THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS

22 September (Day 58)

After a week’s break we launch into our first public lecture this evening. Our first nights are usually quiet and tonight begins as a subdued affair. About sixty people show up; some are Bhikshuni and students from Eastern Lotus Garden, no Bhikshu.

The Abbot asks Heng Ch'au and Heng Sure to talk first. Heng Ch'au relates his experience upon first coming to Gold Mountain – an American’s story of how he recognized the Dharma and then left home to cultivate the Way. Heng Sure explains why some Americans have so much faith in the Abbot:

“This is largely because the Abbot teaches with his own actions. During these sixteen years in America, he has endured what others cannot endure, eaten what others cannot eat, yielded what others cannot yield, done what others cannot do. Americans in general are extremely hard to tame and subdue; they are used to running around with so much freedom. Yet the Abbot persists with a mind that knows no loathing or weariness. With such awesome and boundless compassion, bit by bit he has moved his disciples to shame. Any other Dharma Master would have given up a long time ago. Americans are not particularly well-known for their filiality, but now many young people turn around and gratefully learn from the Dharma Master who has shown them the key to their true selves.”

The atmosphere by now has visibly relaxed. The three monks have been bowing here all through yesterday and today and admit to liking the vibrations. Obviously the conditions stretch back for a long way; but people forget. When we forget, we grind ourselves into the dust and take thieves for our sons.

I talk for a few minutes, feeling at home with my native Cantonese. I suggest reform within Buddhism, particularly regarding behavior of the Sanghins. We should get rid of the seeking advantage from conditions, the money-grabbing, the looseness in regard to the precepts. Can we righteously tell others to cultivate while we ourselves do nothing? Are we justified in doning the precept sash, relying on the Buddha for food and clothes, without living up to his teaching? After this the Abbot speaks:

“In 1962 I left Hong Kong for America, and I’ve always felt apologetic towards the citizens of Hong Kong. I’ve never been able to truly benefit them, so even tonight as I speak to you I feel very ashamed.

A long time ago I made a vow to translate all Buddhist Sutras to other languages and widely propagate them, although I myself didn’t know a single foreign language. This vow was not immediately realized, but I also made another vow, that I’ll only allow the Proper Dharma to flourish wherever I go. I will not permit the coming of the Dharma-ending Age.

Somebody is right now saying, ‘You’re mistaken. You are not in tune with the times. During the Dharma Ending Age, nobody cultivates, so no wonder nobody sympathizes with what you do.

Although it is said to to be the Dharma Ending Age, it all depends upon the people. If people cultivate, they can reverse the tide and make this the Proper Dharma Age. For it is said,

It is people that propagate the Dharma,
The Dharma does not propagate people.

If people hold precepts, give generously, practice in vigor, endure insults, cultivate concentration and wisdom, that itself is living out the Proper Dharma. There is no Proper Dharma Age or Dharma Ending age, per se; people make it so. When people do not cultivate and nobody attains enlightenment, of course that is the Dharma Ending Age.

In China I went everywhere to point out the need to translate the Sutra, but met with no support. Not until I came to America did I start getting a response. I went to America preparing to die there; that is why upon arrival I gave myself the name ‘Monk in the Grave.’ I’ve had many false names; none of them are real. Before leaving home my name was ‘Living Dead Man’, which meant that I chose not to contend with anyone In Manchuria after I left home I became known as An Tzu (Calming Compassion). In Hong Kong I used the name, Tu Lun (Saving Wheel). I also picked up a few more titles in Hong Kong that I wasn’t counting on. I didn’t know about them until I arrived in Malaysia this time. You might as well know about these names, if you do not already know them: I’m known as the Old Demon King, also as ‘one of the Five Great Weirdos of Hong Kong’. I do not know who the other four weirdos are, but I kind of like this name. You see, I am a bit weirdo, all my disciples are little weirdos, and we go around weirding people out. (Laughter; Chinese pun).

