and the Teaching Master as well as the seven certifiers and others concerned will all be high and virtuous monks from many countries who are leaders of Buddhism.

2. The Precept Platform will commence on July 4th, 1976.

3. The Sramanera Precepts will be transmitted on October 3rd, 1976.

4.  The Bodhisattva Precepts will be transmitted on October 10th, 1976.

5. Instruction in the Bodhisattva Precepts will begin on October 4th, 1976, for all four assemblies of disciples. Laymen taking these precepts should arrive prior to that date.

6. Please direct all correspondence to: 

1731 15TH STREET


In the spying of 1975, Upasaka Kuo Chen Clowery wrote of his reasons and purpose for leaving the home life, and his intentions upon becoming a bhiksu and entering the sagely path. He did so as a part of his request to the Venerable Abbot of Gold Mountain to become a disciple who has left the home life to cultivate the way under the Master's guidance.

Then on July 17th, 1975, Upasaka Kuo Chen made twenty-four vows to guide his cultivation on the path. He made these vows before the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Dharma protectors of the ten directions, the Venerable Abbot, and the four-fold assembly of cultivators at Gold Mountain. His statement of purpose, followed by his vows, appear in their entirety in this Issue of Vajra Bodhi Sea.

* * * *


With genuine humility and gratitude for the compassion of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of all time and space I disciple Kuo Chen, respectfully request certification of my decision to leave the home life and cultivate the unsurpassed way of enlightenment. After long and serious contemplation of the challenges, trials, and rewards of the Sramanera's life, my capacities and nature, and the extraordinary environment of the planet Earth in the late 20th century, I feel I have a personal responsibility to enter the American Sangha and devote my life's energy to the cultivation and propagation of the proper Dharma. I will briefly explain the reasons for this decision and the purpose of my ambition.

Looking backwards, I appear to have been a moody, emotional child with a serious, pensive nature. I searched for deep meaning in daily life and worthwhile goal for my intense, rebellious energies. Hypocrisy and injustice disturbed my peace of mind. Sensitive to falsehood, evil, and cruelty, I was often moved and depressed by the general lack of direction, wisdom, and compassion in the people I met. I was frequently outraged at the quantity of suffering people could endure in their own lives and witness in other's lives without acting to relieve the misery.

My motivation to action came from a deep, uncompromising faith in the existence of a higher good in man. I experienced in my mind the potential for perfection of the seeds, for a worthwhile, significant life dedicated wholly to freedom and realized through good works, proper conduct, and through conscious struggle against fear, complacency, and hopelessness. Although my behavior usually contradicted such a vision of purity, this lofty goal took root as the core and formed the timbre of my ideals and values; it became the one truly worthwhile purpose in life. There had to be a noble destiny, a high road to liberation for a race of beings that had such a boundless potential for good and yet who could manifest powerful evil and the urge to self-destruction. I knew instinctively that a seed of pure and perfect wisdom lived somewhere within the heart and I set as my life's goal the discovery of this seed and the realization of its fruit.

I saw clearly that most people early on gave up the search for purpose, for the mysteries of existence. Material affluence motivated my friends to build great walls of possessions, firm chains of relationships, stifling nets of debts and conformity. Sparking this urge to own things and relate to others was a deep, unconscious wish to fly from the very freedom I sought. The emptiness of death and the loneliness of the void, the unknown realms beyond the boundaries of conscious experience, these inseparable night-sides of existence terrify and haunt the unconscious mind, moving people to confirm the substance of their lives with pleasure and comfort, to erect perimeters of matter as buffers against confrontation with mortality. I shared the need to defeat death and protect against the unknown but I rebelled against the lie of material security. I witnessed the impermanence of all matter: the finest houses decay and fall; the most intimate relationships, high office, vast power, great fame, all vanish on the edge of the grave. Everything comes and goes; one can encounter the flow of time and seek life's nature or one can choose to hide his head in the sand of existence, wasting year after year using the goods earned with sweat and blood and vital life/time in a vain attempt to bridge the bottomless void between emptiness and being. To cling to worldly things as confirmation of life is a logical mistake; a fatal mistake. I recognized the crucial need to break out of the cycle of blind consumption. I refused to trade all my precious time for more and more things. I rejected the hollow rewards and the callous resignation of the shortsighted, common ethos because I could not accept such a hopeless view of man's ultimate destiny. I resolved to reverse the tide, to take a stand, to use energy to struggle against comfort, against security, against the waste of empty lives. I vowed to realize another way of life. Moreover, to secure individual comfort while over-looking the vast sea of starving, war-torn, suffering humanity was morally impermissible. To sacrifice compassion for personal gain was to abandon all hope of perfection.

