- Part #3 -

Excerpts - "Three Steps, One Bow" journals

With One Heart, Bowing to the City of 10,000 Buddhas
The Records of Heng Sure & Heng Ch’au Bowing

Part -   1   |   2   |   3


Offering:  lunch and money for meters and phone

After lunch a bird came and sat in the doorway.  We gave it some bread but after eating one small piece it kept refusing and just watched us intently.  Heng Ch’au told it was a bird because of retribution and that it should resolve its heart on Bodhi and take refuge with the Triple Jewel.  Heng Sure gave it the Triple Refuge and Bodhisattva Vows and closed with “gate, gate, paragate, parasumgate, bodhisvaha.”  The bird left and later came back and chirped something or other and disappeared.

So far twenty lady bugs, one bird and one fly.


May 29, 1977 -  Whatever your religions, it’s okay for you to follow your spirit and become a Buddhist.  Your God and saints are all Buddhists already, they know all about it and they think it’s worth bowing to.  They all took refuge many lifetimes ago.


May 29, 1977 -  If you want to turn up the temperature a few degrees in the foundry, try closing one of the vents.  Talking.  Not talking has intensified the pitch and energy.  Like a spray-to-laxer nozzle of a water hose--hard to handle at first, so focused and potent.  More heat in the firing, more vajra result.

Out bowing a long, monotonous stretch through L.A. Country Club I reached appoint where I left I was going crazy--floating and disintegrating away, losing my body and identity.  Sitting in full lotus after that hour at a deserted bus stop learn-to I felt tingling on top of my head.

There was no walkway on our usual side so we crossed over and went against the flow.  The traffic was coming at us now. After awhile the discordance and erratic waves subsided.  The cars were like the endless variety of false thoughts (go against the flow and they really pond and bombard.)  some holder, honk, cheer, and curse.  Some beautiful, plaint attractive, absurd.  Soon they flow by without notice, without moving.  A scream and a horn, I don’t jerk or tense--just goes through, doesn’t stick.  When one finally does get me I feel it start from way inside my kidneys and lower stomach and shake in waves out.

A strange thing is starting to happen.  While bowing, I am returned, brought back and reliving experiences long forgotten and buried.  At least I thought they were.  I find myself at the exact point and place where I went wrong and then all the suffering and karma set in motion by that choice unfolds before me and I relive not just remember, but feel the pain and the loss.  For an hour or so I could barely hold back the tears.  In contrast to the screaming well-to-do kids and grown-ups racing to somewhere past us for Memorial Day, I’m crawling along the ground crying and aching in my own “day of remembering.” 

“Did ya lose something, stupid, ha, ha, ha.”  If they only knew how true that was.

Specifically I went back through my family and followed the steps of cause and effect back to the family farm in Wisconsin.  Deeded in the 1840’s, the farm is still going strong with Joe and Betty and their boys.  One branch splintered into the city,  the others stayed near the farm in a little village called Freedom.  Just before leaving home I returned partly to check out my path--retrace steps.  The relatives in the city were a mess.  Divorce, problems with their children, ill health, over-weight, smoking, drinking, and a deepening sense of loss and of having missed the boat was creeping in.  As kids we only sensed bits and pieces of these trends.  Now they had matured, come to fruit and it was so painful to see.  Beautiful, warm people who got lost by choosing what seemed “the best life” “good jobs” something more exciting and worldly than the dull drudgery of the farm.

And the farm?  What an oasis!  Joe and Betty, a young couple in their 30’s with three sons have restored the old house and property.  They are vibrant, clear, without a trace of guile or cynicism.  They sparkle and radiate health, good vibes.  They love what they’re doing.  They do it together and they do it well.

Joe says “Well we don’t drink or smoke and can’t stay up too late. We have to mil ‘em at 4:30 a.m.  Besides, we don’t want to go out, people get souped and talk stupid.  Can’t tell their words from their rattling ice cubes after awhile.  No we just stay and mess with the kids.  It gets more and more silly out there and the farm—well that’s my life.  We like it; it keeps us happy and honest.  Wow.  I’d sell it in a minute that I ain’t never found anything else worth doin’.”  Just got a letter from them.  Joe and his son are going on a religious retreat together.

