May 10, 1977 - 2:30 A.M. I wake up reciting a mantra. The mantra wakes me up. I hear voices and feet outside. My senses come alert. A shadow passes on the right of the van. Bang! An arm breaks through the front window vent and grabs for the door handle. Heng Sure, asleep, now jolts up. Dogs outside are barking wildly. “Hey!” I yell. The arm retreats. I can make out four big dark figures with night sticks and a dog walking away from the car and down the street. Drunk and roaming. A little later I hear rocks hitting the pavement. They are mustering for a return. Tossing rocks, hitting their sticks, they draw nearer. I’ve got to move quickly. I jump over the seat and throw the car into gear. There’s the ignition key? In the ignition. Hope it starts. It does. They keep coming and I pull out. One tries to stop the car. We made it!
Went back and slept till 4:00AM at Gold Wheel Temple in the driveway. We both feel tightness at what we are doing. Here there is potential for great accomplishment and for big mistakes. We need to be very careful with outflows. We must stick to a schedule, concentrate, and not move or retreat. Work hard and be sincere. There’s no room for indulgence or error on these streets. We both feel the adrenalin crash. This was a big day, a hard one.
Verse and Mantra in Case of Harm
To Creatures when Walking
If I should harm any creature or crush an insect beneath my feet,
I vow that any such creatures will be reborn immediately
Nan. Di li tze li swo he (3x)
May 10, 1977 - Less flack this morning. The gas station we used for toilet purposes had a kindly old man who turned out to be a close-minded Bible man who tried to convince me I worshipped false gods. In between toilet breaks he had obviously put together a monologue and was ready to deliver some hell or high water. It was liking talking to your radio—all transmission. Luckily I found an escape. “Excuse me but I have to stay close to the other monk. Take care.” Zip!
Phuong Kuo Wu, Woo Kuo Hsiang, and Leonora Tsiang brought lunch to an abandoned lot. They are gracious and kind. They were out last night looking for us. Receiving their food and bows makes one ashamed of not working harder and spurs one on. The next 3 or 4 days we will be passing through one of the roughest neighborhoods in L.A. An upasaka has offered his driveway for evenings. We accept rather than cause more trouble like last night. To put ourselves in a situation where it’s real likely someone is going to try to do us in does no one any good.
One upasika is 69 years old. For years she was a devout Buddhist but then got sent to an Episcopal school and was made into a Christian. She never believed in Buddhism again because she couldn’t find any true practice or cultivation. She says: “Then I met Shi Fu. He doesn’t talk much. His thought is deep. His eyes do the talking. For me to bow to anyone is hard, but to Shih Fu it’s easy. There’s something there. I can’t explain it.” Beyond words, the heart and the true substance merge.
Boys come by and pelt us with a rock offering. Macho. If I had been more on top of it I would have noticed the rocks and bottles in their hands and offered them the marshmallows. I’ve got to keep my eyes open. These were just kids with rocks, but next time… Can’t relax!
There is no clear-cut right of passage in this culture from boy to man, from girl to woman. So they get uptight and real difficult in the teen years. Looking for tests, ways to measure independence, strength, maturity. They know too much so they get perverted—put on a false macho front, and try to be tough. They have no real models or heroes with any virtue or substance that they can look to. It must be weird for them to watch those women bowing and offering food to two road grubby monks in an abandoned parking lot they drink and grow up in.
Bowed through tight, mellow Mexican neighborhood with no bars. Together family and community here. No questions, no hassle. It’s just like we weren’t there or like a gentle wind passed through.
Hsia Ching-shan and his family, the Woos, Alice Wong, etc. help us a lot. They drive back and forth, buy good, wash clothes, get key from upasaka so we can bathe in his house, etc. They got us a permit sticker from the police for the car to be on the streets overnight, but we can’t sleep in the car. The cops know about us and told one upasika that they would look for us if we did try to sleep in the car and bother us until we leave.
Our car, which we must use until we get out of the city, serves us in this way: the ashtray and glove compartment are our wooden fish, incense burner, and altar. The back end of the van is our Ch’an hall, Buddha hall, sleeping room, and library. We camp in the garage behind one upasika’s house. We do evening recitation on the way there--the 88 Buddha repentance--me at the wheel, incense going in the ashtray, and Heng Sure in back hitting a thermo cup to keep the ceremony going. We are really into maintaining a pure and scheduled Bodhimanda. It’s the nucleus and source of our going and coming--it’s just like at Gold Mountain, but it’s up to us to maintain it here.
