THE BODHI STAND
By Sramanera Heng K’ung
Many of us might think that a returner refers to one who has certified to the second stage of Arhatship. You may be wondering why Kuo Hui has been given such a lofty title. The unusual circumstances of his entering onto the path of cultivation will suffice by way of explanation.
When Kuo Hui first attended a Sutra Study and Meditation Session in the summer of 1970, the Venerable Abbot had been requested to lecture the lotus Sutra. Kuo Hui was deeply moved by the lofty principles of the Buddhadharma, and felt that it could resolve his doubts and questions. Feeling a strong affinity with the Venerable Abbot, he asked to take refuge and become his disciple. The Master gave his permission.
When the day approached, the Master explained what taking refuge entailed, and instructed his students that if they took refuge with him, they had to become Buddhas. No lesser accomplishment would be acceptable. When taking refuge they should do so with the resolve that they would never cease in their cultivation until they realized the Buddha fruit.
This instruction frightened the wits out of Kuo Hui and he ran. With a totally sincere mind he believed in the Master, but he mistrusted his own ability, and didn't think he was up to the task. It was all too heavy, and he ran.
A year later he returned, and when he finally felt he was ready to take refuge, the Master gave him the name Kuo Hui, the fruit of returning. Here is how it began.
He was born in an orthodox Catholic hospital at an early morning hour when the staff was short and only a few nuns were present. The hospital rules clearly stated that no delivery could take place without the presence of the Sister Superior. Unfortunately she wasn't present and Kuo Hui wasn't about to wait. He slowly worked his way out of the womb white the two nuns were at a loss. How would they deal with the situation? "Should we let him get born and get a scolding from the Sister Superior, or should we shove him back in the womb and hold him there until Sister Superior comes?"
They talked back and forth and then, in spite of the screams from the delivering mother, they pushed Kuo Hui back into the womb. To this day Kuo Hui has a large dent on the side of his head as a testimony of the incident.
He spent his early years in Washington and California and a few years in the East where he attended grade school. When he was 16 he attended a Franciscan Catholic monastery for his first year of high school, but his family moved to New Mexico and he finished his education there. During his second year of high school he joined the Navy reserve and went on active duty shortly following the completion of his senior year.
lover of the sea and sailing, Kuo Hui found the Navy an educational
experience. He was stationed aboard the aircraft carrier Ranger as a
Quartermaster, and had many experiences—some of them very moving. Once
he saw a man killed while preparing a plane for launching. Unable to get
out of the way in time, the man was nearly cut in half. A moment before
his last breath he held up a hand to his friend and then expired. It was
an awesome sight and left a firm impression on Kuo Hui’s mind.
After the Navy he went to work on a salmon fishing boat, and then went on to the east coast to work for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute as a seaman. While on a six and a half-month cruise of the Mediterranean and Russia, he had an unusual experience. While sitting on deck his thinking went wild as if in a whirlwind towards some unknown point..."I couldn't control it nor did I want to because it was somehow right. Then there was silence and an incredible feeling of peace.
This was followed by a feeling of aliveness and newness that lasted about a week." Kuo Hui searched about the ship for a book describing his experience, but as one might guess, on such a vessel, the search was futile.
Shortly after this experience, he left the ship and returned to the West Coast. It was here that Kuo Hui first saw his teacher, the Venerable Abbot of Gold Mountain, who was standing on a Chinatown street with a black cap and cane while Kuo Hui drove by. Shortly later he attended a Sutra lecture and felt-a deep affinity for the Master who looked at him with such piercing eyes. In spite of the language barrier he felt the Master knew all about him and could show him how to resolve all his doubts about himself and the shipboard incident.
Later he joined a three-month Sutra study and meditation session, which he failed to complete due to the circumstances described earlier concerning the take-refuge ceremony. Later he returned again to receive his name, Kuo Hui, the returner; and this time had a strong resolve not to leave the Master. He strengthened his resolve with a vow, taken before the Master arid the fourfold assembly, not to leave the Master, with the exception of monastic business, for three years.
Presently, Kuo Hui is the chief layout artist for the Buddhist Text Translation Society and Vajra Bodhi Sea Publication Society, and manages the printing of books, magazines, pamphlets, and brochures done by the Sino-American Buddhist Association. As with most of the jobs at Gold Mountain, this one has about one hundred subsidiary jobs to go with it, ranging from cook to carpenter, chauffeur to janitor and so as one might imagine, Kuo Hui is an extremely busy person and a real asset tot he community at Gold Mountain.
In addition to all his work, he cultivates the ascetic practice of never reclining and eating only once a day, and also cultivates bowing to the Avatamsaka Sutra, and practice that usually keeps him up until midnight after a hard day’s work. Up again at 4:00 AM for morning recitation, after the chanting and an hour of meditation, he bows the Great Compassion Repentance before starting another day’s work. This is cultivation at Gold Mountain.