Last Sunday (May 19) was a very auspicious day–Shakyamuni Buddha’s actual birthday. The chance that the actual day happens to be on Sunday is, on average, only once every seven years. I was very fortunate to enter the Shramanera Trainee Program on this auspicious day, especially since it was originally scheduled a month ago. I’m really grateful to all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, the Venerable Master, and the Sangha. Without their great compassion I wouldn’t have entered the Trainee Program.
I’m also grateful to my parents who gave birth to me and raised me and yet have never asked anything in return. I’m ashamed to confess that I’ve never been filial to them. In my early twenties, I left them in Taiwan and came to US to study and then work for a total of twelve years. During those twelve years I visited Taiwan only a couple of times. During the next eight years while I worked in Taipei, they came regularly to clean up my apartment for me! In 1995 I moved back to the U.S. again and never visited them until last February.
I am grateful to my two sisters who have always been taking care of our parents for decades, both financially and emotionally.
I’m also indebted to my wife who, although she could not understand my decision, has done a wonderful job in supporting the family and raising our two children to become honest and capable young adults. I’m grateful to my son Bin and daughter Wen for their understanding for I have rarely been home with them since 1989!
Of course, I’m indebted to the Sangha. Despite the busy schedule on last Sunday, it took two most senior Bhikshus, DM Sure and DM Lai, two novice monks as cantors, the assembly and the whole Buddha Hall for an hour to transmit the eight precepts just to me.
The Venerable Master used to say that one who stands on the riverbank must also want to see the water in the ocean. It should not be any surprise if any lay resident of City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB) decides to leave home. I’m no exception. In 1999, I was turned down because my wife had not yet given permission. After that I’ve been pretty content in my work at the school. While I’ve always wanted to become a monk, I didn’t expect that things would happen so soon!
Recently both Bob Wanacott and William Jeng passed away. These incidents reminded me of a story told by the Venerable Master: A man died and he went to see King Yama. He complained: “How come you never warned me that I would die soon?” King Yama replied: “This is just not true! I sent you three letters earlier to warn you about this.”
“Three letters? I’ve never received a thing!”
“Remember a year ago, an old man in your village died? That was the first letter I sent you. Then half a year ago, one of your good friends died. That was the second letter. Just a month ago, your neighbor lost a child. That was the third letter.”
When it comes time for me to see King Yama, I wouldn’t want to complain that he never sent me any letter. As the saying goes “When I see someone die, I worry. I worry not about others, I worry that soon it will be my turn.”
I’m not as fortunate as many of you who have been with the Venerable Master for a long time before he entered Nirvana. I met him only a few times. However, in at least two occasions after I was introduced to him, he asked me the same question: “How old are you?” This question puzzled me for many years. I remembered the following story about Shakyamuni Buddha. Someone tried to test the Buddha’s wisdom by asking him how many leaves there were in the big tree outside the window. The Buddha gave him an answer. Of course no one knew whether the answer was correct or not for there were too many leaves to count. However, this person from an externalist teaching was very smart; he went to pick a certain numbers of leaves from the tree. He then came back to ask the same question to the Buddha again. Buddha gave him a smaller number that matched the exact number of the leaves he had picked.
All Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have great wisdom that knows everything. I believe that the Venerable Master had the wisdom to know my age. I also believe that Venerable Master’s every single word or deed was to teach living beings. Why then did he ask me my age repeatedly? About a year ago, I started to realize that I needed to wear reading glasses. All of a sudden, I found that I can’t read small print anymore! And I started to realize that I’m getting old. I began to understand why the Venerable Master used to ask me my age. I’ve never paid attention to my own age. Every time when age came up, I always needed to calculate it. I believe that the Venerable Master’s intention was to have me pay attention to the fact that “time waits for no one,” so I better make sure to cultivate early!
Last February I went back to Taiwan together with a DRBA delegation. An old friend told me that many people in Taiwan wondered if I’ve ever regretted the decision of quitting my job in Taiwan and moving to CTTB. I believe that my joining the Shramanera Trainee Program is my best answer to the question.