另一天，上人在大清早交待我代他給一本書寫篇序，上人給我兩天的時間，可是我下午就拿著去見上人了；我看師父很歡喜的樣子，就鼓起勇氣陳述我的教育理念。上人凝重地注意聽著，不時頷首表示同意；我就更加大放厥詞起來，甚至批評起某教授錯誤的方針。上人只是輕輕嘆了一口氣說：「我是Everything is o.k.(什麼都可以)！既然有人願意做事，我也就讓他去做去。這鼓勵大家做事嘛！就算錯了，改了就是了，沒關係的！」我又深深懊悔起自己的執著和猛浪了！這叫自作聰明，根本就沒能用心去體會師父愛護人才、培植人才的深心。師父又一次給予我機會教育，教導我：要民主、開放，絕不要固執自己的知見，而抹煞了事情的任何可能性。
Ten years have passed! It has been so long since I have last seen my Teacher! In fact, without the hindrance of physical form, the presence of the Venerable Master has been everywhere, and his enlightening instructions and teachings for me are also all-pervasive. I considered myself to be his late disciple, but because I taught in the schools of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB) and also helped out with some editing and proofreading of Sutra translation and commentaries, I had the opportunity to draw near Venerable Master Hua and receive his direct teaching. When I was proofreading and compiling the Venerable Master’s Sutra commentaries and his Dharma talks from the tapes, the obstruction of time and space seemed to disappear, and I was able to travel back in spirit to the lecture hall where the Venerable Master had lectured before. When the Venerable Master lectured on Sutras, he always focused on the main points without deviation, yet sometimes with a touch of nice surprise. Sometimes he advised with a serious but sincere tone; sometimes he exhorted and warned disciples sternly; sometimes he was very relaxed and humorous— with fun words rolling off of his tongue. His charming and sparkling discourses were amazing and breathtaking. All these things in the past, though they may seem trivial when we look back, shine the light of his limitless wisdom and overflow with his inexhaustible compassion. Here, based on my limited memory of the Master, I am going to share some stories which are divided into different categories.
His Instructions Regarding the Importance of Education
I still remember the first time I had a face-to-face talk with the Venerable Master. I expressed my views toward our school system. He listened carefully and earnestly. When I finished, he looked at me and said, word by word, slowly but clearly: “You ought to teach my children well for me.” When he said those words “my children”, his voice was filled with deep, deep kindness and sorrow. Even today, even with my eyes closed, I can still feel his concern about education and his mercy towards living beings. My tears can’t help but stream down my face.
Afterwards, the Master told other people that my thoughts are “very complete”; he also instructed me to write more articles on education. The responsibilities of educating the future pillars of society and the nation—the younger generation, is a very weighty job; and the road ahead is rugged and long; but all these years, the Master’s words always support me and help me not to get lazy, frustrated, or discouraged.
For the past few years, I have been thinking several times about retreating from the frontline of teaching so I can do more Sutra-related text proofreading and editing. Whether I teach or not, I will always remember Shr Fu’s words and keep my promise to the Master: I shall be the “hands and eyes” of the Venerable Master, and work for education following the principles and policy set by the Venerable Master. For all these reasons, I dare not stop my dull pen.
His Care and Concern for the Well-being of Society and People
Honoring the Elders—One evening, the Master stopped me on the road. When he heard that I was delivering food from the kitchen to our Tower of Blessings [residence for elderly women] for those who need to eat dinner, the Venerable Master said seriously and thoughtfully, “The elders have contributed a lot to our society and nation, we should respect and honor them. Since their health conditions are usually poor, they can eat as many meals as they need. Preparing food for the elders must be done heartily, and the food must be soft.” The Master’s concern and care for the elders was in no way less than his concern and care for the youth. During that period, because I had to take care of my sick mother in the Tower of Blessings, I went there a few times every day. I also helped out a little with other elders. As I thought about it, I realized that I was acting out of a concern for myself. How could I compare to the Master’s great public spirit of “extending the same care to others’ parents as we care for our own”?
