Born in San Luis Obispo, California, on February 10, 1949, Kuo Yu's childhood was spent in the Los Angeles area where his father found employment in the electronics field. In his early years Kuo Yu remembers occasionally entering a meditative-like state in which there was a reciprocal communication in mental language between himself and a primal mother-figure. Also, as early as five years old he began wondering what it would be like if each dust particle contained worlds just like ours, and if our world was located on one dust particle in a much larger world.
Despite these extraordinary perceptions, Kuo Yu's general view of the world was one of dissatisfaction. "Before I was ten I realized that not all people were kind to one another," he states. He was not just speaking of the quibbles and quarrels among siblings, but of the startling lack of humaneness in some which lead them even to bring permanent harm to others. Humanity was outraged in him as he soon enough learned that his childhood war games were played for real in the adult world.
Disillusioned with society, he tried drugs in the 60’s, but just succeeded in confusing himself even more. His interest in worldly pursuits continued to decline as their hollowness revealed itself to him. He looked within—for something that was wholesome, pure, and most of all, honest.
His search took him to the beaches in Mexico and Hawaii. The sea became his place of refuge from life’s hostilities and inconsistencies. But after a while even the sea began to lose its soothing qualities, and he intensified his search for true peace.
the winter of 1967 Kuo Yu left Hawaii to visit relatives on the mainland
and settle down to what he felt would be serious studies—something new
to him since he had barely graduated from high school that spring.
Returning home via San Francisco, Kuo Yu and his friend Kuo-te Mechling
stayed with Kuo-te's brother, Kuo-li. Kuo-li took them to visit the
Venerable Master who then held informal lectures at the Buddhist Lecture
Hall located in a walk-up flat in Chinatown.
As things turned out, he did not become a monk, but studied with the Master just the same. He lived at the Buddhist Lecture Hall for a few years and moved to Gold Mountain for a short time until he was married in 1971. For the next six years Kuo Yu regularly attended the Master's lectures and took part in other functions of the Sino-American Buddhist Association. He also held down one and sometimes two jobs, obtained a Master's degree in Chinese Language and Literature from San Francisco State University, and began to raise a family. These were difficult times as he tried to sustain the responsibilities of family life and the demands of student life.
In the midst of this, during the 1973/74 Ch'an sessions, an experience occurred which had a profound and lasting effect on Kuo Yu. He relates:
"That session was something special because it was only the second one I had attended since being married where I had a feeling of being able to make some significant progress.
"I took part in the first few days of the session, but after much internal strife, left to spend the Christmas holiday with relatives. Upon my return, I moved into Gold Mountain Monastery for the last four days of the session. I must say, I had never worked harder at a Ch'an session in my life. I sat every hour including the afternoon rest periods, and refrained from talking. I was most encouraged by my distaste for the daily humdrum boring existence, which I most certainly would have to return to.
"During those last four days, I had numerous small awakenings which normally occur when one puts forth some kind of effort, but the real experience happened after the session was supposed to have ended. On the evening of the fourteenth day during the Master's nightly lecture, he informed us that this session was to be different because he had been waiting for the last two weeks for someone to become enlightened and leap over numberless kalpas of suffering; but because this person had not yet become enlightened, the session was to go on for another four hours. During the last hour, this person would become enlightened.
"After the Master finished speaking he walked around the room looking at all the cultivators and stopped when he came to me. He asked me in his way of looking right through you and laughing if I was going to stay. I responded, "Certainly." Originally I had decided not to stay for those last four hours because I did not believe anything would happen to me; but when the Master inquired directly of me, I decided to stay and give it a try.
"The Master gave specific instructions not to talk, not to look at the clock, and not to look at one's watch. I took off my watch and resolved not to talk or sleep if need be. The clock in the main hall was also disconnected.
"The session continued for two hours that night. Then there was a three-hour break (the customary period for sleep), and we began again at 3:00 AM. The first three hours were uneventful, but during the fourth hour something happened that was quite subtle and wonderful.
"I started out the hour knowing it was do or die. After a time I was completely overcome with pain and frustration. I wanted to cry but the tears could not be forced out. All of a sudden there was a release of all this pent-up energy and I had a revelation: all I wanted to do was study, practice, and propagate Buddhism; everything else seemed useless. With this I renewed my efforts, but little else happened during the hour. Feeling disappointed, I told the Master about this experience. His comment was, "That was it."
"With the passing of time, the subtlety of the experience and its implications came to be understood. The wonder of it is that I will always remember the moment of that experience. And since it, my interest and awareness of the teachings of the Buddha have become more acute. I now realize more fully the fact that Buddhism exists to teach living beings how to put an end to their suffering and attain true independence and bliss.
"This is just one example of how the Master works to aid living beings in their quest for enlightenment. I feel extremely fortunate to have the chance to receive his instruction. I feel that if it were not for his continued diligence in teaching that I would be like a sailboat lost in a storm with its rigging and sails torn to shreds. One with such perception and wisdom should be venerated and supported by all living beings, for he bestows the greatest gift of all, the gift of Dharma."
Finally after numerous trial separations, Kuo Yu and his wife, Kuo Wan, decided to end their marriage and go their own ways, she with their five year old daughter, Kuo Ch’ing. It was at that time that Kuo Yu was free to follow his wish to leave the home-life and study with the Venerable Master. On August 29, 1977, he was allowed to have his head shaved—"Something which I somehow knew I was destined to do..." he comments.
"Now," continues Kuo Yu, "it is my hope to be a worthy disciple of the Buddha and help spread the orthodox Buddhadharma throughout the world so that numerous beings will cease their defiled thoughts and actions and cultivate that purity which is in each one of us."