THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS

Kuala Lumpur

5 September (Day 38)

At morning recitation about sixty people come to see us off. We leave in the early hours and drive back towards Kuala Lumpur, some four hours away. A group of ardent Dharma-protectors who went to Kuantan to hear us now drive back with us.

There is a flurry at Hoeh Beng Temple in preparation for the Nationwide Earth Store Dharma Assembly tomorrow. People drive in from all corners of the country to attend. It is an assembly for the crossing over of spirits, also for prolonging life of the living. Limitless merit and virtue can be accrued from this occasion. The temple has become a hub of activity with scores of laywomen milling around with their incense and vegetables and dumplings, others signing up for refuge and rebirth plaques – concentrated commotion and thrill.

At night, the Abbot delivers a light-hearted talk to the people.

“We’ve gone a whole round of the country, and now we’re back to Hoe Beng Temple where we first started. During these forty days we’ve been treated very warmly, and I am ashamed because I haven’t done much. I have sweated a lot though, both cold and hot sweat, to the point that I have lost twelve pounds already. I like this; it is better to be thin than to carry around a lot of excess weight.

In coming over this time I’ve learned a great deal from all the virtuous ones and high Sanghins here, and one can say that the gods and dragons and the rest of the eightfold division have come along to protect the Dharma, thus bringing this tour to a very successful finish. Our travels have been very smooth, and even if we’ve encountered demons, they were friendly demons, who later were subdued by us and became our good friends.

The causes and conditions that bring us to Hoe Beng Temple are strange. So far, no one has scolded me right to my face, but after I leave it’s not for sure what will be said. However, I look at it this way, whoever scolds me is just my Good Knowing Advisors. If they do not want me to improve, they won’t say bad things about me. So I’m impelled to perfect my conduct. Now, why do people slander me? It’s because they’re afraid they won’t have enough to eat. They’re afraid that this monk will snatch away their Dharma protectors, so they launch an offensive attack first. Well, if through slandering me people can get more to eat, I consider this an indirect form of dana (giving) and I’m all for it. Why are people turned by state anyway? If people scold you, you become unhappy; if people praise you, you dance for joy… what type of principle is this? One that’s too hard to explain!

Now, I see that all of you are preparing for the Dharma Assembly tomorrow. With any Dharma assembly, proceed in accord with the Proper Dharma. Nothing should be haphazardly or improperly done, and then there will be a response. Don’t hang on to old-time customs that are not correct – like the habit of vying to light incense. Lighting incense is an apparent dharma – an external gesture. Light up the incense of your own heart instead with true sincerity.”

Later the Abbot transmits the Wisdom Mantras and two of the Forty-two Hands and Eyes, the secret Dharma by which Kuan Yin Bodhisattva cultivated to perfection her thousand hands and eyes.

“My gift to you in Malaysia is the gift of Proper Dharma. If you accept it, then it’s your blessings. If you don’t want it, that’s quite all right, too.”

True Dharma is like this – you can’t buy it with a thousand ounces of gold, but if you are sincere, it is given to you for nothing.

6 September (Day 40)

We hold a general meeting in the early morning. The Abbot gives instructions,

“If people criticize you, don’t let your demon of self-pride fester, getting yourself all upset to the point of losing your wits – just change! Get up on your own two feet and try your best. Don’t always be harping on self and others, good and bad, right and wrong. That’s just being too self-centered. You can’t be seeking for your own name and gain if you’re traveling with us. You should offer yourself up for the sake of Buddhism. Your excuse is that demons come to snare you: if demons come, kill the demons, if the Buddha comes, smash the Buddha. Don’t be so easily moved by the eight winds. Don’t be petty and small-minded, thinking of yourself first and foremost. If you are unselfish, there’s no problem at all.”

By around 8 a.m. a large crowd has gathered outside. This is the day of days, celebrating the triumph of Earth Store Bodhisattva. The temple is festooned fittingly for occasion. Many plaques for rebirth and prolonging life line the tables; fresh orchids, lilies, and rises converge in luxuriant profusion; candles, garlands, and hundreds of oil lamps light up in a dazzle of blinding colors.

