Tang Hsuan Tsang and his helpers, they
Endured the hardships of the great highway
Doing what others could not do
Through heat and cold and monsters, they
Just continued on their way
To bring the Sutras home for me and you
Who was Tang Hsuan Tsang?
He was a monk. He was a cultivator. He was a pilgrim. He was an explorer. He was a teacher. He was the kind of person who didn’t back down from a challenge, even when the odds were insurmountable and nobody would support him. He is my inspiration.
I am fourteen years old and I am currently attending boarding school in the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. This in itself is a challenge - I live in the dormitory, where there is no internet access, no TV, everyone is closely supervised, and we must attend Evening Ceremony every night, among other things. Adapting has been difficult, to say the least, although I have grown accustomed to it all, this being my second year. But in reality, nothing can prepare one properly for life in CTTB - the grueling schedule, eating nothing but vegetarian food, the need to watch oneself at all times so as not to inadvertently break some rule, learning to cooperate with others (which is a lot harder than it seems), and, most importantly, the feeling of being on your own, without your parents to rely on.
In the City, you have to deal with people constantly. Everyone has to work together as a community to get work done and keep things running smoothly. Living in close proximity with a couple dozen other girls, each with their own personality and attitudes, not to mention teachers, dorm mothers, nuns and laypeople, makes you look at yourself deeply. So and so is so annoying! I hope I’m not like that... So and so is so wonderful! I want to be just like her. So and so is very angry with me. I wonder if I am really that horrible sometimes. I ought to change.
I ought to change...
In school, we must memorize Dizi Gui (Standards for Students), the Chinese classic that instructs us on how to be good students, sons, daughters, men, and women. One of the issues that
Dizi Gui focuses on is filiality. Readers are instructed to answer immediately when their parents call, accept their praise and scolding with respect, love them even if that love is not returned, even to climb in their parents’ bed to warm it up before their parents go to sleep.
Frankly, when I was little, I would have balked at the thought of doing most of those things because, believe it or not, I was a spoiled brat. Of course, as I grew older, I improved, but I still had my “moments”, as my kind parents preferred to call them when scolding me. I didn’t really change until I began to attend Developing Virtue Girls’ School, and now I feel very embarrassed when I think about my previous behavior. I still have problems sometimes, wanting to scream at my mother when she “nags”, even though it’s actually my fault for not listening to her when she first asked me.
Last January, I took the Five Precepts. I was very excited and determined to keep them faithfully; I wanted to make my parents proud. For the first few weeks, my resolve stood. Then, inevitably, I began to slip - a little fib here, a little white lie there, and soon I was back to my dishonest old ways. And once you start, it’s very difficult to stop lying. What a disaster! I became so angry with myself that I wanted to cry and throw a tantrum, like a little child.
Imagine how ashamed I felt when I learned about how strictly the Great Master Hsuan Tsang held the precepts - how, indeed, they saved his life when pirates attacked the ship he was traveling in at one point in his journey. I heard this story upon my second visit to the photo exhibit, while listening to Dharma Master Heng Sure’s lecture “A Monk For All Seasons”. It made a deep impression on me – Great Master Hsuan Tsang upheld the precepts so faithfully all his life, and what had I been doing all this time? Goofing off and lying to myself, telling myself that I was trying my hardest to keep the precepts. From that moment on, I was determined to become like Hsuan Tsang and cultivate hard.
People frequently ask me, “What do you want to be when you grow up? What are your interests?” I always have a different answer: “I want to be an author.” “I want to draw manga (Japanese comics).” “I want to be a scientist.” Even, “I want to be a singer.” To tell the truth, I don’t really know what I want to be. People tell me that it’s alright and I should just take my time, but I am the kind of person that hates being unsure about things, especially about myself. Great Master Hsuan Tsang had incredible drive - he knew what he was going to do, and come sun or rain, he was going to do it. I hope that I’ll someday find my own drive, something that I am willing to work all my life for.
Although the future is unclear, there are still many things I can do to change the present, like becoming a good daughter, studying hard, and upholding the precepts. Like Great Master Hsuan Tsang, I’ll keep going forward, overcoming every obstacle. I’ll never give up!
Thinking on Tang Hsuan Tsang
Crossing the desert sands
Bringing back the Buddha’s law
For us to read and understand
Thinking on his journey long
To India and back again
How can we fail to study them?