With One Heart

Letters to the Venerable Master from Heng Sure and Heng Chau

January 21, 1978

San Luis Obispo is now behind us. Morro Bay is twelve miles ahead and then, nothing but miles and miles of winding coastline between us and San Francisco. The San Luis passage felt special to us, rather like a gate-less tollgate, like a series of big tests of resolve and concentration. We were very aware of the Ch'an session going on at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas and felt like our work was even more a highway Ch'an, just as Ch'an sessions are a harvest time for Three Steps One Bow. If the daily work has not been done you find outright away in a meditation intensive. The pressure reveals the cracks and flaws first. Instead of a harvest the session can feel like a huge test. City bowing is the same. All the bad habits that we overlook or fail to smelt out appear as we bow in the city. The false and the hidden aspects of our minds suddenly feel the spotlight. The verse goes:

In the country, smelt it down.

Test its temper in the town.

Pass or fail we still go on

To contemplate the noumenon.

In fact, tests are constant both in the country and in the city. As Shih Fu's disciples we know that "Everything's a test to see what you will do.  Mistaking what's before your face, you'll have to smelt anew."

Heng Ch'au told me of this experience he had. Sometimes the line is drawn very fine. And you can't be off by a hair's breadth.

      In Pismo State Park, with not a soul around, he looked for several seconds too long at a beautiful double rainbow in the Eastern sky. In a flash his head was filled with images of his old desires and habits. He "fell back on the wheel" as in the verse:

When you see things and understand

You transcend the world.

When you see things and are confused,

You tall onto the wheel.

In my case it's more like being off by a whale's breadth but the result was the same confusion.

One evening a very familiar van swung over and parked ahead. It was the Gold Mountain Chevy van. I didn't have my glasses on but I'd know that car anywhere it was at the end of a long day of bowing and my ego-self was really looking for any excuse to leak out. "How wonderful! A surprise visit from our family." I figured out that it was probably Bhiksu Heng Ju and he surely had with him new books, food, maybe a message from Shih Fu. I had the whole greedy scene worked out in my head in no time. "Funny that no one has come out of the van though, I wonder what they're waiting for? How come Heng Ch'au hasn't walked by me to greet them? Oh well, just finish this day's work and then take your reward. There, the van door's open. Who is it?" "Howdy fellows, have you accepted Jesus as your personal Savior?" Oh no! A Christian preacher who happens to drive a green Chevy van! Back to the wheel to smelt anew.

Tests happen everywhere. Still the country roads give us time to focus on bad habits one or two at a time the smelting process is just like the daily work in the monastery. Be on time, don't rap, eat just enough and no more, stay mindful of your method, walk the Middle Way at all times, subdue your self at every turn. If the smelting process has been patiently, vigorously maintained, when the city streets appear below our knees there: is no difference in the flavor of the work. It's just the intensity, the results, the harvest that increases. The temper of the metal is measured. The strengths pass the test, the weak spots go back to the furnace for another round. Just as in a meditation session, cultivation goes on the same as usual only more so. With the focus on reciting and sitting, the fruits of daily work roll into the storehouse. The barren trees must be pruned back for the next growing season.

Have you subdued your desire for fame? How's your concentration as reporters from two local papers click click click their cameras at you for hours? Do you move off your center and start to pose? On to the wheel you go. How about food? Are you still attached to flavor and getting full? Let's test it out. Here come Sramanera's Kuo Yu's grandparents, Bill and Pat Erelan, with a tray of hot, home-cooked cornbread. All six organs move at once and the mind is filled with clouds of false thoughts. Oh my, back to the foundry. Say what are you cultivating anyway, besides greed for hot cornbread? How about sleep? It's 8:30, the Sutra's been recited and you are exhausted in every fiber of your body. You need some strength, man. Your bad habits make you so sick, that you're right on the edge of taking a deep dive. It's time to meditate but what's the use, you'll only nod out. Shih Fu! What am I gonna do? I'm at the end of my rope. The deeper I go into my mind the more muck and garbage to turn-up. There's no lotus here, there's just mud. Well, you can't go wrong asking your teacher even if you're a hopeless case. His compassion is deeper than your stupidity even. Try him again. You're working to stand on your own feet but this is your time of need. Here's the 42 Sections Sutra, just open it up to see what it says:

Shramaneras who study the Way should get a solid hold on their minds and be vigorous, courageous, and valiant. Not fearing what lies ahead, they should destroy the hordes of demons and obtain the fruits of the Way. Having the strength of precepts, samadhi, and wisdom in order to break through and destroy your-beginingless habits and your beginingless pretensions, and all your other faults is analogous to destroying the multitudes of demons...Don't turn back halfway. Go forward vigorously and with courage. Only go forward, never retreat. Only advance, never retreat.

