“You should pay attention to those who come to the
City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. You’ll never know who will have the key
to unlock your ignorance.” These words were spoken by the Venerable
Master Hua more than ten years ago. I cannot help but think back and
say, “These sentences were spoken for me.”
Starting in 1987, the Venerable Master invited
several women to come to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas to give a
series of lectures on the Five Elements. When I heard them, it made me
very happy. These were just the things I wanted to learn. I wanted to
know how I could really begin to improve myself, and what I needed to
do in order for those changes to come about. The teachings of the sages
began to make more sense to me. What I had learned about cultivation up
to this point took on a new meaning. I now had a method. What’s more,
this method involved actual practice.
There were further lectures on the study of the
Five Elements. This study points directly to people’s natures—both the
physiological and psychological characteristics of each element—and how
people can learn to move in and out of each element. There are also
illnesses associated with each element, and once you understand how
they come about, those illnesses can be cured.
The stories and examples which were given on the
Five Elements were fresh, clear, and easy for me to understand. I also
came to understand how beneficial this study is in cultivation. I had
problems getting along with my Dharma peers, my mother and I had
problems, and my own conduct was something less than the conduct of a
left-home person. It was time for me to do some real cultivation. I
knew what it involved to change, but I wasn’t afraid of the difficulty.
At the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, I had a lot
of space to work on my own cultivation. The first thing I decided to do
was to work on the problem I had with my mother. I asked myself, “What
is the real problem? Why can’t we get along? Why am I so fearful of
her?” These questions and others were real ‘sore spots.’ Oftentimes I
found myself running away by mixing in the questions of “Why is she..?”
and “Why can’t she...?” I learned painfully fast that this kind of
thinking doesn’t work. The only way that the ‘unfinished business’ was
going to be finished was to dig deeply into my own mind and pour out
everything. I wanted to be true to myself and true to my mother. How
could I make my mother responsible for what was in my own mind? How
could I put the blame on her? I found myself doing a lot of crying
during this time. It was very difficult, and bitter to the taste!
When I was finally able to accept what I had done,
as well as what I hadn’t done, it was time to tell my mother. Since it
was not convenient to talk to her in person, I spent about a whole week
writing a letter to her. I cried several times while writing, and when
I completed the letter, I felt greatly ashamed for having been such an
unfilial daughter. However, I remember noticing that behind the shame
was a joy that I never felt before. During this time I was memorizing
the Sutra on the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva, and I resolved
to memorize Xiao Jing, the ancient Chinese classic on filiality, and
transfer the merit to my mother when I finished.
I studied the five elements very carefully and
wrote down all of the characteristics associated with each element,
especially the part which would help me to get along with others. It
was during this time, two weeks after I mailed that letter to my
mother, that I received a package from her. It was a large box filled
with candy, cookies, and assorted sweetened nuts. There was a note on
top that said, “I’m sorry we never got to be good friends.” I
immediately wrote back and said, “We are good friends, because we have
just shared something that most people never share.” I knew then that I
was on the right path.
My own situation was a difficult one for many
years, so I preferred being alone. Since I had given my Dharma peers so
much trouble, how was I going to repay them for being so patient with
me? I repented to each one of them.
I had a place where I could be alone, and no one
bothered me. In the afternoons, for many weeks, I sat and recited the
Shurangama Mantra and the Great Compassion Mantra, one time each, and
repented. Aloud, I said the name of each Dharma peer, and gave about a
three-line repentance to each one. If I was having a particular problem
with any one of them, I would reflect upon myself and admit that I was
in the wrong. I did not put the blame on any of them. Sometimes, I
reflected upon a particular situation where I was clearly wrong, and
made a vow to change my attitude. Truly, it was not easy to do this.
However, I really wanted to begin to change, and to do that, I had to
be true to myself and true to others. I also knew that changing, for
the most part, does not happen overnight.
In the latter part of 1988, I did stay with my
mother for two weeks. The Venerable Master had given me a gift for her.
She did not understand why, but she was happy. I also brought her a
copy of one of the taped lectures on the five elements. Since my mother
had been a social worker for many years, I thought that she would find
it interesting. She was reluctant to listen, but did agree with some of
the things which were said.
During that visit, I found that I was able to say
things to my mother that I didn’t dare say before. I was also able to
ask her things that I never asked before. It was a very good visit.
Since my mother had a lot of fire in her nature, I used water and wood
which are gentleness and kindness. I didn’t see it that much, but it
was hard for her to accept.
The following year, my mother had a heart attack,
and the doctor suggested that she stop smoking. I called her to give
some encouragement. I knew that it was not going to be easy for her to
stop. My mother had been smoking for over fifty years, and now she was
sixty-nine years old. I decided very firmly to give up what I really
like, and transfer the merit to my mother. Before the image of the
Greatly Compassionate Bodhisattva Guanyin in the Hall of Ten Thousand
Buddhas, I made the vow never to eat sweets again. I had written out
that vow, and mailed a copy to her. Was she able to stop? No. I was
disappointed that my efforts were not strong enough to help. However, I
also know that in cultivating oneself, one can’t expect others to
change. It takes someone with virtuous conduct to be able to do this.
My mother passed away in February 1994. When I
attended the last services, there were no tears and no regrets. As a
continued gesture of respect, I continue to hold to my vow of not
eating sweets. I do have one regret, that is, that I didn’t understand
As to my Dharma peers, do I get along with them
now? There have been positive changes, but I have many more changes to
make. Sometimes, I can understand my own negative characteristics, and
avoid giving them to others. However, a yin (dark) characteristic of my
nature is stiffness. I see it as something like a diving board which
only yields when someone jumps off of it. Oftentimes, this stiffness
I see that the study of the Five Elements is a
long-term study. With any kind of interaction with people, it is useful
to know how to bring out certain yang (positive) characteristics in
someone, avoid ‘sore spots’, and refrain from using characteristics
that are harmful. Some people have asked, “Which one is better?” There
is no answer to this question. The purpose of this study is to
transform all the yin (negative) qualities into yang. People often ask,
“What do I have?” Everyone is endowed with all five. However, some
elements are more pronounced than others. I am finding that, within
myself, the ones I don’t see much of are the areas in which I need to
Actually, I don’t understand that much of the Five
Elements, but I do want to continue investigating them.