I recently returned from a trip (starting February 2nd) to Asia. I shall now give a report to the great assembly. Originally, we were invited to go to Taiwan for ten days to conduct a Dharma assembly to welcome the New Year. The ten days turned into about two weeks. We were then invited to visit our Way-places in Hong Kong. Then we were invited to go to Malaysia to conduct another Dharma assembly, which lasted a week. Then we were asked to visit a new Way-place that just opened in Singapore. Some very faithful laypeople opened up a Buddhist Text Translation Society Book Distribution Center in Singapore. We also have a new Way-place in Australia, and the laity there also asked the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association representatives to pay a visit to them, so our ten days ended up being six weeks.
In all those places, it was very obvious to us, first of all, that our Dharma brothers and sisters overseas are all very vigorous. They're very dedicated to protecting the Dharma as taught by the Venerable Master. It's also obvious that they feel very far away from the center of things. They truly appreciate being visited by people from the Way-places in the U.S. Everywhere we went we felt very welcomed and appreciated.
First, I'll report on our visit to Taiwan. We conducted a nine-day Emperor Liang Jeweled Repentance Ceremony. Usually, this ceremony doesn't take nine days; however, we had Dharma talks every day between 12 o'clock and 1:40 pm, and there was a lecture series on the
Brahma Net Sutra in the evening between 7:30 and 9 pm. We took the opportunity to speak some Dharma to the people who were attending the bowing ceremony.
About one hundred people attended daily. They were all very sincere and they all recited in very big voices, so we made a lot of noise. The Dharma Realm Buddhist Books Distribution Society (DRBBDS) in Taiwan used to be on the eleventh floor; it had one side of the eleventh floor. Now DRBBDS has expanded to include the entire sixth floor. One half has been converted into a very large dining hall. The other half is a dormitory, a library and a book storage place.
The DRBBDS didn't suffer very much damage from the earthquake. Perhaps some Dharma sisters who were there can tell you some stories about that. As soon as we finished the assembly, we had a visit from Heng Quan Shi, who lives near Dongshi, Taizhong. She came especially to tell us some stories.
Actually, it was more like a report. She told us that about a week before the earthquake, she felt compelled to leave the temple to attend a workshop. Later she was sure that it was Shifu (the Venerable Master) who was influencing her to leave Yuantong Hermitage. So she and Heng Xing Shi, the other Bhikshuni who lives at Yuantong Hermitage, were not in Taizhong at the time of the earthquake. They were in Taipei. Heng Quan Shi said that if she had been in the temple at the time she would definitely have been killed because of the place where she sleeps. Several very large book cases full of books had fallen right on spot where she would've been lying down. She feels that Shifu saved her life.
She said when she inspected the temple, all the Buddha images had fallen off of the altar in the main hall. She had quite a few of the Buddha images there, but not even a single small piece was broken off of them. She thought that was inconceivable. Then Heng Quan Shi said that she went downstairs. The dining hall and another altar are in the basement of the Way-place. In that area were eighteen ceramic Arhat images. She said that before the earthquake, she had been thinking that the area was becoming too visually complex with so many images, and perhaps the Arhat images were a little too much. But there was one Arhat image that she really liked. She thought that, "Well, perhaps I should invite some away, but if I could keep one of them, I would keep that one." When she came back, all the Arhat images had fallen down and smashed to pieces. Only the one that she liked was unharmed in the least bit. So she said, "I was so frightened. Then I realized the power of our thoughts—we must be careful what we think!"
She had an altar for Shifu's sharira. The sharira had fallen down. They couldn't be found. I believe that she told me that the altar was where the Arhats were. They all had smashed so there were little pieces of porcelain everywhere. People came in to clean up the mess and she told them to please be careful, to watch out for these sharira, because they're missing. After people had cleaned everything up, there was not a speck of dust on the ground. However, they still had not found the sharira. So then Heng Quan Shi knelt before Shifu's altar and cried, and prayed to Shifu and said, "Shifu, only you understand me. It's only because I have the sharira here that I have a teacher. Now that the sharira are gone, it's as if I have no teacher here." As she was saying this to Shifu, a layperson standing nearby said, "Hey, what's that in front of you, over there on the floor?" She looked down and picked it up–it was Shifu's sharira. Then that person said, "Oh, over there, what's that?" It was another one of Shifu's sharira. In the end, she was able to retrieve all of the sharira that had been lost. She felt that was also inconceivable.
Then Heng Quan Shi talked about how her faith in cause and effect was made very strong. She saw that at Yuantong Hermitage, where she has lived all her life, people used to be very simple and wholesome. But as time went on, they gradually accumulated lots of karma. Especially later, the locals ate a lot of meat and relationships between men and women were increasingly complex. They were not as innocent and good as in the past. She felt this had something to do with the disaster, because none of the people she knew who had taken refuge with Shifu suffered any injury. Also, people that she knew who lived a wholesome life and followed the rules didn't suffer any injury. She felt that there was a direct connection between people's conduct and their karmic retribution and karmic rewards.
Then she told us about a local shopkeeper. This family had had a shop there for many years. One day, the shopkeeper, the wife, was there and an old woman came in and bought some things, paid some money and left. The next day when the shopkeeper looked at the money in the drawer, she found that the money that she had taken from this woman had changed into paper money used for the deceased. She felt very afraid.
She thought, maybe there was some explanation, but then that old lady came again, bought some things, and gave her money. The next day the same thing happened.
So the third day she came in again. This time the shopkeeper said to her, "You know, it's very strange, that money you gave me changed into paper money." She said, "I have a feeling you're not from this world." The old woman said, "Yes, that's right."
The shopkeeper asked, "Why did you come here?" "I came here to collect some people," she answered. That frightened the shopkeeper, who then asked, "Are you planning to collect anyone from this household?" And the old woman said, "Yes. One." So the shopkeeper immediately sold the shop and moved away.
But this did not solve the problem, because the former shopkeepers had a son who was attending college in Japan. He decided to pay his parents a surprise visit. The night before the earthquake, he arrived at the shop late at night. He said, "Where's my family?" They said, "Oh, they didn't tell you? They sold their shop and moved." The new shopkeeper gave him the new address and said, "Well, it's very late at night; it's a very small town. It would be very inconvenient for you to find transportation, so why don't you just stay here tonight? You can leave in the morning." The earthquake occurred that morning at two o'clock, and the young man was killed in the earthquake.
Heng Quan Shi said that the day after the earthquake, many people saw five-colored lights, resembling search lights, going inside houses that were not knocked down, as if looking for something. People felt that the lights were very strange. They couldn't figure out where the lights were coming from. They said that during a big aftershock that came a following day, more buildings collapsed and people were killed where those lights had gone. When she was telling me this story, someone from the DRBBDS was there. She said, "That's right, it's true.
Many people saw the lights, including many of my friends and relatives."
I would just like to add a comment: when we read public records such as those by Great Master Lotus Pool about not eating meat and liberating the living, we may find some of the stories fantastic. We think, "Oh, that's just an old myth from long ago." But the kind of stories that Heng Quan Shi told us happened recently. She felt that they verify the law of cause and effect.
To be continued