Dharma Master Kuang Yu has kindly flown all the way from Penang – a long journey – to lead the ceremony. About eight hundred of us join in the morning session. The Abbot performs the purifying ceremony, sprinkling water with a willow branch, setting up pure boundaries for the Way Place. We launch into reciting the first scroll of the Earth Store Sutra, and then reciting the Amitabha Sutra before the plaques, transferring merit to the deceased.

Lunch is a family affair. The place must have gone through three sittings, about eight hundred fed. A heady sense of bustle and incense smoke filling the air. Thousands of devotees swarm in and out like busy fish crisscrossing the ocean floor.

Ceremonies resume at 2:30 p.m. and continue until around eight at night. The middle and the last rolls of the Earth Store Sutra are recited with a break in between. People here are used to the dharma door of reciting Sutras. By now, they are dropping in like rushing clouds. In the afternoon hours the laywomen start preparing for the elaborate ceremony of feeding the ghosts. Hundreds of white dumplings cover the tables, along with fruits, marzipans, pies, tarts, layer upon layer of different confections made from lotus leaves, sugar bean paste, and flour. A maze of right reds, greens, oranges, and magentas now deck the tables in the outer courtyard. This ghost-feeding ceremony is an age-old Chinese custom not exclusive to practices within Buddhism. Since Earth Store Bodhisattva has special affinities with the beings in the lower regions, offering food to ghosts during this assembly is considered especially efficacious and meritorious.

We recite “Namo Amitabha” as we wind around and around like a fishtail in the outer courtyard. At around 7 p.m. we gather in front of the ancestral plaques outside. After many intonations and mantras, the plaques are heaped together and burnt in a pile. During this time all the merit and virtue acquired is transferred to the deceased. Several weeks of long preparation go up in a colorful blaze – the click-clack of street hawkers, warm laughter, the bright eyes of children, shadows of dusk – all light up and then dissolve in the leaping red flames.

Originally there was no lecture planned for tonight, but the Abbot compassionately gives instructions. As is usual, he lets everyone else talk first: Dharma Master Kuan Yu, Dharma Master Chin Ming, and a Bhikshuni speak, then lay people from the Kuala Lumpur Welcoming Committee speak: Ng Fung Pao and his wife, Hsia Chi Hua, Wen I Ching, plus various representatives from the different states – Malacca, Seremban, Trengganu, Kuantan, etc. There is a happy glow in the room. If Buddhism can unite people from different states of one country, the same spirit can extend to uniting people of all nations. After much coaxing, the Abbot finally talks,

“When you eat, you have to eat your fill; when you listen to Dharma, you have to listen your fill. Now, all of you speak better than I – my talk is very bland, like vegetables boiled in plain water, very plain. Yet, this soup is excellent for detoxifying the body. Dharma can detoxify us of our greed, anger, and stupidity. It’s said,

With a content heart, you’re happy inside a thatched hut;
With a still nature, even the roots of vegetables are fragrant.

The problem with most Buddhists is that they want new and sensational things. ‘The monk who has come from afar knows how to recite the Sutras.’ This may not be so. You may like to think so, but it’s not for sure. Most of you have come to take a look at his delegation from America – we are novelty. Now that you’ve seen this Dharma Master, you see that he’s not different from any other person. I still resemble a human being. Yet, there is just one point in which I differ from most people: I don’t have as many afflictions.

If somebody says I am a demon king, then I am a demon king. How did I get this name? There used to be a disciple of mine who came often to discuss Buddhism with me. Basically, I didn’t want to see anybody. So I introduced him to another Elder Dharma Master. The two of them got along capitally and soon became the best of friends.

One day, this disciple talked to the old Dharma Master about some of his states; he said, ‘Ever since I took refuge with my Master, whenever I have an illness, I dream of him and the next day my illness inevitably disappears. Also, my Master appears in my house on and off, and the next moment he’s vanished into thin air.’ The Elder said, ‘Oh, your Master must certainly be a demon king! There is nobody who has spiritual penetrations in the Dharma-Ending Age. If a Bhikshu possesses spiritual powers, then he most certainly is a demon kings.’

