Dharma Masters, good advisors, and everyone, Amitabha!
My name is Chen Guo-Chi. I am very nervous tonight, and I don't know what to say; I don't know enough to speak the Buddhadharma, so I'll just talk about my personal experiences with Buddhism.
The summer of 1992 could be considered the turning point of my life. Before this, I did not know anything about Buddhism, and I was also confused about who the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas were. My "religion" was a mix of Buddhism and Taoism. There was a Xingtian Temple in Taipei dedicated to Lord Gwan, who is known as Qielan Bodhisattva in Buddhism. Many miracles occurred there, and many people prayed there. I would go to pray for safety and good fortune whenever I had time; and I would always go and flip through the numerous wholesome books that were free for distribution.
One time, while I was looking through the books, a middle-aged woman came over to me and said, "Many books here are Sutras, sometimes the temple has an overabundance of books, so after a while the surplus books are taken out and burned. This is not right. Buddhist books cannot be burned." As she spoke, she picked out Buddhist Sutras from the pile of books. She also picked up a set of tapes, and said that it was spoken by Venerable Master Hua, and that if I was interested I could take it home and listen to it. "Sure!" I took the tapes. Then she said, "The Venerable Master has a temple at the end of Chung-Hsiao East Road; it's in a large building across the street from the Chung- Hsiao Hospital. Why don't you go visit when you have time?" I wasn't really paying attention then, and absent-mindedly walked away.
On the road back home, I played the tape and found it really interesting. The name of the tape was something like "The Tremor of the Proper Dharma." Wishing to find out more about this Master who taught disciples in the United States, I drove to the temple that the lady had mentioned. I found a large building there, but no Buddhist temple was listed on the directory. So I gave up.
After a time, a friend told me to read the commentary on the Sixth Patriarch Sutra by the Venerable Master., saying that it would answer many of my questions. Oh! Venerable Master Hua? Wasn't I listening to his tapes some time ago? I got the address from my friend to get this book. When I arrived at the building, I noticed it was the large building that I did not go into the previous time.
The first time that I went to the Venerable Master's Way-place, the Dharma Realm Buddhist Books Distribution Association, the Buddhist statues seated in meditation in the center appeared to be alive. Nobody greeted me when I went in, but I really liked the atmosphere. I took copies of the Sixth Patriarch Sutra and the Venerable Master's Dharma Talks. When I got home, I read the Venerable Master's explanation of the Sixth Patriarch Sutra in one night; some of my questions were answered, and I seemed to understand many principles. Then I took out the Venerable Master's Dharma Talks, and as I read on I was totally enthralled. I thought, how rare it is to find someone in this world who speaks nothing but the truth! Doesn't this book address some of my own bad habits? I also finished the Dharma Talks in one night.
A few days later, I returned to the Dharma Realm Buddhist Books Distribution Association and took the whole set of six books of the Venerable Master's Dharma Talks. Reading them after work, I finished all six books in a week.
I read the Venerable Master's books very greedily Why? I heard that the Shurangama Sutra is crucial for enlightenment, so I brought the Shurangama Sutra home with me. I also heard that the Dharma Flower Sutra is essential for realizing Buddhahood, so I also brought the Dharma Flower Sutra to see how one becomes a Buddha. I then heard that to know the treasure of Buddhism, one must read the Flower Adornment Sutra, so I brought the Flower Adornment Sutra home to read. I wanted to know just what the treasure of Buddhism was.
The first time I read the Flower Adornment Sutra, I felt like I was reading a celestial book; I understood nothing, but only felt that there were many layers of profound and subtle meanings inside, which I could not decipher, reading the Dharma Flower Sutra was like reading fables; while in the Shurangama Sutra I read about the beginnings of life and the secrets of the universe. I think the best thing that came out of my Sutra reading was learning to put my legs in full lotus. I also heard that in order to take refuge with the Venerable Master, one had to memorize the Shurangama Mantra, so I started diligently memorizing the Mantra, and I heard that in order to truly become one of the Venerable Master's disciple, one had to bow ten thousand times to the Buddha, so I started bowing in my free time.
The first time I saw the Master was in January 1993, at the ceremony at the Taipei Stadium in Banqiao, Taiwan. Later on in my spare time on weekends, I went to the Dharma Realm Buddhist Books Distribution Association in Taipei to study with everyone; as time passed, I memorized the Shurangama Mantra, and I gradually bowed 5,000 bows. Finally in March of 1995, I was among the last group of disciples to take refuge with the Venerable Master in Taipei.
I recall that once when I was waiting for a bus at the side of the road, suddenly a woman on a motorcycle stopped in front of me. She picked up a stick lying in the middle of the road and moved it to one side, and she told me, "Young man, whenever I see a rock or a stick on the road, I take it to the side of the road because it can be very dangerous lying there. People could get hurt if they drive over it by accident. Such actions are more effective than offering incense and bowing!"
We gain faith in Buddhism from our own experience. The Buddha can't give it to us, nor does it come from the Buddha's mouth. We have to figure it out and put it into practice. We often understand very well in principle, but we cannot actually apply it. I think that Buddhism begins not from what is deepest and hardest to understand, but rather from the bits and pieces of everyday life. This is probably the meaning of "A ten thousand foot high building is built from the ground up." Amitabha!