THREE STEPS' ONE BOW: LETTERS
Bhiksu Heng Sure and Sramanera Heng Ch'au write to the Venerable Master Hua, telling of their experiences on their pilgrimage from Gold Wheel Temple in Los Angeles to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Mendocino County, California. They are bowing once every three steps to pray for the eradication of disasters and accidents in the world.
Tuesday, May 24
Dear Shih Fu,
We are just about to pass through Beverly Hills-we are making slow but steady progress. When the traffic is fast and the people are dense it is easy to speed up your bowing without noticing. So we have made a conscious effort to slow down our bowing to a slow mindful rhythm and the result is we have become invisible to many people. Los Angeles moves so fast that we look like trees, rocks, or parking meters to the majority who breeze by in their cars; those who see us roll down the windows and scold us, swear at us, honk their horns, scream, laugh, some even slow down to give advice ('get up,' 'go home,' 'get off the street').
Sometimes we get praise from people who think we are Moslems or Hare Krishnas or Moonies, and every so often someone recognizes us as Buddhists.
The children are open to us, fascinated and pure. We find that the neighborhoods here are not at all different in their reactions--those with good roots approve, those with no good roots don't even see us, or they throw things.
Although we could not be with the Master on Buddha's birthday, Heng Chau and I sincerely wish to bow nine times to the Master on this occasion and to be mindful again of how grateful we are to have met the proper Dharma here in the West.
Thanks to the Master's great compassion we have this chance to use our effort to bring good medicine to this ailing land; our lives have a useful purpose and a positive direction to travel. This is a priceless treasure.
As we bow we recite the repentance verse and hope to take on to ourselves and then purge out via the repentance, some of the negative energy and hateful vibes that we encounter as we crawl from block to block. When we are sincere, the results are immediately visible—anger disappears from faces—the tension dissolves from street-corner groups that gather to stare at us, and even the heat in the air seems to cool slightly. If we are false-thinking or have any anger or fear in our own minds, then nothing happens as we bow into a crowded area or worse, the tension builds up and people get hot or uptight as we pass and we reap the results in increased cursing, anger and fear from the crowd. The pressure makes a rare chance to cultivate.
The Dharma Protectors make it possible and the pressure makes it real, good, hard work. There is a lot of magic on this trip and the Master's presence is always close by.
Wednesday, May 25
This experience is rich in learning, tests, and exposure to all kinds of people and situations. Heng Chau and I talk about the states we encounter and apply the principles we have learned to solve our problems. Each time we trace a problem back to a flaw in our own perception of reality, to a hang-up, an affliction, or an attachment, we know we have found the source of the problem and then the state almost immediately resolves itself.
The mindfulness of a cultivator is not easy to maintain all the time--especially these three: patience with all states, compassion for all beings, even the demons who come to provoke us, and also a sense of shame--keeping my faults and short-comings in front of me at all times, in all places.
When these three mindfulness stations are before my mind, a kind of vajra resolve takes over and people look right past me and see the Ava tarns a.k.a. and the Triple Jewel. This is what I'm working for and I have to make it clean and pure like this all the time. It's time to learn how to behave properly as a Bhiksu. This trip will not be wasted.
Sunday, May 29
Please do not worry about us--Heng Chau and I are doing okay—we've hit a regular pace—and bow about 5 ˝-6 hours each day. We start bowing at 7:00 A.M., take one hour off at 10:50 to write and repair our gear or meditate--start again at 1:00 P.M. and bow until 6:00, taking twenty minutes stillness breaks each hour. At 6:00 we find a spot to park the van for the night, wash up, meditate and prepare for woan keh. We listen to the Avatamsaka each night--I recite and translate from Chapter One--we haven't got a tape recorder yet so we haven't been able to listen to the Master's tapes—and then we say the Leng Yen Mantra 49 times (the short version) and then rest, as tired as young boys after a full day outdoors. I forgot to add that we get up at 4:00, do zao keh and exercise and get ready to start by 7:00 A.M. As we leave the city behind we will be able to add more bowing hours each day.
Our bodies have adjusted to the work slowly. We are exhausted each night and ready to go again each morning. We took off our gloves last week because it looked insincere to others--these sidewalks are pretty smooth and we don't need gloves until we get into glass and gravel on the highway shoulder. We took off our sunglasses too because people thought we were Muslim and Arab hijackers. I started using kneepads several days ago after I developed a deep aching bruise on my left knee from so much bowing. With the kneepads I can bow all day--we did 6 hours and 20 minutes yesterday As soon as the bruise heals I'll take the pads off. Heng Chau is still wearing his hat to cover his leaving-home burn scars but they will be all healed in a week. We have stopped all useless talking--plugged that leak.
The two of us are really looking forward to the Master's visit to L.A. next week. We need to hear the proper Dharma-wheel turned the way young babies need their mother: our thoughts turn to the Venerable Abbot and to the Avatamsaka Assembly the way bees turn to honey.
We have bowed through Beverly Hills and we are nearing UCLA in Westwood. By next weekend we should be out of Santa Monica and on Highway I, ready to trade our van for a cart and ready to start the long road North to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. Each time I think of Wan Fwo Cheng I visualize a bright torch in the gloom. The Master's vision of a Buddhist city based on true, wholesome principle is the very best medicine for our sick nation. Sometimes while bowing along through L.A., which is surely the center of the cancer, I feel myself on the point of tears--happy tears at the hope and the goodness in store for the West—we can turn our lives around and go towards the good and we now have a road to travel on, a road that will carry us, our parents, our friends, young and old, back to a place of purity and light and balance and harmony. I wouldn't care if the road from L.A. to Wan Fwo Cheng was 70,000 miles instead of 700. I'd still feel it to be my sacred trust to bow and pace every step of the Way to make it come about.Broken rules, broken mirror
Heng Sure and I have been going by the principle: if we hold the rules and precepts we will be o.k. The other day we took too long after lunch and were ˝ hour late getting back to the bowing sight. As we dawdled getting our trip together at a gas station, a black van came roaring by and smashed our side mirror. The retribution mirrors the offense--broken rule, broken mirror. Every time now I have to crane my neck out to check traffic because of no mirror, I am reminded of that mistake realizing it could be my head next time.
Bow, bow, bow--all the time bow. I have so much arrogance I don't even see it until I start bowing. Like breathing--so unconscious, autonomic. It's only when you stop breathing that you realize how vital it is. When I start bowing I realize how huge my affliction of arrogance is. The bowing lifts that weight off my body. Lightness always follows bowing--bowing in the magic circle.
Two older women circle us, they're friends.
1st woman: "Ridiculous!"
2nd woman: "Bless you."
1st woman: "Ridiculous!"
2nd woman: "Bless you."
Three hyped-up teen girls buzz up spewing questions, "What are you doing? Where are you going?"
Monk: "Same place you are, now here."
Girls: "Why do you have to do it so low to the ground?"
Monk: "So we don't get lost--if we get too high, we get lost."
Girls: "Where do you sleep--a motel?"
Monk: "In sleeping bags"
Girls: "Why don't you drive to this Buddha city, it would be faster?"
Monk: "Too easy. Anybody could do that."
Girls: "Are you with the Hare Krishnas?"
Girls: "They shave their heads too."
Monk: "That's as far as it goes."
Girls: "Well I don't get it. I mean, why are you doing it?"
Monk: "To clean up our act and hopefully to get rid of all the hate, bad vibes and disasters on the planet."
Girls: "Good luck."
Monk: "Don't get lost--see you later."