THREE STEPS, ONE BOW: LETTERS
The Venerable Master Hua continues to receive letters from the two pilgrims who are bowing once every third step from Gold Wheel Temple in Los Angeles, California, to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas over one thousand miles north in Talmage, California. Bhiksu Heng Sure and Sramanera Heng Ch’au, who are bowing with the hope of bringing peace to the world and to eliminate disasters, give an account of their thoughts and the events of their trip.
We drove ahead to check out the road: sheer cliffs on one side and private beach homes on the other—barbed wire fences and menacing warning signs protecting it all. Like this until Malibu, maybe further. Reluctantly we decide to keep the van for awhile. "Don't force it...accord with conditions."
There's so much to learn about being a monk: deportment, rules, ceremonies, when to speak and when to shut up, who to talk with and who to avoid. It all comes slow and hard. Usually I learn quickly, but here it's not simply a question of imitating, but of transforming from the inside out. In other words, the understanding has to come from within. Can't fake it. The heart and mind have to change, and that takes time, a good teacher, hard work and patience. In the meanwhile I blunder along sloppy mistake to gross error. I'm surprised I haven't been wiped out by now.
A phony monk would be transparent to anyone, especially himself. Heng Sure has been plagued with a battle of diarrhea all afternoon, since lunch. Not complaining—just hanging in. He's dead asleep now, propped up against the spare tire. After lunch the hoots and boilers began again. A car pulled up, "Hey, you guys want a joint?" plus some obscenities about Jesus. The police (that is, the Los Angeles County Sheriff) stopped to watch but did not question us. A lot of little miniature dogs came charging up to their fences as we passed, doing their guard duties in pink ribbons. And everybody jogs here. From the time we get up until we fall asleep we hear the constant footfalls of tennis shoes and huffing all around us. People are pretty mellow and accepting here. We went through like a trickle of water along the gutter after a light rain. (Hurricane karma rages within.)
I hope all is well at Gold Mountain. We do miss the Sutra lectures. Every night we read from the Avatamsaka at the same time you do.
Today we are very tired and sunburned. We bowed close to the road today (no sidewalks, small shoulder) in alternate fashion to be more visible. The flowing robes are real assets: very noticeable along with the bald-heads. From the beach, "Go home, baldies!" I thought, "We are trying our best."
At the last five minutes of the day on this busy, dirty stretch of road a man and woman walked up. The man bowed once, stuffed something in my hand and said either, "peace" or "please" (Diesel trucks too noisy) and walked quickly away. It was a $50 bill--half a Buddha for the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.
Disciple Heng Ch'au bows In respect
Dear Shih Fu,
We are three miles outside of Malibu and making our way along the gutters and driveways of the Pacific Coast Highway. Kuo Shih and Kuo Hsiang Woo are coming out this Sunday with the little cart, which we parked at Gold Wheel, and they'll drive the green van back to South Pasadena. Outside of Malibu it looks like the countryside opens up and we will be able to find spots to pitch the tent at night and camp. The trip should change in flavor at that time--no more leap-frogging through the traffic to a parking space and walking back to resume the bowing. But through the populated parts of the trip, through L.A., the van was the only way to go. Now that we're on open road with the traffic flying by, the truth of the proverb When you get to the mountain, there's sure to be a road, is really evident. What looks to the eye like a totally impassable section of road for monks and pedestrians, from your knees looks very different. Bowing space always appears—naturally and effortlessly before us. It's pretty amazing. Other people come up and say, "You bowed throughout there? Where?" I hope it is the same when we encounter the super-highway.
