The Venerable Master's name first came to my attention when a friend gave me the book The Ten Dharma Realms Are not beyond a Single Thought. The book was based on a lecture by the Venerable Master. His explanation very succinctly linked the basics of the Buddha Dharma for me; our actions, words, and thoughts--how they form into karma, and eventually how they determine the kind of realms we could be reborn into. The book reminded me how vulnerable we are if we are not constantly mindful of the karma constantly being created by our body, mouth, and mind. I then began to evaluate myself. Up to that point in my life, my understanding of the Dharma had been very superficial, and I realized that in this life I had already created lots of bad karma. If I didn't start serious cultivation immediately, I would not be able to save myself from being reborn into the lower suffering realms. Soon after, I decided to leave the home life under the Venerable Master as I realized that I might not have such an opportunity again in a million years.
In the beginning, I knew very little about the Venerable Master, other than what was printed in his biography and from his published lectures. Gradually, as the days passed, I realized how very fortunate I was to have found such a rare teacher. Indeed, it is extremely difficult to find and be accepted by such a wise, virtuous, and compassionate teacher. Although he was not looking over my shoulders every day, he had his ways to watch my every action and thought. And he had his special ways to let me know that he was watching me, and let me know where I went wrong.
For example, one night, while attending one of the daily Sutra lectures, my mind wandered. I remembered that when I requested Shifu to accept me as his left-home disciple, he asked me how my lay name was written, my date of birth, and certain other biographical data. A doubt then came to my mind:“Does Shifu still remember my lay name?” Half an hour later, the class ended. As I left the Buddha Hall and was just walking past the telephone in the lobby, it rang. I answered it. It was Shifu on the phone! The first words he said were:“Is your lay name such and such?” I was stunned. Shifu usually talked about temple business whenever he phoned and not indulge in casual conversation with me. At that time, he was in Los Angeles, which was about a thousand miles away. He phoned just to tell me that I shouldn't let my mind wander when attending lectures! It was his way to let me know that he was watching me. I learned one lesson.
In the early stage of being a monk, I was just getting used to eating one meal a day. Sometimes, my stomach would growl with hunger in the morning. One morning I found an old box of cereal in the kitchen. It was the kind which, when mixed with hot water, would become gluey. I decided to mix some to quiet down my hunger. The next day Shifu phoned, and his first words were:“How is your eating now?” I was dumbstruck! Was he inquiring how I was adjusting to eating one meal a day, or was he referring to the clandestine gluey mix? I stammered and mumbled about struggling with the one meal practice. On looking back, Shifu could have chastised me loudly on the clandestine mix but, I think, out of compassion he decided to let me off.
In work matters, Shifu would scold me severely for my mistakes and grill me time and again, but sometimes he would give me a break. However, when he gave those breaks, I could feel it. It was like a narrow escape from an accident. I could feel the great relief of being spared the scolding. Shifu was firm and tough in his teaching, but in his unpretentious way he was also very compassionate. Shifu had an amazing memory of many things way into the distant past and down to the smallest details. I knew I was always making mistakes and full of afflictions. I wanted guidance, but didn't know how to ask for it. As a disciple of Shifu, I was like the kid floundering in the pool but knowing that Daddy is always close at hand to make sure that I don't drown. To this day, I still have that confidence in Shifu. Like the gentle shepherd, he would ensure that none of his sheep stray into harm.
One of my weaknesses is memorizing the ceremonies. One morning, not long after I left home, Shifu phoned when we were in the second half of the morning ceremony. I answered the phone, and Shifu asked me where we were at, and I told him. He then asked me to recite Universal Worthy (Samantabhadra) Bodhisattva't ten great vows in Chinese. I was completely unprepared for such a test, although a small one. As I dripped out a word here and there, Shifu very patiently prompted me, filling in the blanks for me. I felt like crying. Here was a lofty virtuous teacher, worshipped by thousands over the world, very gently guiding me to say those vows which I should have memorized. I felt like I did not deserve such tender loving care for being so stupid and such a slow learner.
One day Shifu asked me about an argument I had with someone a few months earlier. With his special radar, he knew it but had kept it until the right moment to point out my problems. Again, in a few words, Shifu made me realize my folly. I can still remember the way he said:“Why be angry, huh?” His tone was so gentle and soft that it made me feel like crying. At that moment, I felt that whatever words of repentance I said would not make up for my burst of anger. When Shifu opened the subject, I was bracing up for a loud scolding, but Shifu in his expedience frequently surprised me with the unexpected. He knew me inside out only too well.
Shifu has many expedient ways of teaching living beings and I am one of the very fortunate ones to receive his patient and compassionate teaching. No amount of words will show my profound gratitude towards Shifu for accepting me as his disciple. I know deep inside that Shifu will continue to guide me. I vow that life after life, I will seek out Venerable Master Hsuan Hua to be my teacher.