Let me now recommend my disciple, a thief, to tell you a story about stealing.
Bhikshu Heng Shun Shr:
[Originally spoken in English]This is a true story that happened when I was at the former Gold Mountain Monastery. After I had been at the Monastery for about half a year, I was still a layperson, I hadn’t left home yet.
I had actually left the householder’s life in Thailand as a novice monk about fourteen or fifteen years ago. At the Thai monastery, I got a copy of the English
Biography of the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua. It had just been published. As soon as I read the Master’s biography, I knew that he was my teacher. I immediately made arrangements to leave Thailand and went to Gold Mountain Monastery. That’s why I went to Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco.
At Gold Mountain Monastery I was still keeping the eight precepts as a layperson and following the practices of the monastics there, which included not eating after noon. Anyway, one of my jobs in the monastery was to wash dishes. I washed the dirty dishes after lunch every day.
Once during a big holiday...as I recall, it was Guanyin Bodhisattva’s birthday. There were a lot of people, guests who came to join the Guanyin Bodhisattva’s Dharma Assembly that day. There were a lot of dishes to clean and there were a lot of good treats [left over], good food such as sweet cakes and so forth. It took me several hours to clean those dishes after the meal. It must have been about three or four p.m. by the time that I finished cleaning all the dishes.
As I had said, like everyone else in the monastery, I held the precept of not eating any solid food after noon very strictly.
But [on this day], after I had finished the dishes, I saw a bunch of these really sweet, delicious cakes in the garbage can. They were in really good shape. I said to myself, “Boy, I know that I hold the precept of not eating after noon, but it sure would be a big waste to just throw away that cake.” So I rationalized to myself, playing “lawyer” for myself to justify how I could eat those cakes. So I ate the cakes right out of the garbage. Now the important thing to remember in this was that no one was in the kitchen and no one saw me eat the cake out of the garbage can. At that time, everyone was in the Buddha hall attending the ceremonies for Guanyin Bodhisattva’s birthday. Of course, I also made sure that no one saw me eat the cake out of the garbage can. I was absolutely sure that no one had seen me do this.
During those evenings at Gold Mountain Monastery, the Venerable Master was lecturing on the
Flower Adornment Sutra, which he lectured for about eight or nine times a week for about eight or nine years, as I recall. During the evening lecture, the Venerable Master announced, “You know, we maintain a lot of difficult ascetic practices here at Gold Mountain Monastery. For example, we eat only one meal at midday. Sometimes it’s very hard to cultivate these ascetic practices. If any of you feel that it’s just too hard to avoid eating after noon, you can always find good things in the garbage can.” Now when I heard the Master say this during the lecture, I was “totally blown away,” as we say in America. I was totally shocked. I thought, “How did the Master know that I ate these cakes out of the garbage can?” I was terrified. I thought, “The Master can read my mind. He knows everything, every thought that goes on in my mind. Since no one saw me eat that cake out of the garbage can, the Master must have been able to read my mind.” I was just petrified. Every time I saw the Master, I was scared out of my wits.
A few days later, the Master came to my door. I had been there for about half a year by then and the Venerable Master had never spoken to me even once before, not to mention coming to my room! So I hid behind the door. I was really scared. The Venerable Master said, “What’s wrong?” I said, “I’m really scared of you.” “Why?” he asked. “Because you can read my mind,” I said.
The Master said, “Is your mind round or square? Blue or red? Show me your mind.” I thought about that and I wasn’t able to answer him. The Venerable Master said, “See, no problem.” And then he left. So you could say that I’m still working on answering that question, even to this day.
Leaders of monasteries, all greatly virtuous ones and eminent Sanghans, all good and wise advisors, and all
Those of us studying the Buddhadharma should learn to give, to hold the precepts, to be patient, to be vigorous, to meditate, and to be wise. Not one of these six
paramitas should be missing [from our studies]. We must be mentally prepared to learn, investigate, or listen to the Buddhadharma. How? We must not sleep during Dharma talks. The first point is this: we must rouse our spirits. Secondly, we must be patient. If you’re patient, then regardless of who the speaker may be, his or her Dharma will be most profound, subtle, and wondrous, as well as most sublime. You must use your ability to select Dharma and patiently listen to this unsurpassed, profound, and subtly wondrous Dharma. If you are anxious or can’t wait, then no matter how wonderful the Dharma is, you cannot hear it. You listen, but don’t hear it. You look but don’t see anything, and you listen, but don’t hear anything. Your eyes and ears are rendered useless. You may not even know the taste of the food that you rush back to eat. Why? It is because you are impatient. If you were patient, you would pursue the Dharma rather than the person. You shouldn’t choose to listen only to good presentations because what’s good is not necessarily good.
