Events in the Life of the Venerable Master Hua


When my mother died, I summoned my brothers, but only my third elder brother came. I said to him, "What kind of coffin should we buy for our mother?"
"How can we buy a coffin when we're so poor?" he asked. "We can't even afford our meals, much less a coffin."
"Then what should we do?" I asked.
"Just nail a few boards together and make a box to bury her in!" said my brother.
"It doesn't seem right," I said. "She raised so many sons and daughters, and yet she doesn't even have a coffin for her burial." I said I would go take a look on the streets.

I went into the town of Lalin to buy a coffin. Since I had been a supervisor at the Virtue Society before I left home, I knew some people in town. I went to see Mr. Tian, who sold coffins. He was known for being a sharp dealer. As soon as he saw me, he said, "Have you come to buy a coffin?"
"I don't have any money right now. Will you let me buy one on credit?"
"Fine," he said. "Pay me back whenever you have money." So the coffin was taken care of, and I made arrangements to ship it home.

As I was about to leave, Mr. Tian handed me three hundred dollars, saying, "If you don't have money to buy a coffin, then for sure you won't have the money to hold a funeral. Take this money and pay me back when you can." I knew he had faith in me, and so I accepted the money. Three hundred dollars was quite a sum in those days. It would be equivalent to 30,000 Hong Kong dollars nowadays. Everything was very cheap in those days (forty or fifty years ago), and there was no inflation.

I returned home on the nineteenth of the third lunar month. I placed my mother's body in the coffin, hired some musicians, ordered some food, and arranged for people to carry the coffin. The funeral was set for the next day. However, the warm spring winds had melted the winter snow and the roads were muddy and hard to travel. The family burial ground was two or three miles away, and I was worried that it would be very difficult for the pall bearers to transport the coffin on the muddy, slippery roads.

That night, I prayed to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and to the Heavenly Lord, saying, "I don't have many affinities with people or with heaven, but it would be best if either snow fell or the ground froze before dawn." If an inch of snow covered the ground, or the ground became frozen solid, it would provide traction for easy walking. Strangely enough, the temperature dropped and an inch of snow fell on the frozen ground right before dawn. I knew this was a special response from the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Over twenty people began sending the coffin to the burial ground as soon as it was light. The cloudy weather made it less tiring to carry to the coffin. After the service, the sky cleared and the snow began to melt. As people started to leave, I sat down beside the grave. When people asked why I didn't leave, I told them I wanted to keep my mother company. I had not told anyone before my mother's burial of my intention to stay by the grave to observe filial piety. They tried to persuade me to go home, but I was deaf to their pleas. I didn't feel sad. I just thought, "Mother, even though you've passed away, I will keep you company so you won't be lonely." I was nineteen then.

A lot of people are curious about what it was like sitting by the grave, so I'll tell you some more. The first day I sat by the grave, a big test came. The daytime was uneventful, but that evening, a large pack of wolf dogs closed in. These dogs had been trained by the Japanese. They were extremely fierce and were known to eat people. Rich people used them as watch dogs to guard their homes and set them loose at night.

These wolf dogs would gather in a pack at night and go on raids, sort of like a guerrilla unit. They moved with military precision. Seeing me sitting there all alone beside the grave, the dogs anticipated making a good meal out of me. There were several dozens of them. They formed a circle around me and started closing in. At first they were fifty or sixty paces away, and they came closer and closer, looking very menacing. The bolder ones led the attack, and the more timid ones brought up the rear. How could I defend myself against a whole pack of wolf dogs? Even fending off one wolf dog would not be easy.

I figured I had only two choices: I could surrender, or I could fight. As for fighting, I was weaponless: I didn't have a gun, or a hand grenade, or a knife, or even a wooden stick or a bamboo rod. How could I resist the attacking dogs? Then I thought to myself: "I'll just sit here and pay no attention to the dogs. They can bite me, tear at my flesh, drink my blood. I'm mourning for my mother, and if I die, then so be it." Under the circumstances, I resigned myself to die. What else could I do? I shut my eyes and waited.

The dogs advanced until they were only thirty paces away. Seeing me sitting there motionless, they dared not advance further. What did they do then? From all sides, the several dozen wolf dogs slunk low to the ground and inched their way in--like a carpet being rolled up. They crept forward cautiously, snarling and growling, getting closer and closer, until they were only ten feet away from me. Then, for no apparent reason, they all started yelping and snapping at each other--this dog bit that one, and that one bit the other one. It was as if someone were beating them. Suddenly the whole pack turned and ran. That was the first day. I passed the test of the dogs and escaped being eaten.

