The twentieth anniversary of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB) was held on July 7, 1996. Many Buddhists from all over the world gathered to commemorate the twentieth birthday of the first Buddhist monastery in North America.
It’s not easy for Buddhism to take roots in the United States, much less to establish itself in mainstream America. David Rounds, who years ago resigned his editorial job in New York City to follow Venerable Master and to help establish CTTB, recalled, “Twenty years ago, after the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas was purchased, we had to attend several meetings with the county officials to obtain a permit for operation. At that time, several county supervisors were openly hostile to us; one of them would not even make eye contact with me. The local newspaper wrongly reported our name as the ‘City of Ten Thousand Buddhists’. Since the local town of Ukiah had a total population of only15,000, they were understandably nervous about CTTB.
When CTTB was initially purchased there was basically no water supply. David Rounds personally saw the Venerable Master telling the civil engineer from an irrigation company where to drill for water. This company had earlier tried to locate a water source without any success, so they strongly believed that to search for water was simply futile. Nevertheless, the Venerable Master simply told them,“Drill!” Sure enough, not too long after, torrents of water gushed out. Everyone shouted in exultation. At that moment, auspicious clouds appeared in the clear sky. Without any warning, there was a sudden downpour. For the past twenty years, the City has never suffered a water shortage except on a few occasions when the water pipe ruptured. To this day, David Rounds still marvels at this inconceivable fact.
Terri Nicholson, one of the people instrumental in founding Instilling Goodness Elementary School and Developing Virtue Secondary School at CTTB, pointed out, “How during the early 1970's, People's Temple led by Jim Jones was situated in Redwood Valley not far from CTTB. Later on, Jim Jones led more than 900 of his believers into mass suicide in the jungles of Guyana. This tragedy made it hard for the local people near the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas to accept any unfamiliar religion.”
On the other hand, there were some people who were familiar with the basic ideas of Buddhism. Terri Nicholson gave the example of an employee of the Post Office right outside the main gate of CTTB. One day, one of the local folks asked this clerk, “Aren’t you scared to be staying so close to the Buddhists?” She replied, “What's there to be scared of? Those Buddhists don't even kill mosquito.”
Helen Woo of Los Angeles, who is active in the real estate business, recalled, “ Twenty years ago the Master didn’t have even one-tenth the number of disciples he has now. The vast expanse of CTTB was too much for so few people to take care of. Cleaning the place and clearing away the weeds were never-ending jobs. That's why some disciples urged the Venerable Master to quickly sell CTTB and look for a smaller place.”
Martin Verhoeven of Wisconsin cultivated for many years at CTTB. He, too, had suggested to the Venerable Master,“CTTB is just too big.” (The ared of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is 488 acres.) The Master told him,“It's not that CTTB is too big, but that your mind is too small.”
The Master intended to create 10,000 live Buddhas, live Bodhisattvas, and live Arhats at CTTB. He felt that 10,000 was an insignificant number compared to the infinite number of living beings. The Master also said, “Right now, we don't have 10,000 Buddhas here yet; but I will invite them from the ten directions to come and cultivate here. It is imperative to cultivate if one wants to attain Buddhahood in the future.”
Martin Verhoeven pointed out that CTTB was formerly an abandoned mental institution. Nevertheless, the Venerable Master turned a place of misery into a magnificent monastery, inviting all people from the ten directions to come to cultivate and advance upon the path to Buddhahood.
Ajahn Sucitto of the Theravadan Buddhist tradition is the first monk who went on a long walling pilgrimage in England. This European Bhikshu who was ordained in Thailand came all the way from England to CTTB for its 20th anniversary. He narrated a frightening episode he personally experienced.
One time in India, he was held up by six bandits, one of whom brandished an ax and was ready to chop of his head. At that moment, Ajahn Sucitto suddenly remembered what the Venerable Master had told him about repentance and paying what one owes. He gave rise to a thought of remorse, and then he offered his head to the bandit, drawing a line across his neck with his finger to indicate the best place for the ax to land. He requested the bandit to kill him in order to clear the debt that he owed him. Instead, the bandit hesitated and could not bring himself to swing the ax. In the end, the bandits not only left him alone, but even threw his monk's bag on the ground so he could retrieve it.
Ajahn Sucitto believed that it was his most sincere remorse and repentance that eradicated his karma at that time. He is very reminiscent of the Master's kindness in providing him with answers to his innumerable unspoken questions and doubts. In addition, Ajahn Succito proposed an analogy of the coconut, saying,“The coconut shell is hairy and hard. Once the shell is open, the coconut juice inside is refreshingly cool, sweet, and fragrant; and yet is devoid of any fixed form.” This Dharma words provided instantaneous coolness in the summer heat. Together with Ajahn Sucitto was Ajahn Amaro of Amaravati Buddhist Center in England.
