萬佛城金剛菩提海 Vajra Bodhi Sea


Vajra Bodhi Sea: HomeMain IndexIssue Index

Seeing Murder, He Produced the Bodhi Mind

Upasaka Kuo Chan Lovett

Born in New York City, Dharma Master Heng Ching spent an uneventful childhood in the Bronx Park Zoo. He visited the zoo several times a week to see a certain small group of animals: the cassowary, whose feet could rip up the hide of any animal in the world; the llama, who could spit better than anyone he had ever met; and the electric eel. Since he could lie in bed at night and hear the sounds of the penned lions he seldom went to look at them.

When he was twelve, his family moved to the countryside in Bucks, England, where they lived in a thatched roof house located on several acres, backed by a shrub fence separating them from a large cow pasture at the edge of a thick grove of trees. Next door was a strange place called Nonsense House, built without a single right angle, and situated in a tangled garden at the side of a lake known to be bottomless. The lake was haunted by the inhabitants of a coach which fell in on a winters night some two hundred years ago. One morning, after a very rare snowfall, he was a bit surprised but not mystified to see a set of wagon tracks running from the edge of the lake, along the border of the two properties, straight up to the wall of his house.

The house was in the village of Stoke Poges and he sometimes stopped by the graveyard, which is the subject of Thomas Gray’s famous elegy, and the words, "the knell of parting day" were commonplace in his family. Often he would go to nearby Windsor castle to visit the chapel and dungeons, to climb the parapets and look across the Thames at the fields of Eton, but spent most of his time studying at home, reading a book called Orpheus, A History of Religions .

As son of a Jewish family it was a matter of course that he would be Bar Mitzvahed at the age of 13, and he began a crash course in Hebrew, theology and ritual. He was impressed and felt compelled to search further in religious studies. Unfortunately his education had left him totally unfit to memorize, and so he didn’t get far. Nonetheless, he continued to attend synagogue regularly, and at the same time extended his readings in religion. Nothing eventful happened during the next few years, except that Heng Ching indiscriminately consumed every book he met.

In 1962 he went to Southern Illinois University and, by quirk, began to study Chinese. At that time he was planning on being a linguist, poet, or rabbi, none of which really demanded a knowledge of Chinese. But it interested him, and so he kept it up. In 1963 he lived in Germany for a year, and more certain in his thought of being a rabbi, he nonetheless sank deeply in to the unbearable gloom and depression connected with the usual young existentialist trip.

Following his sojourn in Germany, he moved to France, and, prepared by three years of French in high school, took up Chinese studies at the National School of Oriental Languages in Paris. That year found him repeating 1st year Chinese in French. He somehow managed to learn both languages even though he had discovered a new pastime which was, for a time, as absorbing as religion: hasheesh. Somehow he found a way to make hasheesh, Chinese, and the Talmud mix as he began to attend courses at one of the centers of Jewish study connected with the University. Through a series of events which even he found difficult to believe, he found himself one Friday evening in a small synagogue on a back alley in one of the poorest sections of Paris. It was full of bearded old men who muttered, rocked, and swayed in the light of the Sabbath candles. Heng Ching stood frozen as they stopped and looked at him. Not knowing what to do, he stood there until they sent several young boys to escort him in. A big fuss was made, and he was accepted by one of the men who was a rabbi and ritual slaughterer, and spent the next few months in the homes and at the services of these strict Hassidic Jews.

Once in the course of the chanting and singing he felt a great flame spring up within him. For a week or more he floated when he walked and was aware of a great joyous light everywhere. However, the prohibitions they wished him to accept were too narrow, and he recognized the hypocrisy of washing the blood off one’s hands to copy out religious texts. The state he had learned to experience with them could be made to appear only with great effort and was clearly impermanent, and so he left.

After studying Oriental Languages in Paris for two years he went to the University of Washington for a reason which he is quite unable to explain, as he had already been accepted at the University of Hawaii and in fact had even arranged transportation. His good roots were immediately recognized by Prof. Edward Conze, the eminent Buddhist scholar, author, and translator of many important works in Buddhism, and for two years he heard Dr. Conze lecture three times a week, talked with him privately, and intensely studied Buddhism. It did not take him long to realize that the philosophical background, depth of thought, subtlety and sense of coherence that had been lacking in everything else was to be found in Buddhist doctrine. Heng Ching said of this period of time,

"All I really understood of what Dr. Conze taught in those two years was this: Buddhism is alive. To divorce its philosophical system from its practice is to kill it. The principles must be practiced, and to be practiced they must ultimately be learned from a traditional teacher, a Bhiksu of an orthodox lineage, because the true teaching is handed down from master to pupil. If there is not such a teacher, one can only rely on the texts and commentaries, and consequently it is essential that the finest academic procedures be used in translation, but never at the cost of the true meaning of the text. Where scholarship and Buddhism disagree, the Buddhists are the authorities. Scholars are scholars, Buddhists are Buddhists and what we need is scholarly Buddhists."