Now, back to the subject under discussion: the translation of Buddhist Sutras. It is a grand task. We began in 1968 and to date the International Institute of the Translation of Buddhist Texts has translated about thirty volumes of Sutra texts. We will continue our efforts. We may make mistakes, but people who come after us can make the corrections. However, somebody has to start. In the past, the very few Sutras that were available to Western readers were translated by Christian priests, ministers, or well-known scholars, but none had been translated from the inside. No left-home people who truly understood and at the same time cultivated the Buddhist principles had made translations. This was a great pity. The people who translate Sutras in our institution in America don’t do it for money; they feel it’s a part of their duty to propagate the Dharma. None of the left-home people keep any private assets. All offerings go to the Central Funds of the Permanently Dwelling. We do not receive individual offerings.

Now someone may wonder how we maintain a living. It comes through natural response with the Way. If you single-mindedly address yourself to the Way, other things will take care of themselves without your fussing over them. In order to combat the selfishness prevalent within Buddhism now, I have decided to give the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas to Buddhists of the entire world; not only to Buddhists, but to all people, all living beings. Someone must think I am really stupid, an old dolt who’s lost his marbles. Yes, I’ve always been stupid like this. No matter how badly people treat me, I still treat them well; no matter how people scold or slander me, I still wish to benefit them.

My disciples have learned to be stupid like me. Look at the two monks who are engaged in Three Steps One Bow. Their parents and former girlfriends write or call them, and they won’t read the letters or answer the phone calls. Why? Because they have brought forth the mind to do something truly meaningful for all living beings. They have decided to give up their small selves for the big. Now, Heng Sure has taken a vow of silence, but he must have felt special affinities with you to have said so much tonight. For a mute to talk so much is inconceivable.”

At nine o’clock sharp, complying with the temple’s rule, we end the lecture. A surge of warmth and optimism greets us as we step down from the podium.

23 September (Day 59)

Tonight the audience has grown visibly. The atmosphere is light, tinged with anticipation and cheerfulness that increase as the evening proceeds. The three monks’ continuous bowing has an obvious impact. If we turn the Dharma Wheel with our hearts in every moment, there naturally appears a response in the Way.

Dharma Master Heng Hs’ien speaks first. The title of her talk is, “The Stupid Ph.D.”

“When I was a layperson I had managed to convince myself that I was pretty smart. Most people assume that Ph.D.’s have something up their sleeves, and so do the Ph.D.’s themselves. Only after I encountered the Buddhadharma did I realize that most scholars just like to think themselves intelligent. Chuang-tzu said that the thing dearest to many scholars is a good name. this craving comes from a bloated sense of self; their ego is too large. Only after meeting with a bright-eyed Good Knowing Advisor who could see right through my every flaw, who allowed me nowhere to hide behind my self-importance, did I find out something about myself.

The Abbot is always chiding me about two vile aspects within the American education system: one is the open book test, the other the cheating sheet. I never used to understand why he kept on harping on those two things. After all, I never cheated except occasionally when I was very young, and only out of mischief – this is how I sued to rationalize. And it is only recently that I’ve begun to understand what the Abbot is talking about.

You see, I’ve always had a cheating sheet inside my own mind. Like tonight, knowing that I am supposed to talk to you, I started calculating what to say, what pleasant things I can talk about to make it all sound good. and, I’ve always relied on something outside of myself in everything I do, looking for crutches or props, adding a head upon a head, not returning to my own wisdom, but searching away from the source. That is the cheating sheet and the open book that my teacher has been talking about all these years. You’ve got to do the work yourself. There is no short cut and no easy way out.

