Bhikshuni Heng Chih:
Now I'll tell a story. In 1972 when the Venerable Master was staying at Gold Mountain Dhyana Monastery, several of us were in seclusion there. We did not leave the monastery. Every day we listened to lectures on the Sutras, translated Sutras, bowed in repentance, and did the morning and evening ceremonies. One day we received an invitation from the Japanese Suzuki Roshi [not D.T. Suzuki], who had cancer and was going to transmit the Dharma to an American disciple. He was so ill that he could barely speak, yet he had to transmit the Dharma.
We were quite puzzled, but the Venerable Master said, "It doesn't matter to me that his Buddhism is different from traditional Chinese Buddhism. For the sake of his Dharma heir, I want to show my approval that he is transmitting his religion to the United States and to an American. Therefore, we should all go." Thus the Master took all of us disciples with him.
In Japan when the Dharma is transmitted, people who are involved go up into the mountains. Therefore, in that temple there was a place that the Dharma transmitter and the transmittee could walk up to together. The Dharma transmission took place, but we could neither see nor hear it. Then the American who had received the Dharma came down and announced, "Just now our Teacher transmitted a very wonderful Dharma to me. He said that there is no high or low, that everything is inherently existent and empty."
Then there was an opportunity to ask questions. One rough-looking fellow asked, "This morning I cut my toenails and then didn't know where I ought to put the nail clippings." The American Dharma heir [Baker Roshi] didn't know how to respond, so he said, "I know you—don't you work in the kitchen?"
The man was unsatisfied and retorted, "What does my working in the kitchen have to do with the question I asked?"
Baker Roshi had no reply, so he invited the questioner to have tea with him in the Japanese tradition, and showed the man some pictures of Baker Roshi's wife.
Since we were not used to going out much and since Baker Roshi's Dharma was so different from what we had learned from the Venerable Master, we didn't dare to ask any questions. The Venerable Master told the Bhikshus, "Actually, Baker Roshi's wisdom is several hundred times greater than yours. He's a little weak in the area of precepts, a bit worse than you in that respect." When we got back to Gold Mountain Monastery, the Master wanted to know our impressions, so he held a meeting with us right away.
The Master said, "If someone mentions heaven, you reply with earth. If he says black, you respond with white. In that instant, there is an opportunity for enlightenment. Put the most worthless things in the most important place. It's up to us to see if we will awaken and understand." The Master also said, "To suddenly be in the heavens and suddenly be on earth is to spin about in the six paths of rebirth."
That brings me to the last part of the talk—the present situation of Buddhism in America. In general, if the conditions discussed earlier could all be fulfilled, Americans should be receptive to traditional Chinese Buddhism. However, in the past forty years, there have hardly been any Chinese Dharma Masters who have been able to convert Americans. In other words, we have not been successful yet. The Master was able to do it, and he converted many Americans in the past three decades or so. He said that Buddhism's transmission to America will depend on Chinese people. Originally there were people with good roots in China. Now those with good roots have come to America, where they will gradually develop Buddhism. Although Americans don't understand the language, culture, and behavior of the Chinese, in the beginning Buddhism in the West will rely on the efforts of Chinese, most of whom have Buddhist family backgrounds, to support and propagate it. There must be a time for implanting roots, so that Americans can eventually reap the fruits themselves. When the Indian Patriarch Bodhidharma went to China, no one understood him. In fact, the Chinese rejected him and even tried to kill him. However, time has proven how invaluable he was to Buddhism.
The Venerable Master had all the necessary requirements to transmit the Dharma to America. Although many people rejected him or didn't understand him, I believe the Master's work in America will prove to be of the greatest importance in the history of Buddhism in the West. As a Westerner who is a Buddhist, I hope that the Proper Dharma will be brought to the West, establish roots, and bear fruit in the West. Let us all—Easterners and Westerners alike—work hard together to make this happen! Amitabha!