Day and night, persistent questions gripped my mind: Does death have a meaning? Is it inescapable? What is the source of man's suffering? What is the right way to live so as to reduce the sum of suffering and at the same time, reveal any potential, a calling, the fountain of innate wisdom? I investigated my parent's Christian religion and after years of fruitless study, turned away, unsatisfied. Christians were content to leave man unchanged and to look outside for solutions to inner problems. Prayer and prostration before a silent, frightening God did not help, nor did reading a confusing, hybrid Bible. I found no practical instructions, no disciplines, no path to spiritual cultivation, and worst of all, I found few relevant responses to the senseless evil in the world, the grievous harm done by men to each other and to our natural environment. Christianity does not deal effectively with the basic matters of pain, disease, old age, and death.   Instead it teaches merely to cope with the world as one finds it. For a meaningful explanation of the condition of man, I had to look beyond Christianity.

My ambition grew clearer: I wanted to become a doctor, a teacher of life, a medicine man, a healer. I wanted a method or a medicine to eradicate the fundamental source of the fear and pain that keeps man from daring to seek freedom and happiness. To accomplish this essential transformation I needed first to cure myself of the same disease I rejected in others. The state of health I sought was freedom from pain, freedom from fear, independence and lasting happiness for myself and for other beings. I had to break through all barriers, even through consciousness itself. The major obstacle was my body, an effective prison, impermanent and heir to inevitable change. The primary challenge of the search for freedom: to understand the body, to find the mind, to learn to control it and transcend it.

I went to the university to acquire insight, techniques, and tools to aid my search for self-understanding, physical discipline, and mental control. There I met men and women who had factual knowledge of specific corners of reality and while useful, their information was firmly rooted in the mundane framework of birth and death. The academic approach required no commitment to solving this all-consuming affair. Taking man's mortality for granted, scholars view noumena and phenomena alike from a casual, detached, intellectual perspective. For a seeker of ultimate wisdom, the academic experience was as unsatisfying and frustrating as standing inside a burning building while discussing the color and length of the flames. The torch of scholastic wisdom did not illuminate the inky darkness surrounding my fundamental ignorance of life's source and its destination.

Conscious of and uncomfortable with the self-styled posture of bitter iconoclast and spiritual revolutionary, I was nonetheless compelled to reject the teachings of the two major institutions of established higher wisdom. The Church gives all truth away to God, limits access and interpretation to all but clerical shepherds of the foolish, helpless flock, and postpones eternal freedom until death; Heaven may then claim a few righteous souls. The University sits in chairs above the dust, denies both pain and bliss, and stirs only to describe the image and echo of man's struggle for liberation. No one could tell me what I had to discover for myself. I decided to directly engage my mind and search within to resolve or dissolve my mountains of doubts and spiritual confusion. Untutored, like a farmer with a dull plowshare, I tilled the mind-ground without direction and without skill. I found I could not concentrate or control my thoughts. Emotions still rolled unchecked like ocean waves. Thoughts of desire, anger, and ignorant physical habits mocked my attempts to purify, calm, and clarify my consciousness.  Unfocused, random energy leaked and splashed, sapping and confusing my best efforts. After months of futile inner struggle I concluded that the freedom I sought required freedom from ignorance and desire. My mind and my habits needed to be trained and tamed just as a wild horse is broken to the saddle before it can be ridden any distance. Concentration demands calm, consistent, vigilant control over the ceaseless tide of false and illusory thoughts and discriminations. I had to find a method, a new set of pure, regulated habits; I had to find a teacher and a path.

