Introducing Upasika Yen Kuo Ya

  Kuo Ya was born on October 7, 1942 in Taipei, Taiwan, the eleventh of twelve children. She was very happy when she was young; her parents were especially good people. She often accompanied her parents to Buddhist temples and enjoyed being there, even though she was still too young to understand about the Triple Jewel.

      Often her mother would say that life is suffering, but Kuo Ya didn't see why, because she herself was happy. She had enough to eat, got to play and slept when she was tired. But by the time she was a teenager, she became aware of the suffering of other people around her and also began to experience some herself. She realized the truth in what her mother had said, that life contains little bliss and a lot of suffering. Throughout her youth and early teens she came in contact with many left home people and realized that they were devoted to ending that suffering, for themselves and others. Despite these insights, she became confused by the world and forgot about the idea of leaving home.

When she was fifteen she heard a series of sutra lectures given by a Dharma Master. He emphasized the precept against killing, and Kuo Ya saw a lot of principle in it. She realized that Buddhism teaches the true meaning of humaneness, and from that point on, she became Buddhist.

Her schoolwork kept her occupied for the next few years and she had little time to investigate the Dharma. When she was 18 she went to pay respects to the Elder Ch'an Master Kuang Ch'in (see VBS #60) at Ch'eng T'ien Temple. He was an exceptional monk, and the Dharma he spoke was alive with meaning. He found people's faults and provided Dharma doors to cure them. Kuo Ya was drawn to the vital atmosphere that surrounded the monk and his teaching and took refuge with the Master. At this point she began to recite the Di Dzang (Earth Store) Sutra. She began by reciting one roll a day and worked up to reciting the entire sutra once a day. After this cultivation, she became stronger and healthier than she had ever been in her life. Even later, when she was involved in school and couldn't recite the Sutra with such frequency, the most sickness she ever suffered was a cold or slight case of flu as opposed to the continual afflictions, which had plagued her early life.

After completing Taipei Second Girl's High School, Kuo Ya entered National Taiwan University and graduated with a degree in philosophy. However, as she delved deeper into the study of mundane dharmas, she became more and more aware that some were right and some were wrong; that worldly theories and opinions couldn't compare to the depth and scope of the Buddhadharma. When she read mundane literature she could never be sure if what she read was right or not, but when she read the Buddhist sutras she could rest assured that they were absolutely correct. Furthermore, the Buddhist sutras revealed the method to transcend the suffering of the world and to attain bliss. This was an extremely important point to Kuo Ya. And so she decided not to waste any more time attending college, but to concentrate on the study of the Buddhadharma.

Shortly thereafter she came to America, a place she had always dreamed of being. She liked it and soon forgot her resolve and became immersed in worldly dharmas again. Enrolling in Spalding College, she took up the study of Library Science and graduated with a Master's degree. Although she'd been turned by the world again, the impressions of her childhood and teen years left their mark and she missed seeing left-home people and having temples to visit. In America there were no Buddhist temples and as to left-home people, Kuo Ya would continually catch glimpses of people whose bald heads or long clothing would remind her of monks and nuns and would run after the person to see if they were in fact a member of the Sangha. To her chagrin they never were.

Eventually a friend of hers in Taiwan, who had left home following her graduation from college, wrote and sent information about Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco. She also sent to issues of Vajra Bodhi Sea. After reading and rereading this material, Kuo Ya could think of nothing else but to go to San Francisco and find Gold Mountain. Kuo Ya then began to pour over other Buddhist publications to find news of Gold Mountain. Her sister, Kuo Hui (See VBS #85) also longed to see San Francisco and so the two girls moved to the west. Once in San Francisco, it took Kuo Ya a while to work up the courage to find Gold Mountain. After several attempts, she located the monastery and she and her sister came to hear the Venerable Master lecture during an intensive Ch'an session in the winter of 1975.

At last Kuo Ya could devote all her time and energy to the study and practice of the Dharma. Shortly after her arrival she received the five precepts and has worked untiringly to help with the establishment of the Dharma in the West. Kuo Ya has catalogued the Sino-American Buddhist Association's library and the Dharma Realm Buddhist University library and she shares generously in the work at the International Institute for the Translation of Buddhist Texts. Delighted to be able to investigate the Dharma under the guidance of a Good and Wise Advisor, Kuo Ya takes careful notes at all the Sutra lectures and spends many hours a day listening to tapes of the Master's commentaries and instructions.

      On Kuan Yin Bodhisattva’s birthday, April 7, 1977, Kuo Ya received the novice precepts and had her head shaved.


THE SUTRA IN FORTY-TWO SECTIONS, with commentary by Ch'a Master Hsuan Hua. Each section provides a clear teaching Take, for instance, section 21:

The Buddha said: "There are people who follow emotion and desire and seek for fame. But by the time their reputation is established, they are already dead. Those who are greedy for worldly fame and do not study the Way wear themselves out in wasted effort. It is just like a stick of burning incense, which, however fragrant its scent, consumes itself. So, too, greed for fame bring the danger of a 'fire' which burns one up in the aftermath."

Available in the fall of 1977 from the Buddhist Text Translation Society.