The Bodhi Stand


Kuo K'ai was born in San Francisco on March 3, 1949. From there her family moved to Richmond in the East Bay. There her younger brother was born, making the fourth child in her family. Four years later her family moved to a city fifteen miles south of San Francisco where Kuo K'ai spent most of her next twenty years.

Coming from an economic middle class, both her parents worked constantly to provide for the needs of the family and a few luxuries. Kuo K'ai went to a Catholic school from the first through fifth grades and although she was well liked by the nuns she had trouble getting along with the other students. This must not have mattered a lot to her, for she thinks back on her childhood as being a happy and secure one.

She was a filial child and did everything she could to avoid being a problem to her parents, especially since she was keenly aware of how hard it was for them to raise four children and work all day.

When she was young her father and she both contracted tuberculosis. She rarely complained about being ill, to the point that her parents often were concerned about her stoicism, especially in light of the fact they knew she was not well. Kuo K'ai explains that her behavior was meant to be one of filial regard. "I never wanted to be a burden to my parents so when I was sick, I just went to my room and stayed until one of my parents or siblings found me there."

When Kuo K'ai was thirteen, her father died and she experienced a new kind of suffering. His passing left a deep impression. "My whole life changed drastically," Kuo K'ai relates. "When my father died I became very angry. I often sat in my room and cried and prayed that he would not go to the hells, for I loved him so much. My anger grew to such proportions that I began living a life of fantasy and spending much time in isolation in my room. Out of this anger grew a deep depression and an aching sense of loneliness which was really painful." Kuo K'ai's mother tried to help her daughter out of this emotional upheaval, but her attempts went unheeded by her daughter.

After graduating from high school Kuo K'ai got a job and began to explore ways to feel good and be an attractive person among her peers. Fortunately, her use of such potentially harmful methods ended before any ultimate disaster occurred and she found herself back in school. In 1973 she began reading about Buddhism and learned about meditation in a class at her college. She began to feel affinities with people again and says, "From there, the person I was that became a ‘rock’ was now taking the form of a person once again."

      Wishing to delve even more deeply into Buddhism, she got a list of Buddhist centers in the area from her professor, and the second one she visited was Gold Mountain. "At first I felt out of place in the ceremonies, but something ‘got to me’ and I knew that I would have to return. The second time I came, I saw what I had never seen before and was convinced that this was where I wanted to study and practice. I trusted the Master."

Kuo K’ai was able to attend nine days of the winter sessions in 1977 and during that time had another ‘never before’ kind of experience. She had become quite serious about her practice of sitting in full lotus posture, but during one of the hours the pain grew particularly intense to the point of being unbearable. She had her eyes closed, concentrating on bearing what couldn't be born, when she sensed that the Master had entered the hall and passed by her bench. At that moment all the pain completely disappeared. It was such a clear-cut division between pain and no pain that she was astonished, and realized even more how all-encompassing the Master's compassionate strength was.

In June of 1977 Kuo K'ai received her A. A. from Skyline Community College and on the 23rd she went to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas where she taught in the Instilling Virtue Summer Camp.

On August 3rd, 1977, the anniversary of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva’s enlightenment, Kuo K'ai left the home-life and took the ten novice precepts, receiving the name Heng Cheng. Having expressed the desire to leave the home life ever since she found Gold Mountain, Kuo K'ai says, "It seems like the natural thing to do. It has happened very smoothly and without any false thinking or second thoughts."

Kuo K'ai now resides at the International Institute for the Translation of Buddhist Texts where she is studying Chinese, attending the Avatamsaka Assembly, and teaching in Instilling Virtue School.