By Upasaka Kuo Chou Rounds

Agnes, 0re.--Sramanera Heng Kung came down from the mountain last week after a month of digging for gold in an old gold and silver mine near here.

What made Heng Kung's mining expedition unusual was that the gold he sought was the gold of spiritual understanding, and all the digging was done within his mind.

Heng Kung is a young American Buddhist monk who took his Chinese name when he was ordained several years ago. Following in the long tradition of contemplative ascetics East and West, he spent a month sitting in meditation in a cave, which he found in the coastal mountains of Oregon, about five miles from the town of Agnes.
      Without once lying down even to sleep, and eating only a single meal a day at noon, Heng Kung spent the entire month alone but for the daily visits of a neighboring woodsman and the nightly visits of deer, elk, cougar, and bear who passed by the mouth of the cave on their way to drink at a nearby stream.

Heng Kung has vowed to spend one month out of every year in the wilderness, in order to "always be mindful of the yogic ideal of renunciation," he said last week upon his return to Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco, where he lives with other American Buddhist monks and laymen.

      It was Heng Kung who happened upon the cave he chose for his month of isolation this year. The cave had been hewn by earlier miners’ 20 feet deep into the face of a rock wall at the bottom of a cliff.

The walls glittered with minerals, and at the back of the cave was a cup-shaped recess, still showing traces of the silver that had been mined there. "It just looked like some monk should be sitting there spending his life in single-minded concentration," Heng Kung said afterwards.

The neighboring woodsman and landowner, whose cabin a few miles distant was the nearest habitation, had some doubts about the monk's spartan diet. People have to eat meat if they're going to have enough energy, the woodsman believed. Vegetarianism is a basic principle of Buddhism, which forbids all forms of killing.

On Heng Kung's first day in the mountains, the woodsman suggested that they walk along the nearby river to-an isolated orchard to-gather and eat their lunch. The monk assented-and was surprised to find that the orchard was a five-mile walk from the road. When the two men reached the orchard, after making a detour to climb a mountain, Heng Kung found nothing to eat: the apples and pears were not ripe, while the figs were inedible. The woodsman then suggested that they walk to his cabin to eat--another five miles uphill. As his companion: struck off at a brisk pace, Heng Kung's suspicion was confirmed that the entire expedition was the woodsman, effort to prove his idea that a vegetarian diet is inadequate.

They walked through the hills till nightfall, but Heng Kung forced himself to keep) a fast pace and even toot: the lead, although he had eaten nothing all day.

That won the woodsman's respect and he came daily to the monk's cave for lessons in meditation—which he admitted, was more difficult even than walking all day in the mountains. At the end of the month, he gave the monk a tall wooden walking-staff he had carved as a token of his admiration.

Rejection of the ordinary life of striving for affluence and worldly success is not new to this young American. Before he took the vows of a Buddhist monk at his San Francisco monastery, Heng Kung spent several years in meditation in the mountains of Nepal and South India.

Difficult as it is, the renunciation he practices is not meant as a form of self-deprivation. Rather, Heng Kung sees it as a method of achieving unshakable peace of mind, and of living in harmony with other people and with surroundings, no matter how adverse they might prove to be.

"When people are desirous of worldly objects, they create obstructions and they get involved in doubt and trouble," he says.

Bhiksu Heng K’ung meditated for a month deep in the mountains of Southern Oregon this summer. Above he is shown going to the clear stream, which supplied him with drinking, and washing water during his seclusion.
      Isolated in his cave, and sitting in meditation from four in the morning till ten at night with only occasional breaks, Heng Kung was able to keep a-constant check on himself and to recognize desires as they arose in his mind. When you're, alone, he says, you know that any anger or greedy thoughts you may have, or any depression or anxiety, must be coming from yourself, since there's no one else to blame them on.
      After a week in the cave, Heng Kung found that he was able to keep his attention trained within himself throughout the day, undistracted by whatever occurred around him. Buddhism teaches that this kind of undivided concentration can allow us to understand that desire and anger, and all anxiety and afflictions, are
merely productions of the mind. these trouble-breeding emotions can be cut off as soon as they arise. The result is total independence and equanimity, and the perfection of wisdom.

      Dharma Master K’ung lived in a cave and maintained a ritual of morning and evening worship, one meal a day taken at 11:00 A.M., and long hours of uninterrupted meditation.

      It is his vow to perform such a retreat for a period of one month out of every year.

      The photograph to the left shows Bhiksu Heng K’ung outside his cave, staff in hand.

      He was invited to live on the land of Upasaka Kuo Wei and Upasika Kuo Ling who recently became disciples of the Venerable Master. 

To judge from Heng Kung's appearance upon his return to San Francisco, the result is also energy. As he spoke of his experiences before the evening assembly at Gold Mountain Monastery, he seemed radiant and overflowing with vigor--ready for another 11 months of civilization.