“You know,” Joe told me, “I don’t hunt or fish so I’m pretty much a loner that way.”

That day we split wood, milked the cows, went over family albums, and absorbed all the pure undefiled energy they had and that they sparked in us.  When we left all of us felt turned on and cleansed, younger and without the “shadows that cross our minds.”

Every session or lecture at Gold Mountain I left with a similar feeling of well-being.  It’s the farm and then some. Return to the one first; then find the zero.

How far I had gotten away from these roots really hit yesterday while bowing.  I clearly saw and relived every step away from what the farm represented and more.  I began to see how and where I had moved away from a pure, genuine self-nature.  It hurt.  Like a river having turned to go back to the pool, I had to walk through all the defilement and mud I had stirred up in each step taken from the source.

Yesterday was early childhood and specifically my first love--my wife.  I feel like I am reliving and purging a lot of mud.  How many lives does it take to return?  How easy to follow the stream away.  A single thought?  To reverse is hard.  To return slow and painful.  Hard work and patience.

Persistent and complicated dreams of my wife.  My mind moves and I wake up spent from the effect of these false thoughts.  I am cold in the a.m.  Need more clothes to stay warm.  Heavier on fleet--lost the feeling of lightness.

Whatever happened to my wife’s aspiration to be a nun?  Karma upon karma.  How many have been moved and effected by my steps away from my true face?  And they in turn effect others, endlessly.  From the one, the many.  It builds, accumulates, wells up, and spills into disasters, calamities, wars.  How to measure all the ripples created by a single stone tossed into a still lake.

Leaving the mountains (one’s original face) for the valleys (desire and false thoughts), it’s hard to return.  The higher one climbs the more dangerous, narrow and steep.  Less room for errors, greater consequences and tumbles.

The blackspire.  A fall?  Maybe the fall in not leaving home last year.  Have to reclimb and yet its all in a single thought—not linear.  So it is with the history of group collective karma; waves making waves making waves.  Stop the stone-throwing, stop the thought.

How many lives have I repeated this?  Who was my wife and so many people?  Affinities, causes, and conditions, tests, failure, more karma all take us further from our true nature.  The wheel doesn’t stop, you must!

I Saw a Church Today

In Europe and many countries once upon a time much effort and skill went toward construction cathedrals and churches of magnificent size and beauty.  Towering above all other worldly structures, they served to remind people daily of the impermanence of life and of a higher, spiritual existence.  I saw a church today in L.A. I almost didn’t see it except I was going so slow and going so low I caught sight of it.  It was buried between towering corporate banks and skyscraper Insurance Plazas and wedged between two high-rise apartment buildings.

“No matter whether people understand or not, if you understand, you should speak.” -Master Hua.

“You should not only explain the doctrines which I explain, but take the principles and express yourself according to your wisdom.  Since Americans speak about the development in freedom, you can develop your own freedom in this way.  Then there can be a new and creative development.”   -Master Hua.

If words and looks could kill we would have been minced monks by now.  “Get off the sidewalk or…Move on, the sixties are over.” Shouts a really angry, violent voice.

With cramps and diarrhea on a Sunday on Wilshire Blvd. in an area where lawns are manicured and even dogs use toilets, patience is tested with every body.

People tend to look lie what they eat and do. This area smalls of pork.  It permeates the air, but no one hears the squeals anymore.  “The 60’s are over” the wars continue as do the barbeques, but it’s a quiet Sunday here; easy, lazy.

The 60’s are Over

A decade ago I was finishing my Ph.D. dissertation on “bringing the war home,” trying to get at the root of the problem by analyzing American culture.  But every time I dug behind the facile generalities I found people.  I found people like my parents, teachers, friends and their parents.  How did these regular people (they were not war mongers, running dog imperialists, Daddy Warbucks or fat cats), how did these folks come to generate so much suffering and conflict, so much unequality, so much hate and violence?  It wasn’t simple.  It also wasn’t the kind of questions an aspiring “professional” historian asks.  Too “unscholarly” and “interpretive”--too general and “recent.”  I quit school and went looking elsewhere.  This tool had lost its edge.

