30 October 1973
Now, as the thin, snaking highway begins its descent back to the coast, we have met with disaster. We were just a mile short of the coastal town of Bodega Bay, when I felt the call to go to the bathroom. Needless to say, there were no bathrooms, so I crawled off the highway into a little clump of bushes to perform my daily duty. Unfortunately, there wasn't any toilet paper available, so I grabbed at the nearest bush and pulled off a handful of bright orange leaves. That was a costly mistake! I soon found out that those pretty little gems were, in fact, Poison Oak! (I had always thought poison oak was green.) Thinking didn't help at this point. We secured bowing, and by evening my entire body was itching something terrible. It kept up all night; I didn't get a moment's sleep. I did, however, remember to recite the name of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva (in Chinese, Guanshiyin Pusa), and it helped keep my mind off of the pain.
By morning, I could hardly move, much the less bow, so Heng Yo and I just sat down on a mound of dirt by the side of the road. We were both in total despair. Once again, I was overwhelmed with doubts and with the sense of impossibility and unreality of what we were doing. Here, with half of California, all of Oregon, and all of Washington left to bow through, and I don't even know how to perform even the simplest of tasks correctly!
We definitely couldn't go on. We sat and watched the cars pass by. There seemed to be no conceivable way to solve our problem. Suddenly though, as if in magical response to our dilemma, two familiar-looking vans pulled to a stop before us. Out popped the whole group from Gold Mountain! And the Master, too! We moved to an empty parking lot in front of an abandoned cannery. They brought out food, clothing, medicine, everything that we needed, even toilet paper! What a wonderful feeling filled the air!
We all sat down in a circle, about fifteen feet in diameter. First, Heng Yo and I explained our experiences over the last few days; then one by one the monks and nuns gave short Dharma-talks. While they spoke, the Master took my right hand and began rubbing it. He rubbed and rubbed, very softly, while he recited a mantra. Gradually, I could feel every bit of tension and pain leave my body. I couldn't hear what anyone was saying; I could only feel the warmth of the afternoon sun. Nothing else mattered.
The meeting lasted about an hour, then they got in the vans to depart. The Master instructed us to put more mental energy into the bowing. He said that reciting the name of Guanyin Bodhisattva is the best method (dharma) for this situation. He said that not only does Guanyin have the power to help individuals, but this Bodhisattva can greatly help in the bringing of peace to the world, in ways that are inconceivable.
Just before they left, I asked the Master, "Last night I called for Guanyin Bodhisattva to come and rescue me, and today you and the people of Gold Mountain have come to the rescue. Isn't this quite a coincidence?"
The Master immediately replied, "It's no big thing. Anytime you like, just give a call. I'll be there."
I learned a lot today. For one thing, I'll never forget what poison oak looks like as long as I live, and I'll do my best to save others from this painful experience. But more important, I got a better understanding of what I call the Master's central philosophy, "Everything's O.K." Those two words are the essence of his teaching; I have heard them spoken hundreds of times. "Everything's O.K." doesn't mean that you can just run out and do whatever you please. No, "Everything's O.K." is a very disciplined state of mind, wherein one observes the rise and fall of all conditioned things with complete detachment.
Before going back to Gold Mountain the Master gave each of us his instructions. This is what he said:
Practicing what is difficult to practice is the conduct of the Sage;
Enduring what is hard to endure is the genuine patience.
All Buddhas throughout the ten directions have walked down this road,
The eighty thousand Bodhisattvas have followed right along.
Blow the magnificent Dharma conch, and raise up the cry,
Shake your precious pewter staff, transform stingy greed.
Your work complete, and result full, return midst songs of triumph,
Then I'll give my disciple a meal of berry pie.
31 October 1973
"Everything's O.K." doesn't mean slopping around the beach with a can of beer in one hand and a copy of the Diamond Sutra in the other. There are too many people now who live like heathen pigs and think they are enlightened. People who really understand Buddhism know that the single most important dharma is cutting off desire. Buddha himself said that the highest consciousness of all is simply no desire. The Master at Gold Mountain teaches it that way, too, but not many people really want to hear it, how much the less do it. Take me, for example. In the last line of the poem that the Master just gave me, there is reference to a berry pie; I'll now tell the story it refers to.
To be continued