WHAT WOULD MAKE A GROWN MAN CRY?
excerpts from a talk given at Gold Mountain, August, 1976, by Upasaka Hsia Kuo-shan, noted geomancer, painter, physiognomist, and Buddhist practitioner and lecturer.
I am Hsia Ching-shan. My Dharma name after talking refuge with the Master (Venerable Hsuan-hua) is Kuo-shan. I began my study of Buddhism with the Consciousness-only school. After a period of intensive study, I was unable to penetrate that teaching, and so I began to study the Pure Land School. I was told that the study of the Pure Land was comparatively easier. Without any guidance, I took up the cultivation of the Pure Land, which consists of recitation of the name of Amitabha Buddha and of bowing of the Buddha. Every day I would light a stick of incense and bow a few times. Gradually I began to feel this was not the right way to go about it, so I increased my practice to more than a hundred consecutive bows a day. All along I did not know what the study of Buddhism was all about and my approach to it was fairly haphazard. To bow more than a hundred times a day was not a simple matter for me because I was used to the good life and by the time I have finished the practice I would be bathed in perspiration. Then someone told me that meditation was good.
I began to sit in meditation and before long I felt that my entire body was a unity and when the Buddha images began to transform before my eyes I asked myself, "Isn't this my doing? Is it really the Buddha images which are changing?" After those experiences I began to delve deeply into the Dharma door. During this period I encountered many, many people who have left the home life, but among them I found no teacher.
I studied Ch'an meditation for more than ten years, and then began to study the Secret School. I also took another look at Taoism and Confucianism. In all, I studied for more than twenty years without any guidance. At the end of that time I had some doubts arise. First, I began to wonder where all this was leading me. If I had spent twenty years in graduate school I could of earned several Ph.D.s in the amount of time I had been studying the way. But what did I have to show for my twenty years of work? The Buddhadharma is very difficult to penetrate, I surmised. Second, many people are aware that Buddhism is profound that it is the ultimate answer to the question of the human condition. But why are there so many believers and so few who reach any real accomplishment? Buddhism is such a good method and there are many people who believe in the teachings, but throughout the entire world the number of people who become accomplished in their cultivation is far to few. Why?
The third question that came out of my twenty years' investigation of Buddhism is that there are a lot of cultivators who are very good, they have investigated the teachings and practiced hard for ten, twenty, thirty, even forty years, but when asked about Buddhist principles they don't have any real understanding of them at all. Why? I have met many people who write excellent articles on Buddhism, but who have not the least bit of attainment of genuine Buddhadharma. Although twenty years is actually a short amount of time to have studied Buddhism, I felt it was a very long time and gave rise to these doubts. I hope that those of you who have studied and those who have not yet studied will not follow my method of cultivating without any guidance which caused me to end up with a lot of questions, but that you will obtain the way sooner and gain true faith in Buddhism.
I decided at that point that although I could not understand the principles of Buddhism, I did understand the method and so I decided to make arrangements for the care of my family and go into seclusion. But going into seclusion is also difficult because you must have a good protector. I considered my friends, my friends in the way, and finally I decided that a person who has left the home life would be ideal. But even among people who have left the home life, the number who have any significant accomplishment in their cultivation is far to few. Finally I gave up.
Until one time recently when I was in San Francisco and had the opportunity to visit Gold Mountain. Now as a general rule, I do not bow to left home people, not that I think myself so special, but that I have never met anyone I felt was worthy of the gesture. I had not yet met the master. But the minute I came into Gold Mountain and saw the Master, I suddenly realized too late that I hadn't bowed to him! "Aiya!" I thought as soon as I laid eyes on him. "How can it be that here in America there is a Dharma Master like this! Unbelievable!" And again, "How can there be a Dharma Master like this in America!" I was amazed. I was shown to the guest hall where Bhikshu Heng Kuan and others carried on a few minutes of polite conversation while my mind continued to reel, "How can there be such a Dharma Master as this right here in America!" And I kept regretting that I had not yet bowed to him. Finally I asked the Master, "What is 'dry ch'an'"? As soon as I saw the Master and spoke with him, I knew that he had penetrated everything.
The Master replied to my question, "Dragons can't live in stagnant water." I was delighted with the answer, although I suspected the others present wondered what we were talking about.
Afterward as I returned to Los Angeles I did nothing but think about how incredible it was that such a Dharma Master had been here in America for so long without me even knowing of it. In Los Angeles I give simple Dharma lectures to a group of people who are very interested in Buddhism but who have little working knowledge of it. After one of these lectures I announced, "I have met an incredible Dharma Master. I never would have guessed that there could be such a Dharma Master here in America."
"Good," was their response, "Let us go meet him." Word spread and soon so many people wanted to meet the Master that we decided to invite him to Los Angeles rather than have all of us go up to San Francisco. The Master agreed to come. On that first visit Los Angeles, the Master received 163 disciples, young and old alike, to take refuge with the Triple Jewel.
After the Master's visit, during which we had a chance to talk more with him, we realized that he is probably the only one in the world who has attained the way. There is probably no other. To genuinely to be able to cultivate the way, you must start as a youth. To begin cultivation when you a young adult as most people do will not lead to the same level of accomplishment. Our master at twelve years began to cultivate without any guidance. By the time he was nineteen he was walking around in the winters of Manchuria in the snow barefoot. A friend of his decided to try it and ended up unable to walk for months afterwards due to injuries he suffered from the cold. I'm from Shantung and it's bitterly cold even there, let alone in Manchuria. The point being, it is clear the Master obtained the way very very early. His accomplishment came a lot sooner than the Elder Master Hsu-yun, who left the home life at age nineteen, and who we all know was an inconceivable person, a great Buddhisattva.
So our Master has come to America and no one has protected him. (Here Professor Hsia Begins to sob uncontrollably) such an incredible person, such a sage, and no one recognized him, so few have known who he is! (He continues to cry so it is difficult to understand his words). It is just this point that grieves me so! It is to painful to think of, more than I can bear. We call ourselves cultivators and bow to the Buddha images, but when a genuine living Buddha appears in our midst, we take it for granted. For us to meet with such a virtuous Master is a result of very special conditions. Sakaymuni Buddha is no longer in the world, but now the Master is here and it is just the same as if Shakyamuni Buddha himself had come.