For example, if one really wants to study Buddhism, all one needs to do is to take refuge in the Triple Jewel, find a truly virtuous Good Knowing Advisor, and simply practice. But I went at it in a roundabout way. I went to the universities, trying to learn Buddhism from professors and books. Some time later I discovered that most professors do not know anything about real Buddhism, and that books are insufficient guidelines. The Buddhism that Shakyamuni Buddha taught concerns the truth within the Mind. It was brought by the Patriarchs from India to China, and later to the West, in a direct lineage that protects the secret of the Mind Pulse, the Proper Dharma Eye Treasury, transmitted only through the Mind sealing the Mind, and not through externals.” (applause)

Heng Ch'au tells a story about greed and seeking – the case of the visiting ants. Right after the bowing monks had begun their pilgrimage, the Abbot had warned him, “Kuo T’ing, sometimes during the journey you’ll go hungry – but don’t cry.” Heng Ch'au did not understand what the Abbot meant. They bowed until they were further and further removed from the city, and Heng Ch'au started to worry about their dwindling food supply. Instead of bowing singlemindedly, he let his thoughts run wild, so much so that every day about an hour before lunch he would start reciting the lunch mantra: “When is our food coming?” The mantra proved to be efficacious. It brought an overwhelming response. People driving along the highway started making offerings right and left. There was so much food that their old Plymouth was stuffed and bursting at the seams.

When one has too much, one attracts trouble and thieves. One day after a taxing day of bowing, the two monks came back to their car ready for some meditation. Much to their alarm, they discovered that the car was entirely infested with ants – thousands upon thousands of crawling ants, ants over their food, their clothes, their books – everything!

They were at their wits’ end. They couldn’t kill the ants, and so all they could do was to wait it out. They spent the night out in the cold as the ants devoured their food. It was then that Heng Ch'au remembered the Abbot’s warning of six months before. This kept him from crying and falling into pieces.

The crowd is all titters. People listen as if spell-bound. The Abbot continues,

“I’ll also tell you a little bit of the Buddhism practiced in America. This teacher is a very stupid teacher, and Americans who have left home under him are also stupid. Otherwise why would they not desire any comfort for themselves, like these two monks who just continue to bow without stop? These two people (Heng Sure and Kuo T’ung) also made the vow not to handle any money. Heng Sure knows that money is dirty and doesn’t want anything to do with it. Kuo T’ung used to like it too much; now he’s resolved to kick the habit.

To top it all off, I also have a stupid Ph.d. as a disciple. Tonight is the first time I heard her admit publicly that she’s a stupid Ph.d. That probably makes her the first ‘stupid Ph.d.’ in America, or even the first in the world. That’s not bad! At least you come out first in something!

When you’ve reached the ultimate level of stupidity and not-knowing, you can become truly wise. There is still hope for her. Her future is not dark.”

Amidst laughter and good energy, the Abbot transmits the Wisdom Mantra from the Shurangama Mantra. Full of Dharma bliss and new-found hope, the crowd surges forward to bow to the Abbot as the lecture ends.

24 September (Day 60)

Things start picking up just as we’re about to leave. Apparently the evening lectures are exercising their effect. Several disciples are greatly moved by the Dharma. The Proper Dharma is so rare hereabouts that most people do not even register it upon first hearing. Sometimes our senses are numbed and adulterated enough that a certain persuasive pounding is necessary for the Dharma to sink in.

The Abbot’s address tonight:

“When the nature is still and demons subdued,
There is happiness every day.
When false thoughts do not arises,
There is peace everywhere.
When the mind ceases and thoughts stop,
There is true nobility and wealth.
When private desires are completely severed,
There is true field of blessings.

Everything begins and ends with the mind. Confucius says of the heart,

If you restrain it, it comes under control;
If you let it go, it runs berserk.
Coming and going, it is not fixed as to time;
You cannot fathom its direction.

