THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS

Kuo Jing's Journal ___

Malaysia

July 27 (Day 1)

The Great knight travels in all the worlds,
He calms and soothes the multitudes of beings,
Universally causing all to be happy,
He cultivates the Bodhisattva practice without loathing or satiation.

Avatamsaka Sutra, Ten Dedications Chapter

 

Through expedients he can skillfully distinguish,
In all dharmas he obtains profound self-mastery.
The worlds of the ten directions are each different,
In all of them he performs the Buddha’s work.

Avatamsaka Sutra, Ten Practices Chapter

 

The trip to Malaysia has been in the planning on and off for over a year. When the first invitation came from the Protem committee based in Kuala Lumpur, it was planned that we would leave sometime in the spring of 1978. Then our trip was put off again and again. Finally, the day of departure has come: July 27, 1978.

There are ten in our delegation: along with the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, who is Chairperson of the delegation, there is Bhikshu Heng Sure and Shramanera Heng Chau, both of whom have come on leave from their pilgrimage of bowing once every three steps. They have by now reached Monterey County coastline, after fifteen months of non-stop bowing from Gold Wheel Temple in Los Angeles. Their whole journey will have spanned eight hundred miles along California Coast and will have taken them a little over two years to complete, arriving at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

Also in the delegation are Bhikshuni Heng Hsien, Shramanera Kuo Tung, and myself, along with four laymen: Prof. Yu Kuo Kung, who has just flown in from Aubun University, Alabama, to join us; Kuo Kuei Nicholson; Kuo T’sai Schmitz; and Kuo Lei Powers. Kuo Lei has been in Hong Kong for the past two months and will meet us at the Kuala Lumpur Airport.

The entire Gold Mountain community, along with cultivators from the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, give us a royal send-off in our big gold bus, the “Great Vehicle”.

From the start we are met with a series of tests. The plane was delayed for three hours before taking off. At 2 a.m. we finally clear San Francisco Airport, after which we embark upon a long haul of many hours of flying and waiting before actually arriving at Kuala Lumpur.

Our first stop is Honolulu, where we wait for one and one-half hours in transit; next is an unscheduled stop at Guam for refueling. Then, on to Manila, there we are supposed to board a connecting flight to Kuala Lumpur.

It becomes apparent quite quickly that we are due for more waiting. From the frenzied rushing about of the ground crew we know there is no way they can adhere to their flight schedule. We cannot leave the transit lounge, nor can people come in from the outside. Many of us have our first encounter with tropical weather, sitting in a barely air-conditioned room which is thick with cigarette smoke and flies, muggy and in the 90s.

All of us are sweating profusely.

What to do but to sit in Ch'an and let the hours pass? Time and time again the laymen try to arrange for the earliest connecting flight. We have three false alarms. As the hours drag on we doze off into a fitful sleep. Right from the start our mettle and determination are tested: what lies in store for us? We have a mission. Are we strong enough to face all buffeting winds?

We end up waiting a total of almost ten hours in the Manila International Airport. We have crossed the International Dateline; by not it is 29 July.

The Abbot is in Samadhi, as usual – calm and collected a model for the rest of us. Nobody becomes agitated, aside from a few leaps and jumps from the “monkey” (a nickname the Abbot coined for our almost fourteen-year-old Shramanera Kuo T’ung). Everybody retreats into his or her stillness and patiently bides the time.

Finally the flight is announced and with weary bodies and light hearts we maneuver ourselves onto the plane. We recognize this long haul to be a test: an “entrance exam”, so to speak. One can stay that on the surface it is a little less than an auspicious beginning, but Bodhisattvas come to test the Way.

The final leg of the journey is smooth. Our plane touches down at Kuala Lumpur Airport. We are fifteen hours late. We think that most of the people would have gone home by now. Not so. There are hundreds still waiting for us. Miraculously, as if escorted by invisible, gentle hands, we are spirited straight into the reception lounge. All custom and immigration procedures are taken care of – unbelievably easy.

