WITH ONE HEART
BOWING TO THE CITY
records of Bhiksu Heng Sure and
Sramanera Heng Ch’au
TO THE VENERABLE MASTER:
Shih Fu Exalted One,
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.
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
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
More Car Stories
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)
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.
BUDDHISM IN AMERICA
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
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.
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..."
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,
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.
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.
he walked in the door he was glowing and happy.” said Vicky.
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?"
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.
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
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?"
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.
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
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?
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."
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...
City of Ten Thousand Buddhas?"
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."
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
that's it, isn't it?" she exclaimed, "and if you make a mistake,
try your best to try better.'"
peace in the Dharma,
Kuo T'ing (Heng Ch’au) bows in respect.