To cultivate the Mind Ground simply means to recognize that we reap what we sow – every bit of it. Why have some of us cultivated so long and still not opened enlightenment or attained the fruition? It’s because the karma we create is a mixture of good and evil. Confused, we do not slice through situations and recognize them as they truly are. We do good tings that are mixed with the bad and bad things that are mixed with the good. We are not clean. Because we flow with the ordinary person’s current of the six dusts, and turn our backs on the enlightenment of the sages, we do not attain enlightenment. we allow ourselves to be borne along by the tumultuous currents of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind – the six defiling organs – and become embroiled in ceaseless revolving among the six dusts. The eye sees form – dust and latches onto form; the ear hears sound – dust and runs after sound; the nose smells the dust of odors and becomes turned by smell; the tongue tastes the dust of flavor and craves tastes; the body feels the dust of contact and becomes confused by sensations; the mind grabs on to dharmas and becomes conditioned by dharmas. We behave like yoked cattle, pulled hither and thither without any control over our destinies. The Avatamsaka Sutra says,

If one wishes to completely understand
All Buddhas of the three period of time,
One should contemplate the nature of the Dharma Realm;
Everything’s made from the Mind alone.

Your mind is the host, the master-control; it should not be turned by states. If you become happy when a little benefit befalls you, or disgruntled as soon as something unpleasant happens, you’re just being turned by states. People who cultivate should always think of the well-being of others. Do not cultivate only for yourselves; give your entire body, mind, nature, and life to the world.

Why are we selfish or jealous? Because we have a self. Once you have a self, an ego, you’ll envy others who are better or more talented than you. With jealousy you’re in big trouble; this is a sure way to end up on the hells.

A single thought of hatred arises,
A million doors of obstruction open up.

By entertaining one bit of jealousy or resentment, you can fall into the spaceless hells. After measureless kalpas of suffering you will be reborn as hungry ghosts. Having paid up your dues, you’ll gain rebirth in the path of animals. As what animals? As bugs, as dung beetles. You’ll be stuck in the outhouse, trapped in that horrible stench for countless aeons, feeding on excrement and drinking urine – such is the retribution for being jealous. Or, if you’re really selfish you’ll become a mosquito. Mosquitoes drink other people’s blood to satisfy their own hunger; they harm others in order to sustain themselves. This is just a carry-over from a habit of gross selfishness and self-seeking in their previous lives.

Somebody is wondering: ‘Dharma Master, how do you know about all these states? Do you read about them from the Sutras?’ I know about them because I’ve experienced all of them in my past lives: I’ve been an ant, a mosquito, a dung beetle… I’ve planted such causes and reaped such effects. Therefore, what I tell you is absolutely true. There is not a single trace of falsehood or idle speculation about it. if you do not believe me, you may try it out for yourselves, but it may be too late by the time you find out.

Most living beings rotate within the Wheel of the Six Paths and never escape. We’ve forgotten our true homes, and are content to drift from one motel to another. So we wander aimlessly through lifetime after lifetime, suddenly we’re in the heavens, suddenly in the hells, suddenly a god, suddenly an asura, suddenly a human, suddenly a ghost or an animal – don’t you think this is a great pity?

You should recognize clearly that life is but a dream. Now, most people do not like to hear this. If you were dreaming and someone came up to you and told you, ‘Hey, you’re just having a dream,’ you probably wouldn’t believe them. After you awakened you’d know, even if people didn’t tell you. The same situation applies to our lives now. Before you’re enlightened, you won’t believe that this existence is just a dream; after you’ve opened enlightenment, you’ll know without anyone telling you.”

In life it’s a dream,
In death also a dream.
In the dream you’re amidst glory and wealth,
Upon waking you’re in the gutters.  

Everyday you dream on,
Unaware that the dream takes less time than cooking a yellow millet meal.
If you do not awake from this one,
You’ve dreamt it all in vain.

Abbot Hua

25 September (Day 61)

Abbot Hua: "Buddhism is the art of becoming a person".

