Events in the Life of the Venerable Master Hua


The person who benefitted me the most was my last teacher, Jintang Guo, also known as Ru Fen ("Like Fen"). He was a xiu cai (a graduate of the first degree) from Shandong province. He probably wanted to model himself after Ziyi Guo of the Tang dynasty, who was also known as Yangwang Fen. That's why he called himself "Like Fen." This teacher was very learned, although his calligraphy was not that good. Seeing that I was a fast learner, he would explain for me whatever text I happened to be studying. Once I understood his explanation, the text was even easier to study.

For example, there's the "Report on the Letter to Ren Shaoqing," which has about 2,300 characters and is one of the longest classical texts. My teacher had memorized it in one night. He told me how quickly he had mastered this text, as if challenging me to see how fast I could learn it. That was after lunch, when we had a one hour nap period. During that hour, I read the essay twice and memorized it. When I recited it to my teacher the next day, he was shocked, "You...I studied it for one night, but you mastered it in an hour!" Although the essay was difficult, I was very concentrated. You see? Instead of taking a nap, I studied the essay.

You won't believe this, but I had a classmate who had studied for fifteen years. I only studied for two and a half years, but I was ahead of him by two books. I studied the Four Books and Five Classics, seven of the eight volumes of ancient literature, and fifteen or sixteen medical texts. By the time I was eighteen there was nothing left for me to study. Few ordinary doctors had studied as many books as I had. I had studied medicine, divination with the Book of Changes, and physiognomy, but I didn't practice any of these; I wasn't an expert at them. I knew how to tell fortunes based on people's date and time of birth, but I didn't do it, because it isn't ultimate. Even though the results are true enough, they are only a detour on the path.

I had studied so many medical texts because my father had wanted me to practice medicine, knowing that doctors made a good living. By the time I finished my studies, I knew how to treat sick people. I had an understanding of all the various diseases, because my teacher was also a doctor, and he asked me to help him take the pulse of his patients. However, I didn't dare to be a doctor. Even though I was very poor, I didn't wish to make money. I detested money. I thought it was filthy and unclean, especially if it was obtained in an improper manner. I thought, if I cure ninety-nine and a half out of one hundred patients, but harm half a life, how could I ever face that person? That's why I didn't become a doctor.

These were my experiences in studying. I relate these experiences to illustrate that no matter what we do, we should concentrate on it and not have idle thoughts. You have to concentrate in order to accomplish something. If you don't concentrate, then no matter how intelligent you are, you won't succeed.

In the ancient state of Qi, there was a master chess player named Yi Qiu who had two disciples. One disciple made moves exactly the way his teacher instructed him to, and he also became a master chess player who won every game. The other disciple learned to play chess on the one hand, but indulged in idle thoughts on the other. For example, he thought: "Look! There's a flock of geese flying overhead. With a single arrow, I could shoot down that big goose in the lead." Because he was distracted by such thoughts, his skill in chess deteriorated with each passing day. "With one wrong move, you lose the whole chess game."

Studying Buddhism also takes concentration. We shouldn't be like the second disciple of the chess master. When some people bow to the Buddha, they pray, "Buddha, protect me. Let my business prosper so I can get rich quick! Then I'll be able to repay you!" If you pray like that, the Buddha won't pay any attention. Why? You're not bowing to the Buddha, you're bowing to your own selfishness! You bow to the Buddha, hoping to get rich. Bowing to the Buddha isn't gambling, nor is it a chess game. This is a shallow principle, but we can ponder it well. In studying the Buddhadharma, we have to be totally sincere.

When I first began to cultivate, I read the Earth Store Sutra and the Lotus Sutra. In the winter of my fifteenth year, I saw the three rolls of the Earth Store Sutra for the first time. It was in three volumes, I believe. I had never read a Sutra before. I think it was at the Elder Miaolian's place that I first saw the Sutra. He had written it by hand and then printed it. He had been a hanlin scholar and an official in the former Qing dynasty. He had quite a few good roots.