That was how I got my title. By the same token, they call me one of the five great weirdos of Hong Kong. Why do they call me a freak? It’s because I don’t know how to climb on conditions, and this is considered to be very unorthodox; a great disgrace to the Buddhist circle. That is why people who have never met me know of me as the great demon king or as a monster. You could say that I’ve become famous by another route. Basically, I don’t care – good names, bad names, it does not matter to me. Why spend effort on this? Good and bad is the same to me.

Why is this called the Dharma-ending Age? Just because there is no truth. If you’re a little bit true, people will feel uncomfortable. They want you to flow along with them in the dirt; they call that ‘like work’, one of the ‘four dharmas of attractions’ of a Bodhisattvas. That four are:

  • Giving. This means giving to others, not asking others to give to you. There is the giving of external and internal wealth. External wealth means giving up one’s country, city, wife, and children. For example, I am now giving the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas to Buddhist disciples of the entire world, not just to my disciples. I don’t have disciples – it’s not that they are my disciples; they are all disciples of the Triple Jewel. So in Malaysia, I say to the several thousand who have taken refuge with me: all the highly virtuous ones are your masters. Don’t make distinctions. Now I eat one meal a day and take up about eight square feet of sleeping space – why would I want such a big place as the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas all for myself? I don’t want to give it exclusively to the Americans, because they don’t know how to be thrifty with resources; nor do I want to give it exclusively to the Chinese; that would be selfish. I cannot give it to the Americans and Chinese only, so I’ve decided to give the City to the entire world.

Giving also includes renouncing one’s wife. If a layman truly understands Buddhism, he’ll go as far as being able to give up his wife. Now all the wives in the assembly shouldn’t get angry. If you don’t want to be given away, you can leave home, too.

Giving also means willingness to give up one’s children. Have you brought forth that type of resolve? Shakyamuni Buddha lifetime after lifetime gave himself up for the sake of living beings. And true giving is joyous giving; you don’t regret it after you’ve given.

  • Kind words. To teach and transform, you must act as a babysitter for living being, the way the Buddha crossed over a child with an empty fist. He saw a child drawing close to a well, about to fall into it. The Buddha’s fingers curled up to form a fist and he told the child, ‘Come back! I have a piece of candy in my hand for you.’ The Buddha tricked the child, but he saved him from impending death. You shouldn’t use kind words to butter people up. Instead you should convince them to leave confusion and return to enlightenment.
  • Beneficial conduct. This means to do things that truly benefit others.
  • Like work. When you want to cross people over, you should take on an appearance that is somewhat like them; in this way you can convince them bit by bit, and influence them towards the good.

By using the Bodhisattva’s four dharmas of attraction, you can attract living beings like a magnet attracts iron fillings.

Being a Buddhist means being totally true, without a single trace of falsehood. Why haven’t you succeeded in your cultivation? Because your karma is a mixture of good and bad.

If, in doing good, you wish others to know, it is not true good,
If, in doing evil, you wish others not to know, it is great evil.

Now in the past I’ve also done things incorrectly, but after I understood principle, I changed. I didn’t want to hide behind a mask. That’s why I call myself a little ant – that’s a much lower status than being a demon king. I don’t fear not being successful. Success and failure are one and the same to me.

Now I am inviting all of you to come to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. Some of you are afraid of the suffering there. If we have rice, we’ll share the rice; if we have gruel, we’ll share the gruel; and if we only have water, we’ll drink water. If you are not greed, anger, and stupidity, you won’t have any afflictions. Afflictions come from desire; if you don’t have desire, everything’s okay.

7 September (Day 41)

Today is our last day in Malaysia. Most of the time is spent in packing and last-minute arrangements. In the afternoon we hold a closed-door conference between the Sino-American Buddhist Association Delegation and the Central Welcoming Committee. Dharma Master Chin Ming, Chairman of the Buddhist Association of Malaysia, drives in from Malacca; Dharma Master Kuang Yu from Penang; and Dharma Master Chi Kuang comes from Seremban. The Venerable Sri Dhammananda also arrives. There are representatives from the different states: Malacca, Maur, Trengannu, Kuantan, Seremban, etc. Everybody exchanges ideas about the visit: what did we do right? What did we do wrong? What things can be improved on?

