Upasika Song was born in 1924 to a big family in Manchuria, China. She dropped out of school after half a year due to illness, and never returned to school due to her grandmother’s indulgence. She grew up happily and a marriage was arranged for her. On her wedding day, she had a vision of herself falling from a great height down into the mud. Her married life was not happy, even though her husband was caring and she had a comfortable lifestyle.
When she was 20, her family fled to Taiwan due to the instability in China. Her husband became a teacher and she raised their three children. However, her husband’s dissatisfaction with her housekeeping made her feel wronged and bullied. Feeling miserable and worthless, she walked into a Catholic church and obtained a little consolation; while praying, she realized that forgiveness was the way to release her suffering. She was grateful, but still sensed that something was missing deep down in her heart, although her priest told her that she was doing fine.
In 1988, she and her husband came to the US to visit their son. One day, she unintentionally turned to a television program by the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association (DRBA), “Visiting the Ten Thousand Buddhas.” As soon as she saw the Venerable Master’s image on the screen, she knew instinctively, “All my problems will be solved.” She wrote down the phone number and contacted a laywoman of DRBA, saying, “I want to become a Buddhist.” That weekend, following the laywoman’s advice, she went to San Jose to attend the Venerable Master’s lecture. She was brought to the Master after the Dharma assembly. Master said: “So you’ve come.” She answered, “Master, I came from the Catholics.” “It does not matter. Catholics and Buddhists are the same!” Two weeks later (in January 1989), the Master asked about her, so that laywoman took her to Gold Mountain Monastery. Seeing the Master again, she could not hold back her tears. The Master told her to bow to the Buddhas. Without being told, she naturally made full bows to the Master and took refuge. Her Dharma name is Gwo Chang (“Permanent Results”).
Afterwards she frequently went to Gold Mountain Monastery to bow the Medicine Master Repentance. One day, seeing the Master sitting alone, she knelt down and said, “I want to go to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB). I believe help is needed there.” The Master replied, “The winter is cold and the summer is hot there. Can you stand it? Don’t go now. Wait till you are old.” Worried that she might miss the opportunity, she hastened, “You know everything. You have to teach me!” The Master replied, “Buddhism is nothing special. You need only ‘repair’ yourself.” On the way home, she kept pondering: “How do I ‘repair’ myself? Which parts need to be fixed?” In addition to doing the morning and evening ceremonies and reciting sutras, she set up a Merit/Fault Table. Every night she reflected on how she had done that day, with a circle for good and an X for bad. She also bowed to the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and the Master, asking them to help her repair herself. After a few months, she asked the Master if she needed to make any adjustments. The Master answered, “No. Do it step by step. In addition, you should bow to all sentient beings. Pray not only for your children, but for all living beings. If you pray for all beings, you will benefit more.”
Her husband died in 1999. A hundred days after his death, she wanted to go to CTTB, so she talked to the Master in her heart: “Where are you? Master! Your disciple wants to go to the temple.” That night, surprisingly, a laywoman from DRBA called her and said she would take her to CTTB to attend the Dharma assembly. Immediately after receiving the Bodhisattva Precepts, she applied to become a permanent resident of CTTB. She has stayed until now. In the past few years at CTTB, Gwo Chang had numerous tests. She considered herself like a kindergarten student taking university classes at CTTB, so she had to take one examination after another, as well as daily tests and quizzes. Sometimes she passed; sometimes she failed and had to start all over again. When she failed, she relied on the Master’s words, “Everything is a test / To see what you will do,” to give her strength. She has realized that whether a situation is favorable or not, it can teach you something and help you grow. When you are sliding down, you have to work extra hard to avoid falling; otherwise, it will be very difficult to climb back after falling off. She has thus added another practice: concentration with no false thoughts. Whenever false thinking arises, she laughs at her foolishness in “making something out of nothing.”
She is 80 years old now, yet she never misses a single ceremony at the Buddha Hall. She likes to follow the group and humbly admits that she does not know anything and is learning from everyone. She recalls that when she first began reciting the Shurangama Mantra, she could not keep up with the cantor; but she vigorously practiced it and could soon recite it by heart. Not only that, but she was able to straighten up her bent spine! During her second year at CTTB, she bowed the Jeweled Repentance before 10,000 Buddhas, but suffered from sciatic nerve pain. She passed this test of enduring the pain by forcing herself to sincerely do the repentance. She recited each Buddha’s name in every period till her throat was bleeding. She then pleaded to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas that she still wanted to praise the Buddhas. She was sick for one year, and got well the next year when she bowed the repentance.
Winter at CTTB is rainy and cold. She appreciates it that CTTB provides a heater in her room, serves meals at the Tower of Blessings (elder nuns’ residence), and offers many other amenities; however she hardly turns on the heater because she remembers what she promised the Master, “I will not fear hot and cold,” and she is also mindful that there are no heaters in the monks’ and nuns’ rooms.
During the 2003 3-week Winter Chan Retreat, she was able to sit for 9 periods a day at the age of 80. She has realized that meditation not only regulates the body and mind, but also reduces idle thoughts. Gwo Chang enthusiastically advances on the Bodhi Way with extraordinary persistence. She believes, “Cultivation can be very difficult; it can also be very easy—simply let go of your body and mind. Don’t follow states. As long as we want to practice, we will constantly feel the joy of the Dharma and live energetically. We don’t have to wait till we die and are reborn. The World of Ultimate Bliss is right before our eyes!”