Excerpts from the records of Bhiksu Heng Sure and Sramanera Heng Ch’au on their bowing pilgrimage from Gold Wheel Temple in Los Angeles to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, Talmage, California. The first volume of their records, complete with photographs, newspaper accounts, and letters is now available from the Buddhist Text Translation Society under the title WITH ONE HEART, BOWING TO THE CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS.

Sept. 5, 1977. Heng Ch'au: Modoe Avenue in Santa Barbara: A group of teenagers huddle jeering and mocking us. "Eat the dirt, freak." "Hey maybe they're praying for us:" "No way. They're just kissin' the ground." "Havin' fun. Ha: Ha!" etc. They circle and shoot on their bikes. We offer a release but they won't come near.

"I mean I want to know, man, but, it's your looks that scare us:" one answers. "Heh har!"

We smile and keep bowing. One keeps a persistent interest and finally says, "Well, I'm not afraid. I'll take one of them papers." and boldly but cautiously struts over. They rehuddle and read it together in silence. After a few minutes they slowly mount up and ride off. One turns and waves saying, "Hey man. I'm sorry for what I said." Smiling monks. Smiling kids.

We are inside of a bubble. Vajra on the outside and fragile on the interior. If we make a mistake "pop" goes the bubble and anything can happen. If we stay right, nothing can move us or stick.

Being able to handle yourself in any situation is not freedom from fear. Real fearlessness is not having a "self" to handle in any situation.

August 1977.  Heng Sure:

              Prayer and Exhortation to Work

May I be sincere in all I do. May every word be real and may every action count as true work.

May I return the light in concentration to illumine every thought.

May I avoid all evil no matter how small and do all good deeds as if I were serving my teacher.

May I be courageous and fearless and tireless in cultivation. In work for others I will use all my strength and seek no rest, no vacation, knowing that life is work and rest is not a reward.

I will offer my life in service to all beings on behalf of the Triple Jewel.

I will begin now and never stop.

Cultivate Right Through the Dharma-Ending Age

In the Vairocana Chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra, the prince Great Awesome Light, head of all the five hundred princes in the city called Victorious Auspicious Sound, sees the Buddha appear on a lotus throne in front of him and some startling things happen. The prince immediately realizes the accomplishment of ten kinds of Dharmas. He attains a samadhi, a dharani, states of kindness, compassion, joy, and renunciation; and other inconceivably wonderful experiences.

Why? Because in the past he "cultivated good roots" as the saying goes. This means that he did the work of practicing good, avoiding evil and purifying his mind. When did he do it? He did if for aeons and aeons of time in every lifetime, without rest. Even during the periods of time known as the "Dharma-image" and "Dharma-ending" ages he continued to cultivate. He didn't quit or take a vacation, waiting for the next Buddha to appear, but he went on working and sweating. What happened? When the next Buddha did come into the world, he appeared right in the prince's town and directly before the prince at that. The good roots that the prince had planted in the past came ripe then and he won ten wonderful states' realizations on the spot.

Obviously, had he not worked in the past, when the Buddha came to Victorious Sound City's forest, the prince would not have been in a position to witness the event nor would he have been prepared to receive the fruition of Dharma-bliss. As the Abbot of Gold Mountain says,

       When someone truly cultivates, then the Dharma-ending age does not exist. I don't permit the Dharma-ending age to exist wherever I am. Sincere cultivation is just the Proper-Dharma age.

If we use effort and pursue any of the 84,000 doors to enlightenment, all equal, all effective, then in the future like Prince Great Awesome Light, in some fine world we will meet the Buddha right in our own home town and seeing his splendor, we too, will experience great joy.

September 9, 1977. Heng Ch'au: Early in the A.M. two of Professor and Mrs. Hsia's children come to pick us up. The Abbot is arriving today in L.A. and they volunteered to come and get us. What a surprise:

I saw the Master today at the airport like I have never seen him before. The recognition and sense of affinity went beyond the closeness of family and farther back than my deepest memories. For a few seconds everything around me disappeared or stopped as I stared at the Master's smiling face and got lost in someplace I haven't been in a long, long time. Who is the Master? So familiar yet I can't put my finger on it. Some day, maybe...

Heng Sure and Heng Ch’au practice meditation after a full day of bowing once every three steps on their journey to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

August 1977. Heng Sure:

"If one proclaims the inconceivable Dharma and causes inconceivable numbers of beings to be happy..."


Not talking gives me time and room to watch and listen. When words come straight from an undefended heart they go right to the listener's heart. They carry light and power. We want to hear more; straight talk cuts through, rings true in the ear and in the guts.

Joe, an Airforce G.I. to Heng Ch'au: "My son's noise botherin' you? Why do you guys put down families? Somebody's got to keep it going, right?"

Heng Ch'au: "Not a bit. I can see you two have a good time together. We practice being filial to our parents. We work to repay all their kindness in bringing us up. If they hadn't kept our seeds of faith alive we never would have had the chance to become monks.

Joe: "That sounds right on. I hear you."

Heng Ch'au: If your foundation is shaky your house won't go very high. But when your moral foundation is solid, from having had a good family, then you can build any kind of house on it. Some people take this chance to build a temple, a place of worship on their foundation. Other people don't do it directly, but they pass the chance on to their children. In the end as long as you follow the path with heart, nothing is ever lost. It's all up to you.