The Venerable Dhammananda sees the need to abolish differences between the Mahayana and Theravada traditions:

“If we just forget that there are two vehicles, then Buddhism will naturally become one, as it was always meant to be. The solution lies in putting down the self and all that pertains to the self; my country, my religion, my culture, my personal vision of Buddhism , etc.”

Dharma Master Chin Ming quotes Su T’ung-po’s poem,

“we don’t see the real face of Mt. Lu,

Because we are right in the midst of Mt. Lu.

We’ve been practicing Buddhism in Malaysia for so long, yet we’ve forgotten to look outside of Malaysia for a comparison. We should expand our vision.”

Dharma Master Chi Kuang stresses the urgent need for building educational institutions within Buddhism:

“Because of a lack of comprehensive training among Buddhist Sanghins and lay people, we have not been able to exert a great influence in the higher levels of learning. Education and the widespread dissemination of Buddhist material can change this around. We should groom young people, create new blood. After this wave of Dharma Master passes away, who is going to succeed and propagate the Buddha’s wisdom life?

Sanghins in Asia tend to break up into tiny units, each building their own little Way Places, snugly insulated by their respective dharma-protectors. Without a central spirit and guiding force, Buddhism will lose momentum and crumble into fragments. Therefore, we should whole-heartedly support the causes of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas and Dharma Realm Buddhism University. We shouldn’t look upon it as an American institution, but rather the international headquarters of World Buddhism. We can send young Sanghins and other students there to receive concrete training, and upon returning to their respective countries they can reform the Buddhism there. Organization along with widespread education should be our main objectives.”

Everyone agrees on the need of maintaining a close working relationship between Buddhists in Malaysia and Buddhists in America. The next step will be an International Convention of Buddhism in 1979 at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

The Abbot is asked to compare the good and bad points of Malaysian and American Buddhism,

“An obvious strong point in Malaysia is the ample supply of large lecture or convention halls in most temples and Buddhist societies here. As for something we need to amend: we should investigate the question of successorship – who is going to carry on with the mandate? Lay people, no matter how efficient, cannot take the place of the Triple Jewel. To have a strong, healthy Buddhism we need a strong, healthy Sangha. We can’t set up ludicrous examples and make ourselves the laughing stock of other people. In Penang we were taken to Kuan Yin T’ing, and there, right in front of everyone’s eyes, on the altar were slaughtered chicken and duck offerings – an utter disgrace!

So, I am a people-builder, rather than a temple builder. We should unite the Sangha. In each country or province establish a branch of the central committee; in each state set up a sub-committee. This will avoid the custom of private units mushrooming everywhere, each man for himself, without any vision for the unity of Buddhism. Dharma Masters should be educated so that they are qualified to teach at all educational levels.

The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas was not built by me; it was somehow handed over to us. If I had to build this city, I wouldn’t even have enough for just the roads, let alone the electricity, the plumbing, all the buildings, or the fabulous irrigation system. Since we have such a huge headquarters in the United States, we should all share it and realize its potential.”

The conference goes on till late in the afternoon. The meeting is adjourned, and the main points are as follows:

  • Sino American Buddhist Association and the Malaysian Buddhist Association should maintain a close working relationship for the purpose of propagating Buddhism .
  • The Malaysian Buddhist Association will whole-heartedly support the causes of Dharma Realm Buddhism University and the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas for the sake of world Buddhism.

At night there is a huge refuge ceremony. About fifteen hundred people pack the hall, all with enraptured faces. The Abbot transmits the Mantra for opening wisdom and the first two hands of the Forty-two Hands and Eyes. Then he continues,

“This time ten members of our Association have come to Malaysia, yet this is a trick of casting away bricks and attracting jade in return. Next year for the Opening Ceremony of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, I want all of you to come. It’s for sure that the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas will emit great light and shake the world. Anyone who comes will have a share of the boundless blessings… see you next year in America.”

A very happy close. People stay on until after midnight. From their bright faces we can see the promises of a dream about to be realized. What one individual cannot achieve, ten thousand with like mind and unselfish hearts will accomplish with ease. The belief in the Oneness of Buddhism, of changing the world by beginning at home – on our own mind – is the gateway to universal consciousness.

May the Ten Thousand Buddhas come home soon!

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