We meet head on a sea of new faces – or old faces? Flash bulbs are popping, people’s faces are lit up, spilling forth with great warmth and mirth. Many of them have come to the airport two or three times today. Fortunately it is a Saturday. “We have been so afraid that you wouldn’t make it!” they sigh with a huge relief, some drying their tears.

About twenty Dharma Masters are at the airport: Dharma Master Chin Ming, Dharma Master Kuang Yu, Dharma Master Po Yuen, Dharma Master Hui Seng who has flown in especially from Singapore to meet us, the Venerable Sri Dhammananda, plus many others. Scores of lay people bow innumerable times amid the general excitement.

Our cars whisk us back to Hoeh Beng (Crane Cry) Temple, which is to be our headquarters in Kuala Lumpur. “Our temple is very modest, not as luxurious as many of the new ones, but it is down-home and honest,” says Layman Hsieh Chi Hua in the car. Upon arrival the drums and gongs ring out in joyful salutation. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! Funniest catch: we’ve all come home again.

“Strange that although we don’t know each other, we feel immediately so close – perhaps we’ve been Dharma friends for many lifetimes/” the Abbot remarks.

It is 12 midnight. We stay up for another hour making introductions. Our immediate impression: we’ve been here before. Many of us feel it. How many kalpas have we been turning around until meeting again in this lifetime? Good, honest faces. They all look so familiar. By the time we retire it is past 1 a.m. We are happy and fall asleep as soon as we close our eyes.

30 July (Day 2)

We wake to the sounds of street hawkers and the call of the neighborhood mosque to morning prayer around 5 a.m. Kuala Lumpur is the intellectual capital of Malaysia. Malays, Hindus, and Chinese live side-by-side, with the Chinese playing an important part in the business community. Hoeh Beng Temple is tucked right in the heart of a bazaar, modeled after the souks in the Middle East. Hundreds of stall-keepers displays their wares, their cries and the clang of copper saucers resound in quick and vibrant rhythms.

Hoeh Beng is an old temple, and an air of informal friendliness has sunk into the chinks and walls, worn-down tiles in the front courtyard and large burners bronze-black from incense smoke attest to a different era, a different time.

At around nine in the morning the local elders and Dharma Masters come to pay their respects. Some have come in from other cities hours away. Dharma Master Chin Ming, President of the Malaysian Buddhist Association, has come in from Malacca, Dharma Master Kung Yu from Penang, Dharma Master Hui Seng from Singapore, plus many others.

A huge vegetarian feast is served at noon. The Abbot speaks to about six-hundred people afterwards.

“The Buddhism we practice is Universal Buddhism, not a Buddhism that is limited by nationality, race, creed, or social status. It is, rather, a faith that extends to the ends of the Dharma Realm and Empty Space. This is the Space Age now, a new age. We cannot shut ourselves in anymore. We have to expand and open up widely to embrace worlds as numerous as dust motes in the Universe.’

Newspaper reporters perk up their ears to the new sound in this message. Many stay for a long time interviewing the members of the delegation. The Abbot, as usual, does not personally deal with the press. All are impressed by Heng Sure and Heng Chau, who bow for hours without rest in the outer courtyard under the hot Sunday.

“You mean they’ve done this for the past fifteen months?” (About a dozen reporters ask the same question.0

“Yes.”

“Don’t they ever get tired?”

“Sure they do, but they stick by the vows they’ve made to dedicate all the merit to the world, to appease greed, anger, and stupidity, and to stop wars and killing weaponry.”

“How can two people really affect the entire world situation?”

“Well, in Buddhism we believe that everything comes from the Mind alone. The world is what you make it. If we work on getting rid of our selfishness and anger, then our good energies directly influence the world towards the good. bad energy has the exact corresponding effect towards the bad, it causes more war, hatred, and moral degeneration. We believe that in order to change the world, we must first change our own minds.”

“Oh, I see,” a bright reporter emits a dazzling smile.