(Sutra in 42 Sections)

Amazing. It's just as if the Master were sitting right here! Then I heard in my inner ear the Master's voice say, "Kuo Chen you lazy bug. How can you possibly think of sleeping when you haven't done your homework? Do the work just like you wear clothes, just like you eat. Did you skip lunch because you were too tired? No? Well how can you not meditate? Everyone else is working hard in the Ch'an sees ion, what's your excuse?"

I sat upright, folded my legs into full lotus and "sat like a bell". My fatigue and my doubts vanished like the valley fog penetrated by the morning sun. "Pass or fail we still go on to contemplate the noumenon." It's all totally wonderful Dharma. Who can doubt that drawing near to a wise advisor is 100% of the Way?

13 miles
135 miles
249 miles
one single thought

January 78 Sunday

3:45 am. Up for morning recitation, scramble for sweaters to keep out the morning chill. The highways deserted and quiet, only the sound of the moon and a Softly gurgling creek before we start with the Surangama Mantra

5:00-6:00 am. We write arid read Sutras, fill up the kerosene lamp.

6:00-7:00 am. Do T'ai Chi--slippery arid sliding on: Eucalyptus tree berries.

7:15 am. Drive to bowing site on mountain pass in Santa Lucia Mts. Cold, clear, and light wind.

7:3O am. Drive back to campsite forget a pair of shoes.

8:00 am. Four disciples from Los Angeles come out bundled up and ready to bow.

9:00 am. A man named Richard quietly joins the bowing procession in front of State Prison outside of San Luis Obispo. "I just saw you and felt real sincerity and a bond. So I decided to join in. Is it ok?" Richard said he did a little yoga, tai chi and some chan meditations, "and this bowing looks and feels like the same." He made an offering and then left about 10:00 to go back to work. He is a gardener. Hes planning to come to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas this spring when he has a month vacation.

10:30 am. Stop bowing, transfer merit. Drive to place off freeway for meal offering.

10:45 Run out of gas (no gas gauge).

11-11:30 Meditate.

11:30-12:15 Meal offering and meal. During the meal a man reverently walks up and with folded hands does a half bow arid offers a hag of fruit and long-stemmed roses.

1-2 pm. Kuan Yin praise, Great Compassion Mantra and Avatamsaka Sutra translated by Heng Sure. (Tushita Heaven Chapter).

2-6 pm. Bowing. On the way back to the bowing site I am in samadhi about how to get all the food offerings to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. I spot a turtle right in the middle of the freeway, craning its neck, bewildered. By the time I woke-up, and thought to liberate it, we'd gone too far. Had to turn around and drive back. We got back just in time to hear and see the turtle popped and splattered by a big pink Cadillac that ran over it. We feel the turtle's life end right in our stomachs. There is a big lesson here: "Off an inch in the beginning, off a thousand miles in the end." Had I been according with conditions and not one place with my body and another with my mind, I would have been decisive and stopped the car as soon as I saw the turtle stranded in the road. Instead my false thinking "samadhi" about food caused me to be off by a few seconds and that made all the difference.

3:00 pm. A man walks across the heavy traffic to make an offering saying, "I never knew such a place existed in California (referring to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.) I want to help out."

4:00 pm. A woman stops her car outside the prison gate and approaches. "Will you please accept this?" she asks humbly handing me her book of food stamps. "And could you in your prayers include my husband--he's in there." (pointing to the prison.) Bless you, God bless you."

5:30 pm. "Go home you bald-headed farts" from a passing car.

5:40 pm. A man walks up to us on a narrow and tricky ledge. He almost falls but keeps coming. Handing me a money offering he says, "When there is veneration even a dog's tooth emits light." He turns and leaves.

6:00 pm. We transfer merit, bow to the Triple Jewel and the Master.

6:30-7:30 pm. Sit in Ch'an.

7:30-8:30 Recite Amitabha Sutra and praise, Heng Sure translates Avatamsaka Sutra.

8:30-9:30 nap.

9:30-10:30 I do some Shao lin exercises and standing meditation.

10:50-11:15 pm. Recite mantras and bow to Patriarchs.

11:15-12:30 pm. Sit Ch'an and read Vajra Bodhi Sea.

12:30 blow out kerosene lamp, hear a "who, who" from a night owl and I'm asleep.

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