THE BODHI MIRROR
Introduces BHIKSU HENG LAI
"Your Son’s a What?"
Excerpts from a paper titled "Your son's a what?" "A Buddhist monk." "Why did he do that." Written for an abnormal Psychology course by Kuo Hui's mother, offers a unique perspective to events in the life of Kuo Hui Weber.
His mother relates—
"Eric was born on a stormy April morning in 1946." The birth was traumatic (See VBS #67, p. 26). "We often thought his sensitivity might somehow be related to his traumatic birth. He was a near-perfect baby, quiet, healthy, and unusually alert. His head was never down and he seemed to be an unrelenting sponge, absorbing everything around him in every waking moment. (Lest I sound unduly fatuous already, let me say that he was preceded by a sister and followed by three brothers. Looking back I still find his infant behavior unusual.)
"As he grew up one thing troubled us
about him. He had an extremely low threshold for pain, pressure, or reprimand.
Because of this he was a careful and obedient child, but I still remember with
horror the one (and only) time his father spanked him at about age four. He
fainted dead away. After that we found that all that was needed was the most
"My husband was an Immigration Officer and we moved violently about every three years. By violently, I mean—from Mexico to Northern Maine to New York to the Bahamas to New Mexico, etc. Our family was, per force, very close. In the Bahamas Eric distinguished himself from the tribe by his love of the sea. He sailed the Caribbean for three years on an eight-foot charter yacht and rose to first mate.
"When he was fifteen a strange thing happened to him. He was in Miami with the yacht helping with the annual overhaul. He was to have remained to help sail it back three weeks later, but one morning, only three days into the job, he told his captain that he had to get home right away. "Home" was on the Out-Island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. This required a flight to Nassau and a second flight to Eleuthera--expensive and unnecessary. 'The captain (bless him) never questioned this but stopped operations and drove Eric to the airport. When he walked into the house four hours later he learned that his much loved sister had been killed in an automobile accident that morning. How do you explain a thing like that?
"This has happened since and is usually related to traumatic events in the family. There was the time one of his brothers lost an eye in an accident. Eric left school, came home and said: "What's happened?" I hadn't yet received the news.
Eric graduated, joined the navy and sailed for two and one-half years. "But now I get to the heart of the matter," his mother continues in her paper. "It was during this time at sea that he had THE EXPERIENCE that changed his life. He had been at sea off Spain for about three weeks. The duty was uninspiring, checking buoys; the watch was monotonously four on and eight off. He was on the bridge at about 2:00 A.M. one morning in a "just being there" empty-minded state when he became enveloped in a whole body experience of light, oneness and total comprehension of the universe. The brilliant stars from horizon to horizon, the sea and his ship were part of him and he part of them. As he described it, he felt such an aliveness, an exhalation and a 'belongingness' then that nothing before or since has even come close.
"He said that the experience abated, but very gradually. It was still with him days afterwards and curiously, his new sense of peace and a kind of power communicated itself to his shipmates and the scientists on board. They seemed to seek him out, become close to him and in other ways deviate from the normal shipboard behavior."
Searching for explanations to this experience, Kuo Hui found Buddhism and eventually met the Master after a year of exploring meditation at another center. After about two weeks he was scared away by the magnitude of the Master's vows and returned to the Bahamas where he skippered a charter yacht for almost one year. "His first mate and cook was a beautiful Swedish girl," his mother relates, "and the whole family sighed with relief. Thank God, he's over his Buddhist kick!"
But then one night, "the way he tells it, he was sitting alone on the stern when the Abbot appeared beside him. He swears it was a real, tangible experience. The Master suggested that it was about time Kuo Hui returned." Kuo Hui's misgivings and fears about his ability to be a worthy disciple and to cope with cultivation of the orthodox Dharma, rose to cloud the experience, but the tangible presence of the Master, with its penetrating clarity, persisted and transcended the doubts of his mind. For several days, the Master's compassionate presence permeated everything and everyone in Kuo Hui's environment. This experience dispelled Kuo Hui's fears and he returned—this time to stay.
"This time he worked with single-minded purpose," his mother continues. "He completed a twenty-day fast in an effort to break down the 'doors' that keep the mind enslaved to the body. He told us that he remembered every meal he had ever eaten, good and bad, in detail. His preoccupation with food was not on a visceral level, but solely in his mind. He recounted everything on the table at a particularly cold Maine Thanksgiving when he was ten. He had trouble breaking down the Dharma doors on that fast! His practice stepped up. He went on a second fast. This time for thirty-five days. That means, thirty-five days with nothing but one cup of water daily. Eric is 6‘2" tall and normally weighs about 160 lbs. He was 120 lbs. At the end of his fast (See VBS #67, pg. 36). He reports that at no time did he hallucinate or lose awareness of what surrounded him; if anything it heightened his perceptions."
In December 1976, Kuo Hui moved to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas to help with its establishment. He left home on April 6, 1976, received the ten novice precepts, shaved his head and put on the robes of a Buddhist monk. In May he intensified his daily practice by making vows to bow the Great Compassion Repentance every day, to bow to the Avatamsaka Sutra every day, and to curtail his food consumption, censor his reading material, and stop talking unnecessarily.
On August 30, 1976 at the first precept platform held at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, Kuo Hui received the Bhiksu precepts and became a fully ordained member of the Buddhist Sangha.
As to the question, "Why did he do that" Kuo Hui says, "My main decision for leaving home came during that thirty-five day fast when I realized that time as a human being was very short and very precious and that the odds of finding someone like Shih Fu were probably one in four billion."