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Listen to Yourself: Think Everything Over
Short Biography of Dhyana Master Hsuan Hua
Dhyana Master Hsuan Hua (Dharma name An Tz’u, also known as Tu Lun) was born on the sixteenth day of the third month, 1908, in Shuang Ch’eng County, Northeast China. His father, Pai Fu-hai, and mother, Hu, had eight children, of which the Master was the youngest. His mother often recited the name of Amita Buddha and in a dream one night shortly before the Master was born she saw Amita Buddha emitting light from between his eyebrows that illumined the entire world system of one billion worlds. When she awoke, her room was filled with a rare fragrance.
His home was located in the countryside where there were few neighbors and not until he was eleven years old did he discover the phenomenon of death. While walking with some friends through a pasture, they came upon the body of a dead baby girl. The Master did not understand why this baby lay so still upon the ground and inquired of his friends, who replied, “She’s dead.”
Puzzled, he returned to his home and asked his mother what exactly was this thing called death. She replied, “All people, whether rich or poor, must die, either from old age, sickness, or through an accident.” The Master further asked, “How does one free oneself from death?” At that time there was a visitor at his home, one who cultivated the Way, and he answered the Master’s question, “It is only through cultivation of the Way, awakening to one’s own mind and seeing one’s fundamental nature, that one can be liberated from birth and death in the continuous cycle of the six paths.”
On hearing this the Master wished to immediately leave the home-life and begin to cultivate, but his mother told him that he must wait, for she needed him to care for her in her old age.
When he was nineteen years old, his mother died. He left the home-life, bowing to the Venerable Master Ch’ang Chih as his teacher, and received the ten precepts of a sramanera, after which he took up the practice of sitting by his mother’s grave, observing a mourning-period of three years. He lived in an A-frame hut made of sorghum stalks, cultivating dhyana samadhi and recitation of the name of Amita Buddha, eating one meal a day, and always sitting, never lying down. Occasionally he would enter samadhi for weeks at a time, never rising from his seat.
One night the residents of the nearby village saw that the Master’s hut was on fire. A brilliant light shot up ten yards into the air, and the area around the hut was as bright as broad daylight. Many people rushed to the grave yard, crying, “The filial son’s hut has caught fire!” and soon there were hundreds of people there to lend assistance with buckets of water. When they arrived, however, they found the hut unburned; the Master was sitting absorbed in meditation.
On one occasion, the Sixth Patriarch, Great Master Hui Neng of the T’ang Dynasty, came to the Master’s hut and told him that in the future he would go to the West where he would meet many people with whom he had affinities and thereby establish the Dharma, causing it to flourish. After the Second World War the Master traveled three thousand miles to Nan Hua Monastery in Canton Province to pay his respects to the Venerable Hsu Yun, who was then one hundred and nine years old.
During his journey he resided at P’u T’ou Mountain, the Bodhimanda of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, where he received the complete Bhikshu Precepts. When he arrived at Nan Hua, the two masters greeted one another; the Venerable Master Hsu Yun recognized the Master’s attainment and transmitted the wonderful mind-seal to him, making him the Ninth Patriarch of the Wei Yang Lineage, and asked him to serve as the Director of the Nan Hua Institute for the Study of the Vinaya.
In 1950 he resigned his post at Nan Hua Monastery and journeyed to Hong Kong, where he lived in a mountainside cave, until the large influx of Sangha members fleeing the mainland required his help in establishing new monasteries and temples throughout Hong Kong. He personally established two temples and a lecture hall and helped to bring about the construction of many others. He dwelt in Hong Kong for twelve years, during which many people were influenced by his arduous cultivation and awesome manner to take refuge with the Triple Jewel and support the propagation of the good Dharma.
In 1962 he carried the Buddha’s Dharma banner farther westward, to the shores of America, where he took up residence in San Francisco and patiently waited for past causes to ripen and bear fruit. In the beginning of the year 1968 the Master declared that the flower of Buddhism would bloom that year in America with five petals; in the summer of that year the Master conducted the Shurangama Sutra Dharma assembly which lasted for 96 days—five of the people who attended that session left the home-life and became bhikshus and bhikshunis under the Master’s tutelage.