Several people have already started to bow right behind Heng Sure and Heng Chau. Silently they have been moved of their own accord. The bowing reaches deep into the hearts of people and resonates with their Bodhi Nature.

Tonight, the Earth Store Dharma Assembly at the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall is an overwhelming success. More than two thousand people attend. The program includes speeches by Dharma Master Chin Ming, Y.B. Tan, Sri Chong Hon Nyam (Minister of Health), and the Chief Theravadan High Priest, the Venerable Sri Dhammananda. Ven. Dhammananda calls our mission “this noble work”. He says that what impresses him most about the About is his habit of walking behind all his disciples and not in front of them.

“I’m a horse – a horse carrying a load of people to Malaysia. The disciples always excel the teacher, and I firmly believe that. I want to walk last – behind all Buddhist disciples. In fact, I wish to walk underneath the feet of all Buddhists. You see, I am an ant.”

Uproarious reactions. A well of good vibrations springs up all over the room. Many ears are cocked and eyebrows raised – much light and rejoicing. At around 11 p.m. we are escorted to a car that takes us back to Hoeh Beng Temple.

“We’ve never seen the likes of this in Malaysia,” says a layman.

“Breaks all records,” chimes in another.

The laypeople are excited, chattering enthusiastically around us. The cool of the evening takes away the heat of the day. We are worn out and happy.

31 July (Day 3)

News of the Abbot had preceded our arrival, but in an uncanny fashion. There was not much publicity to make our arrival known. Strangely enough, a host of unexpected conditions paved the road for us just a few weeks before we were due to arrive. Many people who had never met the Abbot started dreaming of him. The governing Dharma Masters, displayed an unprecedented leniency that surprised most. There is no rational explanation for it. as a result, what normally would have had to be done in a subdued manner, the a PROTEM committee could now do with pomp and circumstance – and after last night’s seeping success at the Chinese Committee, could now do with pomp and circumstance – and after last night’s sweeping success at the Chinese Assembly Hall where over two thousand people listened with rapt attention of about three hours, the paper are wild with news about us. There is a rush of expectancy and exhilaration where we go, as if the Buddhas the Bodhisattvas are heralding an entire region to support the Dharma.

We wake up for morning recitation just as the cock begins to crow. Throughout the entire trip we’ll adhere to Gold Mountain and City of Ten Thousand Buddhas schedule. There is no break from cultivation, not even when traveling.

We go to pay our respects to the Venerable Dhammananda, chief local high priest of the Theravada Tradition. The Temple is situated on two to three acres of grassy lawn and groves at Brickfields, a suburb outside Kuala Lumpur. Inside the hall of worship, graced by sinuous, rounded statues of the reclining Buddha and the Venerable Ananada, our host gives the entire assembly a blessings in the Pali tradition. Assisted by his disciples dressed in traditional orange robes, Ven. Dhammananda sprinkles holy water over the delighted assembly as he intones Pali chants. Dharma lessons are given here twice a week. Hundreds of young Buddhist adepts come here for worship and meditation.

A vivid interchange immediately ensues among the assembly.

“What is the difference between the Mahayana and Theravada traditions?” someone asks the Abbot.

Over a hundred lay disciples listen intently as the Abbot replies:

“There is basically no difference in the ideals that the Buddha taught, so why should we haggle over Mahayana and Theravada, each disclaiming the other? Mahayanists belittle the Theravadans, the Theravadans do not respect the Mahayanists. Anyone who seeks to divide Buddhism from within is not worthy of being called a Buddhist disciple. Not to talk about the Greater or Lesser Vehicle, there isn’t even one vehicle in this case! These people bank on the name Buddhism to wreak havoc and sow seeds of discontentment and warfare. I say to my disciples, ‘If you ever make discriminations between the Northern and Southern schools like this, you aren’t my disciples at all.’”

This obviously had an uplifting effect upon the entire assembly. Laypeople profess not to have much respect for the Great Vehicle sanghins because of their snobbishness. After the Abbot throws light on the situation, all sober up.

