Daily records of Bhiksu Heng Sure and 
                Sramanera Heng Ch’au

LETTER TO THE VENERABLE MASTER:                      

February 22, 1978

Dear Shih Fu Exalted One,

Best wishes from Three Steps, One Bow to the Venerable Abbot and the Great Assembly. We are in Harmony. Harmony, California, population 18. Halfway between Cayncos and Cambria. Every day the hills get greener, the sky looks bluer, the people get fewer, the morning fog grows thicker. We're into the land of long snakes, long-haired cattle on winter forage, and a passing biology major from Cal Poly confirms that what Heng Ch'au saw on Sunday was a mountain lion. As the days pass, I know less and less. I watch the tip of my nose and eat the green weeds that grow beside the road. Gathering wild food is a good dharma. It's free, it's like the Buddha-nature. Before we get the word that the Buddhas of all time and space come from your mind, we run all over the Dharma-realm looking for the Path. Then we hear that it's been inside our true mind all along--all you have to do is uncover it. Ah: Wild food is the same. The fields look full of weeds until someone says, "Key that weed you're standing on tastes like the finest supermarket greens, better, even, cause it's free and fresh and abundant." Ah: The field of weeds becomes a nutritious garden especially for the hungry pilgrim. The challenge now to the cultivator is to not think of his stomach every time he looks at the ground. Surely this is a mundane dharma, but Three Steps, One Bow has given us a new appreciation of so much that we have always overlooked or taken for granted. It deserves mentioning as an inexhaustible storehouse of food for pilgrims and mountain hermits of the future. Bhiksu Heng K'ung, our mountain hermit of the present, has been aware of the granola/greens/ and spring-water cultivator's diet for a long time. These have now become our staples as we bow up the coast. We don't trip out into extended food gathering—we can identify five or six varieties of plants that grow nearly everywhere. Five minutes to pick a pot-full (watch carefully for insects--this is their world, too) Wash them and boil them for two minutes. Done. What's more, we have been looking for slightly bitter foods to dispel "fire-energy" that comes with meditation. Dandelions and mustard greens have just enough natural bitterness to drop the fire without being too bitter to swallow.

      Our lives grow more natural and more simple as we bow away the artificial views and habits we learned over the years. The outstanding natural and simple truth: all conditioned things will die. Our bodies are temporary unions of earth, air, fire, and water. No amount of natural food or energy invested in eating will keep the body healthy when it comes time to die. The back-to-nature movement is on the right track but if it stops with roadside weeds and granola, it hasn't gone back far enough. Buddhist disciples are part of the really important movement in the modern world—the "back-to-the-'true 'nature" movement. The true self-nature does not perish; it is our birthright as living beings. By cultivating the Path that all Buddhas have always walked, we return to the biggest Nature there is. '"The wind and light of our original ground have a special and wonderfully delightful flavor that is quite inexhaustible. If we wish to try its taste we must simply purify our minds" as the Master describes it in the preface to Water and Mirror Reflections. You might say he's talking about the Bodhi plant—the one we most want to identify, eat, and share with all our Dharma friends. This plant is not in the edible-plant field-guides because its special-it grows on the mind-ground. Our teacher shows us where to look, how to recognize it, and how to harvest it. Here is the way it could be listed in A Buddhist Flora:

Species: Enlightenment. Variety: wonderful. Habitat: within the true heart of all living beings. Distribution: throughout the Dharma realm. Season: eternal. Description: See Flower Garland Sutra for references Wonderful beyond words.

More Car Stories

Our Plymouth cave-on-wheels is not an ordinary car. We suspect it is a dragon, maybe a transformed disciple of the Master's who volunteered to work on Three Steps One Bow. The car is always protecting our Dharma and speaking it for us, too. Some nights under the bright moon it just plain looks like a dragon with a beard and tail. It should have collapsed a dozen times by now, but it keeps right on rolling. During the heavy storms in early February the car refused to start. We were parked right on the highway shoulder. The gas station man couldn't start the dragon—nothing worked. We sat tight while I bowed in place and counted the bows. We had planned to drive into Morro Bay that morning to dry the gear out at a laundromat but no dice—the car was wet. Suddenly a familiar blue bus appeared beside me with three golden figures strapped into the seats. It was Kuo Tsai, Matteo, come down to take us and the three Buddha images to L.A. Had we gone to the laundromat he never would have found us. Well, let's give the car one more try. Vroom! He starts like a champ and away we go. "Do you mean to say the car knew someone was coming and deliberately held you there for the rendezvous? "Well, how else do you explain it? There are all sorts of strange marvels in tie world. Countless, inexhaustible, measureless and unfathomable and they all proceed from the zero in the mind. How inconceivable! Amitabha!