I found the answer about four years later in a Buddhist monastery in San Francisco.  I’m finishing my dissertation now on the road between L.A. and the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, bowing once every three steps with a fellow Buddhist monk.  As we bowed past a serene, lazy street in L.A. angry words shot out from behind a screed window, “Get off the sidewalk.  Move on.  The sixties are over.”  She was so right!  The answer?  I found it in a quote whose source is over 2600 years old.  It really brings the “war home.”

“All male beings have been a father to me in former lives and all females have been my mother.  There is not a single living being who has not given birth to me during my previous lives, hence all beings are my parents.  Therefore, when a person kills or eats any of these beings he thereby slaughters my parents.  Furthermore he butchers a body that was once my own, for all elemental earth and water has previously served as the substance of one of my bodies and all elemental fire and air has formerly sustained the life of one of my bodies.  Therefore I shall always cultive the practice of liberating beings, awakening to the eternal nature of Dharma (truth) in every life, and its instruction others to liberate beings as well.”

Too much to swallow?  Ancient sages and early Greek philosophers intuited it.  Einstein argued it.  And modern practical terms the thrust is this:  everything comes from the mind alone.  Look within for wisdom and for the cause, the beginning of greed, hatred, and stupidity.

What is stealing if it isn’t misusing and wasting water, air, and food? What is greed if not consuming more and better, “all you can eat” and still never being satisfied?  Greed gone big makes war.

Regarding anything short of all beings as relatives and family is discrimination and it breeds hatred and resentment.  “Bring the war home,” to the mind!  Watch carefully what comes from your mouth, your body, and your mind and you will find the cause of hurt, strife, jealousy, and pollution.  Follow it further and find the cause of wars, disasters, nuclear stockpiling, and acts of destruction.  Follow the small to the large.  Take the large back to the small.  Back to the mind.  It all comes from the mind.  This disease is one disease.  It respects neither age, nor class, nor race, nor country.  We’ve all got it.

“For all past karma created from body, mouth, and mind and born from beginningless, greed, hatred, and stupidity I now repent entirely.”

This is the heart of my Ph.D.  The war came home to my mind and hopefully the peace will too.   So “move on, the 60’s are over.”  The real revolution is within one single thought right now, inside.  Seize it!


May 30, 1977 -  You don’t have to ask any experts, or join anything or buy anything to find the Holy within you, pure and complete.  It starts with doing good, with avoiding doing evil and then clearing out your mind.  Give things, give yourself away and make others happy.  Don’t eat meat and watch your tongue.  Pay attention to your deeds good and bad and see their results.  It’s all talking about your own life and who is really in charge of it.  You are.  Don’t give away the final responsibility for your life.

On the vehemence and hatred in a screeching female voice from behind screed windows:  “Get off the sidewalk you creeps!  Go on, move on.  The sixties are over!”  Each phrase a crescendo to hysteria.  Heng Ch’au:  “If words were bullets, we would be Swiss Cheese.”

When this is all over and we arrive at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, what will  we have to say?  What will be our very first words?  “It is most important to hold the five precepts which prohibit killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, and intoxicants.  Without a firm foundation in proper behavior all other cultivation is like pouring water in a cracked vase:  it won’t stay in.  Return the light and shine within at all times.

“Everything is a test to see what you will do.  Mistaking what’s before your eyes, you’ll have to start anew.” –Master Hua.

‘For all post karma created from body, mouth, and mind and born from beginningless greed, hatred and stupidity I now repent entirely.”

Homage to the sea-like assembly of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in the Avatamsaka Assembly.

Homage to the Avatamsaka Sutra.


