Excerpts from the records of Bhiksu Heng Sure and Sramanera Heng Ch’au as they make a bowing pilgrimage from Gold Wheel Temple in Los Angeles to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas near Ukiah, California. Vajra Bodhi Sea is printing selected entries from their journals. The first volume of the records in their entirety will be available soon from the Buddhist Text Translation Society.

HENG SURE: June 3, 1977. The good-timers breakfast club in the Country Chicken Cafe in Santa Monica called the police on me at 7:25 Friday morning--told the police that there was a crazy loose who was trying to climb buildings on Wilshire Boulevard. They were disappointed when Officer Kaiser and three squad cars arrived, found everything in order, read my transit papers, said good morning, and left.

On the Edge

Feeling grouchy and irritable. "Don't touch me!" "What do you mean,  'get off the sidewalk'?" It's the old/new energy rising and Heng Ch'au and I have to be alert every minute to keep it intact. We hope that we don't explode and waste it before it goes where it is supposed to. Got to keep the work up but not more than we can absorb or else it’s start-over-again time. When we feel like this, the streets are an affliction griddle the roaring metal river is gritty, broiling to head and hands, long and blinding, smoky with exhaust, fumes, dazzling with reflected sun, and noisy with whistlers, honks, cat-calls, stares.

I remind myself that no one put me here but me myself. All I have to do is stand up and walk away and I can have all the sense pleasures there are in the world without having to leave my own condominium pool. Don't be such a sap.

The worst part is doing the form right and then losing your concentration for one instant when a woman walks near you and you feel your energy change involuntarily. You feel cheated, betrayed, robbed of all your treasures. Oh, my, no, the Dharma is not easy to master. Not at all. Patience is number one. Compassion and vows to take them all across are essential. If there were no self, who would there be to get angry? Just grow up and work hard.

HENG CH'AU: June 3, 1977.

An Afternoon in Santa Monica

A yellow VW bug pulls up, "Hey brother, what order?”

Us: "Buddhist monks."

Man: "Far out!" Varoom. Not far enough. If we were a little farther out of our "selves" then it would really be far out.

An older lady with cane and dark glasses slowly strolls by, stops, quickly rushes up. She tightly grasps my folded hands, puts her face inches from mine and says "Faith in me," squeezes an extra to make the point and leaves.

She walks about 20 yards, stops, turns, and watches us intently.  Returning, she zeroes in again and says in a heavy European accent, "I'm a devout Catholic, but your prayer is beautiful. My priest was in Asia and the taxi driver he was with asked if my priest minded if he stopped and bowed. My priest was very impressed. How many people think to humble themselves to pray every day?" She was starting to crack a little in voice and control. "I need your prayers. Please help me. Pray for me." (starting to cry). "And especially for my grandson, please."

Me: "Everything is OK. Don't worry."

Bowing near the curb there's a Mercedes parked ahead with the door open to the sidewalk. An older woman has her legs stretched out to the walk smoking a cigarette. She watches us surgically. She looks like Gabby Hayes only with lipstick and no beard. Her voice matches--tough and gravely.

Woman: "What order?"

Monk: "Buddhist monks."

Woman: "You're going to need a bath when you're finished with this." (terse, jabbing, testing, cool.)

Monk: "This is our bath."

Woman: pauses—a little softer, "Cleansing the soul."

Monk: "Right." Smiles all around.

A busy man, a cross between Karl and Groucho Marx dives between us near a row of newspaper stands. He violently jerks the door of each and then stabs his fingers into the coin return. He's carrying a briefcase and talking to himself. As he walks away, he slaps three 13 cent stamps in my hand and says, "There, 50 cents..."

Two people are bowing behind us. They are young with beads around their necks and grinning an unfathomable smile. I give them a release and say, "I'm going back to bow. There's too much hate in the world. If you have any questions, just ask." The woman opens her arms in a gesture of "We're yours." Oh, no you're not! I went back and started bowing. A few minutes later I glanced around. They were gone. "Nobody saves you but yourselves..."

Right after, a car full of rowdy, loud boys pulled up and piled out. They ran over and began mock bowing and ridiculing behind us. We kept bowing. They left.

