Shurangama Sutra Session Graduation Ceremony: Alan Nicholson receives his award.

Alan, who dedicated his mastery of carpentry talents to the renovation of Gold Mountain Dhyana Monastery and later the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

At the end of that summer session, the Master conducted a precept ceremony in which almost all the disciples took the Five Precepts and the Ten Major and Forty-eight Minor Bodhisattva precepts. One of the disciples who had participated in the entire session left the home-life and received the Shramanera (Novice) Precepts. Subsequently in l969 he and four other Americans, three of whom were also full participants in the session, received full ordination at Haihui Monastery near Keelung, Taiwan. The five were the first Americans to become fully ordained members of the Buddhist Sangha.

Notes taken by disciple Guo Yi prior to departure to Haihui Monastery in Keelung, Taiwan. October 27, l969

The Master said:

I eat only once a day because I know that many of the world's people are hungry and I wish to offer my food to them. Eating only once a day at noon is in accord with Shakyamuni Buddha's rules.

In cultivating the Way, do not look at the faults of others. Speak of their good points instead. This is to have "virtue with respect to the mouth." If you don't have that kind of virtue, then no matter what you say, no one will believe you. With virtue in the three karmas of body, mouth, and mind, you will be respected on first sight. People will know by your bearing that you have virtue.

In the future I will transmit the Dharma to ten people: five left-home and five lay disciples. When you understand and can teach the Shurangama Sutra, the Dharma Flower Sutra, and when you have studied the Avatamsaka Sutra, you will separate and travel in the ten directions to be Dharma hosts and teach those with whom you have conditions.

In Buddhism you stand on your own two feet! Don't worry! Everything will be very easy.

October 28, l969

No one is to have a special style. We are a corporation and no one is first or last. Don't praise or slight others, and don't listen to them when they praise or slight you. You must do everything correctly and show them that Americans can cultivate the Way. Don't listen to praise and don't praise yourselves. Maintain "virtue with respect to the mouth" at all times and never speak of the faults of anyone. If people start talking falsely, just go away. Don't dirty your ears. These small points are the easiest to violate and are therefore the most important. Don't even think of the bad points of other people.

October 29, l969

Let me tell you what my work is: it is coarse work, like that of a brick maker. Bricks are made from mud and are used to make buildings, but if you let the mud dry by itself, it will crumble. You must fire it first, and then it won't fall apart. For a year the five of you have been fired and fired and now the time is ripe. You are bricks that won't fall apart and turn into mud. The bricks are fired, and later they will be used to build a house, a Dharma house, and they will be a firm and solid foundation.

Long ago a Bodhi seed was planted and now it bears fruit and you are going to receive the precepts. But you must tend the tree and nourish this fruit so that all who see it will want to eat it. Don't be the kind of fruit that has to be eaten in order to find out if it's sweet. People should know at a glance.

But don't let yourselves be eaten, either. Then, like the bricks, you won't fall apart. These words are difficult to put into practice.

Protect one another; protect one another's vows.

The most important thing in cultivation is samadhi. Recognize your own original nature. What is it? How do you recognize it? It is clear, pure, and unstained. Faced with worldly situations, do not react. Whether you meet with good conditions or with demons, do not let your heart be moved.

If they say you are good, if they say you are bad, whatever they say, pay no attention. You have followed me long enough to know better than to let your mind be moved by joy or sorrow.

And as to good and evil: there is no way you can say that someone is entirely good or entirely evil. Shakyamuni Buddha, for example, was praised by many people, and yet there were also many who tried to destroy the Sangha. Devadatta was the worst of men, but many disciples studied his practices. Some people even call the Buddha's disciples pigs and dogs. Don't let your heart move. Turn the situation, don't let it turn you. If you can know things without knowing them, then that's truly wonderful.

Good and evil come not from others, but from yourself. If you are good and others say that you are evil, you yourself know that you are right. But if you do evil and others say you are good, you are still a fraud. Turn the state. If you are right, it doesn't matter what people say.

I am happy that you want to leave the home-life, and in the future you must spread the Buddhadharma and make it great and vast. But you must not beg or take advantage of situations. Haven't I told you that those who leave the home-life under me must follow my Three Conditions? These Three Conditions are very important. As one who has left the home-life,

Freezing, I do not scheme,
Starving, I do not beg, and
Dying of poverty, I ask for nothing.

Unless you meet these Three Conditions, you cannot leave home under me.

Spread the Buddhadharma, but have no mark of "self." Just that is the Proper Dharma. In Buddhism there is no such thing as suffering or difficulty. You must help others and not be selfish. Greed, hatred, and stupidity--turn them, just like you turn over your hand. Before I was greedy, now I am not. Before I was hateful, now I am not. Before, I was stupid, now I am not. Turn it around, turn it over. This is the Mind Seal of all Buddhas which is being transmitted to you. Do you understand?

