I have been at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (the City) for several years. I am an insignificant person whose words carry little weight, and my opinion is shallow and not worth mentioning. However, if people were to ask me what I think of today's Buddhism, I would still sigh, "The lamp burns ever brighter before its finale!"
It is no news that Buddhism will end. The Buddha foresaw the extinction of Buddhism and spoke the Sutra of the Dharma's Demise. I personally am very well aware that there are many obstacles on the path of cultivation. Many people cultivate at the City for a time and then pack up and leave. I have seen quite a few examples of this since I came to the City. That is why, in my Chinese class, I deliberately let the students copy out this Sutra, hoping that in addition to practicing their characters and earning some merit and virtue, they will also develop a sense of urgency.
"Were such descriptions only in the Buddhist Sutras? The Sutras record what was said over two thousand years ago!" someone might say. Actually, the Buddha, Patriarchs and cultivators of great virtue throughout the ages have all made similar pronouncements. Listen to the lament of Elder Master Hsu Yun:
What qualifications do I, this stupid fellow, have,
To come to this Dharma-ending Age for no reason?
Alas! The lineage of the Sages is in great peril.
I have cast aside my own affairs to worry on behalf of others.
Buddhism has already reached the Dharma-ending Age—there is no doubt about that. Peril is lurking everywhere; dangers crop up en masse. The proverbial "mountain of eggs" is no longer sufficient to describe the situation. Elder Master Hsu Yun said Buddhism is hanging on by a thread. The holy teaching has long been corrupt. It will be even more difficult to reverse the trend. Heterodox cults are all the rage. Frauds and phonies are everywhere. Non-Buddhists regard Shramanas (monks) as excrement. Yet within Buddhism itself, very few people have the will and determination to turn back the tide in the first place. Secondly, those within Buddhism have not been able to unite; the word for Shramana in Chinese is literally "sand door," which can mean that inside and outside the door, people are like scattered sand. Within Buddhism, you run your show and I run mine. If this continues, Buddhism will not last long. Some say that if one day there is no one in Buddhism who attains the fruition of sagehood, then the last days of Buddhism will be at hand. As Buddhists, even if this situation does not bring tears to your eyes, do you not feel the least bit anxious about the prospect of the Buddha's teaching dying out? The day that the Buddhadharma dies out, every Buddhist will have to bear the cross. Every Buddhist will be the follower of a dead religion; what glory is there in that? After the Buddhadharma is gone, it will be too late to think about transcending the world.
Has Buddhism reached the end of the road in both the East and the West? Let me recount my experience upon returning home. In the summer of 1997 when I went to my hometown to visit my parents, I truly understood what the Master meant when he said that Buddhism in the East is rotten to the core. There, the emphasis is more on superficial form than actual practice; Buddhism has gradually become a religion for tourists. The tourist business is booming, and the sound of Dharma is rarely heard. Few people are willing to expound the Dharma, or perhaps few people understand how to expound it. In the seven days of the week, Sunday is the only day for Dharma lectures. I think that Great Master Tai Hsu, regardless of whether he is dead or alive, would be weeping and lamenting, "I never would have thought that my monastery would become this empty!" I would have something to say to that elder. I would say that when I had returned to my old home, I never expected that after the monks finished their dinner, they would stroll about at leisure, being entertained by song and dance, walking along the ocean front, or taking in the city nightlife and doing whatever caught their fancy. That was the reason my mother insisted that if I wanted to leave the home-life, I could do so back home; she didn't understand why I had to go so far away to the United States to leave home.
In the West, it could be said that the Proper Dharma is just emerging. On the one hand, Westerners who are unable to find inner peace and happiness despite their high level of material comfort have found an answer in Buddhism. Not only can Buddhism give them an answer, it can offer them a whole mountain of gold and treasures. No wonder the Venerable Master named the first monastery he founded in the United States Gold Mountain Monastery. The Master came to America with the ambition of starting anew. The fate of Buddhism has reached a critical moment. For that reason, what Buddhists do in the West will be of outstanding significance in the history of Buddhism. The Master taught by example; he sweated and he bled, establishing one monastery after another, bringing in loads and loads of offerings. We disciples get to enjoy it all; everything is done for us. If we do not genuinely practice the spiritual path, how can we expect to end up anywhere but the hells?
Several months before his passing, when his disciples were asking some questions about what to do after he was gone, the Master could not help but shed tears. Why did he cry? I don't know. I should not guess, for I might make a mistake in cause and effect, but it wouldn't hurt to list the possibilities:
Was he sad because his disciples were hard to cross over?
Was he sad because his disciples were lazy?
Was he sad because the Proper Dharma was about to decline?
The Master made a last stand for Buddhism in America. His life was a reenactment of the military official Zhuge Liang's patriotic devotion: "Bowed down I exhaust myself (in public service)." If we had even two-tenths of the Master's loyalty and three-tenths of his sincerity, we would be qualified to pass down the Buddha's bright lamp. I hope the new flourishing of the Proper Dharma will be more than a momentary effulgence; I hope it is not like "a flickering candle about to go out," but "a light which burns brighter."