He was probably a xiucai and then an official in Hangzhou. When he went to Hangzhou, he wore civilian clothes and went to visit a medium. No one recognized him or knew that he was a local official. He hadn't officially assumed his post yet, because he had come several days early. Since he had nothing better to do, he went to attend this session with the medium.

These mediums are part of a cult that is neither Taoist nor Buddhist. Some are real, others are not. As soon as he walked in, the medium announced his arrival and told him to follow orders. He was astonished because the medium called his name--Zhang Hancheng--even though no one knew him there. He knelt there to accept instructions. The instructions were: "You were very filial in your previous life; that's why you have become an official in this life. You should be an honest official. Don't be corrupted by bribes. Do a good job." He broke into a sweat and thought, "This is really strange! The medium has just told me my past."

He went back and went to sleep. He had been an opium smoker, but now he didn't want to smoke anymore. After resting for several days, he got up, collected his pipes and opium, and went to West Lake. Everyone thought he was going to have a smoking spree on West Lake. When he got to the middle of the lake, he threw his pipes and opium into the lake. After he quit smoking opium, he learned Buddhism and eventually left the home-life. He had a pretty good foundation in Confucianism and his calligraphy was also good. As I said before, he was a xiucai and a hanlin scholar.

I obtained a copy of the Sutra he had written, and I took it back to recite. When I recited the Sutra all the way through, I would light a long stick of incense known as "vigorous incense" in northern China. It burned for exactly two hours. I would kneel there and recite the Sutra slowly, and when I finished, the incense would also finish burning. I would recite the entire Sutra once every day at noon. After a while, my knees broke open and bled because I knelt on the brick floor without any cushions. There were cushions, but I didn't use them even when my knees broke open. That's how foolishly stubborn I was. I continued reciting and paid no attention to my knees. "Break open if you want, I don't care" was my attitude. It's hard to describe that first experience reciting the Earth Store Sutra. There was a sense of purity and refreshing comfort in body and mind.

Now I take a look at all of you sitting there. The bench is already padded, yet you insist on adding another cushion. When you kneel on the ground, you have to have a cushion for your knees. You can't endure even a little hardship. You are all much more intelligent than your teacher. I was so foolish then that I didn't want a cushion. I wanted my knees to break open and bleed. I felt it was right. Not to mention letting them break open and bleed, you can't even bear to let your pampered knees take a little pain. This just shows that you are much smarter than your teacher.

I remember long ago, I would read the Dharma Flower Sutra until my eyes bled. Why did they bleed? Because I didn't sleep for many days. I just knelt and read the Sutra. The more I read it the more I wanted to read it and recite it. I forgot about eating and sleeping. When my eyes started to bleed, I didin't notice, until the blood fell on the text. Then I knew, "Oh, those aren't tears, that's blood!" Since my eyes were acting up like that, I had to rest. That's how I read the Dharma Flower Sutra.

You say, "Dharma Master, you are really too stupid."
 Right. If I was as intelligent as you, my eyes wouldn't have bled.
Perhaps you are laughing to yourself, "That's right. That's the way it is."
You may be more intelligent than me, but you are still my disciples. No matter how smart you are, you are still studying with me.

I remember in the past, I read a lot of Sutras like that until my eyes bled. But you shouldn't think that I was always a Dharma Master. I have done everything. I was an emperor, and a minister, all kinds of things. I remember it, more or less. That's why I'm not interested in being an emperor or a politician, or even a wheel-turning sage king. It's too much trouble. Everything is a lot of trouble. Students have the troubles of students, workers have the troubles of workers, business people have business troubles, officials have official troubles, and monks have monks' troubles.

However, if you know how to do what you're doing, the troubles don't present any problem. If you can turn the state around, it's not troublesome. Take things in stride.

Adversity moves the Way.
Yielding carries the function of the Way.

Anything you cannot let go of becomes a trouble. Once you let go of it, it's no longer troublesome. Being able to put it down means saying, "Everything's okay, no problem." If you can do that, you'll be a wonderful person.

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