We finally arrived in California! More than ten years ago, I happened to come across a copy of
Talks on Dharma by the Venerable Master Hua on a bookshelf at my friend’s house. I enjoyed it so much that, even though I had not studied Buddhism, that I wished in my heart to visit the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB). Now I already have several children and I am finally able to make the trip after much praying and many setbacks. My only deep regret is that my blessings and virtues are shallow because I wasted so much time and unfortunately the Sagely One has departed.
Setting off from Silicon Valley with my twin daughters, Liao Yuan and Liao Guo, we followed Interstate 101 north. Outside the windows we could see rolling mountains ranges, some near and some far away. My two children, who grew up in the tropical climate of the low-lying countryside of Florida, were busily asking me what these mountains were. I realized that they had never seen mountains before! After I had told them what they were, they pointed to the mist that surrounded the mountains and asked if that was where we were going. “Yes,” I replied.
The children then asked, “Why are we going there?”
“We are going to look for the immortal. I am taking you there to search for the immortal. Is that okay with you?”
“Mommy,” my children asked, “what does the immortal look like?”
“I don’t know!”
Hearing this, my younger daughter started crying and let out a wail, saying “Mommy, I don’t want to look for the immortal, I want Daddy.” A worry crossed my mind and I wondered if my decision to bring two very young children to CTTB was a selfish act on my part. Seeking immortality is a desire that originates in the mind of an adult. The thought of immortality is both fascinating and mysterious, yet in the pure and undefiled mind of a child, it cannot be compared to the longing for a father.
After pacifying my younger daughter, the older one asked, “Mommy, does the mountain have a name?”
“Of course,” I replied.
Pointing to one of the mountains, she asked, “What is that mountain called?”
This caught me by surprise. How would I know what the mountain was called? It could be Green Pines or Long Life Mountain, or it could have some strange English name. This was a dilemma for me and as I wondered about it my child announced proudly, “Mommy, I know what the mountains’ names are.” Following her cue, I randomly pointed to one of the mountains and asked, “Oh! Then what is this mountain called?”
“It is called Tree Mountain, the other one is called Grass Mountain and this one is called Rock Mountain.” She seemed so sure. Caught by surprise, I smiled, and after a while thought, yes, what a simple answer. It is only my preconceptions that complicates things!
The Sixth Patriarch Sutra states: “How unexpected! The self-nature is originally pure in itself! The self-nature is originally complete in itself!” Using a clear mind to see our own nature is not as difficult as we thought. Perhaps we should learn from children who do not discriminate and are not stubborn in their way of thinking. We need to keep our thoughts simple and pure. This is easier said than done!
In the wild mountainous ranges of Northern Californian grow stretches of grapevines. In the bitter cold of winter their dark brown branches proudly grow strong and upright even though the grapes have been harvested and the branches have lost their leaves. The mountains seem to be telling us of their memories – of the abundant grape harvest of Autumn and the silent waiting for the awakening touch from the fingertips of Lady Spring. This is the famous grape-growing region of America.
Life can be compared to the growing of grapes. The long wait through Winter is followed by Spring sunshine and rain. Finally new branches grow, very much like our youthful days, which are carefree and without worry. Life, like the grapes’ growth cycle, moves on into the hot steaming Summer. Finally we enter our middle age with the struggle with our five desires. Late Autumn produces an abundant harvest, almost like the successes of our middle age. Then what? After a period of frost and snow, what remains is a land covered in a mass of white that is truly clean and pure.
The sweet nectar of the grape can stay on the vine and wither away with the Autumn wind, diminished and lost like the “mixed up” lives of human beings in the world, repeating the cycle year after year, life after life. Or else the grapes can be smashed into tiny pieces by the wine maker. We too can have our dreams and fantasies smashed unfeelingly just like the grapes. In this way, we endure a few rounds of toil and struggle, and having been cleansed and relinquishing every bit of ourselves, a rich wine is produced. With age, the wine develops a rich and fruity flavour. Looking at the two small “green grapes” of mine in the vehicle, I wondered if the teachers at Instilling Goodness Elementary School would be the wine maker of my choice?
We finally arrived. The majestic entrance stood before us under the bright blue sky, silently welcoming the three of us who came from a long way away.
A wave of awe filled my heart. It is just like ten years ago when I flew to my homeland and saw the bright, shining lights of Beijing airport. Could this also be my “homeland?” - that home which has been lingering in my dreams and in my soul?
To be continued