When I went to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB) in January this year , I couldn’t understand how one can survive in such a cold climate. However though the climate is extremely cold, the experience of living in CTTB leave warm memories and good lessons in life. I would like to share my experience and the lessons learnt. The first lesson was how to let go – specifically how to let go of my children.
My two children aged 13 and 16 had been accepted as students in the Developing Virtue Secondary School. The driving force behind this idea was my husband, while I was against it. When it was time to register for their first semester, I reluctantly accompanied them to CTTB. It was a heartrending experience to reach CTTB, as I was unable to let go and my children did not want to stay either because they would miss the family. I cried many tears and one time my daughter and I practically cried together under a tree just outside the girls’ dormitory.
However at the back of my mind I knew we would not be in CTTB without a cause. It was as if an invisible hand was behind us at every stage of our application, right from procuring visas to the air tickets. We had set in motion something we could not stop. While in CTTB, I comfortably settled in the girls’ dormitory with its warm hospitality, and developed fondness and great respect for the nuns in the kitchen who tirelessly prepared our food. The Buddha Hall was my sanctuary where I often knelt and asked all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas for guidance in the impending event of returning to Malaysia without my children.
At one time when I was deeply afflicted with attachment towards my children and cried in the Buddha Hall, thoughts suddenly came telling me:
For how long are you going to cry for your children? You have been mothers and fathers to many children for many lifetimes, and you have cried many tears in the past, so why are you attached to these two? That message really hit me and made me sober. I felt this warm feeling of acceptance. From that point in time, I felt lighter and have this strong faith that Venerable Master Hua and all compassionate Bodhisattvas will guide us and not fail us.
Lessons in the Dharma are everywhere, and in CTTB it is as if gentle hands are guiding us to experience the Dharma. We have to be aware of lessons that appear right in front of our eyes. At the workplace I am constantly pressured with planning, strategizing and meeting the expectations of the organization, but in CTTB, working in the kitchen I helped make dumplings, shell walnuts, wash and cut vegetables. In such simple tasks one finds peacefulness. When cutting the vegetables, one just cuts them, and that’s it. When washing the vegetables, one just washes them and that’s all there is to it. At one time while I was cutting vegetables with a few nuns, I suddenly had this feeling of
déjà vu. In the silence observed while in the kitchen, broken only by the sounds of knives hitting the cutting board and the roaring fire coming from the stove, there was a feeling of quietness and complete harmony, and a thought appeared:
I have done this before. It all seems familiar. I have been with this group before, there is harmony and acceptance here. I had met the nuns for less than a week, but there was this familiarity. Some of the nuns were from China, Taiwan, and Vietnam while I am a Malaysian who doesn’t even speak Chinese.
The response to any false thoughts is almost immediate in CTTB. During my stay, an elder Bhikshuni passed away and I duly went for the Amitabha chanting session. Upon reaching the hall I realized there were very few people present. At around 5.30 p.m., there were only three of us, a layperson, a bhikshuni (who is the daughter of the deceased) and myself. A very unwholesome false thought appeared:
Why are there so few people around; where are all the others. I made up my mind to inform my husband that it would not be good if we died in CTTB; nobody would come to chant for us. It is better to die in our homeland where there are many friends and close family members around to chant Amitabha for us. When that false thought arose, the response was almost immediate. In the corner of my eye, as if in a dream, I saw a huge opening on the wall of the hall, and beyond the opening, there was light and a vast expanse of land of indescribable beauty and complete purity. Then I saw an old Bhikshuni, who was rather hunched over, with her walking stick, walking nimbly and entering the opening into the land. I sensed that she was so happy walking and reaching home. When she entered into the opening of light, she transformed into a youthful Bhikshuni so huge in size that she filled half of the entrance to the land. The image then slowly receded.
Almost immediately I felt ashamed and remorseful for my false thoughts, and then I felt joy and faith in Amitabha. I was ashamed for having doubts in a place set up by Master Hua, who
intended to create 10,000 live Buddhas, live Bodhisattvas and live Arhats at CTTB. The Master felt even 10,000 was an insignificant number compared to the infinite number of living beings. I felt remorse for having such unwholesome and false thoughts. (I found out later that the nuns had been chanting for the Bhikshuni, but I had gone at a different time and so I did not meet them).
My remorseful feelings were succeeded by a warm feeling of peace and faith. This experience uplifted my fledgling faith in the Dharma and Amitabha. I was very caught up with forms, labels and numbers, when actually it’s all a matter of practice, practice and practice. The practice and virtue of the elder Bhikshuni has ensured her a place in a Land of Bliss.
I returned to Malaysia after three weeks, without my children. I chanted Amitabha throughout the 18-hour flight. I realized that though I have been a Buddhist all my life, my mind is so small and constantly afflicted with attachments and emotions. The trip to CTTB was a wake-up call, reminding me of the vows that I have made, and filling me with warm comfort that there is always a sanctuary, a place for practice where support and kindness is ever present from all the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Sangha members.