Although he did not know the Sanskrit required to learn the techniques of translation from Dr. Conze, Heng Ching decided to translate Buddhist texts using the works of Dr. Conze and Suzuki as models.

After two years in Seattle, during which he also studied with Dr. Hurvitz and Father P. Serruys, the opportunity arose to study with a master whose language he knew. While still in Seattle, Dharma Master Heng Ching’s good roots with Buddhism caused him to hear of the Venerable Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua. He traveled to San Francisco to meet and pay his respects to the Master early in 1968. Within three days of his arrival he took refuge and became a disciple with the Dharma name of Kuo Ning. That summer he attended the 96-Day Meditation and Shurangama Study Session at the Buddhist Lecture Hall, and began to apply the principles of Buddhism to his own life. At the beginning of this session he was extremely capable in written Chinese, but knew no spoken Chinese. Within two months, however, he was making fluent spot translations from Chinese into English of the Master’s daily lectures on the Shurangama Sutra.

After that summer passed, he decided to stay on and went looking for a job. Weeks passed and none appeared. One day, on the way to an interview, he passed by a slaughterhouse.

"Morbid curiosity compelled me to take a look. At that time I had already maintained vegetarian eating for almost a year. In the street was a seemingly endless flow of carcasses on the backs of men in stained white smocks. I went behind; there were large pens there, but they were empty. In a pile of I don’t know what, a large black dog slunk with his tail between his legs. Looking up at the main building I saw, on the 4th floor, the terrified face of a lamb, looking back down to earth. It disappeared.

On the floor below was a high window behind which a light bulb burned. It could barely be discerned through the crusted substance on the glass. I was incredibly confused, horrified and moved by emotions, which I still cannot name. Suddenly there broke into my consciousness the whack of a club against flesh and a noise for which terror is too mild a word. It was the sound of a sheep. Everything transformed, all the places, times, worries, the horror that I used to sense in the air of Germany, all coalesced and became something else.

I tried to say the Great Compassion Mantra but couldn’t remember it without a book. I knew then what the Buddha meant in the very beginning of the Sutra we had spent 96 days studying. He told Ananda that to be widely learned is still no substitute for cultivation. Without doing the work there is no understanding of the way.

The sound of the sheep continued in my ears as I went home to the temple. It continued for a week until I asked permission to leave home. It still continues. Not until all sentient beings have been liberated from the sea of birth and death will the sound of that sheep stop. It is for this reason that we must work hard to spread the Buddhadharma in the West, to put an end to suffering, and an end to killing–––and end the sound of the sheep."

In December 1968, a Seven-Day Meditation Session was held at the Buddhist Lecture Hall in San Francisco. Although Heng Ching had left home for three months, he hadn’t done anything and continued to be lazy. He was, however, looking forward to the session. About a week before it began he fell ill with a severe cold which turned into a case of Hong Kong Flu. After remaining in bed for about a week, his condition did not improve. The session began and he lay on a couch in an ante–room of the temple with a burning fever. The meditation session progressed, so did his fever. In all he did not eat for about two weeks. Midway into the session his delirium reached a peak. Heng Ching has described this time well:

"Finally the heat and the pain became unbearable; I was sure that it was impossible to stand anymore. So severe was this sickness that I could not even keep my mind clear enough to remember the word Buddha. When it got to be too much I passed into unconsciousness again, and this time I emerged into a cool and clean place, without heat or pain, the anti-thesis of what had been racking my body for the past ten days. It was like stepping into the center of an air–conditioned emerald, but one made not of matter as we know it.

There were a number of people whom I recognized, all of whom I knew to have been dead for some time. This did not cause me to reflect on my own state, however. They were all ecstatically blissful, calm and radiant, their bodies shining with cool light. They were also not bound to one place but were free to drift through space at will. In short, it looked like the best of all possible worlds, particularly when I stopped to take a look at the sweating pain–wracked hunk of meat of which I still had a vague awareness.