May 30, 1977 -  When I see the most clearly there are no words.  Sometimes I can tell a little of the feeling, the state behind the silence:  the only thing that seem “real,” not cartoons or mirages floating by on clouds, are (1) the Avatamsaka Sutra.  It feels like home; like a true friend who really knows me in and out without asking or judging.  (2) little openings into “my own” wisdom, which really isn’t mine.  It’s difficult to explain.  It’s a place inside and beyond “me” that merges with the friend of the Sutra.  The Thus Come One and “I” are the same, but there is no “I.”  It’s here that my identity spins out and I feel like some kind of rag doll without boundaries or form.  One false thought and “I” is back in the movie on Wilshire Boulevard.

Ode to a Cultivator (apologies to Christopher Robin and Pooh)

“If I were a bird that lived on high

I’d lean on the wind, when the wind came by

I’d say to the wind as it took me away

Now that’s where I wanted to go today!”

Freedom--“getting away from it all” “hitting the road” “Let’s get out of here”--freedom is America’s biggest and oldest resource.  Everybody knows that.  Say “freedom” and people say the U.S. and it’s always “out there” or just a “little further.”  The more we worship it the less we really enjoy.  And not a few Americans are sorely coming to the realization that no amount of campers, clothes, money, snowmobiles, “a place in the mountains,” airplanes, or vacations satisfies the itch for freedom. But to be like the bird is hard for Westerners--you’ve got to be light; without attachments.  You can’t fly with a T.V., Winnebago, two dogs, and a couple of cocktails or a couple of “hits.”

The wind is the Way.  It you can put down the false, the empty, and the heavy, then the wind can take you “where you want to go.”  The pure land is your land; it’s my land. From California…and it’s made for you and me.

We can’t fly with greed, hatred, and stupidity.  Trade in your afflictions for some wings (morality, concentration, and wisdom) and let the wind take you away.  Stupid?  Maybe, but out here bowing along the sidewalks of dream city we can feel a pulse, we can see the faces and feel the longing.  People are getting hungry for some meaning, something real to shake the nightmare.  It’s just a question of time and a single thought.

We saw it in the hesitating fascinated faces of two men our age who stopped to ask. What did they see?  Why did they wonder and come out right in the middle of their lunch in a restaurant? They with their L.A. Fabion haircuts, shiny shoes, were slick, but they couldn’t cover their curiosity.  The empty macho crap that usually kills honest talk cracked for a minute and we were just boys, brothers, sharing feelings and wishes you learn later to smother and hide as men. For a minute there was a “letting go” and everybody was touched.

Sunday morning early, bowing alone through fancy Beverly Hills/Westwood.  I was suddenly filled with greed and fantasies of myself in the big houses driving the biggest cars, golfing at the finest country clubs, running with the handsome dog, escorting the finest women--all these photos flashed in y mind at once.  I recoiled immediately, saw the state, and felt how foreign it was to the environment of bowing, counting, reciting the Sutra’s name, and learning to use my energy.  The desire thoughts came like a sudden wind, invaded my head like a piece of sky falling through the house roof.  I continued to bow and said to myself “The thing to do with these foreign, uninvited, and afflicting desirous thoughts is to have patience with your mind, have compassion on your poor tired little head and turn those thoughts into defiled wisdom.”  So I have gave up my alarm at the presence of the defiled idea, I resolved to concentrate on the bowing, and left the thoughts take care of themselves.  I put all my faith into the principle of unmoving thusness.  To help the situation I stood at one point and said, “I don’t want any of those foolish attachments.  They are impermanent and not meant for me.  I am not interested.  Take my name off the list.  I want freedom from all of that, freedom from real afflictions, freedom over birth and death and I will get it this time.”  As I made this vow, the thoughts vanished, my head cleared on the next bow and I continued working and pacing along as before.

