“If I see others dying, my heart burns. It’s not burning for others, but rather because it will soon be my turn.” When I left Hong Kong, I wrote a few words. What are they? “I am dying!” None of you wishes to die. When we speak now, the same principle applies. When I see others coming up to speak, I think, “It will soon be my turn to speak... what could I possibly talk about?” There is basically nothing to say. “Anything that is expressed in words cannot be the true meaning.” Anything we can verbally express is false and illusory. What’s really true cannot be articulated verbally. Why? The truth is seen when “the path of words and language is cut off and the mind is extinguished.” That which is verbally expressed is just an expedient. Even though it’s expedient, we still have to express it. If there is not a single skillful means, how can one understand what is true and real? Therefore, we have to elucidate these principles anyway.
I went to Vietnam once this spring. At that time, I received the warm hospitality of Elder Dharma Master Zhao. He asked me to stay for a few days so that I could meet and create Dharma affinities with everyone. Since I was so moved by Elder Dharma Master Zhao, I extended my stay without hesitation. I said, “The weather is so hot in Vietnam. When it gets cooler, I will visit again.” Elder Dharma Master Zhao replied, “It is cooler in November.” The only thing I fear is heat. When I lived in Northern China, I only wore a single layer of cloth; no cotton-padded clothes. I wore no shoes and could walk on snow without socks. I don’t fear cold but I am afraid of heat.
Whenever I arrive at a warm place, I perspire a lot and feel sapped of energy. That’s why I said I would like to wait until the weather gets cooler for my second visit. At that time, I did not give this promise too much thought. When I returned to the U.S., my disciples protested, “You left us in the Spring and you are leaving us again in the Fall. There is no way! You can’t go anywhere.” I said, “I have promised them and cannot change my mind. Even though you said no, I still have to leave.” Consequently, my disciples in America are not happy with me. When I came to Vietnam, the Vietnamese were not happy with me, either. They said I left too soon and should stay longer. So, I am now explaining to you the reason behind my quick departure.
When I came to Vietnam this time, I had planned, in spring, to stay for at least three weeks, which is 21 days. I said to my dull-witted disciples, who think themselves intelligent, after they completed their three steps one bow pilgrimate, “All right, I can accompany you in traveling. I don’t care if you are young or old. I will compete with you!” For this reason, I will accompany them to India and Thailand. I fear neither heat nor suffering. I went to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Singapore and am now back in Saigon. If you are not happy with me because of my short stay, you first must blame it on my disciples since they are the ones who arranged this. It’s not the case that I don’t admit my own fault. I am just telling you the truth.
I am very delighted to meet and exchange opinions with all the great virtuous ones and wise spiritual friends. However, I must first explain why Dharma Master Zhao-Chen (Transcending Dust) said we three are the real monks. When he told me this, tears filled my eyes. Why? You say, “I didn’t see you shed tears!” It would be a horrible thing if I actually let you see me with tears. I don’t let you see my tears because all the teardrops flowed into my heart already.
Why did I shed tears? It’s because I feel that, as a monastic, I have not contributed to Buddhism or accomplished anything at all. In the past, when I was in Hong Kong and China, I always reprimanded myself, saying: “You are a useless person. You are not a disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha! If you are Shakyamuni Buddha’s disciple, why aren’t you able to maintain the Orthodox Dharma?” For this very reason, I feel deeply pained at heart. I am hurting because I cannot change the problems that people have created in Buddhism!
People have created a lot of problems in Buddhism. However, Buddhists themselves are not willing to reveal their own problems. It’s like a person who has a sore but does not wish it to be seen. He covers it and hides it. If others know that he has a sore, he may be regarded as sick and unhealthy. Consequently, he fears he will not be respected. But this is not the case. I feel that in Buddhism, people have talked about many principles that are not really correct, although the principles seem superficially correct at times. Ignorant people without any knowledge don’t really understand the true principles. As a result, certain customs have become a fashion. Since I have no power to rectify these issues, I feel very pained. In 1962, I felt that the dawn of Buddhism was arriving and that Buddhism should be spread to the West. Then I departed for the United States to teach Westerners.
However, don’t think that this is a glorious task. It is not easy to teach Westerners! I have always said: “Even though it’s hard to ascend to the heavens, it’s not really that difficult; teaching Westerners is the most difficult. Going down into the earth is hard, but it’s not that hard compared to teaching Westerners.” When one dies, it’s not hard to be resurrected. As long as you have spiritual powers, you can make someone rise from the dead. Teaching Westerners is harder. We can achieve anything that is difficult and challenging but it’s not easy to teach Westerners. It’s because their characters and personalities are totally opposite to that of Asians. If you tell them to do one thing, they will do another. If you tell them to go south, they will go north for sure. If you ask them to walk east, they will walk to the west. They are not compliant or obedient at all. If you tell them to change, they definitely will not do so.
Why? They say, “This is a free and democratic country. How can you tell me what to do?” The Teacher cannot discipline the disciples, but the disciples can dictate to the Teacher what to do. This is how Americans are. They are considered outstanding heroes if they beat up their own fathers or mothers. So, teaching and transforming Americans is not that easy.
If you teach them to eat only one meal a day, they will secretly eat something. You see they have this kind of talent. I taught them to eat only one meal; but when they got hungry, they went and bought milk to drink. However, they dared not come in through the door of Gold Mountain Monastery with the milk. They used a rope to haul the milk up to a window. Then everyone stealthily drank the milk. Right at that point, my door started strangely to act up. While they were drinking the milk, my door made this “bang” sound. Those who were drinking milk probably vomited what they were drinking. You see, this is how they are. So, they are not that easy to teach and transform.
This man, so and so, is not only difficult to teach him now as a monastic, but also it was not easy to teach him when he was a lay person. He was a sailor on an American submarine for five and a half years. He earned a lot of money. Whenever they were in port, he would go on a binge. Since he was a sailor, he wore his cap into a bar full of men and women; the whole place was really alive. He went in there, shut the door, stealthily lit Chinese firecrackers and hung the string of fireworks on the counter. The firecrackers started exploding. The windows and teacups shattered and even people were hurt. As a result, he violated the law and the military police came after him. He escaped out the door but ran into two military policemen who were taller and stronger than he was. He was sandwiched between them. How was he going to escape? This time, although he seems stupid, he was actually clever. He did a disappearing act. Do you know what a disappearing act is? He took off his cap and asked the two military policemen, “Do you know what this is?” The two policemen looked at the hat as he tossed it up in the air. They watched the cap in mid-air and wondered, “What treasure is this?” While the policemen were looking in the air, our sailor fled. As a layperson, he already had this kind of talent. So, as a left-home disciple, he was not an easy one to teach, either. If I did something, he would stare at me. Since he is much taller and bigger than the Teacher, it’s hard to discipline him. Nonetheless, he is much better now since he’s returned from his Three Steps One Bow pilgrimage.
To be continued