THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
Q : There’s a City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Canada too! Where is it?
A : At Golden. We can build a Buddhist Village there that comes with monasteries, schools, elders’ homes, and creates job opportunities for lay people to settle there while working. You can go there to build the Buddhist Village after you retire.
Q : The hospital building (at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas) has many leaks. To renovate the whole thing will require several tens of thousands of dollars.
A : That’s too expensive. Just do spot repairs.
A disciple told the Venerable Master what his job duties were at the time.
Venerable Master : Don’t use your authority to oppress people, but move and transform people through personal example.
Venerable Master : Do you like candy?
A child : I don’t like American candy. I only like Chinese candy.
(The Venerable Master then took out a box of hard candy made in Taiwan and gives it to the child.)
The child couldn’t help but utter : This is my favorite candy. Thank you, Master!
Q : It rained heavily yesterday, many of the roofs at the City are leaking.
A : Who told you to have outflows?
Q : Strange, why are there are so many broken pipes at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas? The water is shooting out too.
A : Who told you to get angry!
Q : Since I decided to become a volunteer at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, my professor introduced me to a job that will pay $60,000 in annual salary. The company also offers employee stocks and dividends. Should I take this job?
A : Go ahead if you want to earn money!
The disciplethought about it, “Right, why earn money? Might as well work as a volunteer.” (He decided to move to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.)
The first time that a disciple visited the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, he received a phone call from the Master while at the Administrative Office.
The Master blurted out : Everyone at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is small.
(That disciple was speechless. It was not until ten years later that that disciple understood how young and righteous he was at the time, extremely arrogant. That’s why the Master said that everyone else was small, to remind the disciple of his egoism.)
Disciple attending a certain college : I’m in the middle of getting my teaching credential so that I’ll have a teaching certificate for being a high school teacher at the conclusion of the program.
A : Your virtue is your certificate for being a teacher. Don’t ever attempt homosexuality.
In 1985, the Venerable Master was training disciples to go up on stage to lecture on the Sutras and give Dharma talks. The Venerable Master only gave a talk and an evaluation at the end.
One newly arrived disciple thought, “I came thousands of miles from Taiwan to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas just so that I could hear the Venerable Master’s Sutra lectures and Dharma talks; but now the Venerable Master isn’t speaking. It’s so unfair!”
The Venerable Master suddenly walked off the stage and stood next to that disciple, saying, “Who told you not to come earlier?”
Q : I’ve already taken refuge with the Triple Jewel and have been reciting the Buddha’s name diligently and on a regular basis. Why am I still entangled by sicknesses right now?
A : People who have taken refuge with the Triple Jewel still die.
Venerable Master : When you have time in the next few days, cut down that big tree east of the Guest House.
The disciples felt that that large tree was healthy and fine, so they didn’t go and cut it down. After a few days, that tree collapsed all of a sudden. Wham, it smashed the roof of the Guest House.
The Venerable Master was going to have his meal at Gold Mountain Monastery. A number of disciples eagerly offered health products and special delicacies to the Master, hoping that he would take them. But the Venerable Master didn’t touch any of those items. Then a kid brought an apple over to the Venerable Master.
Venerable Master : Is this yours?
Child : Yes.
(That day, the Venerable Master took only that apple for his meal.)
Q : I would like to have my entire family move to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas and be volunteers. When is a good time to move?
A : The sooner the better.
(That disciple thought three weeks ought to be soon enough because that’s summer break for his children. Little would he have guessed that less than a week later his child would be hit by a car on the way home from school. The child lost consciousness and was sent to the emergency room. The accident scared the whole family. Fortunately the child wasn’t seriously hurt. As soon as the child was released from the hospital though, the whole family moved. They didn’t dare to delay their move any longer.)
Q : Why do we rarely see the Venerable Master ride in a car at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas?
A : Let’s not pollute the City’s air.
Q : Why do you always ask if anyone needs a ride whenever you go back to San Francisco?
A : You don’t even understand that? We save a dollar because a carpool of more than three people requires no toll at Golden Gate Bridge. One hundred trips during the year means a savings of $100. You understand now?
Venerable Master : Go and look at a piece of land tomorrow.
A disciple : For what should I be looking?
Venerable Master : Make sure that it has mountains, waters, and large trees. You want usable evergreen trees such as pine and cypress. Trees that shed leaves do not make good wood; they’re useless. The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas should gradually change its trees that shed to trees such as pine and cypress.
Q : There are some trees at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas that seem to be withering away and dying gradually. What should we do to save these trees?
A : We don’t want those that are withering away and dying. When it’s time, they will inevitably die. It’s not easy to save something or someone that has lived a long time. Of course we try to save what we can; however, if we can’t, we could try nourishing them with the soup from cooking or rinsing rice. If they don’t live, we’ve at least tried our best. All we can do is try our best!
Venerable Master : When there’s time, cut down the large tree behind the hospital building.
A disciple : Yes, got it.
