NEWS FROM THE DHARMAREALM
DHARMA ASSEMBLY AT SANTA CLARA
by Shramanera Heng Sure
At the request of several young American Dharma protectors, the Gold Mountain Community set out on the morning of February 15, 1976 to speak the Dharma. On one hand the events that occurred that day were normal and perfectly natural. On the other hand, those who watched closely will testify that what happened in Santa Clara was totally uncommon, astonishing, and frankly supernatural.
The weather looked threatening that morning: low, fast-moving clouds drizzled rain and skipped across the flat, gray sky. The site chosen for the assembly looked unpromising as well. Santa Clara County's Central Park would have been an ideal spot for an outdoor gathering, but only on a sunny day. In the center of the park's picnic area was a huge, circular pavilion, which was a model of space-age architecture: a tremendous umbrella-shaped frame made of concrete and steel masts, surrounded by a ring of thick, iron chains. Yet the frame was uncovered and offered no shelter from the elements. The total effect was of an awesome, broken umbrella discarded by the gods. It looked as if a circus of giants had broken camp in the night and had taken their big top but had left their tent poles standing. Without a canvas to break the wind and rain, the prospects for an afternoon of Dharma were cheerless and bleak.
Despite the chance of more rain and the uncomfortable conditions, a crowd of twenty young men and women had set up the picnic tables; soccer balls and frisbees skimmed and bounded through the wet grass and across the pavilion. The hosts of the event, Upasaka Kuo Wei Erlich, Upasika Kuo Chung Erlich, and Upasaka Kuo Shih Ettelson had widely advertised the assembly in the community. Most of the young men and women who attended had never before encountered the Buddhadharma or joined a Dharma assembly, and so their curiosity was open and frank when the monks and nuns with shaven heads, wearing precept robes that bellied and flapped in the wind, arrived at the site. Before long, however, the two groups began to mingle and chat, and soon even the inclement weather looked less forbidding.
The luncheon offering service was recited, a delicious vegetarian meal was served in short order, and everyone's spirits ran high. After lunch the assembly gathered on the steps of the pavilion and chanted the afternoon service. It was a scene to gladden the hearts of all who know and appreciate the trends of history, for here was a genuine meeting of East and West.
The ancient tones and insistent rhythms of the Great Compassion Mantra floated out through the park, and picnickers, joggers, and kids on skateboards followed with amazement and delight the movement of a long serpentine of men and women that circled the perimeter of the grounds, led by a tall Buddhist Bhikshu in monastic robes.
The group next gathered around the fireplace to hear what they had come to hear: the instructional Dharma talks delivered by the Gold Mountain Sangha. Bhikshu Heng Ju first introduced Dharma Masters Heng Kuan, Heng Yin, Heng K'ung and Heng Sure who spoke to the receptive crowd. Upasaka Kuo Shih read a poem on cultivation of the Buddha's Path.
The speeches were stimulating and the response was lively and supportive. Then, when it came time for the Venerable Abbot to speak, something extraordinary happened. What had been an excellent but not unusual Dharma assembly turned subtly and surely miraculous. As soon as the Master took his seat, the clouds overhead broke and were swept away as if pushed by a giant broom. The sun beamed through and warmed the crowd of listeners, and the sky remained clear the rest of the day. Everyone commented on this auspicious and sudden change in the elements.
Another transformation was taking place inside people as the Master spoke: one of the newcomers to the Dharma, a young man with shoulder-length blonde hair later said to one of the monks: "It was amazing! I felt that every word the Master said was aimed directly at my mind, as if he were talking to me alone. When I told my friends about this experience they both said they had felt the same thing, that the speech was spoken just for them. Does everyone hear the Dharma in this way?"
The most startling event of the day took place in this way: At one point in the lecture the Master was explaining that greed leads to bad karma, to fighting, and to rebirth in the lower realms of existence. He said, "Take these birds, for example, always fighting for food to eat. They peck and flap at each other and never find time to listen to the Dharma."
People suddenly noticed that a huge flock of starlings several hundred in all had descended as if on cue, just to illustrate the Master's point. The fearless birds dared to approach the assembly of listeners, landing on the steps, and perching on the chains overhead; they lined the fence and covered the benches and tables on all sides. The birds were all of one breed. They fluttered down and drew near, looking very much like they had finally decided to listen to the sound of the Dharma. Then, just as suddenly, when the speech topic changed, they were all gone; not a single starling could be seen anywhere. Some people felt that the starlings' visit was totally uncanny, marvelous, while others could not recall having witnessed the event at all.
The Master spoke movingly about the conditions that lead to making war and the perilous threat of the extinction of life on our planet if people do not put an end to their war-like thoughts. His essential message was expressed simply and clearly:
"If you can understand and refrain from taking life, then this world will quickly become peaceful. Why it is still not at peace? Because you have not put a stop to your thoughts of killing. When one person stops then one person is peaceful. When ten people stop then people are peaceful. When ten thousand, a hundred thousand, a million, a billion people stop their thoughts of killing, then the world becomes peaceful. The reason the world is not at peace is because people have not gotten rid of their greed, hatred, and stupidity. If you want the world to be peaceful, you definitely have to stop killing."
The Dharma assembly at Santa Clara was truly an unusual and special occasion. However, the miraculous events of that day in Central Park are typical of the kind of transcendent and wonderful states that appear wherever living beings gather to investigate the genuine Dharma.
the perimeter of now
encompasses all time
existence is empty
two unify in rhyme
not produced, not destroyed
ocean mirror stillness
reaches the other shore
reach the other shore
By Gwo Shr Ettelson