We are getting near the ocean (8 blocks). It's windy and everything is slightly more raw, in flux, unpredictable. The land ends and if you're looking outside for answers all you see is the sea...and yourself. The road becomes a mirror.

Young woman: "Beautiful!"

Passing car: "Are you weirdoes still bowing? God!"

Older woman: "Pray for my wrists. Both my wrists are sprained. I know they'll get better if you pray for them."

From across the street, "Hey, they're disappearing! Don't we wish "we" were disappearing. That's it in a sentence.

"Hello, God." from a passing car. That's not it in a sentence.

HENG SURE: July 3, 1977.

A Vision of Kuan Shih Yin

We usually meditate after bowing to turn down the energy/fire to a manageable smelt. We quit at 6:00 and do evening recitation at 7:30. In between we have to take care of any business and chores we have. The meditation is mandatory--else we risk boiling over.

Saturday there was a lot to do before settling in to rest and clean up—result: we returned to our spot late and had to delay evening recitation. I washed up in cold water and as the sun had set I got tensed from the chill. Heng Ch'au was already into his standing meditation and the flies began to light on me and the van door blew and squeaked in the cold breeze. All this, unexplainably, began to put me up tight. I said to myself, "Don't get angry. Don't get angry. That's the worst thing you can do with this energy."

I walked up the trail to stand in meditation with my spine on fire. It was late and as I took the stance I sincerely pleaded with my demon-nature "don't get angry--this is just a matter of directing your energy, be patient!"

And suddenly above my head I saw the white-robed Kuan Yin Bodhisattva lean down and smile a sweet smile. I felt two drops of cool, refreshing liquid touch my head and run down my spine and my anger all melted away-simply gone, like that. She smiled sweetly and said, "Don't worry. Everything's Okay." And it was.

HENG CH'AU: July 8, 9, 11 excerpts. Two little kids quietly climb up the side of the hill we are bowing on and watch. "My grandpa says you're collecting cans. That what you're doin'?"

"No we are praying."

"My grandpa collects cans."

"What does he do with them?"

"He recycles them."

"That's what we're doing too. It's just like your grandpa says. Only we are recycling a whole hospital." I then tell them how we are taking this big empty hospital that someone threw away and recycling it into a University, a home for children who don't have homes, a place for old people to come and stay, monasteries, a place for animals so they won't be killed, and so forth.

"Oh, good!" they exclaim. "See you later" and off they went.

A woman brings us ice tea from the beach. "We saw you on T.V. It's wonderful what you are doing. I really believe in it!"

An old woman comes out to talk about the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, some kids with drinking water and a Park Ranger with a bag of tangerines and an offer from all the rangers for a free campsite for the night--all in the last five minutes of the bowing day.

Two young women bring out an offering of oranges and some advice, "You are wrecking your bodies. It says in the Bible, 'Thou shall not kill.'"

"Right," I answer, "we don't do that kind of stuff-wreck our bodies--"mortify the flesh" as It's called. We are just doing some hard work and hard work never killed anybody."

"Oh. I understand now," she nodded and smiled. They were relieved to know we weren't killing ourselves,

In Buddhism there is no discrimination of things like "we" and "they" or "I" and "you" towards anything or anybody. You don't have to carry any form of hate in your heart towards any "ism" or religion. One of the ten major Bodhisattva Precepts, in fact, prohibits "deliberate hatefulness." Now that sits right and it makes it a lot easier to look at everybody honestly and with a clear heart.

HENG SURE: July 1977.

Resolve to be a Dead Bird

Finally it's come to the jumping-off point. After all these months--May 7 to August 13--I've gotten into the water, splashed around, tried a few strokes, paddled back and forth, gone under a few times, gone back to shore for advice and courage, gotten my strength and directions, my support raft and my log book of mistakes all in readiness and now, it's time to push out into deep water--water over my head and swim like someone who's going to make it to the other shore.