                      Disciple Kuo Chen (Heng Sure) 
                            Bows in respect.

February 23, 1978

Harmony, California

Dear Shifu,

I wrote a short essay this a.m. about some things that have become clearer to me about Buddhism and America while doing Three Steps, One Bow.


  Morro Bay, California

This country was settled by people from all over the world—every race and color imaginable. They all shared one thing: the United States, which stood for a chance to start over, an opportunity to change old habits and renew. They were all looking for a paradise they had lost. Leaving their homes and the familiar, they came in search of a pure land and to reclaim their natural innocence. Dreamers and idealists, these people were seekers of stillness and after ultimate peace and freedom. This is still true today and people are still coming to America for liberty and Eden.

But we haven't found it yet. Why? You might say one reason is we weren't looking in the right places. It's a lot like the story in the Dharma Flower Sutra about a wealthy man whose son was discontent and wanted to run away from home. But before he left, his parents, fearing he would become a drifter and penniless vagrant, secretly sewed a wish fulfilling pearl in their son's clothing. The son left and sure enough became down-and-out. But he didn't realize that a priceless pearl was sewn in his clothing so he couldn't benefit from it.

Americans are a lot like the wealthy man's son. We are always unhappy at home and itching for freedom. So we have run outside: pursued wealth and sought "more, better, and bigger"—cars, homes, and highs. Yet all this worldly accomplishment that has made this the richest country in the world hasn’t produced paradise. Our material success has brought little freedom or security. We are as restless and uprooted as ever. Maybe even more so than two hundred years ago. The harder and faster we search for the "pearl" outside, the further from home we go. "Off an inch in the beginning" we are "off a thousand miles in the end." Morro Bay is at "the end" in lots of ways and a good example of why Buddhism is taking root in Western soil.

Virginia and John McKenzie and their four kids are a typical American family. College graduates, they made their home in South Pasadena and began to live the good and promising life. "But it wasn’t just if you had a color T.V. that mattered," related Virginia, "it was how many color T.V.’s you had that counted!" Something was missing and more success over the years failed to correct it. "So we sold the T.V.’s and the Cadillac, bought an old station wagon and moved to the mountains." They lived there for three years and learned a lot. "I learned how to save rubber bands and felt like I was in kindergarten again." But the kids needed "school and scouts" so they moved to Morro Bay as a compromise—a city but not polluted and upside down like L.A., they thought.

      In a short time the oil corporations and gas and electric companies set up huge plant facilities. The "developers" flawed in parceling and building until Morro Bay swelled in size and headaches. "The freeway is getting closer and this nice quiet community has a serious drug problem with its children. We are very concerned." Said Virginia, "Our kids are good kids, but when it’s right in the schools..."

      The McKenzie family read about the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in a San Francisco paper and saw us bowing. They have spearheaded a campaign of support and are "just really happy for a chance to give." They send out gas, water, and food regularly. I explained briefly about how the Sangha are "fields of blessings," people give through us not to us. Giving is a way to plant good seeds and nourish what Buddhism represents: enlightenment, compassion, ending suffering, and ultimate wisdom. "That’s neat!" said Virginia. "Like planting seeds, kind of. I don’t understand a whole lot. All I think of when I give is up there (City of Ten Thousand Buddhas). I see all those fine faces, wonderful land, and good buildings and what they are being used for and I ‘send it up’ to help it grow." She gestures like a cheerleader. Of the five precepts, she said, "Boy, that would take a big weight off your back, wouldn’t it?"

      Cliff and Vicky are a young married couple who live in a high-rent, crowded condominium development community called Baywood in Morro Bay. They aren’t happy or settled. "We've been looking for something that expressed and meshed with our thoughts and feelings--inside, you know? Success and traditional religions just don't make it. This wasn't 'home' for us," they explained. "A lot of people talk about the Path and the Way, but we haven't found anybody really doing it." When they found out we were part of a whole community of lay and left home practicing Buddhists, "I couldn't wipe the grin off my face for days, I was so happy." said Vicky.