Since that time the Master has conducted many Dharma assemblies and delivered lectures on the Heart Sutra, the Diamond Sutra, the Sixth Patriarch’s Sutra, the Amitabha Sutra, the Sutra ofthe Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva, the Great Compassiona Heart Dharani Sutra, and the Dharma Blossom Sutra.
The Master then lectured the Avatamsaka Preface, Prologue, and the entire Sutra over a period of nine years. With such tireless vigor, the Master has firmly planted the roots of Dharma in Western soil so that it can become self-perpetuating. He has spent hours every day explaining the teachings and their application in cultivation, steeping his disciples in the nectar of Dharma that they might carry on the Buddha’s teaching.
The miraculous events that have taken place in the Master’s life are far too numerous to relate. He has freed many from the burdens of disease and other afflictions, and his followers number in the tens of thousands. His steadfast cultivation of bitter practices, the moral prohibitions, and the six paramitas, paired with his unwavering samadhi and profound knowledge of the teachings serve as a model for gods and men throughout the Dharma Realm.
At the age of nineteen, on the anniversary of the enlightenment of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the Master made eighteen vows before the Buddha, saying, “Bowing in obeisance to the Buddhas of the ten directions, the three divisions of the Dharma, and the venerable sages of past and present, I call upon them to bear witness as I, disciple Tu Lun, Shih An Tz’u, resolve to not seek blessings among gods and men, the vehicles of sound-hearers, those enlightened to conditions, and so forth, up to and including all of the Bodhisattvas of the provisional teaching, but only for the sake of the most supreme vehicle resolve my mind on Bodhi, in the wish that I and all living beings of the Dharma Realm simultaneously obtain the utmost, equal, and right enlightenment.
I vow that as long as there is a single Bodhisattva in the three periods of time throughout the ten directions of the Dharma Realm, to the very end of empty space, who has not accomplished Buddhahood, I too will not attain the right enlightenment.
I vow that as long as there is a single Pratyeka Buddha in the three periods of time throughout the ten directions of the Dharma Realm, to the very end of empty space, who has not attained Buddhahood, I too will not attain the right enlightenment.
I vow that as long as there is a single Shravaka in the three periods of time throughout the ten directions of the Dharma Realm, to the very end of empty space, who has not attained Buddhahood, I too will not attain the right enlightenment.
I vow that as long as there is a single god who has not accomplished Buddhahood, I too will not attain the right enlightenment.
I vow that as long as there is a single human who has not accomplished Buddhahood, I too will not attain the right enlightenment.
I vow that as long as there is a single asura who has not accomplished Buddhahood, I too will not attain the right enlightenment.
I vow that as long as there is a single animal who has not accomplished Buddhahood, I too will not attain the right enlightenment.
I vow that as long as there is a single hungry ghost who has not accomplished Buddhahood, I too will not attain the right enlightenment.
I vow that as long as there is a single hell-dweller who has not accomplished Buddhahood, I too will not attain the right enlightenment.
I vow that as longas there is a single god, immortal, man, asura, air-bound or water-bound creature, animate or inanimate object, or a single dragon, beast, ghost, or spirit, etc., of the spiritual realm that has taken refuge with me and has not accomplished Buddhahood, I too will not attain the right enlightenment.
I vow to fully dedicate all blessings and bliss which I ought to receive and enjoy myself to all living beings of the Dharma Realm.
I vow to fully take upon myself all sufferings and hardships of all the living beings in the Dharma Realm.
I vow to manifest innumerable bodies as a means to gain access into the minds of living beings throughout the universe who do not believe in the Buddhadharma, causing them to corret their faults and tend toward wholesomeness, repent of their errors and start anew, taking refuge in the Triple Jewel and ultimately accomplishing Buddhahood.
I vow that all living beings who see my face or ever hear my voice will fix their thoughts on Bodhi and quickly accomplish the Buddha-Way.
I vow to respectfully observe the Buddha’s instructions and cultivate the practice of eating only one meal a day.
I vow to enlighten all sentient beings, universally responding to the multitude of differing potentials.
I vow to obtain the five eyes, six spiritual penetrations, and the freedom of being able to fly in this very life.
I vow that all of my vows will certainly be fulfilled.”