The Venerable Master, Dharma Masters, and all good advisors:
My Dharma name is Guo-Jie. Today I'll talk about how I met the Avatamsaka Sutra.
As you all know, the Venerable Master's memory was astounding. During the nine years that the Venerable Master explained the Avatamsaka Sutra in the 1970's, he was able to recite the text by heart without missing a single word.
When I went to Gold Mountain Monastery on 15th Street in San Francisco, the Master was lecturing the Biographies of the Patriarchs three times a week. The text written on the blackboard was in classical Chinese, and I didn't understand ninety percent of it, or sometimes one hundred percent. However, the Venerable Master had a way of making people of all levels understand the lecture by the time the class was over, including those who could not read Chinese. Sometimes he would encourage Americans to translate the text and to learn classical Chinese. The lectures were very interesting and lively, and I was irresistibly drawn to that Way-place the way iron filings are drawn to a magnet.
One day Shifu gave me an old edition of the Avatamsaka Sutra, saying, "You should memorize the Avatamsaka Sutra!" I said, "Shifu, how could that be possible?" thinking I could not even read the Biographies of the Patriarchs, how much the less could I possibly understand the most profound Buddhist Sutra, the Avatamsaka Sutra! And so I put it aside and the years went by.
In 1989, one day all of a sudden I received a phone call from the Master, and he said, "I've given you a set of the Avatamsaka Sutra for six or seven years already, and you have not yet read it!" And I asked, "Shifu, where are you now?" "I'm at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas." Then, bang!-he hung up the phone. I regularly received phone calls from the Master and we would often have casual chats. This time he had hung up the phone so suddenly. I was petrified!
It amazed me that, being so busy every day, the Master was still able to pick up information like a radar and know that I had not memorized the Sutra.
After being scolded by the Master, I didn't dare not read the Sutra anymore. So I started to read the Avatamsaka Sutra as my daily homework.
After reading the Avatamsaka Sutra a few times, gradually I discovered that the entire Sutra speaks about the inconceivable and ineffable state of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and of course the state of the Venerable Master. I also gradually realized that constant reading of the Avatamsaka Sutra with a calm mind is the only way to recognize our extraordinary teacher who possessed great kindness, great compassion, great joy, great renunciation, great practice, and great strength.
I remember asking the Venerable Master one day, "Shifu, did you make all those little Buddha statues lining the Buddha Hall at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas? All ten thousand of them?" He replied with indifference, "It's a thing of the past—why mention it?" Shifu's response made a very deep impression on me. Shifu usually taught his disciples in a very concise and precise manner. For instance, he would answer questions with just a word or a sentence. However, that sentence or word would be so profound and to the point that even if we contemplated its meaning for the rest of our life, we may not be able to understand it completely. Shifu trained us to go straight to the point and not beat around the bush.
In whatever the Master did, he never wanted to leave any marks or traces behind. He was the most carefree person I have ever met. He was truly able to sweep away all dharmas, leave behind all marks, and be without attachments. In lecturing on the lives of Patriarchs, he would often say that the Patriarchs were able to attain the Way because they had swept away all dharmas and left behind all marks. I can still feel the echo of the Master uttering with great force: "Sweep away all dharmas; leave behind all marks."
Everyone think it over. Can we see the tracks left by a bird flying through the sky? There is a passage in Chapter 37, "Appearance of the Thus Come One," in the Avatamsaka Sutra, which says, "The places where the bird has and has not traveled cannot be measured, because space is infinite. The practices of the Thus Come Ones are also this way."
We ordinary people, however, never seem to be able to let go of our deeds. Our every thought is about what we have done, what offerings we made on such and such a day, how much money we donated to a certain temple. We're always thinking: me, me, me. We accumulate lots of dust in our minds. Great Master Shen Xiu taught us, "Time and again brush it clean, and let no dust alight." So we should wipe these dusty thoughts from our memory just as we erase a blackboard. Shifu once said, "After you've done something, just forget about it." First of all, there is no giver who makes an offering or renders services. Secondly, there is no gift or offering. And thirdly, there is no receiver of the gift or services. We should regard these three aspects as empty.
I hope that fellow cultivators who never met the Venerable Master will not be distressed. The Master's Dharma body pervades empty space and the Dharma Realm. He neither comes nor goes anywhere. If you constantly recite the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Venerable Master will constantly be with you.
Some people think that since Shifu has entered Nirvana, he is not around anymore, but actually he is everywhere. I'd like to tell you an incident that happened at the International Translation Institute in Burlingame. After Shifu entered Nirvana, for a long time no one went to clear the weeds and leaves in the parking lot outside the Translation Institute. The flower beds were choked with weeds and covered thickly with leaves. One night, a laywoman who had promised Shifu to take care of the flower beds had a dream. In her dream the Master was standing next to the flower beds. He bent all the way down to look at them and said, "What's going on here?!" She woke up the next day and went to the Institute to take a look. What she saw was exactly the scene in her dream—the flower beds choked with weeds and covered with leaves!
This incident shows that the Master is still omniscient and ever-present. Amitabha!