Smooth Sailing

One of the laypersons, an L.A. resident for many years, told us at the start of the trip:  “You will have a rough time at first going through these tough neighborhoods but once your clear Lincoln Heights things will improve a lot, you’ll see.  It’ll be smooth sailing from then on.”  We did have to work our way through Lincoln Heights, but we found the people open, honest and easy to impress with our bowing.  When we reached the “good” neighborhoods, however, we found a lot of repressed, latent hostility, a kind of flash-point, unpredictable violence right on the edge of exploding.  Ultimately the various streets are all the same, some people bless us, some curse us, but the quality of the response in the fancy neighborhoods was in no way better or “smoother sailing” than in the poorer ones.

In fact you could say, the first leg of the trip was rough but wait until get to the coast, then it will be “smooth sailing.”

The coast highway was deserted and that starvation and dehydration was rough but wait till you get to San Francisco, then it will be okay, you’ll see. Smooth sailing.

Well, the shots they fired at you in San Francisco were hard to take but wait till you get to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, then it will all be okay.  Just wait. Smooth sailing.

You’re still cultivating back at the monastery, but wait till you get enlightened, then you’ll see how good it can be. It’ll all the smooth sailing.

If you think the Saha world was tough, wait’ll but wait till you get transferred to another corner of the Dharmarealm to start over again as a Bodhisatta, then it will be smooth sailing.

North, south, east, west, when you truly let go.  It’s all okay.  When you untie yourself from your afflictions then even if you don’t have a boat, it’s all smooth sailing.

There will come a time in America when the Sangha member’s robe and sash will bring smiles to the faces of old people.  When the Buddhist principles of filiality and reverence towards seniors and elders are well-known in this country, old people will be glad in their hearts to see a left-home person approach.  They will not be afraid, they will not be upset.  To see two monks bowing down the sidewalk will remind them of the compassion of the Buddha and they will be at peace with their age and their future.  Amitabha!  Let it be so!

As a student I often dreamed of freedom from classrooms, tests, assignments, and schedules.  I fancied a life of an artist, a traveler, an athlete, a writer, someone who had the whole world before him and when he woke up he could set his face towards any direction and be totally there, free and alive.  I wanted most of all to be working for the present moment, to be as good as I could be right now right here.  To not eternally be preparing, treading water, passing time, waiting to grow up.  Freedom then was to pass beyond the classroom doors, to climb the staircase and walk away.

Now I live in a world beyond books and schedules, beyond bells and grades.  In my new world everything’s a test.  I am invited, urged to be my best every minute.  I am as free as I can be right now.  Am I happy?  I’m the only judge.  I can choose to pass or fail my own tests.

Free to walk anywhere at any speed, I chose to pace north, three steps and one bow later, I stand up and take three more steps.  I have external restriction than a school boy waiting for the bell to end class but the difference?  Ah, the difference.  When the bell rings on this class that I’m enrolled in voluntarily, I can graduate from the school of living beings, and that degree, my friend, is worth having.


May 31, 1977 -  Checked out twice during the night by University of California police.  No problem, in fact they even stretched the rules and let us camp in a corner of a parking lot overnight.

Stopping the mad mind at times seems impossible.  By comparison it makes the whole Three Steps, One Bow look like sneezing.  On the other hand that’s true only because of impatience and laziness.  Once resolved on enlightenment it is just the beginning.  Each minute is a small step; how many steps?  Only one!  Countless!  Only one because looking ahead or behind is false thinking, counting is false thinking.  With no thinking, who counts the steps?  Who steps?  Who is enlightened?  Discriminating and impatience need a who.

Countless steps because with no who counting and looking back and forth and forward, expecting and rejecting, anticipating and disappointed, with no who doing the steps, the steps are without beginning or end, without a fixed number or amount.

Realizing this is properly inconceivable, I only go on faith right now.  And having left home just recently many of the little niceties that buffered my ego and comforted the “me” are gone and raw faith and whatever resolve I can muster gets sorely tested.

The mind resists the medicine partly out of beginningless bad habits and cumulated garbage but partly too because it’s just plain strong and afraid.