Lunch at Hu Pin Ching Shieh, Dharma Master Po Yuen’s temple at Pataling-Jaya, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur. About two hundred people have gathered, and the place is hopping. All through lunch an endless flood of well-wishers come to make salutations and offerings. Red packets containing money rain upon all the delegates. We must have received at least seventy or eighty envelopes each. This is common practice in Asia. Laypeople plant blessings by making offerings to the Sangha. Often, true principle is lost in the craving for immediate reward. This is the state to which Buddhism has generated in these parts: money, external form, and superstition. If you go to a temple and burn large bundles of incense or offer red packets – that automatically makes you a Buddhist disciple. No attention is paid to actual cultivation. The most people would do is eat pure food on the first and fifteenth of the lunar month, go to a temple, light incense, and bow to the Buddhas a few times, and often that is where it stops. In fact, many temples do not even have Sanghins dwelling in them, or merely keep a “token” Sangha to meet the status quo. Temple politics are jumbled in the tug-of-war for fame and gain.

At lunch, amidst large servings of food (most of which is too spicy and rich for our cultivation) and laypeople milling excitedly about, come cool and crisp instructions from the Abbot.

“In accepting offerings, practice the emptiness of people, and the emptiness of dharmas.”

We are to find that in numerous tight situations, often a slight arch of the eyebrow, a barely noticeable tilt of the head, or just a few words from the Abbot, invariably opens a heretofore unknown dharma-door. The Abbot picks up on our every thought with his internal radar. The Cosmic Eye regards the sounds of all living beings with equanimity, directly perceiving their different potentials and maturing them for the Path.

A refuge ceremony follows after lunch, during which about three-hundred people take refuge. Many of these people are disciples of Dharma Master Po Yuen, but he gracious encourages his disciples to become disciples of the Abbot through this ceremony.

“By taking refuge with me, you have taken refuge with the Triple Jewel. You shouldn’t start making discriminations between the Dharma Master and that. after a person has taken refuge with me, if he still disrespects of slanders other Sanghins, then he is not a true disciple of mine. A true disciple of mine has taken refuge with the Permanently Dwelling Sangha of the Ten Directions. Don’t make discriminations in your giving. Don’t say, ‘This Dharma Master is high and lofty, I’ll make more offerings to him,’ or “This Dharma Master is not as virtuous, I won’t plant blessings with him.’ Don’t make this kind of distinction. Most importantly do not slander the Triple Jewel. You should all draw near to, respect, and honor the Good Knowing Advisors all over Malaysia. Today is the beginning of a new life for you. Turn over a new leaf. Be a new person. Put aside your old habits – all that greed, anger, and stupidity. After taken refuge, you should be strong, upright Buddhist disciples, not just Buddhist in name only. Make yourselves models for the world to see. If you want to remain ordinary people, don’t take refuge with me.

I’ll tell you of a stupid vow I made a long time ago. When I was still a Shramanera, people from the nearby villages in China wished to take refuge with me. Considering my own lack of virtue, I made a vow that all my disciples must become Buddhas before I do. So, I’m waiting for all of you to quickly cultivate and realize Buddhahood. You wouldn’t want to keep your teacher waiting, would you?”

The words are brief and the entire ceremony takes about twenty minutes, yet the truth imparted is large enough to serve limitless lifetimes.

In the afternoon, we make a visit to the Karma Kaygu Dharma Center, a local Vajrayana Temple. The Abbot lectures on the incredible functions of the Shurangama Mantra and the Great Compassion Mantra:

“Many scholars claim that the Shurangama Sutra is not authentic – that it did not come from the Buddha’s mouth. Actually, it is the single most important Sutra. As long as it stays in the world, the Proper Dharma will remain. As soon as the Shurangama Sutra and Mantra disappear from this world system, the heavenly demons and those of outside way sects will overrun it at will. Then the Proper Dharma will vanish and darkness will cover the entire world.