Don't have a 'self.' Put your 'self' to one side and help others. But do not think, "I am helping others. I am a Bodhisattva." What is done is done; put it aside. This is "letting all the appearances of dharmas be empty" and there is nothing higher. Sutras are explained just to tell you this. And so don't look elsewhere; you won't find it.

The Old Man of Mount Wei (the First Patriarch of the Wei Yang lineage) was given a sack of silver, but he didn't touch it. Three years later, the donor returned and it was still there, right where he left it. With that kind of samadhi power, you will surely succeed!

Are you enlightened? This is the last speaking of the Wonderful Dharma. Any questions?

While the five were in Taiwan, the Master paused in his lecturing of the Dharma Flower Sutra and spoke the Amitabha Sutra during their absence. Once the five returned, the Buddhist Lecture Hall became busier and busier and the number of disciples kept increasing.

The Seattle Times published a large, front-page article and photo of the Master's five left-home disciples on Monday, November 10, l969. The following is an excerpt from the article:

(Taipei, Formosa--(AP) Five young Americans, including four University of Washington students, hoping to become Buddhist monks and nuns began studying today at the Haihui Buddhist Temple in the Northern Formosan city of Keelung. The five arrived in Formosa Oct. 31. (...) If they stick to their schedule, they will be ordained into the priesthood December 1. All have studied Buddhism in the United States and will return there in December to take up duties in San Francisco's Buddhist Lecture Hall.

This roof became a much-used natural extension of the Buddhist Lecture Hall--an open-air classroom where we translated, memorized, did taiji, and worked on our own self-study and practice when time permitted. Translation and language study were the major emphases in the daily schedule of the five newly left-home disciples. The schedule was like this:

morning recitation 4:30 to 5:25 am
meditation 5:30 to 8:30 am
Sutra translation 8:30 to 10:30 am
Sutra translation 2:00 to 4:00 pm
Chinese lessons 5:00 to 6:45 pm
Sutra lectures 7:00 to 9:00 pm

Taking Refuge

Among those who became disciples are Bob and Fran Laugh-ton (not yet married then) and Barbara Waugh (who later had the rare good fortune of having the Master preside at her marriage to Ernie at the Buddhist Lecture Hall). Barbara and Fran both became nurses who now practice in the Ukiah Valley and regularly worship with their families at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

Bob and Fran were over ten years without children and after multiple tests had been told it would be impossible to have any. They prayed sincerely to Guanyin Bodhisattva, and eventually Fran bore two strong and healthy sons--a feat that the doctors found incredible.

More Take Refuge

The number of disciples kept growing and the Buddhist Lecture Hall somehow accommodated the expanding assembly. In this group of disciples taking refuge is one who would leave home, earn a Ph.D., publish monthly Sanskrit lessons in the Buddhist journal Vajra Bodhi Sea, and translate for the Venerable Master.

The lesson reads: "A worthy one of old said, 'If anyone is killed, it is as if I killed him myself. If anyone has been cheated, it is as if I cheated him myself.' At all times, look within. 'If you offend before heaven, you have no place to pray.'"

The Master's Chinese Lessons

Daily Chinese lessons began as soon as the Shurangama Sutra Session ended. Through those precious lessons, which the Master faithfully taught, regardless of how busy, how weary, how pressured, or how sick he might be, we learned everything from the criteria for being good people all the way to the method for becoming Buddhas. Words cannot express how much of the Master's life-blood, how much of his soul and spirit went into educating his disciples!

Dharma Instruments class led by Guoshi Tan.

Using the classical method, everyone tapped the table with his/her right and left hands in time to the beats of the drum and bell.

Guoshi Tan acting as cantor during a ceremony.

In those early days, Madalena Liu, Guo-shi Tan, would come regularly to the Buddhist Lecture Hall to teach the monks, nuns, and laity how to play the traditional Dharma instruments. It was Guo-shi and her sister Guo-zheng who helped register the Sino-American Buddhist Association [later renamed the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association] in the State of California in l958. They have followed the Master since his days in Hong Kong, when they took refuge while in their teens.

The Master pleased and at ease amidst the bustle of the Lecture Hall

You know, in those early days, the Master would, on rare occasions, take us disciples on outings. Sometimes we would go to the "one-man temples" of Chinese monks who came to settle in the Bay Area. In the car on the way to such places that had expensive interior decoration--fine furnishings and thick carpets--the Master would quietly teach and re-teach us the rules of etiquette:

Take off your shoes at the door. Don't look around as if you were thinking to steal something. Don't spill your tea. Don't ever go off alone in a room or place where you can't be seen; otherwise the host will worry about what you are up to or what you are going to take or break. Don't pick up anything! Don't take books off the shelves. Don't say things to challenge or embarrass the Dharma Master.

