I first met the Venerable Master Hua in the woods of Oregon, on the banks of the North Fork of the Smith River. It seemed an appropriate place to meet a Chinese Sage, in the outermost corner of the country, where the land had not been trod upon too heavily and the morning mists were still relatively pure.
A session was taking place at Buddha Root Farm, and halfway through, a friend had driven to my home to invite me to it. It was my great fortune that she did so, as I had become dissatisfied with the life I was leading and my attempts to return to a healthier way were being undermined by my own lack of patience, and lack of personal discipline. We had shared interested in eastern thought, but both of us had led very indulgent, western lives.
I remember that when I arrived at the farm, I had an overwhelming impulse to get clean, and we stopped at the bridge on the road and I went down to the river to wash. On the farm, there was a group of perhaps thirty or more people seated under a makeshift pavilion listening to the Venerable Abbot while nuns translated. At first I was disappointed that he wasn't speaking English, but as the translations progressed, I was increasingly aware that the intent of his lecture had reached me in my innermost mind and heart. And though his words were spare and simple, they carried profound implications for a deeper inner cleansing.
The Venerable Master was lecturing the five precepts and they were exactly what I needed to hear. If I was to pursue a life of the spirit, I had to reorganize it along these lines. And after that day, many of the bad habits that I had been unsuccessfully trying to reform seemed to fall away easily.
Throughout my years of listening to the Venerable Abbot's lecture, and in the times my family and I have spent living and working at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas I have been helped in many ways, physically and spiritually. Though bad habits of mind and thoughts as well as action exist in all of us on the deepest levels, and are not always so easily changed, it has been my experience that the Abbot's profound compassion and patient guidance have been the vehicle through which our understanding of the profound Dharma has grown. Through doubts and spiritual droughts, his willingness to show the proper way appears endless.
The Venerable Master has taught us to live simply, so that greed can be replaced by a broadening awareness of our Buddha natures. He has taught us to purify what we take in so that we may nurture our compassion and initiate our own state of health in body and mind. He has taught us to refrain from intoxicants and drugs so that our understanding will be pure in nature. He has taught us not to use or abuse other people and to purify our conduct toward others to the very subtlest levels of mind and spirit. He has given us a direction in the education of our children that promotes unselfish mindfulness and the strengthening of a child's belief in his or her best and purest nature. He has taught us to care for and respect our parents, and to view a strong family structure as the foundation for the structure of a strong nation. He has taught us on so many levels that by voluntarily circumscribing our lives along disciplined and simple lines, in constant mindfulness of the Buddha nature, we are making our greater inner freedom possible. And he has done this tirelessly around the globe.
The people whose lives he has touched, I believe, are numberless. Not only has he transformed his Buddhist disciples, his compassion encompasses those of all religions who are sincerely working toward uncovering their true natures. But in my experience, the Venerable Abbot has shown us the purest, most straightforward, all-encompassing method for reaching our own enlightenment. It is possible to attend sessions and lectures and make great strides forward in our understanding, and to undergo profound changes of mind and heart. It does not surprise me that so many people have, under the Venerable Master's guidance.
My gratitude for the Venerable Master's willingness to help us is difficult to express. And I am continually challenged to apply my understanding in the world, and not to forget that it is a responsibility as well as a privilege to translate what I have learned into the lives of others. But I feel that the Venerable Master is always there, helping and encouraging us to go forward.