Many scholars now arguing the Shurangama Sutra alleged lack of authenticity are the children of demons disguised as academicians in order to confuse people and divert their faith in the Orthodox Canon. I can vouch for the authenticity of the Shurangama Sutra, I vow to fall into the hells forever if this Sutra did not truly come from the Buddha’s mouth. Unless you think I am stupid, you should know by my vow that I am sincere in this.

The Shurangama Mantra has functions too wonderful and numerous to relate here, but in general, there are six functions: the dharma of accomplishment, the dharma of increasing benefit, the dharma of hooking and summoning, the dharma of taming and subduing, the dharma of appeasing disasters, and the dharma of auspiciousness.”

The students of the Secret School listen spellbound as the Abbot continues,

“The Shurangama Mantra is the most powerful and highest of the dharmas transmitted by the Buddha. It alone can subdue even the most lethal of demons and external paths.”

The next day, in fact, for every day of the entire week that we are in Kuala Lumpur, scores of people drive up to the temple for morning recitation. They bring with them tape recorders to record the mantras as we recite them at the break of dawn. For 5 a.m. it is a pretty good turnout.

The Earth Store Dharma Assembly has another seeping turnout tonight. The hall is even more packed than last night. People listen, riveted to their seats for more than three hours. The Abbot speaks in Mandarin, then is interpreted into both Cantonese and English for the audience. Heng Sure, Heng Hsien, and I trade off the translations. The audience patiently sits through all the translations like hushed children at a surprised birthday party.

At the end of each session the Abbot opens the floor to questions, replying with characteristic staccato, sword-like swiftness and precision. A few lines light up the questioner’s frame of reference and drive it home on a long wave of humor:

Q: What is your opinion of test-tube babies?

A: The beginning of the extinction of the human race! (The whole house is in stitches; the next day it is all over the papers.)

Last night the Abbot told people that if they are sincere in reciting Earth Store Bodhisattva’s name, they are bound to obtain a response. They may see Earth Store appear in their dreams, or come Theravada rub their crowns, or some other auspicious portent. Sure enough, by tonight numerous responses are reported. Ng Fung Pao’s young son, age seven, says that he sees streams of white light issuing from the Abbot’s fingers and inundating the entire hall. Other people report dreams of the Abbot. One man dreamt that he was reciting the Earth Store Sutra when the Abbot appeared in front of him with his two arms outstretched in a welcoming fashion. He allowed himself to be led and then woke up. The Abbot’s interpretation, “It is Earth Store Bodhisattva’s way of telling you that you should follow him and bring forth a heart of faith.”

The assembly obviously has profound causes and conditions with Earth Store Bodhisattva. In fact, all living beings of the Saha world do. Hasn’t he vowed that until the hells are empty, he won’t attain Bodhi, that until all living beings are crossed over, he won’t become a Buddha? There is an inexplicable force that emanates from deep faith.

At night the Abbot sits splendidly attired in red and golden robes on top of the Dharma throne, amidst swimming banners and silken streamers. Everything around him glistens, and a large wan character glitters over his head. A golden statue of Earth Store Bodhisattva presides above him. One feels that such magnificence as witnessed by the flesh eye is only a wan shadow of the spectacular fireworks that are emanating simultaneously throughout the universe. There is noting as precious as Dharma spoken by one who knows. And such fervor and single-mindedness is hard to meet in any Dharma assembly. Most people would be lucky to encounter it once in a lifetime.

1 August (Day 4)

Scores of people come to Hoeh Beng Temple. Temples in Asia serve as community hang-outs, a little like neighborhood drop-in centers. Since local Dharma Masters do not lecture the sutras regularly, lay disciples organize Buddhist societies and investigate the Dharma on their own.

There is a sad lack of real knowledge here. in lieu of Proper Dharma, there is an overemphasis on external form. It is not unusual to see old women stream in, ignite large bundles of the joss sticks, noisily rattle bamboo containers for oracles, and in general fume up the temple with smoke until one is close to gagging in the dense clouds.