It was very obvious that our visits upset those Dharma Masters. As we trekked up to their doors, they would look at us aghast, for we didn't "fit" their environment at all!

How different their attitude was from the Master's kind and open acceptance of us! His patience and expedients drew us like magnets! He not only "put up" with our messes and mistakes, he slowly taught us how to clean up our messes and mend our mistakes. And how different those Dharma Master's "temples" were from the plain, often old, but always roomy and functional Way-places that the Master established for the Sangha and laity to reside in! The question is often asked why so many young people gravitated to the Master and wished to become part of his Sangha and cultivate. These are two big reasons!

Excerpt from the article "Demon-cutting Sword" that appeared in the first issue of Vajra Bodhi Sea:

Readers, beware! There are also among you false teachers: "Zen-masters," "Lamas," "Yogins," and "gurus"--smooth swindlers seeking only profit and fame. In every bookstore, on every campus, among the young and the old, resorting to flattery, koans, and intellectual Zen, false patriarchs peddle their wares, saying, "You are a Buddha. I am a Buddha. We are all enlightened! Listen to me. Just BE! Be free!"...They gather naive and deluded "disciples" who are unable to distinguish the real from the false.

The Master also sent us out among the local American Buddhist "Patriarchs" occasionally and they didn't like us much either. Here is a quote from the speech Sam Lewis ("Sufi Sam") gave at the Wesak celebration conducted by the Master's left-home disciples, which some San Francisco officials called, "...the first organized attempt to celebrate this...birthday." Sam's disgruntled comments are:

I regret that I have to correct certain political men...The Dharma was introduced into this city in the last century...I remember especially the celebration fifty years ago which was the first time I went in any official capacity...Recently I have been on tour and when I returned I found the young people of this country...no, it is many years since we who are outcasts said, "The time will come when the Dharma will be established in America, and established by the young." This prediction of us outcasts is fulfilled tonight in these young beautiful souls who have taken over and given us this holy celebration.

It was only after Sam's untimely death that he admitted that the Master was transmitting the Proper Dharma. He came back in dreams to his disciples, urged them to take refuge with the Master, and told them he regretted not having gone to study with the Master while he was alive.

And there was another "American Patriarch" who proclaimed that "Everybody is Buddha," meaning that since everybody was, he was too. Dr. Epstein comments:

At that time in San Francisco there were all kinds of strange Buddhist groups which claimed to be Buddhist but were not. And there were a number of Americans who had aspirations to be Patriarchs. They wanted recognition from the Master, because they recognized the Master in some way or another and felt that the Master could give them some kind of certification or verification of being the First American Patriarch.

Of all those strange people, Joe Miller was probably the most intelligent and astute. Joe was the President of the San Francisco Theosophical Society and had his own disciples. Probably I first met Joe Miller and his wife in the winter of l967-68, when I went to the Buddhist Lecture Hall to meditate. The Master then had public meditation from 7-8 in the evening. Joe Miller had very complicated conditions with the Master for many past lives, and the Master indicated that he had tried to teach Joe Miller for a long time. He was one who drew near to the Master and whom the Master was unable to teach successfully. I remember the Master saying that Joe Miller was already causing him trouble back in the Tang dynasty or the Song dynasty. He and his wife also attended parts of the Shurangama Summer Session until he was publicly scolded for his improper behavior. He left and after that only had infrequent contact with the Master.

But there were also others, including Sam Lewis, or Sufi Sam, who started the American Sufi Order, and who used to come around with his disciples. There was another fellow, whose name I can't recall, who had a group of Zen mountain climbers and fire walkers. The first issues of Vajra Bodhi Sea have some oblique references to these people in sections about the demon-cutting sword and the demon-pounding pestle. When those issues of Vajra Bodhi Sea came out, some of the people got very upset, because they recognized that the articles were directed at them, even though their names were not mentioned.

Chinese Lessons: Water and Mirrors

"With great heroism let us direct our thoughts toward the good; resolve to cultivate and realize the results of the Way; take others across and reach the other shore together; join the assembly of all superior and good people in one place; and forever be companions of irreversible Bodhisattvas.

"This is the very purpose for which this book Reflections in Water and Mirrors Turning Back the Tide of Destiny was written. The purpose is easy to discuss but very difficult to achieve. Why? In trying to get living beings to do good, you may grab them by the ear, admonish them three times and teach them five times, and still they do not alter their conduct. Yet if they encounter bad ways they advance without faltering and learn without any need for instruction. Those who understand that they should turn away from the path of confusion are few indeed!

"Like the moon reflected in water, like flowers in a mirror--all these things are merely images without any substance. It may be said to be hoping for that which is without hope, trying to accomplish what cannot be accomplished. It is for this reason that this book is called Reflections in Water and Mirrors Turning Back the Tide of Destiny."


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