On the verge of despair, I heard a single sentence of the Buddhadharma and in my heart I felt as if the sun had suddenly broken through storm clouds. I became a Buddhist by conviction upon hearing the first of the Four Holy Noble Truths: "All life is suffering; needlessly so." This one sentence, to my delight, opened a door to the inexhaustible treasure-store of the Buddha's teachings. In Buddhism I have found men and women of the past and present who asked and ask even now the same questions I ask, who keep alive their quest for perfection in life and freedom from death. Most important to me has been the discovery that Buddhist practice is based on practical, dynamic principles of behavior that make sense, that require a strict discipline of moral and ethical values and that when applied with consistent energy and determination, yield concrete results. In Buddhism I have found the superior medicine I sought--a genuine antidote to the basic source of suffering: the disease of ignorance. Here is a raft across the sea of confusion and fear. Here is a way to directly help the world by reducing one's own share of greed, animosity, and stupidity. Once healed, the healthy soul can go on to teach others the way to physical and moral health, harmony with nature and spiritual well-being. Here is a prescription of compassion, an ancient, living, tradition of men whose lives are significant and inspiring examples of mankind's highest evolutionary attainment.

Although it is new to the West, the orthodox Dharma practiced at Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco is a direct continuation of the way walked by Buddhists for thousands of years. Cultivators at Gold Mountain pattern their lives after sages of old and practice according to essential, uncorrupted wisdom of ages past. Buddhism has appealed to my American nature because it is a revolutionary doctrine and totally democratic. Revolutionary because to cultivate the way one must radically change his basic habits and examines his fundamental understanding of reality. Democratic because the principle of compassion cuts through the distinctions of race, class, age, sex, faith, species, space and time. Anyone can become a Buddha. The Buddha is not a God. All Buddhas were once men who chose to sacrifice comfort, ease, and custom to cultivate the path of the Buddhas before him. The Buddha actually did what he had to do, did it for a long time, and realized the highest human potential, genuine happiness, pure and perfect wisdom. In mankind's long search for freedom. Buddhism is the path to ultimate liberation. In my search for a meaningful synthesis of energy and aspiration I have found three precious jewels: a compassionate teacher who exemplifies the conduct of all Buddhas; an infinitely rich source of teachings; and a supportive community of seekers, souls in harmony walking side by side along the broad, level road to enlightenment.

The Buddhadharma is a medicine, which cures all diseases. By studying the Buddhadharma it is my goal to totally cure my own disease of ignorance and afflictions; love and desire; greed, hatred, and stupidity; all of which cause the pain of birth and death. To study the unsurpassed Way, to introduce the proper Dharma to the West using whatever energy, skills, languages, and expedient means I acquire, to ceaselessly explain the law of cause and effect, these are my goals. My primary purpose in this existence and in all future lives is to help the Venerable Dhyana Master Hua to complete his inexhaustible, compassionate, selfless vows.

I, disciple Kuo Chen, mindful of the quest for enlightenment, bow in reverence before the eternally dwelling Buddhas of the ten directions, the Dharma treasury of the Tripitaka, and the Holy Sangha of the past and present. I pray that they will descend to witness and certify these firm vows:

1. I wish for neither the blessings of men or gods or for partial or conditional enlightenment. Relying on the single supreme Buddha vehicle, I vow that I and all living beings to the exhaustion of empty space and the ends of the dharma realm will simultaneously attain to Utmost, Right, and Perfect Enlightenment. 

2. I vow that my primary ambition in this existence and in all future lives is to leave the home life and to cultivate the unsurpassed Way, working unceasingly to protect, translate, and propagate the teachings of the Venerable Dhyana Master Hua and help him to complete his inexhaustible, compassionate, selfless vows. 

3. I vow to obey my teacher's instructions without question or hesitation in thought, word, and deed.

4. I vow to sincerely repent of all karmic obstacles, all greed, enmity, ignorance, and affliction from beginningless time past unto the present by bowing to or copying by hand each word in the Flower Garland Sutra. I will repent for at least one hour each day.

