In the spring of 1968, Heng Chih Shi, then a laywoman, joined a group of students from University of Washington who traveled to San Francisco's Chinatown to attend a week-long Chan meditation session. That was her first contact with Buddhism and the first time she met the Venerable Master, who led the session and gave many instructional talks.
During one question-and-answer period, when the Master invited participants to talk about what they were experiencing in the session, Heng Chih Shi volunteered that she found herself always "waiting for the bell" to end the sitting period.
Nonetheless, she returned for the Lecture and Practice Session in the summer of 1968, featuring the Master's explanation of the
Shurangama Sutra and several hours of meditation daily. She was particularly inspired by the analysis of the six sense organs found in that Sutra. Shakyamuni Buddha says, "That which binds you to birth and death is simply your six senses–eyes, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind." The Buddha goes on to explain that although the six senses are responsible for our plight, we should not hate them or want to destroy them. Even though the senses act like thieves, we must not treat them badly, because once they change, they become a great help. "You only need not follow. Cut off the flow," the Buddha concludes.
After the summer session, the Venerable Master continued his teaching by explaining the
Lotus Sutra and other Mahayana texts. Heng Chih Shi joined those lecture series and in the fall of 1969, with the Master's guidance and permission, traveled to Taiwan with four other novices to train in a two-month Precept Platform, after which she was fully ordained.
On February 15, 1970, Bhikshuni Heng Chih Shi made the following vows:
1. In life after life, day after day, I vow always to protect and follow my compassionate teacher and to cultivate according to his teachings based on the Proper Dharma.
2. I vow to be filial to my parents and family members.
3. I vow to cast off my self as big as Mt. Sumeru and to continually nurture and use compassionate kindness.
4. I vow to follow my teacher to enter repeatedly any realm in order to help my teacher rescue beings, helping them realize their true mind.
5. I vow to dedicate any merit and virtue from doing deeds to all beings.
By the winter of 1970, Heng Chih Shi was a fully-ordained nun when she joined the fourteen-week winter meditation session held at the Buddhist Lecture Hall. At the start of that intensive session, the Master urged everyone on by saying that even if the building fell down around them, they should continue meditating. Well, the building didn't fall down, but during that session, the Master and most of his disciples moved to the first Gold Mountain Monastery, leaving only the most stubborn meditators behind to complete the long session. Besides that major evacuation from the Buddhist Lecture Hall, the building next door–just one thin wall away from the meditators–was demolished and reconstructed during that winter. As the gutting took place, the wall that Heng Chih Shi was facing as she meditated shook and rumbled from the impact of the demolition machines. She chuckled inwardly, remembering the Master's admonition, and continued to sit throughout the subsequent noisy remodeling. Somewhere along the line, she stopped waiting for the bell.