Introducing the Eminent Dharma Protector


By Bhiksuni Heng Ch’ih

Professor Nancy R. Lethcoe was born in the Pacific Northwest in Seattle, in 1940. An active yet disciplined child, she became an Olympic swimmer at age sixteen. After receiving a bachelor's degree from The University of Washington in philosophy in 1963, she then went to the Midwest to continue her studies at the University of Wisconsin.  In 1967 she received an M.A. in Indian Studies. She relates, "The decision to study Buddhism at the University of Wisconsin was reached after working as a secretary in the Indian Studies Department where I typed the late Richard H. Robinson's translation of The Awakening of Faith sastra and the Vimalakirtinirdesa Sutra. I was fortunate also to have the opportunity to study the Prajnaparamita literature under the guidance of Professor Edward Conze as well as being tormented by the questions of Professor Alex Wayman." After several years of advanced study, Professor Lethcoe received a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies in 1971 from the University of Wisconsin.

After graduation, Professor Lethcoe accepted a position as Lecturer at the Alaska Methodist University. She also taught at Anchorage Community College and at the University of Alaska's South Central Regional Center.  During that year she published a paper entitled "Mara, Buddhas, and Bodhisattvas" in Vajra Bodhi Sea. During her stay in Alaska, Professor Lethcoe also enjoyed sailing with her husband, Jim, and their daughter, Athena.

In 1972 Professor Lethcoe moved south to California where she was awarded an Assistant Professorship at Stanford University. Now within proximity of Gold Mountain, Professor Lethcoe graciously accepted invitations to speak at Wesak Festivals and voluntarily braved the rigors of the long and intensive daily monastic schedule on several occasions to arrive at 4 am and bring with her groups of interested students who joined in the meditation, recitation, and bowing, and even helped prepare the daily meal.

In the fifth anniversary issue of Vajra Bodhi Sea, a second article by Professor Lethcoe entitled "The Buddha as Portrayed in the Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra" appeared. She authored another article, "Comparison of the Unrevised Chinese Versions of the Pancavimsatisahasrika with the divisions of the Abhisamayalankara" to be published by the Journal of the American Oriental Society.

On May 18, 1975, Professor Lethcoe took refuge with the Triple Jewel and bowed to the Venerable Master as her teacher. She was given the Dharma name Kuo Lin, "The fruit of drawing near." Shortly after that ceremony, Upasika Lethcoe moved north to Victoria, Canada, to accompany her husband, also a college professor, who had accepted a position at the new tester B. Pearson, College of the Pacific. Her plans for the coming year include work on a typology of bodhisattva-types and on editing the 6th, 7th, and 8th abhisamayas of the revised Pancavimsatisahasrika Sutra.

In a letter dated July 28, 1975, Upasika Lethcoe wrote

"I'm writing now primarily because of a dream, or more correctly, a nightmare I had a month or so ago. In my dream, the Master was to give a lecture at an outdoor meeting in a forested area similar to the woods of northern Washington. In my eagerness to hear him, I arrived early in the morning before the afternoon dharmaparyaya. Naturally, my eagerness turned to restlessness in its improperly disciplined form. I fell into a discussion with one of the other laypersons from the San Francisco community and we decided to stretch our legs and continue our discussion on as we walked down the old logging road to a bend in the river. The discussion was long and serious on a question of dharma that Had been bothering us both—I forget now, but I think it was the meaning (?) of suffering in Buddhism. The time passed, we felt the Master must be coming soon, so we started back. As we rounded the bend in the road, we saw that the Master had already begun. I began to hurry, but the faster I walked the longer the road between me and the Master became.  Fear replaced anxiety that had itself replaced a nebulous concern--I'd never get there. The Master would finish before I arrived.

The dream ended, my fear persists. I do not know when I will be able to hear him again in person, but I would like to listen to as many of his discourses as possible if you could send me the tapes. But, as you know, my oral Chinese is nil. I have now made a vow to work on my modern Chinese so that I can listen to the Master's lectures and speak to him directly. Anything you can send on tapes will certainly help. The University of Victoria teaches 1st and 2nd year Chinese, so I hope to be able to take or audit those classes.

I have interpreted my dream as a warning from the Master to stop delaying. However, I have fears that it might also be an omen that he will depart—please take care of him.

Sincerely in the Dharma,

Nancy Kuo Lin Lethcoe."

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