They came out with their friends to make offerings, and joined in our Sunday afternoon Gwan Yin praise-recitation and chanting the Great Compassion Mantra. Last week Cliff was driving home during a bad storm. Heavy rain and high winds were pushing his little car all over the highway. A flock of birds struggling with the storm got tossed into Cliff's car. "I looked out the rear view mirror and saw one bird roll across the highway. I had hit it:" said Cliff. "I knew the bird was dying. I felt I needed to do something to help. Then for some reason without thinking I said 'Namo Gwan Shr Yin Pu Sa' about five or six times. I remembered Gwan Yin helps in times of suffering and sickness. Then something strange happened. Suddenly the skies cleared and the wind died down. It was sunny and safe all the way home." said Cliff.

"When he walked in the door he was glowing and happy.” said Vicky.

"I know it had to do with reciting Gwan Yin, but I don't know how or why. I've never had anything like that happen to me before. Strange, huh?" related Cliff.

They all took copies of the Great Compassion Mantra that a layperson from L.A. had with her and they are full of questions and sincerity for the Buddhadharma. "What's the pure Dharma body?" "Where can we start to read?" "What's a Bodhisattva?" "What else can we do?" "Who is Amitabha Buddha?" and so on.

The last two peregrine falcons in the country are carefully protected on the landmark of Morro Bay—a high Rock Island that rises up out of the middle of the Bay. The city itself is a bird refuge and people are very aware they live on the edge of the edge of the continent. There's no more room to expand or to run over the next hill for greener grass. As a country, this is where it is at: we have run out of room to run outside. The "great evasion" as one historian called our running away from ourselves, is coming to a natural limit and we are spiritually a thousand miles off the mark. But Americans are optimists and resilient. They don't despair. Practical and self-reliant, they pick up again and try to avoid the same mistakes. This is repentance and reform. People we meet are not ashamed or afraid to admit they got on the wrong track and want to start again on the right foot. Open and energetic, a lot of folks are ready to leave the "brave new world" for the Flower Store World. They are ready to "return the light and illumine within." But where to begin?

"...where was there ever a man of wisdom who got to see and hear the Buddha without cultivating pure vows and walking the same path the: Buddha walked?"

Avatamsaka Sutra

"Tushita Heaven Chapter"

The Master has stressed, "Make Buddhism your personal responsibility." This is what really counts: each person "trying his best" to put down the false and find the true. What moves and inspires people is practice—pure vows and walking the road. Talk is cheap. There are a lot of people like Heng Sure and myself who realize we haven't really done our own work, that we have been on the band wagon and have been taking a free ride. We have really exhausted our blessings by just enjoying them. Like the son of the wealthy man, we have run out of conditions to climb on and have to start from scratch.

The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is so important. It is a pure place where we can "cleanse our hearts and souls of defilement and ground our lives in morality and virtue." The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas represents hope for countless living beings to end suffering and tint true freedom. It is becoming a symbol like the Statue of Liberty of opportunity and refuge--a chance to finish the Revolution for Independence by working on the mind-ground.

Many people we have met share this conviction and are very excited about the orthodox Dharma and the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. In a very real way, the American Revolution for Independence was never completed. Americans feel this sense of "unfinished business" in their hearts and minds. Our history and behavior continues to be a restless search for our natural roots and ultimate liberation. Who would have guessed the "pearl" was sewn right in our very own clothing?

What is the "pearl" if not our affluence and prosperity? The pearl is "the bright substance of your everlasting pure nature, your true unchanging mind. We have been saying that Buddhism is new in America, but this is not really accurate. Like the pearl, Buddhism has always been here. We just didn't know where to look. So now the Monk in the Grave has come to America and reminded us all about the pearl in our clothing--the pearl that grants all wishes, "Your very body is the enlightenment-ground, and your mind is the Pure Land."

      Stan, a native of Boise, Idaho, is in his late 70's and lives in retirement now with his wife in Morro Bay. He still wears logging shirts and comes on strong and honest, "We read about you in the paper and about what you're doing up North in Ukiah...

"The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas?"

"Yes, that's it. Well all I got to say is the country needs more people like you." Stan made an offering and invited us to stay at their home while we were in the area. I explained our vows wouldn't allow that but it was a kind offer. "Well, it's been a honor knowing you. My wife and I are very interested in what you folks are doing. This is what will make the country strong. Good luck and thank you."

The Monk in the Grave did not come here in vain. Virginia McKenzie wanted to thank someone. We said that the best thanks was practice and we told her of the words over the exit door of Gold Mountain Monastery: "Try your best."

"Boy, that's it, isn't it?" she exclaimed, "and if you make a mistake, try your best to try better.'"

Much peace in the Dharma,
Disciple Kuo T'ing (Heng Ch’au) bows in respect.