108 years old Cambodian Bhikshu Bhante Dharmawara also attended the twentieth anniversary celebration and gave everybody a lecture in spite of the hot weather. He said that many years ago when he was cultivating in the forest near the Ukiah Valley, he had been to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. The Venerable Hua received him with respect and hospitality for which he was deeply touched. Then Bhante pointed out,“To be born as a human being is a very fortunate matter. Yet though people may be the same in the sense that they are categorized as human beings, they can be differentiated into four groups depending on how they live. The first group comprises those people who seem to be imprisoned in jails, so full of agony. The second group comprises those people who live like animals or ghosts. The third group comprises those people who live live properly, in accordance to how a person should be. The fourth group comprises those people who physically live here amongst mankind, but have spiritually transcended from the ordinary unto the state of the Sages. Which category you want to be lies in just one single thought. “You are what you think; you are what you eat; you are what you drink.“ The elderly Bhikshu repeatedly urged everybody to cultivate well and to make wholesome use of the mind.
Cardiologist and associate professor in Southern California, Dr. Hwang Ming Lu recounted a trip to Taiwan with the Venerable Master in 1993. At that time, the Master was running a high fever and was physically very weak. Still, he went ahead to propagate the Dharma. “As soon as the Master ascended his Dharma seat to give Dharma talks, his voice became sonorous momentarily and wonderful words would flow. In addition, he had to give audience to numerous visitors waiting to see him from morning till night. He had practically no time to rest. From a physician's point of view, an ordinary people would have fallen into a coma or been bed-ridden under such circumstances. Yet the Venerable Master still had the energy to hum a song, the Song of Enlightenment by Great Master Yung Jya. I believe the Venerable Master underwent these sufferings on behalf of all living beings as stated in his twelfth great vow.”
During Dr. Hwang's last visit to the Master prior to the Master's Nirvana, he consulted the Master,“I would very much like to abide by the Six Great Guiding Principles of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas - no contending, no greed, no seeking, no selfishness, no self-benefiting, and no lying. However, I find it very hard to put these principles into actual practice in a highly competitive working environment.”
The Master simply replied,“You need to really put effort in cultivation. Do not fool around any more.” Dr. Hwang admitted that there was a time when he vigorously recited the Vajra Sutra to the extent that he thought of not getting married. He told the Venerable Master about his change. The Master asked him,“ Did you commit the sutra into your memory?” Dr. Hwang then immediately realized the importance of memorizing sutras. Looking into the future, Dr. Hwang hoped that every disciple of the Master would try very hard to perpetuate the Master's vows of establishing monasteries, translating sutras, and providing good education; as well as to proliferate monasteries from the number of 20-some to that of thousands, thereby propagating the proper Dharma throughout the entire world.
Dharma Master Heng Sure, the religious director of the Institute of World Religions at Berkeley, also reminisced about many interesting episodes, leaving the audience marveled. One of the episodes was about the San Francisco float parade in 1976 to celebrate the bicentennial of this country's independence. The then incumbent Mayor of San Francisco Moscone extended an invitation to Gold Mountain Monastery requesting them to join in the city parade. The first Gold Mountain Monastery , situated on 15th Street in San Francisco's Mission District, was established by the Master in his early days in America.
At that time, the Master's disciples who read the invitation felt that it was not fitting for left-home people to be under such exposure. The thought about turning down the invitation. To their surprise, the Master agreed without hesitation to join the parade. Mr. Hwang Tai Sheng, the sculptor of the statue of Thousand-handed Thousand-eyed Gwan Yin Bodhisattva in the Buddha Hall of CTTB, decorated a float for the event. The Master's disciples seated inside the float and others marching, single-mindedly recited the Six Words Great Brightness Mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” all throughout the the entire San Francisco Parade. There were several groups that came before and after. When Gold Mountain Monastery's float passed by the grandstand, Mayor Moscone and the other city officials especially stood up and showed their respect to this Buddhist float by giving a half-bow with palms together held abreast.
After the parade, the Master's disciples realized that to be able to impart to the San Francisco populace the mark of the left-home people, plus letting them listen to the soothing Sanskrit sounds, extensively creating Dharma affinity with the multitude, and was indeed a truly meaningful act. Then and there, the Master told them, “Manifesting the mark, and yet unattached to it.”
What's more, three weeks later, the Temple received a package from San Francisco City Hall informing us that we had won the 1st prize for our category the best marching unit. The trophy was enclosed for us to inspect.
By 1982, the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas had been completely remodeled from the once barren field. Faithful devotees from all over the world attended the Opening Ceremony. Among them was Shao Gwo Jao, a journalist from Singapore, who made a special trip for this event and wrote many newspaper articles afterwards.