Joe: "Yeah, I can dig it."

Time after time I watch hostility and mistrust turn and mellow when people approach us. Closed faces open up, tight bodies relax. Heng Ch'au's explanation of expedient, true, principles cuts right through defenses. Joe the G.I. mellowed out, he dropped his aggressive pose, he got younger and more real right before my eyes. He talked with Heng Ch'au just briefly, not many words were exchanged, but every word counted.

Joe: "So you fellows spend all day looking in, huh? What do you suppose my son Carlos would think if his daddy started bowing out here on the highway?"

Heng Ch'au: "My father took a week off, closed the store, and went to a religious retreat on an island. I was about ten or twelve and I'll never forget how different, how alive he felt when he came back. He was quieter and deeply happy with himself. He said that he wished he could return to that island again. He still thinks about it. It's the same with us, Joe, you, too. We all do what feels the most real and work out our own salvation the best way we know how. The Buddha left 84,000 ways to cultivate. The Buddha's road is a big broad highway. Carlos might be proud of his Daddy no matter what he does so long as he knows your heart's behind it."

Joe: "Yeah, that's the way he is, a good kid."

Joe left feeling good about his life, his trip with his son, about religion in general, and Buddhists in particular. Real talk, heart Dharma shines out and makes us all happy.

"...then by using wisdom and the power of eloquence one can transform living beings according to their hearts’ desires."

-Avatamsaka Sutra


3:50: Alarm clock, brrrrrring! From a heap of blankets, a hand appears to reach for matches on seat-back altar, uncover kerosene lantern from near food-box, light it, and trim wick. Stretch, take off blanket poncho. Praise Kuan Shih Yin Bodhisattva and begin reciting the Great Compassion Mantra. Unwrap lower blankets, say mantra against harming insects, step out of car, relieve nature, check the sky, do fai chi waist circles, and say four Great Compassion Mantras.

4:00: In full lotus posture, don seven-piece precept sash. Light incense and begin morning recitation. Trade off being leader of the ceremonies each week. Instruments: small red wooden fish, brass bell, and a Sierra club cup struck with a wooden clothespin.

5:00: Bow to teachers, elders, and parents. Sutra reading by Heng Ch'au, currently: The Sutra in Forty-two Sections.

5:15: Write in journals, drink tea if thermos-water is hot. Drink warm water if not.

6:00: Roll out for tai chi ch'uan basic exercises and set of movements. Say 15-20 Great Compassion Mantras under the stars (recently under the rain clouds 1) Always cold at first. T'ai chi starts engines turning like pulling the ripcord on a chain saw. Rrrrrmmm! Basic warm-ups done, Heng Ch'au practices shao lin chuan or tai kwan do movements, then we begin t'ai chi set.

6:45: Fold blankets, store gear in stuff sacks, take water jug off car roof, start car, drink juice or tea when we have it, don gray monk's robes and precept sashes. Heng Sure takes blue sutra pack, Heng Ch'au prepares yellow carryall monk's bag. Say 5-10 Great Compassion Mantras.

7:00: Drive out to bowing site. Heng Sure begins prayers and bowing. Heng Ch'au drives ahead 1/2 mile, arranges gear, locks car, walks back, and joins bowing. Sun appears.

7:00-10:30: Single-minded bowing to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

10:30: Heng Ch'au checks watch, signals recess. Return to car, wash hands and face in brown plastic basin, put water jug on top of car, sit in full lotus and say 10-15 Great Compassion Mantras. If weather permits, Heng Ch'au sits on tailgate, otherwise both sit inside car. Say Forty-two hands and eyes.

11:00: Heng Ch'au starts Svea stove, opens cans, washes vegetables, heats water for thermos. Heng Sure studies sutras or writes in journal.

11:25: Heng Sure offers food to Buddhas, feed peng bird and ghosts and spirits.

11:30: Recite Meal Offering Praise. Lunch: three bites of Ritz cracker to accompany the Three Recollections, then begin the Five Contemplations, lunch rules: no talking, reading, or writing notes. Pass only food. Stop eating when 80% full. Menu varies according to offerings.

12:15: End meal. Heng Sure translates from Venerable Abbot's writings: poetry, talks, and essays.

12:30: Clean-up, brush teeth, repack car and say 10-15 Great Compassion Mantras. Return to bowing site. 1:00-sundown (5:00 earliest, 6:30 latest) Single-minded bowing to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. Triple Refuge, Transference of Merit, bows to the Master. Return to car, wash hands and face, stow bowing gear. Heng Ch'au finds campsite along the road. Say 10-15 Great Compassion Mantras.

6:00: Ch'an meditation. Say Forty-two Hands and Eyes.

7:00: Evening recitation. Sutra reading/translation from Avatamsaka Sutra.

8:15: Sutra study, journal writing, Ch’an meditation. Finish Great Compassion Mantras (108 a day).

9:30: Surangama Mantra section, 49 times. Triple Refuges, bows to Patriarchs.

10:15: Standing meditation. Finish Great Compassion Mantras. Put on sweater, vest, jacket, down parka, hat, hood, sweat pants, blanket-poncho. Blow out lamp.

11:00: Fall asleep sitting up. Exhausted, free, and happy.