I'm ready at last to drop my old trips of co-directing the show, pleasing other people, keeping informed, being generally cautious, thinking of personal well-being first, last, and always. All of these are weights that will carry me down to the bottom. I've got a Dharma Protector who will answer all questions and screen out all the energy diversions.

There is no longer anything between me and enlightenment but a lot of water, a lot of work, a lot of patience, and total silence. First Clowery, then Kuo Chen, and now even Heng Sure have got to cease to exist. To complete this work takes a flat-out sprint for days and weeks and months and years. It takes ultimate sincerity.  I've got it inside not it must appear.

So goodbye to all the extraneous flotsam and jetsam of life. If anyone asks tell them "He's gone swimming, he may not return. No forwarding address."

"His last message?" No last message. Swim.

Dead Bird Feedback

This is hitting the nail on its head with firm and steady strokes. I haven't been so uptight inside since we left Santa Monica and set out on the highway. What's new? Giving up control and direction of the daily business. Already today I found half a dozen places where I would have done things differently than Heng Ch'au and each time, I sat on the impulse and squirmed. It ain't easy to sit still and let things happen. Especially when you are a compulsive meddler and use second guessing as a smoke screen for bad habits.  It's a way to escape looking at your own faults and truly changing and it's been useful. Too late. Gone now.

HENG CH'AU: July 31, 1977.

"...from beginningless time until today, all conditions from the past to the present which are not in accord with our wishes have been caused by our had karma received from past deeds. For this reason we diligently seek repentance and reform." (Medicine Master Repentance).

We were packing our gear outside the car at the end of the bowing day on a side street in Ventura. Screeching tires. We turn our heads to see two people on a motorcycle collide with a car. The bodies flew over the top of the car and landed on their heads on the other side. We watched helplessly from 20 or 30 yards away.

Heng Sure ran over with some blankets and I went to call for help. Blood was pouring out of their ears, mouths, and noses. They were badly hurt. The girl, 19 years old, was dying. We covered them, kept the young man still and calm and recited the Great Compassion Mantra.

The "work" goes on all the time. Our family is dying right now, all the time. The accident is not an isolated tragedy. It happens every minute. Every minute people die and are born. If they were our family and we could see this go on every minute--birth and death, birth and death--what would we do? Well they are our family, all these people. And we are all fish together "in an evaporating pond."

When you know that birth and death, suffering and happiness, are tied up with what you do—when you realize that the causes and seeds of disasters and enlightenment are being planted all around, right now--then you work hard to change yourself for the better and influence others to do the same. That's how to help your family as I see it. That kind of cultivation is First Aid and medicine of the first order. Work on the mind. Work on the ground where the action begins, at the source--the mind ground.

Accidents, disasters, tragic deaths as well as healthy longevity and happiness are effects, the results of thoughts and deeds planted long before. To make that clear in our own lives and our entire family of living beings is the value and thrust of "monk's work."

Kneeling next to that dying girl in the street I felt a sudden closeness. She could easily have been my sister, or someone coming to make an offering. How we are all related to each other is deep and mostly forgotten. Death and birth seem to uncover and reveal the relatedness of all beings.

To be the best monk I could--to cultivate as hard as possible, to get enlightened and "help and support living beings everywhere"--all of these got a boost of urgency and realness today. Got to try harder, all of the time. My family is looking and suffering and death is rolling on towards me.

HENG SURE: August 1977.

How the Sutras Come Alive

The most exciting thing going while bowing once every three steps is how the sutras come alive—the sutras with the commentaries by the Venerable Abbot of Gold Mountain Monastery, published by the Buddhist Text Translation Society of San Francisco and the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in California, USA.

The Sixth Patriarch’s Dharma Jewel Platform Sutra a is a priceless gem. It points the way to enlightenment from the ground up. It's a happy scripture, a holy text full of mirth and wisdom, plain talk and elegant verses. There is really nothing like it in print anywhere in the world. It's like a most precious healing water that before you can identify it, seems to grow only in the wilds of far away places but once you know how to recognize it, is found to be as universal and welcome as rain.

