Introducing the Eminent Dharma Master


By Bhiksuni Heng Ch’ih

Sramanerika Heng Chu and her brother were born on June 15, 1954 in Hillsboro, Oregon. Her father was in the forest service and early on she and her mother and two brothers accompanied him as he moved from place to place throughout the Northwest. Heng Chu relates, "When I was three years old we lived near Sun Valley, Idaho, where the winters were extremely severe. Then I spent time living on an Indian reservation in Eastern Oregon, miles away from the nearest city. At one time we were the only white family on the reservation. Then I lived in the foothills of Pocatello, Idaho, where I swam in the beaver ponds and walked a mile to catch the school bus everyday, through the freezing winters and blazing summers. I grew up in the tops of fruit trees and running in cow pastures; we went camping, sightseeing, and travelling and in those ways my life was very happy and rewarding."

The idyllic bliss of early childhood was soon darkened by afflicted people around her, and the hardness of life in the Saha world. By the time she was 9 years old, deep dissatisfaction and conflict infected the members of her family and she, as a direct result, came to feel tremendous pressure and fear when she was at home. When she was 12 her mother had to go to work and Heng Chu, as the only other female member of the family, was expected to take care of the house and family. She cleaned, cooked, ironed, washed, and whelped raise her new three-year-old brother and all the while lived in a state of constant anxiety, and was afraid of circumstances which were beyond her control. She relates, "I underwent tremendous suffering very early in life. There was a lot of pain and conflict in my family life, but because I was afraid, I was unable to talk to anyone about my suffering. Over the years my fears built up to the point that I lived with the dreadful anticipation that I might hurt myself, or someone else."

"I began to ask myself why I had to undergo such unhappiness, and noticed that I was not alone in this. Ever since I can remember I saw unhappiness around me. As a small child I could perceive the suffering of all living beings, and this sometimes caused me great sorrow. I watched all the different kinds of people and all the things they did. I realized that no matter who they were or what they did, they never found ultimate happiness."

Heng Chu spent a lot of time hiking through the wilderness lands near where she lived, and tried to ease her troubled mind. She became active in sports and was unbeaten in track, but soon found that she didn't like being in competition. During her teens she continued to bear the heavy responsibility of running a household and began exploring for a way to relieve the pain she felt about her family's internal turmoil. "I used drugs, sex, crime, and rebellion against my family and society, but it didn't take me long to realize that none of these methods worked. I still had the pain in my heart and still suffered a great deal."

She experienced the whole gamut of life--with its extremes of bad and good—at an exaggerated rate. "It seemed to me at the time that I was doing everything in life at a very rapid pace, and when my mother went to work and I took on the responsibility of caring for my younger brother and running the house, I felt that I was playing out the role of having a family and being a mother."

Although Heng Chu had not yet encountered the Buddhadharma, and was not aware of the concept of cause and karma, she began to draw conclusions based on these principles. "As I grew older," she relates, "I took a deep look at myself and saw that I was resenting those around me for the suffering that I was going through, and by doing that, I was just adding more suffering on the heap. I knew deep within my heart that I must have done some very terrible things to have to undergo such suffering, but at that time I didn't know about cause and effect so I couldn't fully realize what it was all about. But with the little understanding I had, I decided that it would be better for me to do good things for people than to do bad things." Later when she encountered the Buddhadharma her suspicions were verified. In the Earth Store Bodhisattva Sutra, for instance, the Master's commentary explains,

"Karma is a Sanskrit word which refers to that which is created by activity of speech, body, and mind. What is the difference between 'cause' and 'karma'? Cause refers to a single incident; karma is a long accumulation of causes. There are many causes and conditions that constitute karma, and each being has his own. Therefore the states encountered by living beings differ. Some encounter great joy because they planted good seeds long ago, while others must endure a great deal of hardship, always living in difficult situations, because they have only planted bad causes. In general, if you plant good seeds, you reap sweet fruit; if you plant bad seeds, you reap sour fruit. Good and bad are done by you alone, and no one forces you to do either. Even the work of becoming a Buddha is something to which you alone must apply effort; no one else can make you do it, and nobody can do it for you."