We’re invited to Mrs. Ho Tien-yo’s home for lunch offering today. At night we go to Eastern Lotus Enlightenment Garden. By now the atmosphere is relaxed and mellow. Each night the teaching of Dharma gets intensified. No need for softer expedients. Everyone who speaks gets right down to the subject.

Kuo Kuwi and Kuo T’zai speak first, then Heng Sure says something that is dynamically effective:

“There are three types of Buddhism in the world: the Buddhism of Greed, the Buddhism of Anger, and the Buddhism of Stupidity.

The first kind, the Buddhism of Greed, can be called Marketplace Buddhism. Everything can be bought and sold here; it is run like a business. Temples become excuses for big hotels, restaurants, or amusement parks for tourists. Monks operate them like businessmen. The dharma-door of hustling Dharma protectors is cultivated here.

The second kind is the Buddhism of Anger. Here obstructiveness and jealousy are the main characteristics. People vie with one another to put up the best appearance, fighting to see who builds the tallest statue, the largest temple, the most ornate images, or the best vegetarian restaurant in town. Dharma Masters compete with each other for disciples, pitting Dharma-protectors against one another. Some Dharma Masters set themselves up as emperors, with their own retinues and armies. They look down on people who are not as strong as them and envy those who are more capable.

The third type is the Buddhism of Stupidity, also called the Buddhism of taking a loss. The adherents are not as bright as the previous two schools. They don’t know how to maneuver business deals, or seek advantages from conditions or fight with each other. They are willing to walk behind everybody else, willing to take on suffering, to follow the rules, and comply with the truth – that’s why they are called stupid.

This type of Buddhism is not very popular these days, yet all of you should consider: what is really stupid, what is truly wise? If Shakyamuni Buddha were alive, which type of Buddhism do you think he would support? It’s said that the greatly wise appear like fools, and the truly eloquent speak clumsily. If you possess true wisdom, you needn’t put on a false front and try to impress people with your cleverness. Now, all of you know where their brand of Buddhism is taught. If you agree that we have some use for it, then you should attend the School of the Buddhism of Stupidity, work to propagate the Proper Dharma, and graduate from that school.”

Raised eyebrows and a quite hushed sort of commotion. Admittedly this is no standard Dharma rap. The Abbot then speaks:

“Upon coming to Asia, this delegation is having a lesion in the Buddhadharma at all moments of the day. This stupid teacher learns from his stupid disciples, and the stupid disciples learn from the stupid teacher. We learn stupidity from each other until we’ve mastered the art of being stupid. Then we’ll slowly turn it around to Wisdom. If you have not learned how to be really stupid, it’s not known whether you can learn to be truly wise. To get up to the top of the mountain you have to start from the bottom. To build skyscrapers you build a foundation from the ground. So in every act, start from the very basis.

In America, the learning situation is the same. All the students and faculty at Dharma Realm Buddhism University are learning the Buddhadharma every day, how ever much they can absorb. The Buddhism we study is not Indian, Chinese, Thai, Burmese, Ceylonese, Japanese, or Korean Buddhism; it is simply, Buddhism. Buddhism has no boundaries, no race, no sect. Shakyamuni Buddha has said, ‘All living beings have the Buddha Nature. all can become Buddhas.’ this truth does not apply only to living beings of some countries and not to others. Living beings fill up the entirety of Empty Space. That is why I’ve taken the liberty to call Buddhism the ‘Teaching of living beings’. Every living beings can become a Buddha, and all Buddhas can turn their wisdom and compassion boat around, transform into thousands and millions of living beings, and cultivate along with the sentient multitudes. In this way, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas influence all beings to resolve their hearts on Bodhi.

