My parents became disciples of the Venerable Master Hua in 1968 in San Francisco. Later, they moved to Montana, and began to raise their three kids. If someone from the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas came into our home as it was back in the 70s, they might wonder where this professed Buddhist family kept their Buddhism. We had no daily Buddhist rituals, or prayers before meals. In fact, on an external level, there wasn’t much of a show of Buddhism in our house or in our lives, but if you knew us, you knew we were vegetarians, and if you looked closely at the bookshelves filled with Robert Louis Stevenson, Tolkien, and Dickens, you would also find Buddhist sutras and a couple copies of the old
Vajra Bodhi Sea journals from Gold Mountain Monastery. You would find a colored picture of the Buddha and a beloved jade statue of Guanyin among the things on the mantlepiece. Listening to our conversations, you would hear mention of the words, “Buddha,” “cause and effect,” or “enlightened.”
My parents never forced me to believe anything or practice anything, but nonetheless, I believed in the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas at a very young age. My mother explained the Buddha as someone who knew
everything, and such a person was quite naturally worthy of respect from a young girl of five who had so much she didn’t know. For this reason, bowing to Buddhas seemed quite a natural thing to do. Guanyin was the Bodhisattva of Compassion, and the one who would help you out when you were scared or in danger, and since at that age, I was often scared, troubled by nightmares, and in what I thought of as “danger,” like being caught in terrible thunder and lightning storms while out exploring the forest, the practice of reciting Guanyin’s name caught on quickly, and proved to be very effective in dispelling my fears. I was brought up viewing Buddhism not as something I had to do, but as something to go to when I needed help. To this day, I view Buddhism in this way, except that now I see how all living beings need help all the time, and so Buddhism is needed all the time, not just when I, a single individual, have a problem.
I think because my parents never preached to me about Buddhism —they only spoke about it when a simple Buddhist idea could help me understand why a certain thing happened or why a certain action was not advisable —I came to view Buddhism as a kind of wonderful unread book, full of stories and ideas that could solve all the problems of the world. I was given only glimpses of this book through what my mother told me, and not forced to read the whole thing at once, so my curiosity and sense of awe towards Buddhism never waned. As an example, once while practicing the piano, I innocently asked my mother, “Does Guanyin like it when I play?” My mother, not afraid of disappointing or confusing me, told me the truth as she understood it, “No, she doesn’t like it and she doesn’t dislike it.” This principle of nonattachment may seem a bit too abstract for a six year old to understand, but I remember clearly my response. For a second I was disappointed: “How could Guanyin not like my playing?” But then, as the meaning of all my mother’s words sunk in, they seemed to connect with something deep inside me, and I knew that what my mom said was the truth, even if I couldn’t explain why. It was through such short but profound conversations as these, that I saw how neat the teachings of the Buddha, the All-Knowing One, could be, and why I was always curious to know more.
When I was seven, my mother brought my two brothers and me to meet her “teacher,” the Venerable Master Hua. I must have been quite curious and excited to meet this Buddhist monk, my mom’s teacher, whom my mother valued so deeply. I don’t know what my mom told us about the Venerable Master Hua’s appearance, but if she had said he looked like a Buddha, she would have prepared me well, for that is exactly what I thought I was seeing when I walked into the room: a “live” Buddha, with yellow robes and a kind smile. His light was very bright, and it filled the whole room. I didn’t know what to expect before I saw him, and it was a relief to know that this “Buddhist monk,” was nothing strange or incomprehensible. “Oh, he is just like a Buddha,” I thought.
Soon after, in 1989, we moved to California, and my brothers and I began attending elementary school at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. I had a positive first impression of the schools. I saw how the girl students jumped up out of their chairs to sweep the floor immediately after finishing their lunch, and I thought, “These students are good; I want to go to this school.” Upon walking into the Buddha Hall for the first time, both time and I stood still; the hall was filled with more Buddha statues than I had ever seen before.
Hearing someone speak beside me, I silently vowed, “I will never act casual in this place.” In the early days at the school, Shifu [the Venerable Master] would occasionally come into the dining hall during lunch. Sometimes without turning around, I knew he had come in, and this would always make me very excited and happy.
As I grew older and met up with more and more difficulties, my interest in studying the Buddhadharma grew, and whenever I was confused or suffering, words of my teachers at CTTB would come back to me. It became more important that I read the wonderful book of the Buddhadharma myself, instead of limiting my knowledge to what other people told me. I began to spend more time practicing and studying. After having several dreams in which Shifu told me what and how to practice, such as to recite ten recitations without any false thoughts, I didn’t have doubts in the effectiveness of the practices of Buddhism. When someone like Shifu says something will help you end suffering, you can’t help but to believe him.
I had faith in the Buddha as a young child, it was nurtured by Shifu and the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, and it is this faith that causes me to continue to practice. Because faith in Buddhism is based on something internal, a quiet whispering of the heart when the mind is calm, it cannot be shaken by any external conditions whatsoever. And although I often lack confidence in my own ability to use the Buddha’s teachings, I still believe, like I did at age six, that they can solve all the problems in the world.
Faith is the source of the Path,
The mother of merit and virtue.
It nurtures all good Dharmas.
It cuts asunder the net of doubts.
And transcends the flow of sensual love,
And reveals the unsurpassed Path to Nirvana.
The Flower Adornment Sutra