5. I vow to transfer any merit to all living beings that they may soon harvest the fruit of Buddhahood.

6. I vow to translate and propagate the Jeweled Repentance of Medicine Master Crystal Light Tathagata.

7. I vow to cultivate the dharmas of Great Compassion, the Forty-two Hands, and all dharmas of healing.

8. I vow to turn the Dharma wheel for all beings, especially for gods, dragons, the eight-fold spiritual pantheon, and for all spirits, ghosts, and demons.

9. I vow to teach the law of cause and effect in all places and at all times.

10. From the Heavens to the Hells I vow to accept no blessings I ought to receive. Instead I will take on the sufferings of others as my own.

11. I vow to cultivate the perfection of patience under insult and not give rise to anger.

12. I vow to hold, protect, and recite the Surangama Mantra and all other mantras, dharanis, and true words.

13. I vow to make my primary study the extinction of desire.

14. I vow to exhaustively study and actively embody the Buddha's moral prohibitions and rules of pure conduct.

15. I vow to vigorously cultivate the practice of "Returning the light to shine within."

16. I vow that in each life from early childhood I will avoid all sexual activity and romantic entanglements, cut off all desire and cast out love.

17. I vow not to handle money or valuable objects.

18. I vow to eat nothing afternoon and to drink only pure water after midday.

19. I vow to compare myself with no one and to compete with no one.

20. I vow to seek neither fame, distinction, nor personal benefit from my activities in spreading the proper Dharma.

21. I vow at all times to manifest a serious demeanor and to eliminate all frivolous, joking behavior.

22. I vow that with the exception of words spoken in service to the Triple Jewel I will remain silent.

23. I vow that to the exhaustion of empty space and the ends of the Dharma realm, in the three karmic modes, I will vigorously and without cease transform greed, animosity, and ignorance into morality, concentration, and wisdom.

24. I vow that all these vows will be fulfilled.

Living beings are numberless, I vow to save them all. Afflictions are endless, I vow to cut them off. Dharma doors are limitless, I vow to study them all. The Buddha's Way is supreme, I vow to realize it.


On May 21st, 1975, the Asian Art Commission of San Francisco sponsored memorial service for Mr. Avery Brundage, the founder of the Olympic Games, patron of one of the most famous collections of Asian and Buddhist Art in the Western hemisphere, and a benefactor of society. The service was held in Grace Cathedral. Dharma Masters from Gold Mountain Monastery along with San Francisco's highest government and religious leaders, were invited to participate. In his benediction, the Venerable Abbot of Gold Mountain said:

Throughout the entire world, in all places, sages have always expounded their teachings saying, "If you plant good causes you reap good effects. If you plant bad causes you reap bad effects. In your lives, in everything you do, there should be nothing which is not for the benefit of all mankind."

It is now my hope that Avery Brundage has gone to the blissful place of his choice. People in this world who are public-minded without self-serving interests certainly obtain the ultimate bliss they hope to obtain. Straightforward people without prejudice certainly obtain the ultimate bliss they hope to obtain. Benefactors of society certainly obtain the ultimate bliss they hope to obtain. Avery Brundage, a man of international renown, has performed unending acts of merit and virtue throughout his life. It is my hope that he obtains ultimate permanence, bliss, true self, and purity—true happiness.

Avery Brundage, if you do not wish to forget your friends in this world, it is my hone that you will use your inherent strength to its greatest capacity in continuing to benefit all mankind. This is my hope for you.


By Bhiksuni Heng Ch’ih

      On Saturday, April 12th, at 6:50 A.M. members of the Sangha and Buddhist laity at Gold Mountain Monastery packed up more than a hundred sea turtles which had been purchased from meat markets where they were destined to be killed for food. The caravan of Buddhists and turtles then wound up highway 101 to Tamalas Bay where the Venerable Abbot of Gold Mountain led the four-fold assembly in the deeply moving "Liberating the Living" ceremony. During the ceremony the turtles were given the three refuges and pronounced disciples of the Buddha in acknowledgement of the fact that all-living beings have the Buddha-nature and can become Buddhas.

