By Steven Lin
I am nowhere near a perfect person. My greed can bubble up when I see a nice gadget, or I can start feeling anger rising when I lose a game. And all of the stupid and hurtful things I’ve done over the years? – I would tell you but my ego prevents me from doing so. But these are the weaknesses that I’ve come to recognize in myself, and the ones that I constantly strive work on to be a better person.
This idea of self-improvement may be a limited goal, but one that should not be dismissed lightly, particularly having grown up in the West. As a friend once told me, ‘’Perfection? We’re born rotten to the core. The only one who’s perfect is God Himself.’’ So to encounter a philosophy that is so diametrically opposite – that we should not only improve ourselves but also help our family and friends, or expand to help others make for a better world, all the way to the idea of aiding all living being by becoming Buddhas and Bodhisattvas – the range and extent of all of these possibilities is the greatest gift coming from the Venerable Master Hua and his legacy carried out by those directly inspired by his teachings.
We may not be perfect people today, but we all personally know someone who embodies these qualities, and pushes us further along, past what we think is possible.
Equally important to set an impetus for working to improve ourselves, Master Hua provided a formalized structure that made it possible for many people, including myself, to learn about the Dharma. Although I never personally met Master Hua, I was not only able to learn about Buddhism through this structure, but I always feel his presence and legacy still alive in the community, through the Sangha, the translated Sutras, the events, and the sessions.
Buddhism is inherently difficult to understand, and as a beginner, doubly so trying to learn through a confusing set of incoherent web sites, books, and lectures. Despite the difficulty, I still enjoyed Buddhism at a philosophical level even if I had difficulty piecing the various concepts together. After a couple years, I encountered the Dharma Realm Buddhist Young Adults group (DRBY), and for the first time, found a group of peers that who struggling with the same questions – trying to make sense of Buddhism, to apply it to their daily lives, and cultivate and improve themselves. It was through this group that I first realized that having a basic theoretical understanding of Buddhism was just a start, but it meant nothing unless I started to act in accordance. It’s one thing to talk about vegetarianism, for example – ‘’that’s what those monks and nuns do but it’s too difficult for me’’ – but to now have friends who stopped eating meat, it suddenly opened the possibility that I could do it too.
DRBY also hosted many retreats and workshops, each of them reinforcing and enhancing my understanding and practice of Buddhism. In the early days, we dived deeply into understanding the basics – the nuances of the Five Precepts, the Six Paramitas, and the Eight-fold Path – and tried, as best as we could, to follow them. As our understanding and appreciation grew, we began diving into the texts such as the Shurangama or the Avatamsaka Sutras, with lectures from experienced practitioners that furthered our understanding. We hosted spring conferences that allowed us to experience a monastic lifestyle (if just for a couple days) while having lectures and discussions on applying Buddhist concepts to our lives. We held summer retreats that encompassed the Guan Yin recitation session at CTTB and meditation retreats at Buddha Root Farm in Oregon. As a beginner, each of these events were disorienting and intimidating, but with familiar faces approaching it together, it was enough to put us all at ease.
All of these experiences in DRBY illustrate how the multiple facets of Master Hua’s legacy – capable and engaging teachers, texts translated coherently into English, monasteries and centers nearby, and a dedicated community that can study and practice together – are all critical for those who grew up in the West to just approach and understand Buddhism. If any of these aspects had been missing, it would not have been possible for me, as an English-only speaker, to have anywhere close to the same level of understanding and dedication to Buddhism as I do today.
As we move forward, the importance of catering to the needs of Westerners interested in studying the Dharma should not be underestimated. There are many people, like I was many years ago, thirsty for knowledge and understanding of Buddhism, but without the support structure necessary to quench this thirst. If Buddhism is to establish itself in the West, we must continue to focus on all of these aspects to make it possible.
Master Hua recognized these needs many years ago, and the work that has been done up to now has helped me open up to the possibilities of what I am capable of reaching. I hope that we as an organization, myself included, can continue this legacy established by Master Hua and help many others learn about the Dharma and dedicate themselves to reaching their potentials through Buddhist practice. If we can maintain our focus on furthering Master Hua’s legacy, then Buddhism will certainly succeed in the West.