One day I was lying down in the storeroom by myself, and I wasn't dreaming. I saw a group of monks wearing their sashes. They were hitting the fish and bell as they walked, going on their way to recite Sutras. I was following behind them. One of the monks looked back and pointed at me. He said, "You're going to be okay. You should go back." When my mother came in, I said, "I'm getting better. And when I'm well, I want to leave the home life." She agreed, and seeing that I could talk, she had me carried back into the house. When I brought up the matter of leaving home to my mother after I was fully recovered, she remained silent. When I raised the issue again, she said, "What? You were delirious then; you weren't in your right mind." She no longer agreed.
One time when the Master was visiting us I told him that I wanted to leave the home life, and the Master agreed. With the Master agreeing, my mother did not say more. Wang Mucun was two years younger than I was. (I don't know the characters of her name, since I never learned how to read.) I told her how fine it was to leave the home life. Her mother originally disapproved, but later she agreed.
With our families' consent, we went to Three Conditions Monastery to leave home with the Venerable Master. The Master agreed, and gave Guo Shun some cloth to make a black robe (haiqing) for each of us. Guo Shun was a left-home disciple of the Master who later immolated himself. The Master had picked him up off the streets. He had worked as a tailor before and knew how to make clothes. Later he smoked opium and shot morphine, and lost all his money. He was waiting to die on the streets when the Master saw him and felt sorry for him. The Master took him as a left-home disciple and helped him to kick his opium habit.
That was during the Manchukuo era, when the Japanese ruled with malicious intentions. Hoping to get Chinese people hooked on opium and morphine, the government provided these substances at a low price. Once addicted, people were sure to ruin their family fortunes, even selling their wives and children. Having sold everything and having no clothes to wear, they would hide in ditches, covering their bodies with strips of paper. The paper didn't help, however, and the ditches could not keep out the wind. By springtime they would all have frozen to death. I was afraid to look at their corpses grinning with bared teeth. Later the Eighth Route Army came and prohibited opium and morphine, forcing people to quit.
Guo Shun had not taken our measurements, and as a result the black robes he made for us were too wide. Since we had nothing else to wear, we made do with them The Master did not give us kashayas (precept sashes) to wear, for he himself had none. Once we had our black robes, the Master took us to Three Conditions Monastery to shave our heads. He gave me the names Guo Zhi (Fruit of Wisdom), Heng Hui (Always Wise); Wang Mucun was named Guo Xi (Fruit of Happiness), Heng Yue (Always Joyful). After shaving our heads, the Master personally accompanied us to the Earth Store Temple in Guxiang District in the city of Harbin to live, as Three Conditions Monastery was a men's residence and women could not live there.
We lived there for about half a year without ever seeing the Master. One day, Wang Mucun (that is, Heng Yue) and I went back to Three Conditions Monastery to see the Master. The Master was not there; there were only three old people preparing the meal. None of them knew where the Master was. We returned to Earth Store Temple without seeing the Master. Before we had been there for a year, the Eighth Route Army came and there was unrest in the area as bandits prowled and made trouble. I remember that one gang from Shandong would bang on our doors with their knives every night, demanding to be let in. Their intentions were clearly unfriendly When it seemed impossible to hold out any longer, the temple manager told us, "Clear out and disperse! Each of you go your own way!" After the Eighth Route Army came, they took over the temple and drove people out. When I went back to China in 1999, Earth Store Temple had been restored.
After I left Earth Store Temple, I went home for a few days and then went to my older sister's place. Two days later, she took me to live at a nunnery called Dharma Flower Temple in the county of Acheng. The people at that temple specialized in reciting Sutras and bowing repentances for the deceased. It was a sizeable temple with about ten residents. The abbess, Ding Hui, was only forty years old or so and was very capable and good-hearted. Didn't I mention the wide black robe that Guo Shun had made? Well, Ding Hui fixed it for me. She treated me no differently from her own disciples. She also gave me my first precept sash, which I wore for the morning and evening recitations.
Ding Hui's parents were Korean, but she was born in China. Originally, she had been engaged and her family had accepted the engagement present. But when she did not want to get married, her father hung her up and beat her. After she recovered from her wounds, she ran away. Later, she left the home life at an unknown temple. She did plenty of hard physical labor, yet she still got a lot of flak. Sometimes she would do needlework and sell it to earn some money One day, she heard about an Avatamsaka Temple and it sounded like a fine place, so she wanted to go there. Not knowing where the temple was, she hired a rickshaw and made an agreement with driver that she would pay him upon arriving there. They drove in a circle but couldn't find the temple, and she ended up paying him the last of her money Later on, she went to Prajna Temple in Beijing. Filial Son Wang was known as Great Master Chang Ren. After he left Three Conditions Monastery he went to Prajna Temple and eventually passed away there.
There are two Prajna Temples in Beijing. One is a monastery and the other a nunnery. Both of them are very big. The Prajna Nunnery where Ding Hui went had large buildings and a Buddhist academy where people learned to recite Sutras, perform repentances, sing praises, and play the Dharma instruments and so forth. Since Ding Hui had no money, she could not enroll at the academy. Since she wasn't permitted to enroll, she secretly peered through cracks in the window from outside and studied on her own. She mastered Sutra recitation and repentance that way. That was why when her disciples didn't apply themselves, she would be frustrated to the point of tears and say, "I held your hand and taught you, but you still don't study Do you know how I learned? I studied secretly by peering through cracks in the window." Ding Hui was smart and had a good voice. Her hand movements were very agile when she did the mudras. Acheng County was a small place back then. There weren't many people, but not too few either. There was only one temple that specialized in reciting Sutras and performing repentances; all the other temples were Taoist.
To be continued