When things got busy, that disciple forgot to go and cut down the tree. One month later, one of the large trees went “boom!” and fell in a windstorm. The roof of the hospital was smashed so that it had a big hole. It was a good thing that no one was hurt.
Q : Why don’t we put advertisements on television and do some promotions to attract more people?
A : “Perfume is fragrant on its own, why would we need a gust to blow it?” We must cultivate honestly and pay attention to our virtue. Promotions would be useless, too, if we were not down to earth! We propagate the Dharma and benefit living beings by lecturing on the Sutras and giving Dharma talks, not by selling ads.
Q : Wouldn’t the human race become extinct if everyone were to become a monk or a nun?
A : Could you make everyone become a monk or a nun?
Q : May I become a monk?
A : You are not overly smart, okay.
Q : How large is your one meal of the day?
A : It’s different depending on whom you talk to. From a child’s perspective, I probably eat lot. From an adult perspective, I probably don’t eat too much, perhaps a bit less than others. (To the translator:) You tell them how much I eat every day.
Translator : Basically a bowl of boiled vegetables. He doesn’t eat any oil or salt. He may eat a bowl of rice or some bread, a few pieces of fruit.
Venerable Master : My disciples eat one meal a day. Since I’m their teacher, I should set an even better example. That is why I may skip two or three days between my one meal. It’s not for sure.
Venerable Master : Do you know me? Do you know yourself?
A Disciple : I am ashamed...
Q : What responsibilities do we Buddhists of the West have?
A : Your responsibility is to bring Buddhism to the West. Each one of you should make resolutions to contribute yourself to the best of your abilities. Don’t rely on others.
Q : I have a dog, I really like...
A : Do you really have to be that intimate with the dog to help it?
Venerable Master : Why do we have to die? How can we avoid death?
A relative : The only way to avoid death is to become a monk or nun and cultivate. That’s the only way to not die.
Once a shramanera (novice monk) was walking around when someone was [performing the ceremony for] requesting Dharma at Gold Mountain Monastery. After the request concluded.
Venerable Master : What are you doing?
Novice monk : Answering the phone.
Venerable Master (before the assembly) : What could be more important than requesting that the Dharma be spoken? You have to be most sincere and earnest when requesting Dharma and that the Buddhas throughout the ten directions will come before us. How can you cultivate if you don’t have the slightest respect toward the Dharma? Kneel down!
(The Venerable Master proceeded with his two-and-a-half hour class on the Records of Water Mirror Reflecting Heaven without telling the novice monk to stand up.)
Q : May I ask about how my future will turn out?
A : Ask yourself whether you’re compassionate. There’s no need to inquire about your future
Q : Obviously I only say what I think is right.
A : Then your frankness got you where you are now!
Q : Two Bhikshus would like to fast for eighteen days...
A : It would be better if they just worked hard on sweeping the floor. There’s no need to fast.
Q : Will I die from hunger or cold when I become old?
A : What a pathetic way of thinking!
Q : Why is it appropriate for Guanshiyin Bodhisattva to look, look, and look all day long, but I can’t?
A : The way you look and the way Guanshiyin Bodhisattva looks are different. Guanshiyin Bodhisattva looks inwardly while you look out.
Venerable Master : It’s wrong to have opened my mouth and it’s wrong if I keep my mouth shut. You tell me what I should do.
The disciple couldn’t come up with a response.
Q : Isn’t it a waste that the Master has lots of property but they’re all vacant?
A : There are plenty of things that are wasted in this world.
Q : The Master says, “I’m not afraid of people coming and I’m not afraid of people running away either. It’s the same whether they came or not; it’s just the same whether they run away or not.” Why?
A : The Master answers his own rhetorical question, “ The Dharma Realm is mine. People can run far away and yet they cannot run outside the Dharma Realm. If they were able to run outside the Dharma Realm, they would have [succeeded] in their getaway. They haven’t escaped if they haven’t reached the outside of the Dharma Realm. Like “the monkey king” whose one flip goes as far as 18,000 miles, but can never get out of the Buddha’s palm.”
Venerable Master : Don’t pick only the good stuff to eat. Don’t be greedy for form, scent, and taste. Since you have enough food, eat only about eighty percent full. How can you cultivate if you can’t even let go of food?
The disciple was speechless.
Venerable Master : Whose turn is it to give a talk tonight?
(People pushed a disciple out from the crowd.)
Disciple : I don’t know Chinese and didn’t bring pen and paper.
Venerable Master : Just say what’s in your heart when you’re giving a Dharma talk. Don’t be scared that people will think you’re a poor speaker. Just tell the truth and there will naturally be people who appreciate it.
Q : What kind of talk is wise?
A : To be truly wise, we would speak simply, clearly, and to the point. Don’t say any more than is necessary.
Q : I’m asking about how to cultivate.
A : Why cultivate?
Q : How can we disciples work on behalf of Buddhism?
A : The four types of monastic and lay disciples must complement and support each other, working together cooperatively for the sake of Buddhism.