The Great Compassion Mantra formed the core of the Ceremony. While the bhiksus, bhiksunis, upasakas, and Upasikas circumambulated the Buddha and the turtles reciting the mantra, the Venerable Abbot sprinkled the animals with pure water, washing them of their karmic offenses which had caused them to fall into the realm of animals. After three recitations of the Heart Sutra and the Four Great Vows, the mantra for Liberating the Living was chanted and the animals were then ready to be freed. While incanting the names of seven Buddhas, members and friends of the Sino-American Buddhist Association carried the hundred and more turtles down to the water and set them free.

The day before the ceremony, at the daily meeting of the Avatamsaka Assembly, the Venerable Abbot of Gold Mountain Monastery explained the principle of "Liberating the Living":

"The Dharma Door of Liberating the Living is one with which Westerners are not familiar. Why don't Westerners understand it? In the West, no one has seen this Buddhist ceremony before, and no one really knows what it is all about.

"For the past several years since the Buddhadharma began to be transmitted in the West, Liberating the Living has been practiced on many occasions. Every time, many people have complained about it. Although there is opposition, we still want to practice in accord with the Buddhadharma.

"Why Liberate the Living? One reason is that the practice of Liberating the Living carries the reward of an increased lifespan. If you do not kill others, they won’t kill you. Consider wars. Why are there wars? Wars occur when people engage in mutual killing. You kill him so he kills you. Those who are animals are killed by men. Then the men in turn become animals, the animals become men, and once again they engage in killing. The amount of killing reaches tremendous proportions and the karma of killing becomes so heavy that wars arise. Wars are transactions, which settle unpaid debts. You kill me so I pay you back. I kill you and you kill me. There is no end to it. The amount just keeps piling up—like compounding interest. You kill me once; I will kill you ten times over. You kill me ten times so I’ll kill you a hundred times with guns, bombs, aircraft, and missiles. That is the manifestation that karma involving killing brings about.

Using the Sweet Dew Dharma to aid living beings.

Speaking Dharma to liberate living beings.

"By Liberating the Living we can lessen the amount of killing karma.   If people keep liberating life, the killing karma will continue to diminish until finally there will be no more wars. So rather than oppose war, we use this method. We basically do not fight, so how could We oppose war? Opposing is fighting. Instead we put into practice a positive Dharma-door designed to Liberate the Living, and increase one's lifespan at the same time.  Liberating the Living can also counteract sickness. That's why if we are scolded a bit, it doesn't matter.

"Nor is it that we necessarily wish to increase the length of our own life. We wish that all living beings will cease killing and cause the karma of killing to stop once and for all. That is why we liberate the Living.

"In cultivation of the Way people should have experience practicing all kinds of Dharma-doors, not the least of which is the beneficial Dharma-door of Liberating the Living."

There being no threat to their life in Vietnam, Upasika Phuong wondered about the meaning of the cryptic message, and made several attempts to call the Venerable Abbot. When she finally got through, and asked him what was happening and what the telegram meant he replied, "It's nothing." She should have understood without having to ask

Upasika Phuong arrived in the United States on March 10th. Shortly thereafter the war flared up in the vacinity of Saigon, moving within 100 miles of the city. Her husband left Saigon for Hong Kong.

On April 17th or 18th, her husband sent her a telegram asking her whether it was a good idea to return to Saigon. She asked the Venerable Abbot who replied, "You can go back after three weeks have passed, but during these three weeks, you cannot go.' Two and one half weeks later Saigon fell.


Sino-American Buddhist Association


Recently I had the good fortune to meet one of your bhiksus, Venerable Heng Yo, who is presently stationed in Hong Kong. He presented me with a copy of A General Explanation of the Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra, and acquainted we with the translation work being done by your association.

While translations of the Chinese sutras are available in English, here, commentaries such as the excellent one by your Venerable Master are not to be found; and the translations themselves are sometimes imperfect.

I would therefore be most anxious to know whether your association has translated any other sutras into English; and, if so, what the cost would be of purchasing them and sending them here via airmail. Do you have a book list or catalogue you could send me? If so, I would greatly appreciate it.

Thank you very much.

            Yours sincerely,
               William Page


THE SIXTH PATRIARCH'S SUTRA (revised 2nd printing)

COMMENTARY OF DHYANA MASTER HUA and several others. Write to the Sino-American Buddhist Association, 1731 15th Street, CA 94103, USA, for details.