Amongst living beings, a human being is the one imbued with the highest potential for spiritual development. Hence, Buddhism is also called ‘the Teaching of People’. It is people who become Buddhas. now, all people have minds, so Buddhism is also ‘the Teaching of the Mind’. Therefore, it is said, ‘The Buddha, the Mind, and living beings – the three are one and the same.’ Since Buddhism has no nationality, no racial or cultural barriers, why do Buddhists willingly drive themselves into a small corner? Your heart’s measure becomes smaller than that of a dust mote, and you become selfish and self-seeking. Now, ultimately, who’s like this? Just me, I’m not talking about others. I am a deep offender within Buddhism, a rebel. But I wish to change towards the good and get rid of my selfishness. It’s not that Buddhism is imperfect; it’s that I haven’t perfected my own self. It’s not that other people are evil, but that I haven’t succeeded in teaching and transforming them. That is why I always say,

Truly recognize your own faults,
Do not discuss the faults of others,
Other’s faults are just my own.
Identity in substance is called Great Compassion.

I’m not afraid of evil people. The more evil they are, the more I want to move them towards the good, not only through pretty words, but through actual practice. We should become models, so that others can see for themselves. If you point out a certain road for people to go on, you should first have gone down that road yourselves so that people will not stumble into peril.”

The Abbot saves the day again. People who might have become irate at Heng Sure’s more pointed speech now soften under the message of the Abbot’s deft and gentle words. The accomplished artist is always able to turn things around. He draws a complete circle and leaves out nothing.

The Sage perceives the unity of all things,
And does not see where they have suffered loss.

Chuang Tzu

The Abbot continues,

“Now we have great affinities in order to meet like this. We should help each other. What I say may not be correct, but all of you should use your own wisdom to judge what is correct or not. I tell my disciples in America not to blindly believe in me; they should employ their own wisdom. If you cultivate your wisdom, you will eventually obtain the Dharma Selecting Eye. Don’t wear shoes on your head, or put on a hat for your shoes.

Now, ultimately, what is right and what is wrong? Basically there is nothing which is absolutely right or wrong. Something which you regard as right, when viewed from another angle may become wrong, and vice versa. Hence,

The way is to tread on one side,
But principle is discussed on both ends.

So, as to whether things are correct or not, don’t ask others, just use your own Vajra Jeweled Sword and very honestly recognize your own faults. For example, for those of us who cultivate, do we have any greed? You can test yourself out very easily. Left-home people can ask themselves: ‘Do I strike up false thoughts about Dharma protectors all day long?’ if you do then you’re not beyond greed; if you do not it means that you have less greed, but not that it has completely vanished. When you encounter a state, say someone gives you a red envelope, do you start calculating; is there one dollar, or ten, or a hundred, or a thousand dollars inside? If you toy with such questions within your mind you still have greed. If you don’t it means you have temporarily squelched your greed mind – that’s all – not that it has left for good.

When delicious things appear on the table, do you want to eat more than your normal share? This is a very good test. Do you desire savory foods, do you recite the Sutra of Good and Drink for everyone? This is a Sutra you recite to the laypeople, saying, ‘Yesterday so and so prepared a scrumptious meal for me, they used the best of ingredients, and I ate a double portion.’

When you see others wearing pretty clothes, do you start wishing for clothes like theirs? When you see others living in comfortable houses do you start wishing for a palatial mansion? In everyday mundane affairs – eating, wearing clothes, sleeping – you can understand your own greed. Don’t cheat yourself. If you have greed, then change it; if you don’t, then proceed with what is proper. The worst thing to do is fritter your time away. This is the most painful thing of all.

Now I have come from America, which is a most democratic country. Every time I finish lecturing the Sutras or speaking the Dharma I always ask people for feedback or criticism. Hence, I welcome whatever questions you may have.”

Someone asks: “Since the Venerable Dharma Master had been able to control the typhoons for over ten years when he was living in Hong Kong, will he be so compassionate as to stop all typhoons from coming to Hong Kong altogether?”

The Abbot laughs and answers, “You might as well ask me to stop all the people in Hong Kong from dying altogether.” (loud laughter and applause) “What you requested is not possible. In anything I can help people with – if I have to wait to be asked – then it’s too late!”

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