Cherishing the youth—One day when the Venerable Master was sitting at the Book Store, I brought the dorm students of the Girls’ School over to visit him. We knelt down in front of the Venerable Master, and listened to his teaching. One by one, the students answered his questions about their daily life or their studies. Afterwards, he asked the three sisters who lived with their widowed mother in the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. Beaming with smiles, he asked the youngest sister what she played with everyday, and what she liked to eat. Then he asked the oldest one what difficulties she had in her life, in her studies, and in her cultivation. Then he straightened his face and scolded the middle sister for having broken the school rules. Suddenly, the Venerable Master paused and turned over to look at me, telling those students, “If you have any questions that you don’t understand, you can go ask Teacher Sun. She will be able to help you.” Alas! Thanks to the Venerable Master for giving me this “good job” — I was already in my forties and still have doubts and delusions; how could I help others solve their problems? Though the Master’s words indeed concerned the students, he was giving me a test as well to see if I, as a teacher, was able to “Transmit the great principle, teach the lessons and resolve students’ problems and delusion.” How dare I get lax and lazy again and not strive to make progress!
Building a Peaceful Society— Venerable Master mentioned, “Education is the best national defense!” I then responded, “Education is also the best way to create a peaceful society.” Venerable Master cheerfully said, “That is why we should educate the children well. We teach everyone without discrimination — we teach good students, but we should also teach the unruly ones to be good. If we just pick the good ones to teach, since they are already good, why should their parents bother to send them over for us to teach? … If we do well in education, then everyone will have integrity, modesty, propriety, and a sense of shame. They will not create trouble in society.” That is why Confucius said, “Who doesn’t know how to judge a case? The purpose of education is to prevent society from having any criminal cases to judge at all!”
Providing Relief from Natural Disasters— The Venerable Master was always very concerned about the occurrence of natural calamities and manmade disasters. As for disaster relief efforts, he also did his best to contribute in both spiritual and material ways. Although I did not hear anything in particular about this, I can see his concern from his establishing a Refugee Rescue and Resettlement Council after the Vietnam War, and his instructions to set up a Natural Disaster Rescue Center after the Guatemala Earthquake occurred. This concern was also apparent from the fasts he undertook before and during the war in the Middle East in order to transfer the merit to alleviate the war crisis. In everything and everywhere I could feel his compassionate regard for beings and his foresight. What a pity that after over a decade, there are still no signs of plans for a Natural Disaster Rescue Center. I think all of us disciples should really reflect upon ourselves and strive to reform and progress.
His Instructions Regarding the Direction of Sutra Translation
The Venerable Master’s way of lecturing Sutras was quite unique— although he may not be the last person to lecture this way, he was certainly the first. After getting used to his style, I felt really unaccustomed to other people’s styles. The Venerable Master called his Sutra commentaries “simple explanations,” but my personal view is that no one has done a better job in expounding the principles of the Sutras in such a profound way! His Sutra commentaries appear simple and not very deep, for the Venerable Master wished everyone could understand them without much difficulty. He also wished that all Sutras be translated into other languages so that people of all nations could have the access to Sutras and hear the Dharma. Now our Chinese Buddhist Text Translation Group is working on revising and proofreading the published Chinese editions of the Venerable Master’s Sutra commentaries. One of the editors in the past deleted a lot of the anecdotes and instructions/admonishments that the Master would give during the course of the Sutra lectures; she considered those stories and talks redundant or too colloquial. Thinking herself smart and possessed of good literary skills, she also inserted her own or others’ points of view or explanations into the Master’s commentaries. This distorted Venerable Master’s original meaning and intent. Afterwards, the Venerable Master instructed us to review and recompile his commentaries for publication. He was upset and said, “Everything I mentioned or every story I told has its significance.” Till today, there are still some people who question whether we should keep the style and the tone of the Venerable Master’s lecturing in our published translations. I personally think that just as the rain cannot benefit plants that are not rooted, so, too, the Buddha only crosses over beings who have previous affinities with him. With his unique style of Sutra lecture, the Venerable Master had already taught and transformed those disciples with whom he had affinities. Therefore, in the present and future Western society, there will naturally be beings who have deep affinities with him, who will also like to read his books and be able to understand his simple yet special colloquial style of lecture.
