NEWS FROM THE DHARMA REALM
A GOLD MOUNTAIN LEAVING HOME
by Bhikshuni Heng Hsien
On April 6, 1976, the Anniversary of Shakyamuni Buddha's Birthday, two new novices were ordained into the Buddhist Sangha. Disciple Kuo Hui Weber, now Shramanera Heng Lai, the young American whose biography appears in Vajra Bodhi Sea #67 and whose leaving home vows are given in VBS # 71, shaved his head minutes before receiving the ten shramanera precepts. After transmitting the precepts, the Venerable Master Hua shaved off the remaining tuft of hair and indicated the exact spots where the charred pieces of incense were to be applied to his head. A veteran of many voyages with the Merchant Marines, layout specialist for Vajra Bodhi Sea and other publications of the Sino-American Buddhist Association, and long-time practitioner of asceticism who has weathered two rigorous fasts of eighteen and thirty-six days, Heng Lai did not flinch once as the incense burned. Nor did his companion in receiving the precepts, the Chinese octogenarian Kuo Ch'i Wu, now Shramanerika Heng Shou, whose biography appears in VBS #50.
Shramanerika Heng Shou, who is now eighty-five years old, on that day, fulfilled the aspiration she had cherished from the time she was a fifteen-year old girl in China. Her Dharma name, Kuo Ch'i means, "fruit of old age" and her monastic name, Heng Shou means "constant longevity"; the second character of the latter name is the very popular and auspicious one which is seen on calligraphy scrolls hung in Chinese homes.
below are Shramanerika Heng Shou (left) and Shramanera Heng Lai kneeling
after receiving novice precepts with lighted incense on their heads, a
ritual performed as an offering to the Buddhas.
Although Shramanerika Heng Shou wanted to leave the home life in her youth, her parents from the first would not consent to this. A model of filial piety, she accepted their decision with the expectation that she would leave home after her parents were reborn in the Pure Land. Her mother, however, eventually insisted that she marry when she was twenty-four, and she did so with many tears. Nonetheless, she was a devoted wife and was very filial to her husband's parents; she recited Buddhist sutras and mantras on their behalf when they were sick or in difficulty. She raised a family of six children and saw them through countless hardships when her country was in turmoil.
The years passed as Heng Shou waited for her children to grow up and have families of their own so that she herself could take the precepts, and at last, in the spring of 1976, her oldest son, Charles Wu, gave her his blessing. Two days before the ceremony was to take place, the residents of the International Institute for the Translation of Buddhist Texts shaved her head. They all shared Shramanerika Heng Shou's delight that her wish of such long duration was to come true.
Although the Venerable Master granted her her lifelong desire to leave home, he said that the twelve incense burns would be too taxing on one of her age. Still, she would not hear of less than the traditional number of burns, and, as the incense was lit, the Master passed his hand over her head. Heng Shou said afterwards that at that very moment a sensation of coolness had flooded her head, and she experienced no pain at all from the burns.
This transmission of the novice precepts at Gold Mountain makes it dramatically clear that young and old alike have equal opportunities to leave the home-life and follow in the footsteps of the Buddha. As members of the sangha they can transfer the merit from their study and practice to the establishment of new Bodhimandas in the West, fields of enlightenment where others like them, young and old, can also have the opportunity to follow the straight path to Buddhahood.
When the Buddha was in the world, everyone who left the home life learned to recite the following verse:
GUARD THE MOUTH, HOLD THE MIND, AND WITH THE BODY DO NO WRONG;
DO NOT, IN ANY WAY, ANNOY A SINGLE LIVING BEING;
KEEP FAR AWAY FROM NONBENEFICIAL ASCETIC PRACTICES;CULTIVATION LIKE THIS CAN SURELY SAVE THE WORLD.