Gold Mountain Buddhists have already got a good reputation with the law authorities—for being peaceful, law-abiding, rule-following and tough citizens. Not far from here in Topanga last week there was a bad incident: two robe-wearing, shaven-headed young men who fit our description but exactly assaulted a sixteen year-old boy and held him at knife-point for an hour. Two L.A. Sheriffs stopped us, frisked us, did a whole series of check-outs for warrants, ID’s, etc. etc., and then decided that we weren't the ones they wanted, and they relaxed (they said they thought the assailants were Hare Krishnas) and learned a little bit about our trip. The cops were efficient, well-trained and self-disciplined men, and they left wishing us well. Three days later (yesterday afternoon) we were suddenly surrounded by four other squad cars and a paddy wagon (they came out of nowhere and swarmed like moths around a light bulb). This group didn't know about the first checkout, and they approached us very hostility and warily saying, "Do you have your knives on you?" "We aren't allowed to carry weapons; it's against the rules." "Oh, are you Buddhists or Krishnas?" "We're Buddhists!" "Oh, yeah, it's you guys. Okay. No problem. Say, do you do that bowing all day?" Heng Ch'au said, "Yeah. We get up at 4:00 and pray and meditate and bow until 10:00 PM. We eat just one meal a day and only vegetables." Whistles of admiration, grins and slow shakes of heads from the cops: "Wow. Only one meal a day? Okay, see you later. Watch out for cars. Good luck."
Shih Fu, the visit to Gold Wheel Temple gave us a great deal of inspiration and tuned our work in wonderful ways. To witness the Master's selflessness, his virtue and compassion causes great delight. At Gold Mountain it is easy to rely on the Master's constant presence and his every-day example of virtuous conduct. Away from Gold Mountain, out here on the road, meeting and having to deal with people coming from all directions, we get a keen appreciation of the Master's consummate skill and eloquence, his mastery of human nature and his penetration of others' conditions and potentials. Most uncanny in the Sage is the strength of water: it never struggles at any point. It yields, takes the last place, the lowest place, accords with all conditions but never moves. This is easy to speak of, exceptionally difficult to practice and most awesome to witness in combination with wisdom and compassion. I find myself asking: "What would Shih Fu do in a situation like this?" The answer: "Don't false think! Never mind! What are you going to do? You can't climb on your Teacher's conditions all your life. Stand on your own feet! Use your own best wisdom! Accord with conditions and do not move! Turn the light back, be patient and don't get angry swo pwo he. Be like water. The soft overcomes the hard.
I wrote an essay on responses, and one of the paragraphs goes like this:
So have I had any responses? No, nothing magical. I'm too raw, too much a beginner with too many karmic debts to pay back; but on the other hand, amid mundane dharmas, I have had a response. I've clearly seen the foundation of my cultivation and the purpose of my life. This is a response. I don't know how to fly or even how to run. I don't yet know how to walk, but I'm practicing bowing and slowly, surely, under the patient and compassionate guidance of a good and wise Teacher, I am learning how to stand on my own, and how to stand for Buddhism.
Put this down in five minutes while waiting out a case of diarrhea one very hot afternoon:
THREE STEPS ONE BOW / GOLD MOUNTAIN CULTIVATION IS:
no talking no drinking only prayer
no looking no smoking only shame
no joking no lying down only reflection
no watching no relaxing only praise
no listening no hiding only others
no eating no self
disciple Heng Sure
Saturday, June 11
Bowing through the grease and oil, broken glass and grime of the asphalt does a messy number on the robe and yi (sash)...grease "monk-yis."
At the Beach: From behind, a little voice, "Hey, Mister, aren't you embarrassing yourself?" We keep bowing. Again, "Hey, Mister, what are you doin'?" "We're Buddhist monks. We're praying," I answer. "Oh," he says. "What are you doin'?" I ask him. "Watching you be dumb," he answers without hesitation.
Looking over to my left are oodles of people in swimming suits playing volley ball, sunbathing, swimming, surfing, sailing, eating, smoking j's--just plain old Saturday afternoon good times at the ocean. I start looking pretty "dumb" to myself sometimes. Baking in this hot sun under T'ang Dynasty robes, picking glass and gravel out of my hands and forehead...that water looks so inviting right now.
The ants have gotten bigger—huge red ones. I think we are killing less of them. They are easier to see.
Anyways, I've done all that, the beach and sunbathing, so I'll keep at this cultivating stuff some more. All in all one could be worse than a bower of beaches. The water still looks inviting though, and we still look "dumb." Then I remember my vows and how clear and happy my heart was when I made them; and suddenly the bowing and the gravel and the broken glass feel right at home. Never been happier, never looked more "dumb."
Disciple Heng Ch'au bows in reverence
Participants in the recent Amitabha
Buddha Recitation Session walk in procession to the
photo by Janet Macrea