All Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, Venerable Master, and all Good Advisors, Amitabha!
I took refuge with the Venerable Master in 1993, but only incidentally because I liked to liberate creatures. That same year, I did not have a job and had a lot of time on my hands. My sister asked me if I could provide transportation for the two Dharma Masters working at the Dharma Realm Buddhist Books Distribution Society. Since I had nothing to do, I agreed.
I had never been around Dharma Masters before and did not know the proper etiquette for interacting with them. All I knew was that the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas had very strict rules. And indeed, the Dharma Masters did look very serious and lofty. They actually looked like angels from heaven. I didn’t dare to talk to them much, partly because they seemed exhausted from the heavy publishing workload.
My father had a stroke when I was very young. I would go to the hospital during the day and stay there at night to take care of him. Both my sister and my brother-in-law were also Buddhists. At that time, my father’s health steadily deteriorated. My sister told me that it might be time for Dad to go. Since my father was a Christian, some of his friends from church came to visit him, bringing a gift of pears. My sister asked my Dad whether he wished to eat the pears, since there were many things my father could not eat. Later, my sister asked my father if he would like to give the pears to the Dharma Masters as an offering. He said, “Sure, go ahead and offer the pears to the Dharma Masters.” My sister gave me the pears and said, “Quickly, take the pears to the Dharma Masters.” I said, “I don’t have the courage to do so and don’t want to just casually give them stuff. On top of that, I’m not sure if they want them or not. My sister replied, “These pears are from Dad who would like to make an offering. You must take them to the Dharma Masters.”
I very nervously took the pears to the Dharma Masters and asked them if they would accept the offering. The kind Dharma Masters said, “Sure!” It was an offering of only five or six pears, but the power of making offerings to the Sangha is tremendous. By the way, today is not Ullambana so I am not asking you to make offerings to the Sangha. The next day, my sister reported that the doctor had said Dad’s condition had improved dramatically and that he would be able to check out of the hospital in a couple of days.
Even though my father had suffered a stroke, he was still able to talk and move around a little by himself. He needed help with other tasks like walking, sitting up, and taking a shower. Our family members took turns taking care of him. That day, it happened to be my turn. However, it was nearly time to pick the Dharma Masters up and I had to leave the house. And so I told my father to stay in bed, not to move, and said I would return in about an hour. I hurried out of the house to pick the Dharma Masters up. For some odd reason, something had come up and the Dharma Masters were delayed. I was very worried about my father but did not have the courage to tell the Dharma Maters that I had to go soon. If I told them I had something else to take care of, the compassionate nuns would tell me to go home right away. Should something else come up, no one would be able to help them. After I dropped them off, they asked me if I would like to join them for evening recitation. Even though I was worried and in a hurry, I did dared not refuse, so I hesitantly replied, “Sure.”
I had never done the evening recitation before. During the recitation, I was so worried about my father that I did not hear a word of what we were chanting nor did I know what was going on. Right where I was standing, there was a picture of the Venerable Master Hua, who kept smiling at me the whole time. I kept thinking: “Venerable Master, I’m so worried. Why do you keep smiling at me? Who knows what has happened to my Dad now? Maybe he’s fallen off the bed.” Right after the recitation, I hurried home. As soon as I stepped into the living room, I saw my father sitting on the couch watching TV. “Dad, how did you get up?” He replied, “I wanted to take a shower so I tried to stand up. I was able to and so I went to take a shower by myself.” After the shower, my father had found the remote control and sat down to watch TV.
A couple of months later, one Dharma Master asked me if I could help them in the Dharma Realm Buddhist Books Distribution Society. Our family is very close and they were not willing to let me go. But I went anyway. I got really tired after working at the Way-place, so when I went home, I went to sleep right away. That night, my father walked back and forth with his cane just watching me sleep. My mom did the same thing. Eventually, my sister woke me up and said, “Get up! Get up! You might as well sleep in the hallway so that everyone can take a good look at you. With everyone walking around watching you sleep, no one will be able to rest in this household tonight!” Family love and relationships are very hard to leave behind. I see that everyone has set up plaques for their families and relatives during the repentance session.
Later on, I came to the United States. My mom knew I wanted to leave the home life but she never confronted me about it. During that time, my sister consistently helped me to prepare for leaving the home life. Why did she help me? Originally, my sister and my brother-in-law planned to leave the home life. But they got married instead so they projected all on their hopes on me. Every time I went home and stayed a little longer, she would pack up my stuff and ask me to leave. Eventually she sold my car and said, “You can’t stay here anymore. You must go!” At that time, I had not even obtained an American visa yet. She continued, “You should know Mom. Don’t lie to her about your leaving the home life. You must tell her clearly what you want to do.” I agreed.
My mother is a very strong woman who rarely cries. I called her and said: “Mom, I have great news for you.” Immediately, my mother said, “Are you leaving the home life?” I could hear her sobbing on the other end of the phone, and I became nervous. When I am nervous, I tend to joke around. So, I said to her, “Mom, why don’t you go buy a comfortable new sofa, use a fan to fan yourself and relax. By just doing that, you can be reborn in heaven.” Every time my mom called, I would ask her whether she had bowed to the Buddhas. She’d always say she had. I would ask, “How many bows?” She’d say, “One bow.” I’d ask, “How come only one bow?” Her smart reply would be: “Didn’t you tell me that I only need to sit on the sofa and relax, and then I can be reborn in heaven?” I told her, “Mom, I don’t really have much merit and virtue; you’d probably fall from heaven very quickly after being up there for a day.”
A week before I left the home life, my family called and said that that my father had suffered a second stroke. It was so serious that the doctor refused to operate and predicted that my father would not live more than three days. My mother asked me if I wanted to return to Taiwan. I said I’d return after I had left home life. I thought to myself, no matter how well I can take care of my father, it would not be better than doing some true good work for the Way-place for a day. I believe that is how the Venerable Master taught us. After I left the home life, I returned to Taiwan and after a couple of months, my father passed away. I know a lot of people want to cultivate but cannot do so because they cannot give up their family or children. Try to set aside family matters and household chores if you can. Come to the temple often. After a while, the household chores will not seem that important anymore. Some parents want to wait for their children to grow up. After their children are grown, they wait for grandchildren to be born. Continuing like this, they are never done waiting.
I have learned a lot during this week’s repentance session. Even though I work for the temple, I realize that I still have many shortcomings and bad habits. I used to have a teacher (actually I have hundreds of teachers and have to work harder than the Youth Good Wealth) who once commented, “Chin Zheng Shr, you don’t seem to like it when people tell you what to do.” When I heard that, I felt very ashamed and thought that I lacked good roots. I have heard stories of how the Venerable Master used to instruct his disciples and how willing his disciples were in accepting his instructions. I am not as good as the past disciples who endured hardship and never complained. I feel ashamed.
I definitely think my generation does not match up to the last generation. It’s hard for Dharma Masters to teach us now because they cannot scold us or yell at us. They can only tell us things nicely. To teach us one principle, they have to break the teaching into two or three parts because they dare not give us the whole teaching at once. They worry that if they tell us all at once, we may retreat! The Venerable Master used to teach us that whatever we do, we must act and cultivate based on true principles. Regardless of how magnificent the Way-place is or how many lay people we have, if we do not cultivate truly, the temple is just an empty shell.