I will tell you in all honesty, the reason that I don’t want to talk is because my words are harsh to your ears. People don’t want to hear what I have to say because they’re scared, like my disciple who had stolen in the past. He’s a dumb disciple now; he doesn’t steal any more because he was probably scared out of his wits then. His ghosts of gluttony and hunger have gone. That’s why I specifically told him to tell to everybody how he stole food. Every time he tells someone, his karma lightens a bit. He should tell people often so that people will not steal. If people don’t steal food to eat, then he has earned some credit. “If that thief can steal food to eat and cultivate, then even though I have also stolen before, I could cultivate too.” They see worthy individuals and emulate them; they see unworthy individuals and reflect upon themselves.” Don’t be anxious. You don’t necessarily have to listen to me.
Although I am not old at this age, I am not exactly young either. I am a middle-aged old man. I believe none of you will object to this old man’s wish to save some energy. I have accepted many disciples—American, English, Italian, Vietnamese, and this and that kind. Why? I was preparing for my old age. Lay people talk about taking care of their children as insurance for their old age. I don’t know whether I’m insuring for my old age or younger days by accepting these disciples, but generally speaking, I have collected a large number of disciples somehow. Why? So that they would help me when I can’t work anymore. While I can still work, I’m training them first. At the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, I teach them to lecture the sutras and speak the Dharma every day. This training has taken more than a decade, or more than fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen years for some. Their voices express the words in my heart; what they say is exactly what I want to say. They are speaking for me. With their mouths, they say what is on my mind. Does everyone understand? I am just a bit lazy and that’s why I want to check and see how my disciples will do.
I shall tell you something else that is quite disreputable. I sure have spent all of my efforts on training these disciples! In the early days, none of them was willing to speak when I told them to speak. And so what did I do? Since people would sit there, ignoring me as if they didn’t hear my instructions. I thought, “I am such an ineffective teacher, I can’t even get my disciple to move.” Okay, I will repent to my disciples and admit my mistake to my disciples. What mistake? I really don’t know how to be a teacher. Okay, I will bow to you three times. If you still refuse to speak then I will kneel here and not get up. Ah! That method was somewhat effective. Once I prostrated to them, they quickly ran up to talk, then they spoke nonstop. Their Dharma talks are a result of my prostrations! You may open up a Chinese Buddhist history book and see that Kumarajiva’s teacher never bowed to his ‘disciple’ Kumarjiva, he bowed to his ‘teacher’ Kumarajiva. The man used to be Theravadan while Dharma Master Kumarajiva was Mahayanan. Since Kumarajiva’s master also wanted to learn about the Great Vehicle, he said to Kumarajiva, “I am your teacher for the Small Vehicle, but you’re my teacher for the Great Vehicle.” As for my case, I bowed to my disciples because they’re my Small Vehicle disciples and I am their Great Vehicle teacher!
Great Vehicle doesn’t contain anything “great” because it’s so great that nothing is outside it. It doesn’t contain anything small because it’s so small that it has nothing inside it. It can fill the Dharma Realm and it can be preserved in a particle of dust. Hence, “On the tip of a hair, precious and magnificent Buddhalands appear. Sitting on a particle of dust, he turns the great wheel of Dharma.” This state is not about supernatural abilities, but a manifestation of the mind.
“If people wish to know all Buddhas of the three periods of time, they should contemplate the nature of the Dharma Realm, for it is made from the mind alone!” “Patience is a priceless gem, but people don’t know how to use it well. If you know how to use it well, you are forever worry-free.” If you don’t know how to listen to the Dharma, “You’re impatient sitting there receiving the Teachings; you’re ready to dash out in a beeline.You’re troubled because your wishes weren’t met as you had been hoping, and yet I say, ‘You’re just fine, just fine.’” Good night, everybody!