My contact with that body grew weaker as I began to feel the strength and bliss of this new realm. Everyone invited me to stay and told me that I would be free to do as I pleased and enjoy whatever I wanted. I agreed and was taken for a tour on which I was shown all manner of blissful existences. In a landscape of indescribable loveliness, lush and fecund, strolled many beings with shining bodies. At the base of a cliff splashed with the most subtle of pastel wash colors, on an exquisite lawn, sat a number of people in a semi–circle. All sat in meditation posture and were beautifully adorned. They did not move but their faces held a serene and fixed smile. They seemed to be able to sit in one place and enjoy everything that could be enjoyed.

At that time I thought that this would be a fine place to practice Buddhism and asked my guide if it would be possible to cultivate here.

‘Cultivate,’ he said, ‘what is that word? There is no such thing here.’ Startled I went and asked some old friends and relatives if I could cultivate in that place. The reply was the same. Surprised, I asked if it would be possible to see my Master if I lived there. The reply was the same; no one even knew what a Master was. ‘Here, we are all our own masters,’ they said, ‘we are free to do as we please; no one controls us. This is independence.’

Alarmed at the prospect of not seeing my teacher again I firmly resolved to go to wherever he was and study with him there. The cool green crystal world faded away and I returned to the Buddhist Lecture Hall. My fever broke and although it reoccurred slightly, someone always seemed to come and cool me off when it began. Within a few days I was sitting up and began to eat, and within a week I was out of bed. The process of learning what cultivation is has not been easy and is really only beginning. It is for certain that the joy of those heavens is an illusory one since the basic process of birth, sickness, old age and death, by which one learns of life and death, is not recognized there. The heavens, like everything else impermanent, are bound to come to an end."

Alert and concentrated, Heng Ching enjoys translating sutra lectures.

Heng Ching’s cultivation consists of rising each day at 4 AM to bow to The Lotus Sutra, followed by a day filled with meditation, recitation, translation, and hearing lectures on the sutras. He also cultivates the practice of eating only once each day before noon. Although he is vigorous, he is often prodded by the Master, who uses many expedient devices to test Heng Ching’s patience; for example, he is often scolded for doing something wrong when he is right, and praised when he is wrong. Heng Ching’s cultivation of Ch’an (Zen) meditation is precise, and he has arrived at important understandings and awakenings.

   Dharma Master Heng Ching spends many hours each day translating Buddhist texts. His translations have included work on The Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Sutra, The Shurangama Sutra, The Diamond Sutra, The Sixth Patriarch Sutra, The Record of Water Mirror Turning Back Heaven, the Ta Pei Ch’an, and lengthy passages from the Vinaya among others. Of these, he has given particularly careful attention to The Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva(Ti Tsang) Sutra, and gives weekly lectures on this sutra in order to strengthen the establishment of the good Dharma and to uproot the false Dharmas popular in the West today. In order to help others gain a first hand knowledge of the sutras he has given freely of his time to instruct in spoken, written, and classical Chinese.

Dharma Master Heng Ching made the following vows at the Buddhist Lecture Hall on February 15th, 1970:

  1. I vow to always be born in places which have not had Buddhist Sutras before and to translate Sutras.
  2. I vow to propagate the Pure Land Dharma Door.
  3. I vow to propagate the Ch’an School.
  4. I vow to save the Demon King.
  5. I vow to leave home in every life.
  6. I vow to attain the five eyes and six super–knowledges and to cause those who study me to do the same.
  7. I vow that after I accomplish Buddhahood, if any sentient being is possessed by demons or is insane and calls my name or sees my image, I will cause that sentient being’s karmic obstacles to be suddenly wiped away; he will ultimately attain to Buddhahood.
  8. If one possessed by demons or insane sees another person who recollects my name, I will cause that person’s karmic obstacles to gradually be wiped away.
  9. If there is one who wishes to learn languages for the sake of propagating the Buddhadharma, and if he recollects my name or bows to the images of any Buddha, I will cause that person to be able to speak, understand and write the languages of all countries and to have unlimited eloquence.
  10. I vow to cause those who are born in my land to see Amitabha Buddha.


法界佛教總會 Dharma Realm Buddhist Association© Vajra Bodhi Sea