In his own words, Prof. Yu Kuo K’ung paints the following picture of himself: "I was born a farmers son, educated as an engineer and scientist and will die a Ch'an Buddhist." These terse words, tinged with humor, capituale his rather abrupt and swift arrival at the sublimity of Ch'an Buddhism.
Kuo K'ung received his B.S. in Civil Engineering at Taiwan University, and came to the U.S. in 196110 complete his M.S. in Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Technical Institute, and his Ph.D. at Auburn Univ., Alabama, where he presently teaches.
In his search for a deeper meaning to life he at first investigated the Catholic and Christian faiths. But tried as he might there was nothing of "sufficient compelling strength" that 'gut' feeling to convince him. "Because of my scientific training, even with regards to adopting a religious system of belief, I stilt wanted something backed by sound scientific rationale. I couldn't take just anything on blind faith."
He was aware that man's spiritual ulcer was Selfishness and that it was the hardest sore to eradicate. Sometime in 1975, a Chinese gentleman, a neighbor, offered Kuo K'ung a copy of the Sixth Patriarch Dharma Jewel Platform Sutra, a core-book for any Ch'an student or adept. All night long Kuo K'ung sat up poring over the sutra, entranced. He had never read anything as astounding as this! "Finally I found something that knows my sound. Thoughts I've always had and wanted to express the Sixth Patriarch expressed much more fluently." Over and over again, in the months to come, Kuo K'ung deeply immersed himself into the Sutra, gleaning from its gems of wisdom and studiously applying them to his daily life in seeking for fame and self benefit.
Another reflection descended upon him at this time, "The Sixth Patriarch was a man who lived a thousand years ago. I should find a living person who embodies these principles of Ch'an." Having already heard of Master Hsuan Hua; he came to Gold Mountain Monastery on May 3, 1977 to pay his respects. On encountering the Master, Kuo K'ung had the distinct feeling that he had known him before. Something in the Masters smile, his movements perhaps, betrayed the faintest trace of an acquaintance from a long time ago.
Kuo K'ung was brimming with questions. The first one he shot out at the Master was, "Have you opened enlightenment?" to which the Master scarcely paid any attention. Later he was heard to mutter, "Whether I am enlightened or not is of no special consequence to you. If you are hungry, you must eat to fill yourself."
Kuo K'ung's Second question elicited a classic 'Ch'an' interchange: Question: "If all the people in the world left home, what would become of society?"
Answer: "Is it possible to get all the left home people in the world to return to lay life?"
Question: "No, it is impossible and impractical."
Answer: "Your original question is just as impractical. Why waste time on such fruitless mental pursuits?"
After this Kuo K'ung was convinced enough to take refuge under the master with the Triple Jewel.
Prof. Hu is very enthusiastic about the possibilities of Buddhism taking root in the U.S. Particularly Ch'an Buddhism, because its clear, rational approach appeals to most Americans. "Of course, if you are talking about the ultimate level of things, then all dharmas lie beyond the dualities of rational or the non-rational." A famous Japanese Ch'an zen scholar once said that Ch'an is not a rational discipline. Kuo K'ung tends to feel the opposite. Ch'an is the most direct method of "seeing the nature and realizing Buddhahood", and is devoid of the more elaborate rituals and symbolisms employed by other schools. This makes it compatible with the scientific mode of thinking that. Most Westerners are trained in.
"Most of us seek within the realm of the conditioned, for an existing 'something'. But this search should include a something, which is not a thing as its limit, in order to make the system complete. In all systems, 'Zero' is the most basic clement. From Zero everything arises, and to Zero everything returns in the end. Without the Zero one cannot plumb the intrinsic value of things."
This illustrates the theme of Kuo K'ung's search. In the daily discipline and simplifying of his mind, in honing it to an ever finer focus, Kuo K'ung is determined to reach the One Mind the Original Inherent Bright vision common to all living beings. For this idea he is willing to give up all else.