By now, news that the Abbot is a “greatly virtuous monk endowed with high power” has reached various circles, and people flock in from far and wide, some from other states or towns, seeking cures for their multiple maladies. In this region of Asia, the practice of witchcraft, sorcery, and voodoo are common. About thirty victims of such hexes come to see the Abbot for help. Many of them have suffered greatly from these spells, their symptoms ranging from constant depletion of energy, depression, loss of sight, speech, hearing and other faculties, to suicidal urges. The Abbot compassionately relieves them of their evil bondage.

“The Dharmas I practice are based on the real, and demons and external ways have no way to withstand the truth, no matter how fierce they are.”

Truth is like a million suns, dispelling darkness wherever it goes.

2 August (Day 5)

People are most curious about the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas and Dharma Realm Buddhism University. They ask: “How can Buddhism thrive in America – a land that is so scientifically advanced, where material comfort has reached its epitome?”

Perhaps it is just because of this that Americans turn to the Eastern philosophies. This is particularly true of intellectuals and educated people who have run the gamut of materialism and sensual pleasure. These people turn to Buddhism for its purity, transcendence, and promise of actual liberation from the tiresome dust of the three Realms.

The laypeople in this delegation are shining examples of lay Buddhist disciples: they provide straight forward models for young and old to see: sparkling faces, flowing eyes, and rosy complexions speak without words – this is what happens to those who cultivate the Way. You emit more light everyday, you become more generous, happy, understanding. When you keep the precepts of no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no lying, and no intoxicants your samadhi power increases. From this your inherent wisdom bubbles forth like iridescent jewels. The Way progresses gradually, and within the gradual is sudden enlightenment. gradual and sudden go hand in hand – they are not two.

At night the crowd is still enthusiastic. By now there is standing-room only. Last night the Abbot promised to tie up conditions with the audience at Kuala Lumpur. We’ve brought about five-hundred little red plums from the fruit trees at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. the Abbot calls these plums the seeds of the Ten Thousand Buddhas. “If people eat them, they plant ‘Buddha’ seeds and will eventually realize Buddhahood.”

Tonight a large crowd gathers half an hour before the lecture for a share in their fruit. The plums are given out on a first-come-first-serve basis, and everybody is entitled to one. Kuo T’ung, Kuo Lei, Kuo Kuei, and Kuo Ts’ai go to the Assembly Hall to distribute them, and they are met with a stampede. People become so excited that they literally turn the tables over. Everywhere we go we find the same phenomenon: because there are such scanty signs of the Proper Dharma, people in desperation grab onto any external symbol. Any external manifestation, be it a pat on the head, a plum, an autograph, a picture – anything that can be touched or seen is coveted. The passing out of the plums can be called an expedient means to gather in energy which has gone astray.

The Abbot: So far many people have come to see me. All want something: if it is not greed for personal benefit, it is greed for fame, or greed for some secret dharma. Rarely does a person come just for the sake of truth. Nobody wants to give something to Buddhism. They all want Buddhism to give something to them.

However, the more you want, the less you are able to get. It is a simple law of logic: your greed obstructs true receptivity. You cannot be a true Dharma Vessel unless you are empty. Dharma is the “cheapest” thing on earth, for there is no worldly value that can be attached to it; by the same token, it is also the most expensive item, for no amount of money can buy what the Heart transmits. If you are willing to look within, you’ll discover limitless treasures within your own Self-Nature.

The same principle applies to the hundreds of people who come to the Abbot asking for cures for their illnesses. The Abbot says,

“I am not a doctor. I don’t usually meddle in people’s affairs, but only on occasions do I help those who are suffering deeply. The best help you can get is your attendance at the Dharma lectures. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas help those who help themselves.”

We begin each session with a five-minute chant of Earth Store Bodhisattva’s name. as the sounds of “Namo Da Yuan Di Tzang Wang Pusa” (Praise to Earth Store Bodhisattva of Great Vows) reverberate down the aisle, the momentum fathers, and each time we chant the name our intonation grows stronger in unison. When the chanting reaches its peak, one can almost see the Buddhas emitting light and shaking the very ground we stand on, raining down a host of heavenly flowers, music, clouds, robes, and incenses.

