Buddhists generally have deep conditions from previous lives, which reappear in this life. I recall that I enjoyed going to temples as a child to watch people bow, to smell the incense, and to see the awesome statues of deities. I also liked to be alone and was thus regarded as a loner and a misfit by my family.
I came to the United States to study in 1975 and worked in a Chinese restaurant in New York City during the summers. Perhaps because of the influence of the Vietnam War and the establishment of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China, Eastern metaphysics became popular with young Americans. Among the customers at the restaurant, there were people who studied the The Book of Change, meditated, or practiced Chi Kung. I once went to a temple to meditate for half an hour. For three days after returning home, I felt as if my legs were rooted in the ground. That was my first experience of the wonders of Buddhadharma, and it happened through a Western friend.
Returning to Taiwan in 1981,1 had more contact with the Dharma, but not deeply. In 1990, I became a full-time vegetarian for health reasons and to protect the environment. Once, at a vegetarian restaurant, I took a complimentary book in which the inconceivable states of the Buddhadharma were clearly described in a simple and accessible way, based on the author's profound knowledge. That book gave me some idea of the essence and principles of the Dharma. It was the Venerable Master Hua's Commentary to the Universal Door Chapter of the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Sutra. The conditions must have become ripe, for in September that year, my sister told me that a delegation from the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas was coming to Taiwan and asked whether I would like to take refuge with a great master. "What's his name?" I asked. "Venerable Master Hua" was her answer. I recalled reading his book and so, with her family members, I took refuge with the Master at Baojie Temple in Taipei County. Since then, step by step, I have entered into Buddhism more deeply and realized the vastness and immensity of the Buddhadharma.
Whenever I look back on those days, I always think that if I had not made up my mind to be a full-time vegetarian, I would not have had a chance to take refuge with that monk who is such a pure field of blessings. Editor's Note: Upasaka Hsieh works for the Government Information Office of the Executive Yuan in Taiwan and is a volunteer photographer for a newspaper, The Source of Wisdom.