THREE STEPS, ONE BOW: LETTERS
On May 7, 1977, Bhikshu Heng Sure and Shramanera Heng Ch'au, two American Buddhist monks from Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco, began a pilgrimage of bowing once every three steps to pray for the eradication of disasters and accidents in the world. Bhikshu Heng Sure's vow is to bow once every three steps from Gold Wheel Temple in Los Angeles, a branch of Sino-American Buddhist Association, to the city of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Northern California, the new center for world Buddhism established by the Association. Shramanera Heng Ch'ao has vowed to protect Heng Sure on his journey. The pilgrimage is expected to take about one year to complete.
During the course of the journey, Vajra Bodhi Sea will publish the monks' letters to the Venerable Master Hua so that readers may share in their experiences--the uniqueness of this method of practice, the descriptions of their experiences on the road, and the determination with which they have undertaken to fulfill their vows.
Dear Shi Fu (Master), May 11, 1977
Homage to the Venerable Master,
This work is very much like a Ch'an session. Constant mindfulness is hard work and we are making slow and steady progress. Three steps, one bow.
Heng Ch'ao is a good protector. He has already saved us from one nasty situation which he will tell about below. Leonora Chiang, Phuong Kuo Wu, Alice Wong, and the Woos have protected us and show us great care. I am not talking very much at all. This is a wonderful chance to practice my vow to speak only words in service to the Triple Jewel. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to cultivate the way.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Keeping our wonderful protection requires carefulness. We've met relatively few obstacles so far but many tests.
Our first day out we started out in the middle of the bars section in a tough neighborhood. Lots of drunks and macho toughs. Our first solo, we were really less than confident. Wet and muddy from the streets (it had just stopped raining, a small clearing when we started bowing) we were not an awesome sight. On the second bow it started. A huge drunk tapped me on the shoulder from behind "Hey what you making with dis?" I feebly tried to explain through his stupor. He's seven inches from my face. He slowly pulls out his wallet. Our first offering? Nope. One of those sentimental wavy hair hippie pictures of Jesus. He keeps shaking it in front of toy face, waiting. I gracefully exit to stay close to Heng Sure. An ear whizzes by, souped up with men and juice "You queers have until sundown to be out of this neighborhood!" So Shih Fu, I think, we're only three minutes out and already...
We trudge on. Many groups forming ahead as the word quickly spreads. "You'll never get anywhere that way, ha! ha!"
"Hey, Joe, they're blessing your gas station! ho! ho!"
Some pass us like we're old popsicle sticks: indifferent. T.V. samadhi. But with each group, they dissipate as we bow into them. How we must seem to them. They test us verbally—no response.
"Hey, think I'll kick 'em in the ass when they kneel down!" No response. A larger, older group of men gather at one corner. The leader stands a good 6'5" his sidekick has been running in between us patting us on the heads, posturing. No response. Heng Sure is constant--pushes forward. I close the gap. Suddenly they make way, telling the lingering one, "Let 'em be, they ain't doin' nothin'." We bow through. I feel the two leaders stalking from behind. It's hard to put down all those years of martial arts training, but I know there's no real protection save sincere cultivation. We keep bowing, waiting...Finally the hulk pulls alongside and politely asks, "Pardon me, sir, may I ask what you're doin'?" I nod, finish a bow and explain.
"Wow, that's somethin'! Don't he talk? You've got the hard job. I can dig being peaceful. All the way to Ukiah! What's this Buddha about?" etc. They are moved. Something soft and genuine peeks out. The edge is gone. Water. "Peace to you guys," he says and crosses us with his blessing as he walks away. "Take care."
We are beat! Time to find a camp. The clouds are back. It's starting to rain. Forgot toilet paper.
2:30 A.M. Parked across from a tortilla factory in S. Pasadena. I woke up reciting mantras. I hear foot shuffling and quiet voices. A shadow passes by the right side of the car. Bang! An arm forces itself through the vent window, trying to open the door. Dogs outside barking wildly. I yell "Hey!" I can make out four dark figures moving away from the car. They're gone. A little later I hear rocks hitting the pavement around us. I wipe the moisture off the window and see them, now with nightsticks or bats regrouping, buzzed on something throwing rocks and coming back towards us. I Jump the seat, grope for the ignition and start the engine. I pull out. One of them jumps at the carrying to stop us. We made it.
Went to Gold Wheel Temple and slept in driveway until 4.00 A.M. Adrenaline exhaustion. A hard day this one.
We are accidentally killing many little bugs and ants. Everyday we feel stronger, more mindful. Dreams within dreams bowing through L.A. It’s inconceivable wonderful, Three Steps, One Bow.
in the Way,
Bhiksu Heng Sure and Sramanera Heng Ch’au begin their bowing journey at Gold Wheel Temple, Los Angeles, while members of the Sangha circumambulate reciting the Great Compassion Mantra.