This is no mystery--the words of the sutra come from an enlightened monk who lived in China in the seventh century. Before he saw his original nature he was just a citizen, a firewood gatherer, of the people. After his awakening his skill in talking was as eloquent as the Bodhisattvas. He used expedient means to teach and change people but at the same time he never lost his folksy touch, his common appeal. That's who spoke the sutra. He was also a lyric poet of natural genius. His poems bear a wonderful quality: if you read them carefully, memorize their lines and contemplate and practice their meaning, you too can wake up from confusion and become enlightened. That's the sutra part of the book.

The commentary was spoken in San Francisco in 1970 by the Venerable Abbot of Gold Mountain, the patriarch of Buddhism in our age. As a young man the Venerable Abbot was already an accomplished meditator and holy ascetic when the Sixth Patriarch, who had passed from the world for 1200 years, came to visit him one evening and predicted his mission to spread Buddhism in the West. The commentary makes the sutra come alive, just as the Abbot's presence makes the conduct of the great men of the past come alive. The teachings are vivid and expressed in real terms. The keys to enlightenment are displayed in full view. We may pick them up and use them to open the locks of our own lives, to discover the Buddha-nature within.

      Most of all the Sixth Patriarch’s Dharma Jewel Platform Sutra and the other sutras translated and certified by the Buddhist Text Translation Society are happy, lively, delightful works to read. Their flavor is ageless, rare and special. They seem to be a part of history as they belong to a lineage of Buddhist sutras that began in the Buddha's time some 3000 years ago, but they are totally new and fresh; the spirit of the timeless Dharma in the letters of the modern West.

The Ten Dharma Realms Are Not Beyond A Single Thought. Verses and explanation of the ten realms of existence by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua. 72 pages, $3.00

"The way of men is harmony,

With merit and error interspersed.

On virtuous deeds you rise, offenses make you fall.

It has nothing to do with anyone else at  all."

Celebrisi's Journey. A novel by David (Kuo Chou) Rounds. Where is the realm beyond the senses? What happens when a modern man sets out to find it? This is the story of a search pursued across the landscape of America from New Jersey to Maine to the Dakotas to California, through despair to understanding, through the cloud of thoughts to the bright stillness, into the mind, beyond the self. 178 pages, $3.25

Vajra Bodhi Sea

      The monthly journal of the Sino-American Buddhist Association since 1970, Vajra Bodhi Sea makes Buddhist Writings and Buddhist news available to readers everywhere. Each issue contains Sutra translations, biographical sketches of high masters of antiquity, and biographies of contemporary Buddhists of the Sangha and lay communities. Also included are feature articles, world Buddhist news, poetry, book reviews, a series of Sanskrit lessons and vegetarian recipes. $15 for one year subscription, $42 for a three-year subscription. Subscription free with membership in the Sino-American Buddhist Association.


THREE STEPS' ONE BOW. Paperbound, 156 pages, $5.95. This book records the journey of Heng Ju and Heng Yo as they made the first pilgrimage of bowing once every three steps ever practiced in America. The book is a day by day account of their experiences. On January 12, 1974, Heng Ju writes: "Battered by torrential rain, we nevertheless made five and a half miles. We are still alongside the raging Eel River. I remember the Master often saying, 'The whole world is constantly speaking the Dharma; you just have to learn to recognize it.' To the poor inhabitants of this area it speaks the law of cause and effect. From this awesome spectacle, these people are learning of karma, retribution, suffering, and impermanence as they helplessly observe their worldly treasures wash down across the state and into the sea." Read about their incredible journey!

The Buddhist Text Translation Society

Buddhist Sutras:

The Amitabha Sutra,
with commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua. Shakyamuni Buddha spoke the Amitabha Sutra to let all living beings know of the power of Amitabha Buddha's great vows to lead all who recite his name with faith to rebirth in his Buddhaland, the Land of Ultimate Bliss, where they may cultivate and quickly realize Buddhahood. 204 pages, $5.95

The Vajra Sutra, with commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua. Prajna transcendental wisdom, the subject of this Sutra, is of central importance in the Buddha's teaching. The Buddha spent 20 years speaking the Prajna Sutras and declared that they would be disseminated to every land. The Sutra says, "One should produce a thought without dwelling anywhere." The Sixth Patriarch, the Great Master Hui Neng, heard this sentence and awakened to the way. 192 pages, $5.95

The Sutra in Forty-two Sections, with commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua. "When the Shramana who has left the home-life puts the end to his desires and drives away his longings, he knows the source of his own mind and penetrates to the profound principles of Buddhahood. He awakens to the unconditioned, clinging to nothing within and seeking nothing without." The Sutra in which the Buddha gives the essentials of the path.

