Day by Day
By Gwo Fook (Daniel Leong)
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua’s bringing the Dharma to the West, I reflect upon how his efforts have affected so many people. The Venerable Master’s vision to bring the Buddhadharma to the West was the culmination of his efforts of saving and helping individuals, one by one. One became ten, ten became a hundred, and hundreds became thousands that benefit from his teachings and his compassion. Year after year, the Venerable Master reached across language, culture, and ideological barriers to propagate the Buddhadharma to countless beings.
As a teenager, I first met and took refuge with the Venerable Master during his humble beginnings at San Francisco’s Webster Street. I had very little understanding of the Venerable Master’s vision, a vision that included saving living beings, and influencing us to ultimately save others. I did not take his urging to cultivate very seriously then. But nonetheless, he took me in as one of his disciples.
Many years later, I have come to realize that the Venerable Master’s teachings are like precious jewels, jewels of more value than the largest gemstones that have ever been found on earth. Unless one is looking and knows what to look for, a giant gleaming gemstone, located right before you, will go unnoticed. Only after studying and learning some of the Venerable Master’s teachings was I able to recognize the vast treasury of Dharma Jewels that he has laid out right in front of us. These are not the common jewels that most covet, the kind that can be bought or sold and to be worn as adornments. The Dharma Doors are difficult gems to encounter, let alone understand, in the course of going through many lifetimes. Unless you meet with a wise sage such as the Venerable Master Hua, finding someone to explain the methods of cultivation taught by the Buddha, in layman’s terms, would be problematic at best. Indeed, I am very lucky to be able to learn from the Venerable Master’s teachings.
There are thousands of Dharma Doors that we can walk through to accomplish the Way. While some Dharma Doors are more complex, one can begin with one that is as efficacious as it is simple. Reciting the Buddha’s name is one such Door that almost everyone can practice. It is up to the individual to investigate the myriad paths on which to make one’s journey, and then to make a commitment to practice. It is truly wonderful to be able to learn from the many Dharma Jewels that the Venerable Master has revealed for us to cultivate the Bodhi Path.
The Venerable Master’s teachings changed the way I think, and the way I behave. One must take steps to curb and eliminate all outflows. Outflows are all faults, afflictions, and all thoughts of desire. They are bad habits and faults collected by doing things that are not in accord with the Dharma. The Venerable Master has taught me that thought precedes every action or behavior. Wholesome thinking will reap beneficial deeds while distorted thinking will lead to unwholesome behavior. Unwholesome acts, in turn, will incur negative karma, the kind of karma that will obscure my ability to develop my innate Buddha nature. I am aware that I, and I alone, will be responsible for what I think and how I act, and that proper conduct will bring forth merit and virtue. I recognized the practice of eating meat is an outflow by going against one of the five Precepts, the moral precept against the taking of life. At first, preparing vegetarian meals was challenging, but with practice and the proper resources, it is now my routine. My eating vegetarian meals avoids the negative karma involved in the killing of living beings. One by one, when my outflows are eliminated, then I will be farther down the path toward attaining the Way.
The Venerable Master’s success in seeing Buddhist teachings flourish in the West was a gradual process that took many years to create, and is still a work in progress today. He was an excellent role model of what he taught us to practice: patience, patience, patience, and more patience. If we are to be successful in our cultivation, we, too, must be patient and not be discouraged because responses are not as quick as we want. Diligence and hard work are part of the process of attaining enlightenment. If the Venerable Master had given up due to the slower progress made at the beginning of his quest, our paths would not have met, nor would I have had the knowledge to start my journey to end my cycle of rebirth, the endless repetition of being born only to die and be reborn again. I, too, must practice patience, day by day.
Part of the Venerable Master’s life’s work was to have the entire Buddhist canon translated into every language. On a personal level, the establishment of the Buddhist Text Translation Society and the monthly journal, Vajra Bodhi Sea, gave me access to read and understand, in English, traditional Buddhist topics and practices as well as the Venerable Master’s commentaries. Another key step to his teachings was to state things simply. For example, his Six Guiding Principles are stated in such a way that they can be understood by a layperson. Not fighting, not seeking, not lying, not pursuing personal advantage, not being greedy, and not being selfish were continually taught and practiced by the Venerable Master. He was a living example of applying these Six Principles to achieve harmony and peace. Enlightenment is a seemingly far distant goal beyond reach. But every long journey is the sum total of moving forward one step at a time. The continued growth of Buddhism in the West will depend on the Venerable Master’s many followers to keep his vision moving forward by patiently applying his teachings, day by day.
Among the Eighteen Great Vows made by the Venerable Master, one states that he “will not attain the right enlightenment as long as there is a single human being in the worlds of the ten directions who has not accomplished Buddhahood.” I have often asked myself, as many others have, “How can I begin to repay the kindness and compassion that the Venerable Master has shown towards me?” The answer came clearly to my mind. In order to help the Venerable Master accomplish this one vow, I must do my part by correcting my outflows with renewed vigor to bring forth the Bodhi resolve, the beginning of the Path to enlightenment. I will do this thought by thought, day by day.
The Venerable Master Hua’s accomplishments are immeasurable. His lifetime of work can be described as miraculous. But then, with the aid of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, how could miracles not happen, when one’s heart is pure, and one’s goal is to benefit others?