When people try to do good things, their offenses will seek them out. If people want to become Buddhas, they will be tested by demons. Since I was doing a good deed by staying beside my mother's grave, my karmic creditors were bound to find me. Probably the dogs were my enemies from lives past, and so they came to attack me when I was totally defenseless. I did not resist them (although I didn't surrender either), and in the end they ran off in defeat. (You could say Manchuria had also put up no resistance to the Japanese army, but it ended up being occupied by the Japanese, so the comparison is not very apt.) Actually, it wasn't I who caused them to retreat, for I hadn't made a single move, said a single word, or even so much as breathed on them. They simply started fighting among themselves and then left and never came back.

After the dogs left, mosquitoes came. There shouldn't have been any mosquitoes in March, but a huge swarm of mosquitoes appeared the second evening. They were big mosquitoes, buzzing noisily and hungry for blood. I thought: "It's only March, and the weather is still very cold. Where did all these mosquitoes come from? This must be another test--yesterday it was dogs, today it's mosquitoes." I could have slapped the mosquitoes, but if I killed them, how could I face up to my mother? And so I said, "You're all welcome to drink my blood. Please be my guests." I took off my shirt and bared my upper body. They landed on my body and crawled around, but then flew away without biting. After that, no mosquitoes ever bothered me again.

There were many mosquitoes in the wilderness, but I never got bitten even once. Yet the people who came to visit me were bitten so much that they joked, "Ah! So many doctors giving us shots!" That's how I passed the mosquito test on the second day. You all think it's very funny and sounds like a fairytale, but I assure you it wasn't fun at all. If I hadn't taken off my shirt and been willing to let them drink their fill, they might not have left me in peace. My thoughts at the time were: "You may drink my blood dry and let me die here, but I won't seek revenge. And when I become a Buddha, you mosquitoes will be the first ones I take across. I want to be your friends."

And so when the mosquitoes landed on me, they wanted to be my friends, too. They couldn't bear to drink my blood. I don't know if this was a response. All I know is that when I offered my blood to them, they didn't want it anymore. That's why, after leaving home, I called myself the Mosquito Bhikshu. I often used this penname because my names To Lun and Hsuan Hua gave people a headache. Later I also used the name "Mosquito." Today I have told you the story behind these nicknames. Some people think I'm just telling stories. You can think of them as tall tales if you like.

I'll tell you another story. What test was in store for me on the third night? You'll never guess. It was ants--thousands of them. As I sat there, they crawled on my body and bit me all over. I knew they were either trying to drive me away or testing my sincerity. Again, I showed no resistance. I thought, "You may want to drive me away, but I won't drive you away." I relaxed my body and thought, "If you want to crawl onto my head, go ahead. Crawl on my face if you like. You can crawl into my ears, up my nose, into my mouth--wherever you want. I can bear it." After about half an hour, the ants left. Strange! After that, not a single ant ever came to disturb me. The ants probably saw that they couldn't take over the territory so they went somewhere else.

From these three incidents, I realized that if we don't put up any resistance to our enemies--if we can regard our enemies as friends--then they will eventually come to see us as friends too. That's how I gave myself the penname "Little Ant." Now you have a little ant and a little mosquito lecturing the Sutra for you. That's why very few people come to listen; everyone is afraid of being bitten by the mosquito and having the ant mess up their clothes. Those of you who dare to come are willing to be friends with the ants and mosquitoes. I won't say anymore today, or I might scare you all away!

On the fourth day, the mosquitoes, ants, and dogs were gone, and the rats came. The big ones were as large as cats. I don't know if they were like the huge rat that fell from the roof in Taiwan, but they were pretty big. At first I thought they were cats, but upon taking a closer look I saw that there were white rats and grayish ones, and rats with poor eyesight that burrowed in the ground in the bean fields. There were also rats called "big-eyed thieves," because they have large eyes. These rats could jump three feet high in the air. As I sat there, all the rats--too many to count--swarmed over me and tried to jump on my head. Now, I had been powerless to defend myself against the wolf dogs, and I could have killed the ants and mosquitoes but I didn't. It would have been difficult to fight against the rats because there were so many of them.

However, when they tried to jump on my head, I put up my hand to block them. They immediately bit my hand until it bled. Then I thought, "Fine, I won't resist. Go ahead and bite me." I left them alone, and about twenty minutes later, they all ran off. That was the test of rats on the fourth day.

On the fifth day, I was surrounded by all kinds of poisonous snakes--big, small, long, and short. Usually snakes were not seen in that area, but that day they all came preparing to bite me. Again I thought, "Go ahead and bite me. If I die, so be it!" But none of them bit me. On the sixth day came a swarm of centipedes out of nowhere. They were three or four inches long. I've seen similar ones at Flourishing Compassion Monastery on Lanto Island and Western Bliss Gardens in Hong Kong, but I'd never seen such large centipedes in that part of Manchuria. The grass rustled as they came crawling closer on all sides, menacing me. I thought to myself, "What's going on here? I've been attacked by dogs, mosquitoes, ants, rats, snakes, and now centipedes. Well, no matter what comes, I'll just let them bite me." Since there was no fear or hatred in my heart, they dispersed and vanished on their own.

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