His Instruction on the Work of Propagating the Dharma
Dharma propagation is not done in a day or two, nor even a lifetime or two. Rather, it’s the responsibility of all monastics in life after life. It is impossible to successfully propagate the Dharma without a well-established Sangha. Therefore, the Venerable Master was very concerned about Sangha training. His principle of training the Sangha is based on the cultivation of both noumena and phenomena (theory and practice) and emphasizes both teaching and practice. This is because in order to cross over others, one must be able to cross over oneself. If one is not clear about the principles, then one cannot benefit the specifics; if one’s practice is not solid, then the teaching can hardly be attained. In this way, how can one speak the Dharma and propagate the principles? As it is said, “ One who has skill in Chan but fails to learn the Dharma will err as soon as he speaks; one who learns the Dharma but fails to put it into practice will always walk in darkness.” I myself have some deep vows concerning the Buddhist scriptures, but I realize that I had the same fault of inadequate samadhi power as the Venerable Ananda once had; yet, I lack his good memory and erudition. Hence I wish that I can rely on the strength of the Sangha, starting from upholding the precepts, to get rid of my bad habits, selfishness, and desires so that I can finally attain proper perception, proper concentration, and great wisdom. More than two or three times I asked for the Venerable Master’s permission to become a monastic; however, the Master always changed the topic. He would even appear in my dreams and say, “Work well on the Sutras; that’s the offering of Dharma! That is to propagate the Dharma!” One day, when listening to an audiotape, I heard the Master talking about how Layman Vimalakirti accommodated hundreds of thousands beings in his little room. The Master added, “As long as a layperson cultivates, he can also become awakened!” I murmured inside, “To become awakened? How long will that take?” Reaching out to rewind the tape so that I could hear it again, suddenly I felt the image of the Venerable Master sitting with his eyes lowered glancing at me. Startled, I pressed the fast forward. I listened as the tape played and the Master said, “As long as you have faith, vows, and practice, you can’t fail to succeed in your cultivation!”
His Foresight about Monastic Life
The Venerable Master mentioned that it might take another two hundred years for Buddhism to flourish in the West. In the beginning stage of Buddhism, Westerners in general do not know about making offerings to Sangha. Thus, when the Master first established Gold Mountain Monastery, he set a good example for others, practicing frugality, leading disciples in doing monastic chores such as sweeping, cooking, building maintenance, and renovation. After he acquired CTTB, he was even more exemplary in being first in doing the monastic work. That year one of Venerable Master’s nephews, Bai Jingxue, came over from Manchuria to the City, and the Master told him to make a long-term plan to develop and cultivate a huge tract of land for planting vegetables and crops. He said, “If we don’t do our own farming, we are all going to starve to death in the future.” When the Master went to Taiwan to propagate Dharma, the family of legislator Wang Jin-Ping (current Chief of the Legislature) came to pay respects to Venerable Master. The Master invited Mr. Wang’s uncle, Mr. Wang Jin-Fu to come to the City to teach people how to plant vegetables. Eventually, Uncle Wang did come; however, he found few laypeople interested in learning how to cultivate the land and plant vegetables. At that time, growing vegetables was not a priority for the Sangha either, and they were not very supportive of this work, because they spent most of their time studying in the Buddha Hall, listening to Sutra lectures, etc. It was not until the problem of genetically engineered food surfaced recently, that organic farming has become an evitable trend. Therefore, growing our own vegetables is a must at the City. Now, everybody admires the Master’s vision and foresight.
His Admonition to the Author
I will never forget the experience of, for the first time in my life, helping the Venerable Master write on the blackboard. During that period the Venerable Master returned to CTTB more often, despite his poor health, to teach classes on Chinese matching couplets. He also appointed me as a teaching assistant. Originally the Venerable Master would write out the first half of the couplets, but on that day, he said that his eyesight was so poor and asked me to write for him. He stood beside me and slowly read his beginning couplet, character by character. After I had written a few words, he said, “Write the characters slowly, with separate strokes, don’t let them run together. People won’t be able to recognize them easily.” Rashly I wiped the characters off and rewrote them slowly stroke by stroke. But in my heart, I got more anxious: “So many people are waiting to see the first halves of the couplets composed by the Venerable Master.” Since I had already lost my samadhi, the strength I used to hold the piece of chalk was uneven. As a result, the chalk broke and one half dropped onto the lecture podium. I glanced over, but continued my writing, thinking I could pick the chalk up later. Who would have expected the Master to reach down with his still trembling hand to pick up the dropped chalk? At that very moment I felt extremely embarrassed and I wanted to find a hole in the ground to hide in.