This is the rap I give people who ask what we are doing: 1) Personal--getting rid of greed, hatred, and stupidity; 2) Larger perspective--getting rid of some bad vibes. Take on suffering to end suffering and disasters of all. 3) Larger scope--top the creation of weapons that kill millions. 4) Bowing to the Buddhas to be compassionate.
New stuff: I am finding it easy and important to be a monk. To be reverent and mindful every minute. Not the “wham bang bust ‘em” vigor like I am sued to, but rather like the quiet, calm but ceaseless constancy of a quiet ocean beach (waves keep coming). It is easier with less attachment now. I feel less and less doubtful, even at 4 a.m. Hardly any fear and more stillness, patience, and evenness of energy. Bowing is my method now and it’s wonderful!
Young people are open to our trip and to Buddhism. Had a good exchange with some boys yesterday about celibacy, parents, kung fu, precepts, one meal a day, etc. They poke and tease the male in you; if you don’t move then they respect and draw near. If you move, it’s all over and they have a circus. “Hare Krishna!”
People think Heng Sure is physically ill, worry he won’t be able to find San Francisco, and wonder, always wonder…People are touched somewhere inside beyond it all in a mysterious and subtle way. I see it in their faces, how they gather to watch, the ways they move and leave as we pass. It is deep.
May 11, 1977 - Bowed through a tunnel consisting of commuter traffic on one side and Huntington Elementary School on the other. One was pure and a “bathing of good energy” as Heng Sure felt it. The other was busy and divisive. It doesn’t take long for one side to move to the other. The wheel turns and we are steering down the middle. Too many kids to talk with; the teachers and police are watching so we decide to be quiet and bow. Thanks, kids. See you again.
The Circle Game or How One False Thought Brought the Rain
Three lay Dharma protectors tell us how heavy and dangerous Lincoln Heights will be. “Be very careful.” Having the appearance of a self, we feel fear.
First mistake: Fear = false thought – crack, hole.
Second mistake: To overcome fear and danger you can rush through, push it – about two hours straight of bowing in the hot sun. “There, we got rid of that stretch!”
Third mistake: Heng Ch’au feels angry about this, holds on to it.
Fourth mistake: Leonora comes out and tells us it’s closer to her house than to Alice Wong’s. Not being on top of it because of false thinking, I say, “OK.” But after she leaves I remember our commitment to Alice. It’s getting sticky. I spend a wasted hour trying to phone Alice. She’s not home. I’m spent from physical exhaustion, can’t find phone numbers, rush hour traffic is honking and hooting. Then a group of boys do a pea-shooter attack. We go to Alice’s house. Just finish reciting the Shurangama Mantra (first 27 lines) 49 times when police drive up. “What do you guys think this is, a park or something?” Hostile. Neighbors gather, there is a big to-do. “Name Heng? How do you spell ‘San Francisco’? What color is your hair? How would you describe your clothes?”
“T’ang dynasty monk’s garb.”
“How do you spell ‘monk’?”
Fifth mistake: I miss the chance to teach Alice about anger and patience because I’m still caught up in a chain reaction set off by one false thought. We drive back to Leonora’s house.
Sixth mistake: I separate from Heng Sure and allow myself to be alone in conversation with Leonora in the secluded laundry room.
We decided to start bowing at 5:00 AM to get through the rough area early. Wake up in the AM and what? It’s raining! Problem solved (The monks bow in one place when it rains and then pace off their progress when it clears-ed.). What a waste! Lots to learn. Don’t false think. Don’t hold on to it. Be careful of involvement with lay people. They help tremendously; without them we couldn’t make it through L.A. Don’t fear. Don’t be moved by false thoughts. Don’t be alone with women. We should proceed from what we experience, not from other people’s fears. The whole trip is “rough.”
May 11, 1977 - White Universe
A verse by Master Hua (spoken after a Kuan Yin Session)
Ice in the sky,
In the midst of stillness you should contemplate,
When you wrestle with dragons and subdue tigers in continual playful sport,
True and actual meanings
With the great and small destroyed,
With two clenched fists break to pieces the cover of empty spaces.
Three Steps, One Bow Intensive Session Schedule
4-4:50 - morning recitation
5-6:30 - t’ai chi
6:30-7 - clean and move
7-8 - bow
8-8:20 - rest
8:20-9:20 - bow
9:20-9:40 - rest
9:40-10:30 - bow
10:30-11:30 - study, write
11:30-12:30 - meal
12:30-1:00 - write, meditate, study
1:00 - bow
2-2:20 - rest
2:20-3:20 - bow
3:20-3:40 - rest
3:40-4:40 - bow
4:40-5:00 - rest
5-5:45 - bow
6-7 - rest, meditate
7-9 - evening recitation and lecture
9:00 - meditate, read, write.