3 August (Day 6)

Lunch today is a dana (meal offerings) given by Ng Fung Pao, Yang Tai Sheng, Hsieh Chi Hua, Wen I Ching, and others.

This evening’s lecture is the last at the Chinese Assembly Hall. We’ll be lecturing at other places from now on.

Over these six days people’s veneration for the Abbot has increased to a pitch that can only be termed “sensational”; a curious mixture of awe, respect, and adoration. Many people report dreams of the Abbot: they see him manifesting different bodies, or rubbing their crowns, or leading them out of perilous situations.

The teaching is dispensed according to each individual’s root-nature. This is done with a flawless deftness that is never off by a hair’s breadth.

He understands that living beings are made from false thoughts,
With regard to all this, he makes no discriminations.
And yet he clearly distinguishes beings’ faculties,
And universally benefits the multitudes.

Avatamsaka Sutra, Ten Dedications Chapter

4 August (Day 7)

Klang

A visit to the Buddhist Society at the port of Klang at Basang is the high point of today’s adventures.

Klang lies about an hour’s ride away from Kuala Lumpur. Our destination is an old Fukienese temple where villagers congregate for worship and study. We enter the main hall, where large clouds of incense smoke fill the air. In the adjoining rooms are paper mache houses, cars, ships, rockets, and items of luxury designed (so they believe) to be burnt for the comfort of ghosts in the lower regions. Many large temples run a lucrative business on the side through the sale of incense, paper houses, and paper money. Such superstitious folk customs have for generations erroneously been jumbled together in a mixed bag which most people recognize as “Buddhism”.

In a large open courtyard before a crowd of about eight hundred, the Abbot exhorts them with relentless vigor. He speaks against these very superstitious practices that have undermined Buddhism. They have dominated the scene to the point that the real tenets are buried under a sea of “pagan customs”.

“Is Buddhism just burning large chunks of incense and being greedy for wealth, long life and children? All you end up doing is turning the Buddha’s bodies black with incense smoke. Originally the Buddhas’ bodies are golden-colored; I don’t know in this case whether your offenses are heavier than your merit. Don’t gauge the Buddha’s appetite by your own greedy minds. Do you think the Buddhas are so greedy for incense that they have to gulp it down in big mouthfuls? If not, then why are you burning joss sticks left and right until Way-places are entirely reeking with smoke?

And as for paper money – some people are so smart that they think they can prepare a cash-reserve for themselves in the lower realms. Why don’t you work towards the Western paradise instead of the hells? You spend all this time on paper houses and airplanes to no avail. All I know is that after these are burned they become a pile of ashes, that’s all. Do you think ghost can really enjoy these items? Ghosts are a form of energy, they have no corporeal bodies like us humans. They have no need for money and physical comforts. If they cultivate, they can also become Buddhas. Do not be confused about ghosts. I often say,

In the West there are poor ghosts;
In the East there are no rich gods.  

Why? In the West, people don’t burn paper money for the deceased – does this mean the ghosts there are all poor? And in the East people don’t burn money as offerings to the gods – that is why I say they are not rich in your region.” (laughter and cheers)

By now the audience is manifesting marked reactions. In the front rows, local students are clapping in whole hearted approval. Some older folks have become disgruntled: about fifty old people get up from their seats, shake their heads, and leave. Revolution amids comic relief. Life is like a stage, and tonight Shakespearean merriment tinges the atmosphere. The Abbot has dropped one of his “bombs” to clear the night air. One can smell the smoke of multi-colored fireworks as they explode in the sky. On our way back to Hoeh Beng Temple the laypeople discuss the subject heatedly.

“They’ve never heard the likes of this before!”

“Surely this is going to hit all the papers!”

“I’m just telling it like it is,” says the Abbot. “Nothing is healthier than a little housecleaning.”

Sweep clean, sweep clean!

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