A disciple is thinking : There are so many excellent offerings, why don’t we eat more of them and really enjoy them?
Venerable Master : Okay, eat more, cultivate more, stir up more trouble—you always want more; you never get enough of anything.
Q : Have I misinterpreted the Vajra Sutra?
A : Mull over its meaning.
Venerable Master : What are the Four Qualities of Mindfulness?
A disciple : Oh, I don’t know.
Venerable Master : What are the Five Roots?
A disciple : Oh, are they the five sticks (which has the same pronunciation as “roots” in Chinese) of incense I burned yesterday?
Venerable Master : What are the Six Paramitas?
A disciple : Oh, I’m just one person; I don’t have six stomachs (which has the same pronunciation as “Paramitas” in Chinese).
Venerable Master : What are the Eight Noble Paths?
A disciple : Probably eight large roads!
Venerable Master : What are the Ten Powers?
A disciple : Are they ten different kinds of powers?
Venerable Master : What are the Eighteen Shared Dharmas?
A disciple : I don’t have a clue.
Venerable Master : How can you improve if you don’t know the answers to any question though you have studied the Buddhadharma?
Q : Master, someone wants to become a monk. First, because he wants to repay the Buddha’s kindness, second, to repay the Master’s kindness...
A : I have lots of disciples, but very few really repay my kindness.
A disciple’s praise of a picture of Bodhi-dharma :
Do you know who he is?
Bodhidharma the elder patriarch,
the man of the Way
From the Western Land whence eastward he came.
Sitting before a wall for nine years,
He saw his nature and understood the mind.
Oh but actually, he was being a busybody!
Venerable Master : You still haven’t gotten it. To see his nature and understand the mind implies that there are two dharmas; but the Buddhadharma points to nonduality. Understanding the mind is just seeing one’s nature.
Q : Will the Master please instruct me on how to be a person?
A : You’ve still got a person.
Venerable Master : In my empty hand, I’m clutching a hatchet.
I walk while riding on a buffalo
For someone crossing a bridge
The bridge appears to move,
while the water runs still.
Can you do that?
A Disciple : No.
Venerable Master : What a waste for you to have followed Buddhism for several decades! (He reaches for the disciple’s shirtsleeve as he finishes talking.) I hang on to a sleeve that leaves me empty-handed.
A Disciple : What’s the use of talking about it?
Venerable Master : What’s the use of not talking about it?
The Venerable Master turns his head that so he is looking at a monk’s notes upside down.
Q : What is this?
A Disciple : My notes.
While the Venerable Master is giving a talk, a disciple is entertaining a false thought off the stage: It’s so hard to earn a Ph.D., should I attempt it?
Venerable Master (in the talk) : Some people are really stupid; they don’t enjoy studying and yet they want to go and get a Ph.D...
This disciple thought he was just that way. He didn’t enjoy studying and yet he still wanted to earn a doctorate degree. He would only cause himself distress. So stupid! He immediately decided to not pursue the degree.
n 1991, a proposal to expand the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas was denied by the local government. The disciples responsible for the application dejectedly asked the Venerable Master:
Q : Why didn’t it pass?
A : Because you don’t have enough virtue. That’s why it failed.
Venerable Master : Is there a problem with the search for monasteries?
A Disciple : Yes. I could never find [a suitable] one. I don’t know how to find one. I’ve been searching for four years, from 1992 to 1995.
Venerable Master : To build a monastery, you must have a vision that is far and wide, a plan that will cover the next century. You have to find a place that is big enough to accommodate future expansions and is conveniently located in city centers. You have to find a facility that can be used comprehensively and allows for more stories to be added. If a monastery is in a high-riser, it ought to be the one on the top floor. Businesses on the lower floors below the monastery must be larger than 10,000 square foot.
Once one of the Master’s disciples removed an important guest. The Master scolded his disciple so harshly that the student nearly wanted to pack up his stuff and leave.
A Disciple : I feel so ashamed. What I did was wrong, unhelpful, and really pathetic. I should die.
Venerable Master : You won’t die. Quit lying to yourself. For you to go away and die would be letting you off easy! You should change your bad habits. Where’s that Sutra on the Comprehensive Extinction of Dharmas? Bring it over and read it to me! Since you’ve already left the householder’s life with me, you can’t act the way you used to. You must cultivate now. You’re the Buddha’s disciple, a member of the Buddha’s family. Don’t you realize how your every move is important? In this country, you represent the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, do you understand? You’re no longer living for yourself. How could you be so careless and so selfish? Don’t you see the path that you’ve chosen? How could you act like someone who is just hanging around and waiting for the next meal? As the Buddha’s disciple, you have to be a role model for humans and gods. You have to be outstanding! You have to undertake what others cannot undertake, eat what others cannot eat, suffer what others cannot suffer, do what others cannot do, and bear what others cannot bear. This is the only way for you to pass the test. You must consider the propagation of Dharma your personal duty; otherwise, the Buddhadharma will never become rooted in this country.