THE BODHI MIRROR
the lotus grows up from the mud, Dharma Master Heng Shun, born Gregory Wilczak,
grew up in one of America's toughest neighborhoods: Chicago’s West Side. Like
most active boys, Gregory got involved socially at an early age. His
neighborhood friends were the "leather jacket crowd" known to courts
and social workers as "juvenile delinquents. " High on his list of
favorite pastimes were lying, stealing, drinking, and fighting. Gregory got so
involved in this destructive life style that he ignored his studies and failed
every subject in his high school sophomore year.
At this point a change occurred when Gregory, being blessed with loving parents who held high hopes for him, enrolled him in Northwestern; Military and Naval Academy in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where he learned self-discipline, dropped his bad habits, and began to study hard. This transformation was a major turning point in Heng Shun's life. This was the slender lotus shoot breaking free of the mud on its destined journey to blossom in the sun.
Along with other Westerners at Wat Bovornivet, Gregory studied the Abhidharma and lived the life of a monastic. When his quota of visa extensions expired after three months he had to decide whether to become a monk or to return home.
"I loved Buddhism very much but I had a conflict. I'm an American and Thailand is a foreign land. The language and cultural differences were hard to manage, yet Thailand is a Buddhist country while my native land isn't. Ultimately, I decided to return home. As soon as I walked through the door of my parents' house I realized I had made a mistake and I should have become ordained while I had the chance."
Within six months Gregory found himself back in Bangkok and three months later, he donned the robes of a Sramanera, or novice, thereby realizing the ambition of a lifetime. The English-speaking monks at the temple taught him the lessons of small-vehicle Buddhism, the Vinaya, Theravadin sutras, and the Abhidharma. At this time another of those transitions occurred that figure strongly in Heng Shun's life. His small-vehicle Buddhist orientation was completely shattered when he read in the Lotus Sutra that everyone can and will become a Buddha. This teaching of the Great Vehicle captivated his being--he corresponded with a fellow Sramanera who had disrobed and gone to Korea to practice the Mahayana Way, and he began to make the necessary travel arrangements to follow him. On the verge of his departure he found the most compelling book he had ever seen: the biography of the Venerable Dhyana Master Hua.
"With a single reading, I knew the Master was my teacher, the feeling was that strong. I had never recognized anyone as my teacher before, and being conceited, I thought I didn't need one. But after reading about this master I faced the East and bowed to him one thousand times in the morning and one thousand times in the evening for four days straight. I wrote to my friend in Korea and told him my plans had changed; I was going to Gold Mountain in San Francisco instead."
"In June of 1974, I disrobed, bought a plane ticket to San Francisco, and changed my diet to eat only vegetarian food. I arrived at Gold Mtn. but only stayed a week the first time. To truly cultivate the Way as people do here is not an easy matter and frankly, I was caught off-balance, chickened-out, and ran home."
At his parents' home in Elk Grove he set up an altar to the Master and read many books on Mahayana Buddhism. His interest in the Avatamsaka Sutra, which he had heard being lectured during his visit to the Monastery, was heightened by D.T. Suzuki's description of the book as one of the greatest religious works in the world, telling about the nature of the universe, the way it actually is.
Wanting to hear more of the Avatamsaka and responding to the irresistible attraction he felt towards the Master, he returned to the Gold Mtn. summer session of August, 1974. During the next twelve months he left the monastery only in his official capacity of temple properties manager. He used all his remaining time in vigorous cultivation of the Mahayana Buddhadharma. On August 24, 1975, with his parents in attendance at the ceremony, Gregory Wilczak received the ten precepts of a novice in the orthodox Great Vehicle tradition and became from that day forth, Sramanera Heng Shun, left home disciple of the Venerable Master Hua.
Heng Shun strictly holds the 58 Bodhisattva precepts; he
is a tireless worker, cheerfully taking on the jobs that no one else wants to
do. He eats only one meal a day and has vowed to eat no more than one bowl of
food per meal. He cultivates the practice of sitting up at night and never lies,
down to sleep. With cultivation as vigorous as his Sramanera Heng Shun will
quickly bring to magnificent blossom that fragrant lotus that began growing
years ago in the mud of Chicago's West Side.
A GENERAL EXPLANATION OF THE ESSENTIALS OF THE SRAMANERA
VINAYA AND RULES OF DEPORTMENT, by Venerable Master Hsuan-hua
Never before translated, this work sets forth the basic guidelines for Buddhist monastic discipline and pure conduct, without which no lasting and substantial progress towards enlightenment can be made. No individual or group seriously interested in practicing Buddhism should overlook this work now in print.