Relying on the Kindness of My Parents
and Meeting a Wise Teacher in the West
A talk given by Bhikshuni Jin Xiang on September 17, 2011
One of the dedication verses goes like this:
May this merit adorn the Buddhas’ Pure Lands, repaying the four kinds of kindness above, aiding those suffering in the paths below. May those who see and hear this, quickly bring forth the resolve for bodhi. When their retributions are over, may they be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.
The Confucian teaching talks about the kindness of parents, the kindness of teachers, the kindness of country’s leaders, and the kindness of heaven and earth. The Buddhist version lists the kindness of parents, the kindness of teachers, the kindness of living beings and the kindness of the Buddhas, which are included in Great Master Sying An’s Exhortation to Resolve Upon Bodhi. Tonight, I would like to share my reflection on the kindness of my parents and my teachers, and how I was led to Venerable Master’s teaching.
The kindness of parents, as you all know, is the reason for all of us to be here in this hall, in this world. Our parents have given us this body with six faculties to start with; they have given us this mind to function with so that we have another chance in the round of rebirths--to plant blessings and to study the wisdom passed down from the ancients.
My father’s occupation in Burma was in construction work, and his family was well-to-do. But after coming to America in 1971, he worked as a waiter in a restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland. After one year of working and having saved enough money, he sponsored his family to America. After a short stay in Hong Kong, we landed in Boston, Massachusetts. For such a big family, it would have been hard to find an apartment. Fortunately, my father found one apartment where its landlord allowed us to stay; my father bought double-deck bunk beds to accommodate six children.
My father continued to work as a waiter; my mother found a job as a seamstress in a clothes factory where the pay was based on piecework completed. She was not a fast worker, but her pieces were considered quality work. My mother was frugal and knew how to save money. She would tell her children how her elder brother, who had only one adopted daughter, doubted her ability to survive and raise her children in America. He would say, “With all your children, how are you going to pay back all the money you loaned.” She showed him that she could do it and she did. She had a long-term vision to put her children to good education, since she herself did not finish high school in Burma due to her responsibility to help her mother take care of her family. Even in Burma, she hired English and Mandarin Chinese tutors for her children.
Later, my family moved to Los Angeles. By that time, I finished high school and a year of college. My sisters and I went to a job-training center for a year until we established ourselves as California residents so that we could afford to go to a state university without having to worry about tuition. During that time, I almost lost my interest in continuing college, but during a bus ride I saw a city college, so I went in to take a look and started going back to college.
Being a quiet person and knowing only a few people at college, I was ignorant about the career choices. I did well with math classes, but did not know what career I could go into. Only because somebody made a suggestion to go into electrical engineering that I made that choice. There weren’t any good-knowing advisors around me to guide me at that time. I struggled through many laboratory classes. Around the 3 rd year, I felt discouraged and wanted to quit college, but it was too late to do it. Then in the final year it was time to find a job. Representatives from different companies came to interview the graduating students. I signed up for these interviews with some apprehension. There was one company whose interviewer happened to be a graduate from the university where I studied for a year in Boston. The interview went well; you could say it was because of the connection with the same university that I got the job offer, which was the one and only one. I had a curious thought that there must be something waiting for me there.
Accepting that job offer in Seattle was a turning point for me because it gave me a chance to grow and mature as an independent person by leaving my comfortable family nest. Those were the causes and conditions for my moving to Seattle. My mother, with my father’s blessing, decided to accompany me to help me settle there. One of my mother’s cousins volunteered to drive us to Seattle and helped find us an apartment before he left us. My mother ended up staying with me for a year. I had planned to stay there for a few years and try to find a job back in Los Angeles, but did not work out that way.
In May 1987, my roots and conditions ripened to encounter true Buddhism: I became aware that as an assumed Buddhist, I did not know anything about Buddhist principles. Soon I saw a notice in a Saturday newspaper about Ten Thousand Buddhas Repentance ceremony at Gold Summit Monastery. It was a small notice that could easily have been missed. I was happy to find a Buddhist temple to go and learn more about Buddhism.
Once I got there, I was given one of the journals of Three Steps One Bow. Reading it was like being drawn by a strong magnet. Through these journals, I was awakened to the principles of genuine practice. Venerable Master one time said that his disciples were his transformation bodies. The Master demonstrated his kindness through his virtue and conduct.
Through his disciples and the monasteries he founded, I was able to deepen my study of sutras and practice. Since I began to understand the cause and effect principle, I was able to make two important decisions to avoid creating killing karma: I became a vegetarian and I switched my job from a military airplane department to a commercial airplane department.
I first heard the talks given by Venerable Master and his disciples at Gold Buddha Monastery and at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. I took refuge with the Three Jewels and with Venerable Master in 1988 at GBM. In those times, there were no English translations available so I did not know most of the meaning of the ceremony. Only years later at CTTB, when I served as an assistant for the taking-refuge ceremony, that I first learned of the profound meaning of this ceremony. Over the years, I was to overcome difficulties in understanding Dharma talks due to my limitation in Chinese. From another perspective, not understanding the language served as a dharma-door to practice patience: to learn to restrain my curiosity when my questions were not answered right away and to learn to be at peace by according with conditions.
Venerable Master underwent difficulties and took challenging steps in order to bring Buddhism to the West. One of those happened around 1937 during World War II. I learned about this incident a year ago during a DRBU workshop on Venerable Master’s life. It was given by Prof. Ron Epstein, a long-time disciple of the Master. He brought up a piece of historical information regarding Master’s birthplace. He was surprised that all the students in the class were not aware of this fact. I’m curious how many in the assembly today have heard of Unit 731….. During WWII, a Japanese unit, called Unit 731, was camped just outside of Harbin, Master’s birthplace. This Unit, built in 1936, was a biological-warfare unit disguised as a water-purification unit, where some 9,000 test subjects eventually die at the compound. The experiments were done alive on human beings without any anesthesia. The inflictions done on humans, such as bodies being cut open and being burned, are like the ones described in the Earth Store Sutra. Prof. Epstein explained that it must be the case that Shrfu had to escape being caught by the soldiers in order to bring Buddhism to the West.
I benefited greatly from the English translations of the sutras and Venerable Master’s commentaries, plus the transliterations of the mantras, which were all accomplished because of Venerable Master’s vow and leadership. This year, we had 7-day Earth Store Session in English held for the first time at CTTB. The sutra recitation was held separately in the Nirvana Hall. The number of participants varied from 10 to15 adults. About twenty 7 th to 9 th grade students from the girls’ school also joined.
We are lucky that proper Buddhadharma has been brought to the West by Venerable Master and that we are in a safe country where there still is freedom of religion. In that regard, I thank the founding fathers from President Washington and all the leaders he influenced. For all these reasons, I am greatly blessed to have received the kindness of my spiritual teacher, Hsuan Gong Shang Ren and the kindness of the cultivators around me who have shown me the way. Whenever I hear somebody who has to go back to her country because of visa expiration, I remember the enormous kindness of my father, who worked hard to bring his family to this country. I am grateful to my mother for taking good care of my body, for giving me the education so that I am now able to contribute toward the Buddhadharma, and teaching me life’s lessons by being a model. It goes without saying that I am also the recipient of the kindness of living beings, known and unknown, and the immeasurable kindness of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.