Bhikshu Heng Chau, who has been away from the monastery and his teacher for several years while finishing his Ph.D., wrote a birthday card to the Ven. Abbot from the University of Wisconsin. On it in big letters were the words, "Everyday is happy; everyday is my birthday." A letter from Heng Chau explained. He told Shr Fu how fifteen years ago, the Abbot had spoken those words to a young monk, who upon meeting the Abbot downstairs in Gold Mountain Monstery on the day we celebrated the Ven. Abbot's birthday, had blurted out, "Happy Birthday, Shr Fu!"
The Venerable Abbot smiled and said in English, "Everyday I am happy, and everyday is my birthday."
Simple-sounding words, but profound in practice. The deeper meaning behind the words talks not of being happy in the marketplace sense, as if happiness were something that you can purchase. Any happiness that results from
getting will not be lasting happiness. Certainly not "everyday happiness."
The awesome aspect of the Abbot's statement is that to be happy everyday requires that you put an end to all afflictions. You
get rid of instead of getting. You cultivate away all things that obstruct happiness. Who can do it? On his birthday or ever?
Perhaps we can interpret "Everyday is my birthday" to mean this: Unlike most people on their birthdays, Shr Fu wants no gifts, no cake, and no special attention.
He doesn't usually celebrate his birthday at all, how much the less does he want people to give him things. But he does ask for something from all of us. In fact Shr Fu has often said he "begs" afflictions from his disciples. If we can give up our anger, our ego, our doubts, and our deepest fears, and really send them over to the teacher, he happily receives this "giving from the soul" and burns the afflictions up in his atomic furnace. This is perhaps the kind of birthday a good and wise advisor passes everyday. Is it hyperbole? I think not, judging from how much lighter and refreshed I feel after I honestly and sincerely make a gift of the troubles in my heart to the Ven. Abbot.
During his Dharma-talk that day in Long Beach, the Ven. Abbot mentioned his vow to go last to Buddhahood, after every one of his disciples. Only after the last refuge disciple cultivates all the way to Ultimate Bodhi will he consider his vows fulfilled. That means that the disciples bear a heavy responsibility. If we don't want to sentence the Ven. Abbot to an eternity of hanging around this Saha World, then we have to have to repay his kindness every day. This requires that we recognize our bad habits, yearn to get rid of these afflictions and then offer them up to an inconceivable teacher.
So I bowed nine times in respect to the Ven. Abbot that day, for myself, and for Heng Chau and the other disciples who couldn't attend the party in person. We take a step closer to future Buddhahood by invisibly giving a knot of cares and worries, every bit of it, to the every day happy, every day birthday Elder Master of the Dharma.
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