THE BODHI MIRROR
Introduces SRAMANERA HENG CH'AU
Born in Wisconsin in 1946, Sramanera Heng Ch'au grew up in a closely-knit Catholic family; he and his three sisters benefited from a wholesome stable upbringing. He relates of his family:
"Subtly and comprehensively I realized my inconceivable debt to my parents. They effortlessly lived and embodied a purity and selflessness that I was only now beginning to discover. Their wisdom and compassion, their lack of deviousness came naturally. The compassion and artlessness I showed was awkward and self-conscious. I usually thought before I felt. And I had to "work on" remembering how to feel. They moved truly from their hearts. I reaped all the benefits of living with such remarkable people, oblivious to my good fortune, and certainly had done little to repay or to reciprocate their kindness."
Heng Ch'au's early education was in a Catholic setting, with Catholic nuns and priests as teachers. As for his high school career, it was outstanding: honor student, star athlete, student council president: he was already on his way to worldly success in professional society. But even then he made it clear that unquestioning acceptance of the ordinary road was not to be his destiny: after high school he almost entered novitiate training under the Christian Brothers, only changing his mind at the last minute.
At the University of Wisconsin, Sramanera Heng Ch'au earned a B.A. and an M.A. in history and won a Ford Foundation Fellowship for further graduate studies. He began work on a Ph.D. on how to "bring the war home" and began to actively explore alternatives toward this end at the same time. He kept trying to get at the root of the problem by analyzing American culture.
"But everytime I dug a little deeper behind the facile generalities, I found people. I found people like my parents, teachers, friends, and their parents. How did these regular people come to generate so much suffering and conflict, so much inequality, hate and violence? It wasn't simple. It also wasn't the kind of question an aspiring "professional" historian asks. Too "unscholarly" and "introspective"--too general and "recent." I quit school and went looking elsewhere. This tool had lost its edge.
"I found the answer about four years later in a Buddhist monastery in San Francisco."
But before Heng Ch'au got to Gold Mountain, he endured a lot more suffering and conflict. After dissolving a marriage of eight years, he experienced an increasing restlessness, which moved him to fast motorcycle rides, backpacking trips alone in the mountains, and other dangerous experiments. "I death-tripped for a time," he says, "pushing myself closer and closer to the edge of sanity and reality. I was trying to reduce my ego and find my true self-nature at any cost. Thank goodness I had the sense to stop this self-destructive nonsense before I did any permanent damage to my body."
In 1975 and 1976, Sramanera Heng Ch'au lived in Berkeley, were he taught T'ai Chi Ch'uan at the Wen Wu School and worked in a day-care center. One day he had a strange experience:
"I had just returned to the T'ai Chi studio after an hour of standing meditation in a nearby field. While drinking a cup of tea, I noticed an announcement brochure for a Great Compassion Mantra Recitation Session at San Francisco's Gold Mountain Monastery. Intrigued by the language of the brochure, I read on. When I came to the part which said "a thousand eyes observe, a thousand ears hear all, a thousand hands help and support living beings everywhere" I started to shake and tremble. It felt like shivers, but all over, the kind that make your nose and eyes burn and sting just before tears come. Surprised and thrown off a bit, I decided to read it again. Same thing at the exact same lines. It happened three times in succession--shivers, shaking, and nearly tears. I decided to attend the session, knowing nothing of sitting meditation, chanting, Ch'an, and despite the strange and austere-looking monks and nuns in the photos.
Heng Ch'au took refuge with the Triple Jewel and bowed to the Venerable Master as his teacher on the fifth day of that session. After that session he worked on making his cultivation regular and solid. He rose at five each morning, chanted morning recitation, sat in Ch'an meditation for an hour, practiced T'ai Chi Ch'uan, and did an hour of standing meditation. After ten months he took the ten major and forty-eight minor Bodhisattva precepts and made new vows to aid his cultivation (see Across the Sea of Suffering, p. 30)
In April of 1977, he moved into Gold Mountain Monastery and began to step-up, his cultivation. On May 4, 1977 the anniversary of the Great Master Chang Jr's leaving home, Sramanera Heng Ch'au saved his head, left the home-life and took the ten precepts of a novice monk.
And the answer he said he found at Gold Mountain?
"The answer? I found it in a quote whose source is over 3000 years old. It really 'bring the war home.'
'All male beings have been a father
to me in former lives and all females have been my mother. There is not a single
being who has not given birth to me during my previous lives, hence all beings
are my parents. Therefore, when a person kills or eats any of these beings, he
thereby slaughters my parents. Furthermore he butchers a body that was once my
own, for all elemental earth and water has previously served as the substance of
one of my bodies and all elemental fire and air has formerly sustained the life
of one of my bodies. Therefore I shall always cultivate the practice of
liberating beings, awakening to the eternal nature of Dharma in every life and
instructing others to liberate beings as well.'
"Too much to swallow? Ancient sages and early Greek philosophers intuited it.
Einstein argued it. And modern physics is just now getting around to proving it.
In practical terms the thrust is this: everything comes from the mind alone.
Look within for wisdom and for the cause, the beginning of greed, hatred, and
"What is stealing if it isnít misusing and wasting water, air, and food? What is greed if not consuming more and better "all you can eat" and still never being satisfied? Greed gone big is war.
"Regarding anything short of all beings as relatives and family is discrimination and it breeds hatred and resentment. "Bring the war home, to the heart."
"Watch carefully what comes from your mouth, your body, and your mind and you will find the cause of hurt, strife, jealousy, and pollution. Follow it further and find the cause of wars, disasters, nuclear stockpiling and acts of destruction. Follow the small to the large. Take the large back to the small. Back to the mind. It all comes from the mind. This disease is one disease. It respects neither age, nor class, nor race, nor country. We've all got it.
"So I'm finishing my dissertation now on the road between L.A. and the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, bowing once every three steps with fellow Buddhist monk, Heng Sure.
"'For all past karma created from body, mouth and mind created from beginningless greed, hatred, and stupidity, I now repent of it entirely.' is the heart of my Ph.D. The war came home to my mind and hopefully the peace will too. The real revolution is within one single thought right now, inside. Seize it!"
On May 7th, Bhiksu Heng Sure began a pilgrimage from Gold Wheel Temple in Los Angeles to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Mendocino County. Sramanera Heng Ch'au vowed to accompany him:
"I call on all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the ten directions to help and support me, Heng Ch'au, to uphold my vow to protect and aid Heng Sure so he can fulfill his vow to bow once every three steps from Los Angeles to Ukiah, California, to repent and reform of all the suffering, disasters, and wars set in motion by our greed, hatred, and stupidity; to purify our hearts, body, mouth, and inspire others to do the same so that peace and harmony can come to all living beings."
DHARMA REALM BUDDHIST UNIVERSITY CLASSES
Registration for Dharma Realm Buddhist University, in the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, Box 217, Talmage, California 95481, telephone (707) 462-0939, will be held September 8-9, and instruction begins September 12. Classes will also be given at the San Francisco extensions: Gold Mountain Monastery, 1731 5th Street, and at the International Institute for the Translation of Buddhist Texts.