The Dharani Sutra,
with commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua. The Sutra speaks of compassion, which relieves us from suffering and gives us joy. The Bodhisattva Who Regards the Worlds Sounds (Avalokiteshvara) embodies this infinite compassion. The Dharani Sutra shows how by the practice of compassion and the recitation of the Great Compassion Mantra we can gain the thousand hands and thousand eyes of Avalokiteshvara and rescue living beings in distress by means of wholesome magic and healing. The first translation in any Western language. Illustrated with woodcuts from the secret school. 352 pages, $10.00

Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva, with commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua. The power of the Earth Store Bodhisattva's compassion is unusually great, a strength which most other Bodhisattvas cannot match: he alone has made the vow to go to the hells and rescue living beings there. "If I do not go to the hells to aid them, who else will go?" Before he entered Nirvana, Shakyamuni Buddha went to the heaven of thirty-three to speak this sutra on behalf of his mother. It is one of the most popular scriptures in China, describing the heavens and hells, the workings of karma, and virtue of filial piety. The first translation into English. 235 pages, $6.75 paper, $12.75 cloth.

Buddhist Practice:

The Shramanera Vinaya and Rules of Deportment, with commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua. The Buddha instructed his disciples to take the Vinaya (the moral code) for their Master once he himself had entered Nirvana. Those who seek to end birth and death and to save all living beings from suffering must base their practice on proper morality. 112 pages, $3.95

Pure Land and Ch'an Dharma Talks, "From limitless aeons past until the present we have accumulated uncountable states of mind in the field of our eighth consciousness. Sitting quietly allows these states to come forth in a way that they can be recognized, just like the moon's reflection in still water." Instructions by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua in the practice of reciting the name of the Amitabha Buddha and in the self -investigating meditation called Ch'an. 72 pages, $3.00

Buddha Root Farm, Further instructions by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua in meditation on the name of Amitabha Buddha of the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss. "The water flows, the wind blows, whispering his name. And when he takes you by the hand to the happy land, you'll be so glad you came." 72 pages, $3.00


Records of the Life of the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua,
Part 1, "The Master was 19 years old when his mother passed away. At this time, he left the home-life, taking the ten precepts of a Shramanera. He then went to his mother's grave site, and built a 5'x8' hut out of five-inch sorghum stalks. The hut kept out the wind and rain, but there was little difference the inside and the outside. Here the master observed the custom of filial piety by watching over his mother's grave for a period of three years. Clothed only in a rag robe, he endured the bitter Manchurian snow and the blazing summer sun. He ate only one meal a day and never slept lying down." An account of the Masters early years in China. 96 pages, $3.95

Records of the life of Ch'an Master Hsuan Hua, part II. "In the late afternoon, after a day of work at the construction site of Tz'u-hsing Monastery, the master will go back down the mountain to catch the ferry to Hong Kong. Even then he did not rest, but delighted his fellow passengers by giving informal Dharma talks during the 45-minute crossing. With no effort on his part, he attracted and ever-increasing gathering on those ferry boat rides, who listened as the master made good use of the time by expounding the Dharma for them." The events of the master's life as he taught and transformed his followers in Hong Kong, containing many photographs, poems and stories. 229 pages, $6.95

World Peace Gathering, a moving document of American Buddhism in action, commemorating the successful completion of an extraordinary 1100 mile journey made by two American Buddhist Monks in 1974. With Heng Yo at his side, Heng Ju walked from San Francisco to Marblemount, Washington, bowing to the ground every third step, praying for peace for all humankind. With numerous photographs. 128 pages, $3.95