With his silent teaching, the Master taught me that although a matter is small, one should have concern for others;
although a mistake is tiny, one should correct it right away. One can’t always say, “Wait a moment!” for all our bad habits and faults are formed and accumulated under the cover of this one phrase, “Wait a moment!” Isn’t this true?
Another time during the matching couplets class, the Master wrote the opening line himself and explained its meaning. Then everybody started thinking of their matching lines silently. At that time, I was standing on the stage. As soon as the Master sat down in front of me, I turned and wrote my match on the board. At that time Venerable Master’s eyesight was deteriorating, so he had to stand up and walk closer, narrowing his eyes, to see what I wrote. I saw that the Venerable Master looked quite happy and did not seem to have any question for me, so I continued to write out another one. The Master, with a big smile on his face, said, “Oh, you want to write out all the couplets for everyone else.” Upon hearing these words, I almost dropped the chalk again. I realized that the Master was admonishing me
to know the limit and to “hide one’s light”. In everything we do, we should let others have their chance as well.
One early morning, the Venerable Master asked me to write a foreword for a publication. He gave me two days, but I presented it to him the afternoon of the same day. Seeing the Master so happy, I mustered my courage to present my views on education. The Venerable Master listened attentively and seriously, and nodded his head from time to time in agreement. Then I became more outspoken and started to even criticize one professor’s policy which I considered wrong. The Venerable Master just sighed gently and said, “Everything is OK for me! Since there are some people who want to do things, I should give them a chance. This will inspire everyone else to do things, too. Even if they make mistakes, it is OK, as long as they correct them. It is alright! ” His words caused me to deeply regret my attachment and rudeness. I really thought I was too smart. I totally did not see, with my heart, the Master’s profound thoughts, his wanting to cherish and nourish people with talent. The Master gave me another lesson here:
To be democratic in doing things, while keeping an open mind; and not to attach to my own views, thereby blocking other possibilities.
The Venerable Master’s entire life experience was extremely difficult. He devoted his lifetime to the three great tasks of administering education, translating the Sutras, and propagating the Dharma. In doing these things he totally forgot about himself. He practiced what others found difficult to practice, endured what others found difficult to endure. Thus his disciples looked up to his examples. Nevertheless, his unique way of doing things and his stern admonishments cause some people, Sanghans and laity alike, to criticize him. In response to this, I can only borrow the verse from Zi Gong who compared Confucius to the sun and moon, saying, “If a person wishes to choose the path of suicide, what harm does it do to the sun and the moon?”
Although the Venerable Master cannot teach us with his physical body any more, his teachings, his exemplary model, and his Sutra commentaries are like the sun and the moon––and will always live on in the heart of every disciple. If, however, we remain attached to his physical body, and slight the Dharma or Buddhist teachings, then even if the Venerable Master were physically present, it would be the same as if he were not here at all. Now the Master’s physical body is gone. We are unfortunate in that we can no longer listen to his teachings and instructions in person, but we are very fortunate to have inherited so much of his treasures of Dharma. If we can truly be sincere and read and understand those teachings, word by word, and truly strive to change and correct our bad habits and faults, then we have obtained the Dharma from the Master.
I myself like to “ponder every Dharma word of Venerable Master” in all my daily activities. Every time I reflect upon his teachings, I undergo a new repentance and ascend to a new horizon of insight. In the
Shurangama Sutra, Manjushri Bodhisattva spoke a verse:
“In this land the true substance of the teaching resides in hearing the sounds purely. If one wants to attain samadhi, hearing is the best way to enter.” As I immerse myself in the sound teaching of the Venerable Master every day, one feeling increases day after day: In each of my past lives, the Master has always been my Teacher! Therefore, I’d like to make a vow: From this life on, I vow that the Venerable Master shall be my Teacher in life after life. I shall follow and learn from the Buddha and the Master until I myself become a Buddha! Empty space might end one day, but my vow will never end.