Upasika Kuo Ju Wharton

Judith Wharton was born in Chicago in 1946. She was a filial child, and was aware of but could not help resolve the conflicts in her family life. At an early age she began to notice people's mental ups and downs with an almost clinical watchfulness. Seeing someone in the height of anger, she would wonder why that person could be so Intensely involved in an emotion which would soon pass and give way to some other state of mind. Her observations extended to a general recognition of the transitory and illusory aspects of mental and physical "reality." "Why don't I react to things the way my sister does?" she pondered over and over as a child. When she discovered the Greek philosophers--the Stoics in particular--she found more answers. The stoic phrase "...this too will pass." had a tremendous impact on her and radically changed her attitude about things that went on in the world around her.

Born Jewish, she converted to Catholicism in her early teens. The power of the rituals, the censors, the chants, attracted her, but there were logical questions, which she couldn't resolve within the confines of Catholic thought. She learned the Catechism, however, and remembers deciding to become the first American saint.

      Judith recalls the presence of a Buddha image in her family household from childhood on, though her family knew nothing of Buddhism. In her teens she read about yoga in the newspapers and articles and took up hatha practices and vegetarianism. But she could only sustain it for a month because there was no reinforcement from family or friends. Her interest in yoga and meditation remained, but for a while situations were not conducive to practice.

Experimenting with alternative states of consciousness, Judith experienced "total perfection" and found it very hard to return to the ordinary and far from perfect state of being. After an exceptionally good academic beginning in college, she suddenly stopped trying and eventually left the Midwest for California. She began to read more about Buddhism and met a Buddhist friend. Back in college, she made the Dean's list and then went to Europe and ended up in Montreal.

      For six months while in Montreal, Judith joined a religious group for full-time practice. She lived in and followed a tight daily schedule of chanting, meditation, work, and study. She learned that in Mahayana Buddhism each person assumes the responsibility for the enlightenment of all living beings. And she learned of the Venerable Master of Gold Mountain in San Francisco, whom her Montreal teacher referred to as the "Buddha of the West."

      In 1973-74, Judith left the religious commune and went to Cape Cod to live with the grandmother of a close friend. During that year she allowed herself to confront the question of old age and death head-on and remembered reading in Journey to East-land by Castenanda about the man who was "old and empty." 

A line from the Great Yogi Milarepa came to mind as further reinforcement:

            Life is short; the time of death is uncertain.

You should spend your time in meditation.

Judith resolved not to grow "old and empty" but to put her life to some productive use.

Back in San Francisco in 1975, Judith came to Gold Mountain Monastery and felt "at home" if a little uncertain in the beginning. She found a place to live nearby and was able to become fully vegetarian and to continue her meditational practices. She joined the Avatamsaka Assembly where she heard the Venerable Master nightly lectures on the Sutra of the Dharma Realm.

In 1976 she took refuge with the Triple Jewel and received the Dharma name Kuo Ju. Since that time Kuo Ju has participated in several intensive recitation and meditation sessions. She worked as a teaching assistant during the initial months of Instilling Virtue Elementary School's pilot program. At present, as a member of the Buddhist Text Translation Society, Kuo Ju volunteers her time and skills on a regular basis to the technical preparation of manuscripts for publication, while at the same time continuing her college education.

Of what she has found since she came to Gold Mountain, she says, "It is amazing. The Bodhimandas which have come into being under the Venerable Master's guidance and the practices which are undertaken, such as the monks' bowing once every three steps are rare in the world and hard to conceive of."