One of the most interesting experiences of the Master's kindness occurred in the late eighties over ten years ago. One of the American monks had made a vow that he would go into total seclusion and silence until he had memorized the entire Shurangama Sutra in Chinese. Because he was by no means a Chinese scholar, this task was sure to take at least several years. After three years he was still diligently working to fulfill his vow. He never left the two rooms that he lived in the Great Compassion Quad, which also had an adjoining yard with a very high fence for him to walk around in. He maintained the strictest silence and was totally alone, cut off from all human contact in his rooms, with the exception that once a day a person would bring food to him through an opening in a window specifically made for that purpose. So, at this time his father and mother unexpectedly visited the City from their home in Seattle, Washington. They were both zealous Christians and had never really liked the fact that their son had become a Buddhist monk. Indeed, his father was an Evangelical Christian Minister. In the office they asked to see their son. The Master told me to explain to them the nature of his strict practice of being in total seclusion, and then to go to the monk's quarters and ask him if he wanted to see his parents. The Master told me to tell him that it was completely up to him—he could see them or not see them. His parents at that time were in their 70's, and they specifically said that this could be their very last opportunity to see their son, as death could come at any time for them.
I went to the monk's seclusion quarters and called out to him. He could see me clearly through the window where he received his daily meal. I immediately told him it was unnecessary to talk. Then I explained to him that the Venerable Master had sent me, and then told him about his parents' wish, and how it was totally up to him whether to see them or not. I said, "Just shake your head yes or no." He hesitated for about ten seconds and then shook his head no! As I walked to the office, I dreaded having to tell his parents of his decision. I knew they would be severely distraught. It turned out to be even worse than I had thought. His father was very, very upset. He kept saying how old he was and how he could be gone any day. And now he was not even able to see his own son. His mother, although slightly calmer, was quite distressed about the situation. This was probably one of the worst experiences of my life. They were quite sad and depressed. Then all of a sudden the Master came into the office. I quickly explained the situation to him, and he in his characteristic "everything's okay, no problem" manner said to tell his parents to wait a little while. The Master said he had a meeting with some people and would talk to them about it right after the meeting. Later, I found out that the Master took the parents to the monk's quarters and told the monk that he should talk to his parents. His parents went into his seclusion room and sat down and chatted with him. They were very, very happy. It turned out that the Master was in a sense testing the monk to see if he knew what would be the proper thing to do in this very critical situation. The monk had failed the test, but learned a very important lesson on the Shramana's kindness.
One final example of the Master's concern and empathy for others occurred when he was first hospitalized. After the Master had gone through so many medical procedures for four or five days in the hospital, one morning his entire team of doctors (three specialists) came to visit him. It was obvious that their intention was to console the Master and make him feel comfortable and confident that he would be okay. They were quite surprised, or perhaps a better word would be astounded, when their visit quickly changed to the Master consoling them. He told them how sorry he was to have to put them through so much trouble, that it must have been terribly difficult for them, etc. The head of the team was very moved. He said that in all the years of dealing with patients in such critical situations, none had ever said anything about their concern for him as a doctor. Previous to his experience with the Master, it had always been the case that his patients were very distressed and needed to be consoled by him. Here the tables were turned, so to speak. This is the Shramana's kindness.
Again, as I reflect on the literally hundreds, or perhaps even thousands, of examples of the Shramana's kindness that we were blessed to be able to witness and experience from what many of us believe was a Bodhisattva in the flesh, I have to lament at how so often we treat each other with so much anger and hatred. How we quickly judge others, and are unforgiving of their shortcomings. Someone goes against our wishes or criticizes us or doesn't show the proper respect due to our position or we are forced by circumstances to do something we really don't want to do--our ego is bruised and we get upset and angry, or even worse, blowup in a public situation. Or perhaps we overestimate ourselves and are purposely harsh to others, thinking that we are teaching them. Or we think our harshness is being straightforward and true, confused by the existentialist's idea of being an authentic person. Unless one is really a greatly enlightened Bodhisattva, one is only fooling oneself and harming others. The Buddha taught loving kindness! The Venerable Master always had an incredible degree of kindness for everyone. Even on the rare occasions when the Master was reprimanding a disciple for doing something wrong, or having a wrong attitude—regardless of how serious—the Master's great loving kindness was still quite palpable. One still felt enveloped in the force field of his compassion. Only a person who is really "there" can be this way. This is not something one can mimic or pretend to have or pretend to be. Although people might not tell us, they know in their hearts where we are really at. Ultimately, we only fool ourselves, and create illnesses for ourselves and others. Kindness is so important for everyone.
This brings to mind the little chubby old man with the white beard and glasses, who encountered the monk Heng Ju in a general store in a little town outside of Seattle, on the very last days of Heng Ju's 1000-mile and one year "three steps, one bow" pilgrimage back in 1974. The little old man walked right up to him and said, "Do you want to know what the Buddha taught?" Heng Ju was caught by surprise and fumbled for a response, finally saying: "Okay, what did the Buddha teach?" The man, with a twinkle in his eye said, "The Buddha taught compassion. The Buddha said that we should stop knocking each other around, but most people don't buy it!"
Feeling that the man could see right through him, Heng Ju exclaimed, "Buy what?"
"What the Buddha taught!" laughed the little man. "I don't think you're a complete convert," he said to Heng Ju, who of course, was clad in his monastic robes with shaven head.
Heng Ju got very defensive and said: "I didn't say I was perfect!" The little man paused, and then moved closer and looked right into Heng Ju's eyes.
Heng Ju began to have a steady stream of memories of getting angry with others. "The Buddha taught compassion. Be more compassionate!" he said. Then he took off his glasses and stuck his face up about twelve inches in front of Heng Ju's face, and said, "I'm not your enemy. I'm your friend. How many people do you know who would talk to you like this?" The Shramana's kindness.
Heng Ju was totally overwhelmed and speechless. How could this man know Heng Ju so well, as if he were completely transparent. All Heng Ju could do was continue on his way bowing, as he deeply reflected on the Venerable Master's famous verse: Return the Light! Look Within! Truly recognize your own mistakes. Do not speak of the faults of others. Others' faults are just my own faults. The revelation that we are all the same is called Great Compassion.
Or as the Buddha said in the following quotes:
"Monks, whatever kinds of worldly merit there are, all are not worth 1/16th part of the heart-deliverance of loving kindness. In shining and beaming and radiance, the heart-deliverance of loving kindness far excels them." "If a monk cultivates loving kindness for as long as a fingersnap, he is called a Bhikshu. He is not devoid of dhyana-meditation. He carries out the Master's teachings, he responds to advice, and he does not eat the country's alms food in vain. " "He should be capable, straight, and very upright, easy to speak to, gentle and not proud, contented and easy to support, having few duties and of a frugal way of life, with his sense-faculties serene, zealous, and not impudent, and not swayed by the emotions of the clans. And let him never do the slightest thing that other wise men might hold blameworthy. And he should think: 'Let all beings be happy and secure; let them be of a blissful heart. Let no one humiliate another. Nor should one despise anyone anywhere. ' One should never wish another misery because of anger or resentment. Just as a mother would protect with her life her own son, her only child, so one should cultivate an unbounded mind towards all beings, and loving kindness towards all the world."
Wouldn't the world be a much better place if all of us could always come to this state of the heart-deliverance of loving kindness; if all of us, monastic and layperson alike, could emulate the Shramana's kindness?