May 12, 1977 - The loss of innocence is the beginning of the world’s troubles. We bowed past 1200 young children at Huntington Drive School in East L.A. They all pressed against a tall chain-link fence that kept them on the playground just inches from us on the sidewalk below.
We covered the entire 400 foot section of playground and the kids came in waves to stare at us with open, pure warm curiosity--no difference between boys and girls yet. “Sir, what are you doing?” Twelve hundred pairs of brightly-colored 8”-long children’s shoes, eyes, and open mouths, silence regarding the Avatamsaka Sutra. We bow past between the fence on one side and the roaring, whizzing cars on the other. Great health, energy, purity, not yet full of thoughts and desire, is focused on us in waves.
Later when the high school let out, cars full of defiled boys and girls shouted and honked past us, yelling obscenities. “Get off the god damn street!” All off base, looking outside, desperately pushed ahead by lies and by the deceit of movies and music.
What happens at that age when the sap ripens and the channels to receive it do not run straight? Where does the twisting take place? How to change the harm already done? How to remove the evil pressure, break through the brittle growth of habit, and show the way to new health? How to get back to the elementary, wholesome completeness of childhood?
(1) No more TV.
(2) No more alcohol or dope.
(3) More athletics.
(4) More religion: young monks and nuns who cultivate.
(5) Lay families who cultivate and practice giving.
(6) A teacher.
Putting your head down on the concrete, in the mud, the bubble gum, the gasoline, the glass and gravel, standing, kneeling, and doing it again, for no visible purpose, is just the thing to knock whole chunks of the ego away from the Buddhanature. Here’s how this process appears to the mind’s eye: at first part of your mind watches you do it. Holding the breath, you do it anyway. The action purifies itself; the mind-picture fades, works on proper effort until there is no watcher, only a doer, and concentration-advance. And the mind’s eye opens or shuts, I don’t know which.
May 12, 1977 - To Dr. & Helen Woos for lunch. Hsia family, Art, Carol, & baby there. Up here in the heavens in comfort and polite company, we are above the dust. Heavenly beings above, don’t move; demons below, don’t move. Their baby kept bowing to Shih Fu’s picture and to us. Another hot lunch extravaganza, Bankamericard. “If the heavenly spirits bow to you, don’t be pleased; and if demons come don’t be angry.”
Feel very much like I am climbing on conditions. I have no virtue to accept such offerings, bows, etc. I must cultivate more sincerely, what use is anything else? Of what benefit is anything save attainment and rescuing?
So after lunch (heaven was empty, no rain, that is) we went back to Lincoln Heights and what? School was just letting out. So the crisis confrontation we had with fear been dreading and which had caused so much false thinking was smack in our faces. We were going to bow right through throngs of the toughest gangs in the city. Kids drinking brown paper bags on the corner clustered. It was heavy.
We were ready for the worst. At first there was nothing--too shocked. But then the boys began. “What de hell you doin’ man?” “Two more blocks and you’re gonna be shot.” “What you boys doin’ in our ghetto?” No response. I think of Shih Fu, can feel enclosure of protection. Two wood bricks fizzle five feet short of me on the right. A large group gathered on the corner is smoking joints. It finally parts as Heng Sure spearheads through, unswerving. They don’t miss a thing. “Hey, man, those are $15 Converse.” They shout obscenities about us to one another. No response. “What’s with these guys, anyhow? They’re serious?”
We are encircled for the last block by about 40-50 of them. In mock imitation of us a string of 10 or more is bowing once every three steps behind us. Lots of laughs. Lincoln Heights gang toughs bowing to the Triple Jewel and the Avatamsaka Sutra. Truly inconceivable.
Bowing states: 1) I lose my body. I feel as if there is this body bowing but it’s not me. I’m watching but I am not it. Feels strong, real. No fear. 2) I am in a dream. Literally I feel as if I am dreaming this bowing through these kids. No injury or death matters, it’s a dream. 3) This a.m. parked in front of a blue dumpster on Solana in the beginning of Chinatown and had a flash beyond déjà vu and realized that my dreams all week include Shih Fu and lots of people and that the trip is more a dream than my dreams. What I am doing in L.A. I have seen or done it before, all of it. There are no surprises. I am just in the dream doing what I am. No problem.