Ever since the early nineties, whenever a Threefold Ordination was held at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, the Venerable Master would always invite the Venerable Bhante Dharmawara to transmit the precepts.
When the Venerable Master held the first Honoring Elders Celebration in 1992 in Los Angeles, the Venerable Bhante, who was 103 years old at the time, came from afar to attend, gracing the occasion with his presence. In speaking, the Venerable Bhante always demonstrated the utmost humility. In response to everyone's greetings and courtesies, he thanked them over and over. Towards those who attended upon him, he expressed sincere gratitude. Finally, he would recite mantras to bless the assembly in the Theravadan fashion.
The Venerable Bhante was an avid traveler who visited all parts of the world. Westerners and Easterners, young and old alike, loved to be near him. Many people know that Bhante would cure people without wishing his deeds to be known. In fact, the patients would often feel as if their recovery was natural and had nothing to do with the elderly monk.
The author once had a chance to drive the Venerable Bhante to the airport. When Bhante was about to board the plane, many people went up to say goodbye so I bowed to him from a distance. I only saw that he was reciting mantras to bless those who were seeing him off. I suddenly felt as if jolted by an electric shock for no apparent reason. I was moved to the point of tears. The feeling reminded me of one time when I had received a blessing long ago—it felt exactly the same. At that time I felt that everything in the world was as ephemeral as clouds and smoke.
Last year during the Repentance before Ten Thousand Buddhas, the Venerable Bhante came to stay at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas for about a month. At the advanced age of 109, he was suffering from various ailments and came with an attendant. When his car arrived, there was a great storm and he was shivering from the cold. His attendant covered him with a blanket and then dashed into Cottage 16. Seeing them was like seeing old friends from many years ago. It was deeply touching. During his sojourn at the City, he had an endless stream of visitors. His health would worsen and then get better—it wasn't clear whether he was really suffering or only acting as if in a play. Sometimes he seemed to be on the verge of dying; yet later he would again be chatting and laughing with visitors; those beside him could not help feeling as if worldly affairs were no more real than flowers in the mirror or the moon in water.
His American doctor would come to give him a check-up each week. Once the doctor told him that he could not make it the following week or perhaps any of the times after that. When asked why, the doctor explained that he himself seemed to have contracted cancer and needed to stay in the hospital for check-ups and so on. The Venerable Bhante immediately grabbed the doctor's hand and silently blessed him for a while. Suddenly Bhante released the doctor's hand and laughed heartily, saying, "You're okay! Come and see me again. I'm much better now." Clearly Bhante was helping others, yet he would say that he was being helped. His practice of kindness, compassion, joy, and giving without attachment is probably what we would call the Bodhisattva conduct!
I believe the Venerable Bhante's biographical sketch has already been compiled, so I will stop here. However, before I stop, please listen to my verse:
The Venerable Bhante,
Over a hundred years old,
Fully experienced both the northern
And southern traditions.
Although he appeared to be a foolish old man,
He has already floated
Beyond ten thousand mountain ranges.
After hearing that the Venerable Bhante's remains have been cremated, what did I do? Listen to my other verse:
A red lotus in the fire—his golden body appears:
He is still the same old Venerable Bhante.
Ven. Bhante during a past visit to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas