「好了，我們走了，記著不要和任何人講話。佛成佛，是因為他一言一行都是真的、都是實的。你才剛起步呢！修行不是為了明天，或為了明年，修行是要行之於終身的。我們要把行菩薩道當成我們的本分，最要緊的事，我們每天的工作。不是在表面上用功夫，去引人注意，要人稱讚。你心誠了，才能夠越諸塵累，你說是不是？Okay, try your best！（盡你最大的努力）」
Bowing along through Half Moon Bay, it got to be lunch time. I brushed the sand off my forehead and adjusted my backpack. The morning had been quiet, a lull in the constant barrage of eggs and taunts we had received all week in this ocean-side town. We were near the beach off Highway One. Heng Chau walked up to signal the end of the bowing and the start of the lunch break. His face was ringed with smiles: “Shr Fu is here!” My heart jumped. We hadn’t seen our teacher for three weeks. We had a lot to say. Especially since the day before, during the worst of hazing, I had spontaneously written a poem in Chinese. I felt proud of it, and I wanted to hear praise from the Abbot for my skill in poetry.
“Shr fu brought guests. Pro. Xie Bing-ying is here, and Xu Yu-jun, and Gwo wu, and two nuns from the CTTB.”
What synchronicity! Prof. Xie, the “woman soldier”, hero of the Chinese war of resistance. She’s a famous author! She can appreciate my poem too!
During lunch the Ven. Abbot cheered up Prof. Xie, who was feeling glum and depressed. At her advanced age, her jealous husband was still treating her .like a young bride and kept her under a curfew. She had escaped for today's outing only through a ruse by her friends.
My vow of silence had kept me quiet since I had last seen my teacher. The meal complete, all the pen up expectations seemed to burst out at once. I took advantage of a lull in the conversation to say, “Shr Fu, I wrote a poem about a state I had .Can I read it to you?”
“Oh! A poem?” Shr Fu seemed quit unimpressed, but I was too keyed-up to notice. “What does it say?” I read it in Chinese, proudly. The translation goes roughly like:
“Words are cheap and Sutras are many.
Energy is precious and Buddhas are few.
Still dreaming? Stop talking and have no thoughts:
After awakening, exhaust your energy to speak Dharma for for living beings.”
The Master snorted, “Humph! Is that all? You’re not even half right. Repeat it again!”
A little crestfallen, I read it once more.
“No, that's not the way it is. Here, I’ll correct it for you.”
And without a moment's thought, without taking notes, the Master repeated the original poem, but with a few words of each line subtly altered. The new meaning pointed directly at my inner state and burst my pride-bubble with a bang!
“Your words are false: your excuses are many:
Value your energy and you can become a Buddha!
Still dreaming? Stop talking! Do no more false-thinking:
After awakenng you’ll see that all along,
there have been no words at all.”
“What do you think of that, Prof. Xie?” Asked the Abbot. The lay-women were wide-eyed with mirth behind their sunglasses, the sound of their laughter mingling with the calls of the seagulls overhead. I felt breathless, as if I had been thrown to the sand by a blind-side judo-flip. At the same I couldn’t stop laughing. The Master's instantaneous adaptation of my original words pointed directly at the knot of ego in my heart.
“I changed ‘words are cheap’ to ‘words are false’ You need to recall your Dharma-name, Gwo Zhen: ‘the fruit of the truth’. This teaching had been my touchstone in cultivation since the day I took refuge with the Triple Jewel.
“You say ‘sutras are many’ I say ‘excuses are many’, if you get my meaning. You still haven’t put your whole heart into the bowing, as far as I can tell.” The not-so subtle truth stung my heart and brought a flush to my face in the ocean breeze off Half Moon Bay.
The Master put third and forth words of the second line in front of the first two words, thereby changing an adjective phrase “energy is valuable” into a participle phrase “cherish your energy”. It pointed directly at the intellectual pretense to cultivation that I still wore like a mask after all these months of bowing.
“Third line is okay as it is, but change ‘no thoughts’ to ‘not an instant’s thought.’ You haven’t reached the stage of no ‘thought yet’; don’t give yourself airs.
“And in that last line, ‘exhaust your energy’ isn’t a very mellifluous phrase. What’s more, real Bodhisattvas don’t ever run out of energy. This idea will take you down the wrong road. Since you haven’t awakened, for you this is just fancy sophistry, Try
“After awakening you’ll see that all along, there been no words at all.” What do you think of my corrections. Do you accept them?”
I was dumbfounded, truly speechless, for once. I had dared to match poems with a champion of the old school, and I had been gently, but firmly thrown to the mat. Real spiritual skill, real gung fu is not only in flying feet and fists. What martial artist can pin a student's faults and pretensions to the wall instantly, on the spot, in perfect matched rhyme? What mastery!
My sparrow-fart of a poem had been parried and turned back on me, to point directly at my shortcomings. More sublime still, the last line cracked open a door into the mystery of the enlightened mind -- a place where no words or thoughts tracked the limitless ‘heaven of the Buddha-nature.’
Laughter rose from my stomach and shook me. I felt weeks of highway anxiety melt off my shoulders and face. I laughed until tears ran down, feeling alternately humbled, embarrassed, grateful and delighted. Heng Chau couldn’t share the joke. He didn’t know Chinese, so the subtlety and accuracy of this lesson escaped him, and I was laughing too hard to explain.
Shr fu knew how much I love poetry, and for an instant he showed me the heat of his own literary fire. I recalled that in his school-boy years, he had gained a reputation as a ghost-writer of verses for all his classmates who couldn’t complete the class assignments. He liked nothing better than a test of wits, and could produce verses and matching couplets that humbled even his teachers. Now I had ventured into the ring with the poet-champion, and had been flipped head over heels. But the genius lay in the exquisitely precise aim of the teaching. A few word changes transformed the four lines of my original verse into the teaching of a life-time, a mirroring of the very blind spots and habits that held me back from enlightenment.
“Well, we’re going now. Make sure you keep your promises, and don’t talk to anybody. The Buddha accomplished Buddhahood because he was constantly true and real in every step and every word. You’ve just started down that road. Cultivation isn’t for tomorrow or for next year. Cultivation is forever. We ought see Bodhisattva practices as our own duty, as our first priority, our daily calling, not as some superficial style that hooks attention and praise from others. Only when you are sincere does your practice rise above the dust, don’t you agree? Okay, try your best!”
And the car drove off north towards San Francisco. “Value your energy and you can become a Buddha.”