I’ve been living in Ukiah and coming to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB) since 1986. For all but the first six years of my life I’ve been near CTTB and have been fortunate enough to be able to come to ceremonies and events. I also attended the Boys’ School here for eight years. I’m proud to call myself a second generation American Buddhist. But in all these years, I never participated in an entire 10,000 Buddhas Repentance session. Last year at some point I made the decision ahead of time that I would do it this year, so finally, I did.
Right from the beginning, although I was happy to see the Buddha Hall full of people from all over, I noticed there were very few Westerners (Caucasians) here. Doing the bowing, I quickly realized that the main reason for this was that all the Buddha’s names and everything else being chanted is in Chinese! So no wonder it is difficult for Westerners. It was okay for me, because although I don’t speak much Chinese, I knew the ceremonies were going to be in Chinese, so I knew what to expect. And while I am a white American, I think really I’m part Chinese too. So although it was difficult not having the descriptive mental visualization of each Buddha to go along with the recitation, I just focused on the physical act of bowing and the sound of the assembly and myself reciting. This, along with a stubborn will, kept me going.
The experience of bowing the Repentance has been difficult. The first few days my body was really sore from all the bowing. Then just as that was getting better, I got really sick. One day it was so bad I could barely force myself to stand up again after each bow. Then I started to feel better, but right at that time it started to get really hot (it was the beginning of summer.) So for a few days I cheated and didn’t wear my robe in the afternoons. But I managed to keep going, knowing that these were all just tests I had to pass. Another way I looked at it was that this was all my karma that I was burning through. Voluntarily undergoing some difficulty here for a few weeks gave me the chance to work through some karma and also not create so much new karma.
To conclude I’ll offer a thought that I had during the session. It wasn’t during the bowing, but during lunch one day. While eating my bowl of rice and vegetables, I noticed the way that I like to eat. First I mix everything up together. But then while I eat, almost unconsciously I like to save the pieces of food that I like the best for last. Instead of going for the yummiest parts first, with each spoonful I take the parts that I like the least first. So this means that with every spoonful I eat, my bowl of food gets better and better! Finally when I get to the last bite, it’s the best of all. Eating that final, most delicious bite, my bowl is empty, and I am full.
While sitting there eating, noticing this, I realized this is a lot like cultivation. People like to go with what’s easy; we like to take what we like the best. This is using the ego-mind. In cultivation, we deliberately take on what is difficult. This is working against the ego-mind. But like the bowl of food, as we keep going, taking the hard parts, we get better and better. With each bite we take, we’re improving, and things get that much better. Our character becomes more pure, until eventually, when we get to the very last bite, it is the best bite of all. Then there is no more to eat, nothing more to do. We are full and content. Our bowl of food, our self, or perhaps our karma, through all the eating (cultivation), is totally emptied, but somehow we’re completely full. Our true nature is already complete, but we won’t see this for ourselves until we empty the bowl.
So until then, I remain grateful for the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas and the community here for providing such a wonderful opportunity for practice. Because I know I’ve got a lot more still to eat, a lot more cultivation to do. And I look forward to sometime in the future when I might be able to do the 10,000 Buddhas Repentance again, but in English, so that more westerners can participate in the ceremony and get benefits!
Editor’s note: Henry’s father was an early American disciple of the Venerable Master. His sister Sarah is a CSL instructor at the Dharma Realm Buddhist University. Following last year, Henry completed bowing the whole 10,000 Buddhas Repentance Session at CTTB.