By June, it will have been one year since the Venerable Master entered Nirvana. Time flies...
I regret that after leaving the home-life, I never had a chance to be around my elder Teacher and study the Dharma from him. One of my Dharma-brothers commented: "We're like orphans." Actually, this is only because of geographical factors. The Venerable Master lived in America, while we were in Taiwan. Our situation is probably not very common: after leaving home, we didn't get to see the Master again until he had already passed into stillness. This might happen, say, in wartime, or if a disciple leaves his teacher of his own will. But in our case, it's a difficult test to face.
However, the Venerable Master never failed to teach this foolish disciple on his various trips to Taiwan before I had left home. In 1990, on my first pilgrimage to Buddhist temples in southern China, the unsanitary food caused me to suffer severe appendicitis, diarrhea, and dehydration when I was in Yunnan. I was deathly ill for several days. Fortunately, my determination to continue on the pilgrimage to Mount Emei overcame my sickness, and I became better. Without relying on any form of transportation, I spent three days and four nights climbing the tall and majestic Mount Emei, and later went on to visit Jizu (Chicken Foot) Mountain.
However, my health worsened after I returned to Taiwan. I felt pain and swelling in my chest and didn't have any appetite. I went to the hospital for a check-up, but they couldn't find anything wrong. Having worked in a hospital, and I knew my own body better than any doctor. But this time, even I didn't know what was wrong, so I just ignored it.
Soon the Venerable Master was coming to Taiwan again. Each time his delegation visited Taiwan, the Dharma Realm Buddhist Books Distribution Society would organize a large crew of volunteers to help with the Dharma session. This time was no exception. I also signed up as a volunteer.
One evening as I was collecting the teacups from the lecture table on stage and taking them to the sink, another volunteer saw my pale face and asked me if I was OK. I told her about my health condition. "That's no problem," she said, "Here, I've just collected a pot of tea that was served to the Master and his disciples. They say that drinking water that the Master has drunk from can cure illnesses. Let me pour you a glass!" I also happened to be holding a cup of tea that had been served to the Master. I was about to wash the cup, but first I drank its contents. I was quite pleased and hoped that my sickness would magically disappear by the next day.
But the next day, after morning recitation, I was still the same! What went wrong? Probably the Master didn't drink from that cup, so it didn't work. Well, after this experience I knew what I had to do--next time I would take a cup that the Master did drink from.
That very evening, I listened to the Master's lecture along with everyone else, but my motives were quite different. During the entire lecture, I kept my eyes glued to the Master's cup. I noticed that the Master kept drinking water. After every couple of sentences, he would take a sip. I anxiously prayed that he wouldn't drink all the water. "Master, please be compassionate. Save a little water for me!" It's pretty funny when I think of it now.
When the lecture was finally over, I raced up to the front to collect the cups. I grabbed the Master's cup and went to an inconspicuous corner to take a look. I opened the lid...empty! Not a drop of tea left! I was crushed! I put my hand into the cup and felt something at the bottom. It was the teabag--ginseng tea. Well, I might as well eat that, I thought. I shared the teabag with my roommate who was also sick.
The next day, after morning recitation, something wonderful happened: An endless stream of sweet, refreshing saliva flowed in my mouth, something I'd never experienced before. Crying, I thought to myself, "What are you still doing here, you fool? You ought to quickly leave home!" That's how I resolved the leave the home-life, and I was able to do so three years later.
I still remember taking refuge with the Venerable Master on November 1, 1988, in Taoyuan. The Dharma Masters announced, "Those who want to take refuge should come to the front and kneel; the rest of the people should stay in the back." Most of the people were seeing the Master for the first time, and about half wanted to take refuge.
After we were all kneeling, the Master instructed us, "Those who wish to take refuge with the Triple Jewel should know that taking refuge is not a casual affair; you may not order left-home people around or bully them! Those who want to take refuge with me have to behave well. You have to bow respectfully to left-home people. You cannot get angry and glare at left-home people and try to take advantage of them. If you do, I will certainly punish you. If you are afraid of being punished, you can still withdraw. One more condition--those who take refuge with me must become Buddhas. If you do not become Buddhas, I will wait for you. You cannot be lazy and fail to cultivate. If you prevent me from becoming a Buddha, your offenses will be limitless." From the Master's earnest remonstrance, we can know how compassionate are his vows!
Of course the Master is not really worried that we will prevent him from achieving Buddhahood. He simply doesn't fall to see us turning ceaselessly in the wheel of rebirth in this world of five turbidities. With skillful expedients and great compassion, he encourages us and helps us to grow in our spiritual practice.
The Master's realm is inconceivable, not something that we ordinary people can fathom. His grace and kindness to us is difficult to repay. Once my fellow cultivator asked the Master: "Master, how can we ever repay your kindness?" The Master said, "You have no way to repay it."
It's true. We have no way to repay it. Only when we realize Buddhahood can we repay our kind teacher. Let us all try our best!
A stupa at dusk on Jizu(Chicken Foot)Mountain in China.