When Shao Gwo Jao hung around at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas he saw a lot of mushrooms shooting up from the grasslands. He happily gathered a bagful and brought them to the kitchen to offer to the assembly. The nun in charge of the kitchen refused to accept them, informing him that those were the poisonous variety of mushrooms and not suitable for consumption. Craig Cassen, an American layperson who studied botany, gravely told him that those mushrooms were life-threatening. However, Shao Gwo Jao just would not give up. He went to his quarters and cooked the mushrooms. Not long after he had ingested around ten of them, he turned very pale. Happening to see him, Dharma Master Heng Tzo wasted no time taking him to the hospital emergency unit. One look at the leftover mushrooms prompted the doctor to tell Dharma Master Heng Tzo to prepare for Shao Gwo Jao's end. Those were called Death Caps. Their toxicity was extra powerful. Whoever ate them would surely stop breathing three to four hours later. The chance to survive was zero.
The Venerable Master immediately asked everybody to recite the Shurangama Mantra for Shao Gwo Jao. After a while, the Master, with a smile in his face, told Dharma Master Heng Sure,“Now, the poison has transferred to my body.” Dharma Master Heng Sure noticed that the Master's face turned dark at that moment, and his voice became weak. Meanwhile in the hospital, Shao Gwo Jao, whose heartbeat had stopped, miraculously returned to life. All the doctors were greatly baffled. This was something extraordinary that they had never seen. Later on, Shao Gwo Jao returned to Singapore peacefully. From then on, he dared not eat any kind of mushrooms that he was not familiar with.
Recalling this incident, Dharma Master Heng Sure commented with gratefulness, “Shao Gwo Jao had a stubborn character. He did not listen to other people's advice. Itwas very fortunate that the nun in charge of the kitchen was knowledgeable, or it could be that a Bodhisattva was guarding by her side. Otherwise, the headlines in the local news next day could have read: Thousands of Buddhists Die of Mushroom Poisoning.“ Everybody laughed at the humor of this recollection, yet couldn't stop a shudder from running down their spines. They came to feel more deeply the Master's spirit of sacrificing himself for the salvation of living beings.
Another American left-home disciple, Dharma Master Heng Tzo, recollected the Master casting the statues of ten thousand Buddhas for the Buddha Hall at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. Early every morning, while everybody else was still in their dreams or false thinking, the Master would be carving the Buddha statues. He would routinely carve out two or three buddha statues a day prior or Morning Recitation. (Morning Recitation in the 20-some monasteries established by the Venerable Master starts at 4:00am.) In his sculpture, he used a very fine-textured plaster of Paris, which would be inhaled involuntarily and caused the Master to suffer from coughing spasms.
Every now and then, Dharma Master Heng Tzo would transport the finished Buddha statues from Fold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. One time when he was doing this assignment, he stepped over the Buddha statues. The Master admonished him right away that it is not respectfully to do that. Furthermore, the Master taught him that the Buddha statues should be individually wrapped with utmost care. Dharma Master Heng Tzo deeply felt,“It is indeed difficult to teach Westerners to be respectful of the Buddhadharma.”
Dharma Master Heng Hsien, another American left-home disciple who graduated Ph.D., recalled an incident long time ago at Gold Mountain Monastery. The manager of a Wayplace in Taiwan invited her to go there to teach Sanskrit. The Master, then, asked her in front of everybody what her wish was. She remained seated while declining the invitation, not realizing she should stand up to five the reply. The Master compassionately announced a new rule of not needing to stand up in the United States. As a result, she feels that in teaching and transforming his American disciples, particularly in the aspect of being respectful toward the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, it is beyond one's imagination to know how much painstaking effort the Master employed.
Nevertheless, the Master's efforts are not in vain. Aside from having laid down the monastic tradition of strict adherence to the precepts and ascetic cultivation, as well as having enacted the Six Great Guiding Principles - no contending, no greed, no seeking, no selfishness, no pursuit of personal advantages, and no lying, there are Instilling Goodness Elementary School, Developing Virtue Secondary School, Dharma Realm Buddhist University, and the Sangha and Laity Training Programs, all of which are geared toward educating people from both East and West. Moreover, activities such as Respecting the Elderly, Cherishing Youth, and Being Vegetarian have all been propagated with the aim of rectifying the values of society. At one time a Southeast Asia Refugee Rescue and Resettlement Center was set up, and more than two thousand Southeast Asia Refugees obtained the benefit of learning the language for communication and planting a firm foot on American soil. There were also several times that Elder Hostels were conducted to provide senior Americans spiritual nourishment.
During these twenty years, the attitude of local folks toward the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas has gradually changed from fear and doubt to acceptance and welcome. Jim Tusso, a police officer of Mendocino County where the CTTB is located, mentioned in his speech during the Twentieth Anniversary Celebration that while serving in the Police Department for so many years, he had seen too many problems involving law and order. However, he found none of these problems at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. He attributed this to the ethical and moral principles that the people at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas value.
Therefore, on behalf of the Police Department of Mendocino County, Jim wholeheartedly welcomed the presence of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.
Margaret King, director of South Coast Senior Center located in Point Arena of Mendocino County, frequents the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas for a spiritual booster. From the bottom of her heart she declared, “The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is indeed an oasis in this country.”