With that dawn of understanding, Heng Chu began to look for good things to do. In her senior year of high school, she had the opportunity to teach rhythmical music to retarded children at the elementary school level and also to tutor in math. She also worked for almost two years in nursing homes and got a close up view of old age and death, and how our society, has mistreated its elders.

At that time, Heng Chu moved in with two disciples of the Venerable Abbot of Gold Mountain, where she worked as a sawyer in the out-of-doors. Shortly, thereafter the Master himself was invited to Seattle to speak, and Heng Chu had an opportunity to see the Master and hear the Dharma for the first time. She relates, "We had just returned from hearing the Abbot speak. It's very hard for me to express what I felt. I had never met such a person before. Although I couldn't understand what he was saying before it was translated, it was as though I could understand. I wanted to bow before the Master, but was too embarrassed to because I didn’t know how. As the Abbot walked by me I could feel the strength of his power, yet at the same time the gentleness of his compassion. I have never seen such a person. This is the one who I have been looking for all these years. He can teach me what I want to know."

      In August of 1974, Heng Monastery to attend one of the summer sessions. She stayed for a month of bowing to the Buddhas, meditating, chanting listening to the Master lecture ever/night, having discussion groups, and attending classes in Chinese, Sanskrit, and Spanish. "I knew right away that this was what I had been looking for, but knew that I had to return to Seattle to pay off some bills and let go of my attachments. I returned to Seattle in September, got a job as an assistant carpenter and later as in August of 1974, Heng Chu decided to go to Gold Mountain packer and shipper in a book warehouse, and paid off my debts. I somehow was able to return to Gold Mountain that December, and I have remained ever since. I knew from the time that arrived at Gold Mountain in August that I wanted to leave home. It was the  'way' that I had been looking for; to help myself is all the suffering people in the world. I knew that it would be hard and rough road to take, but I knew that it was the only was to end suffering and attain true, unselfish happiness. I would do anything and give up everything for the chance to attain this, so that I might teach it to others. Just for this chance, I can think of nothing that has made me more happy."

Just after her 21st birthday, on July 24th, 1975, Heng Chu was ordained into the Sangha, receiving the 10 precepts of a Sramanerika. She works with great vigor, and in the true style of a cultivator of the Way, she gladly accepts any work that comes her way, even hard manual labor that no one else wants to do. This she does on one meal a day and without reclining at any time. Her attitude is one of happy renunciation, and she has dedicated herself to benefiting the companions around her and all living being; She works hard for the Buddhist Text Translation Society, and employs her wide experiences in helping in the daily operation of the International Institute for the Translation of Buddhist Texts where she resides.

Elsewhere in this issue, in an article entitled "Across the Sea of Suffering in a Boat of Vows" are the vows she made upon leaving the home life.                         The end.


Spoken by the Venerable Master Hua, March 20, 1975, Gold Mountain.

Cultivators of the Way must cultivate straightforwardly. They should not be selfish. Selfishness does not take just one form. In general, schemes for self-benefit, things that are done to benefit yourself but which harm other living beings, and displays of anger, are all just tricks played by the selfish mind.

If you were unselfish, you would never be at odds with others. You would never lose your temper at them. When you are on the verge of blowing up, ask yourself, "Now am I getting angry out of selfishness?" Selfishness is based on greed, hatred, and stupidity, it you are selfish, you are greedy, hateful, and stupid. So whoever you may be, if you want to cultivate the Way, you must find a way to refine and smelt out your selfishness.

How do I do that?

Just don't scheme on your own behalf, and don't think, "What's in it for me?" Even to the point that, if you are planning to get enlightened, that too, is selfish. We cultivate simply to cultivate and we should not pay attention to whether or not we succeed. "My only concern is to go ahead and cultivate, and then everything will work out fine."

Someone is thinking, "But doesn't that mean we obtain nothing in return?"

What do you think you want in return? If you obtain something that means you haven't destroyed your mark of self.

"But I'm absolutely incapable of doing that anyway," someone says.

You must destroy the indestructible: if you don’t start down the road towards destroying that mark of self, you will never ever, get rid of it.  That mark of self is selfishness, and it is a big attachment. If you have no attachments, then you've been liberated, for if there isn't even a "self," how could there be bondage?