Patience and hard work!  These are cracks and openings now and then but mostly just steps, countless steps.  It helps to remember at times like these what exactly I “left” (Oh yeah, right, I remember now, always I knew and felt inside it was nowhere, impermanent.  I kept putting it down, searching for more ultimate goals.  So now you are really trying to break through. You can’t go back--to what?  So be patient and smile).  It also helps a whole lot to notice that my teacher is right behind me smiling, “Patience, Kuo T’ing.  Hard work and patience.  Everything is OK.”

The other side of the complexity is the harm I caused other people.  I was like a predatory animal.  I chose to afflict whoever I felt prompted to harm. 

Surely there are past affinities that must be untied, and much attention shall be given to whom one relates to, and the quality of the relationship.  Compassion, services, kindness, beneficial deeds, giving shall be the guidelines.  In this way, the future meeting with these beings will not be for mutual exploitation, mutual harm, mutual wasting of energy, but rather for shared benefits, for teaching and learning, for the inspiration to cultivate and become enlightened.

When the Master was head of the Vinaya Academy at Nan Hua Monastery he made it his practice to personally send off each departing Dharma Master.  He would go borrow money and give the department monk the sum he had borrowed.  Then the Master would carry the monk’s luggage a mile or so down the road.  His purpose?  To tie up affinities, to “establish conditions” with as many people as possible.  That is to say the Master wanted to make a positive connection with a great many people so that in the future, when there is a great deal of work to be done, all those with wholesome affinities will join together and aid in the progress of the work.


June 1, 1977

"When your meditation reaches the point that the mountain are leveled, the seas disappear, and you doubts that there’s a way at all, then suddenly, there beyond the dark willow and the bright flowers is another village."

-Master Hua

My t’ai chi teacher said, “From the unnatural you find the natural, the Tao.  From something you reach nothing and then maybe in nothing you truly find something.”  I used to think being “natural” was pretty laid back, indulging whims and desires, doing what felt good.  I know differently now.

To develop the supple, graceful balance and ease of t’ai chi requires months of unnatural stretching, hard work and clumsy postures.  Moreover to really make it natural involves a regular schedule of meditation and practicing everyday.  “When you feel good and want to do four sets and two hours of meditation, do two sets and one hour of meditation. When you feel not so good and want to do only one set and skip meditation, do two sets and one hour of meditation.  Then you will make progress.”

Bowing along Wilshire between rows of dead soldiers on one side and rows of commuting cars on the other there seemed t be nothing natural going in this artificial scene.

To live in harmony with nature is simple living and hard work.  It’s also being nose to nose constantly with birth and death (your own and others).  We are all in a very precarious state of being.  Ultimately what is the natural nature, anyway?  I used to think it was some idyllic pre-industrial garden of eden.   And what is harmony with nature?  Who really knows?   What we call “natural” is ultimately bound up with our minds, not some state independent of us.  It’s pretty obvious what it isn’t but a long, hard trek back to what it is and you do it alone, solo in the finale.

To be born and die seems “natural” but then why have sages and wise men for aeons maintained that to be free of birth, not to be reborn, is the true nature?   No karma, off the wheel, and the twelve conditioned links and suffering--that’s natural.  Ultimately the natural is freedom-freedom from birth and death, death and birth repeating without cease.  This is described as a state of purity, genuiness, and bliss.  And in the end even that is gone--voluntary extinction.  Wonderful existence; true emptiness.

Well I don’t know about all this; just glimpses now and then. But the glimpses are strong and more “natural” than anything else going.  Enough so to make me cultivate the bitter, unnatural to explore it.  Enough to stop eating meat, smoking weed, and trade in my nice “easy life” and clothes for the life and clothes of a monk.  Enough so to be out bowing with Heng Sure through Los Angeles to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Mendocino.  Like T’ai chi, what at first seemed very unnatural now seems second nature.  So too with bitter practices.  My t’ai chi teacher said once, “Some day you will know that after t’ai chi, after all of it, Ch’an is the highest.”

Just before leaving home my oldest sister Cece visited San Francisco.  This was our last conversation together in a vegetarian restaurant in North Beach about being a monk and about Buddhism:

Cece:  “Well I still don’t understand.”

Me:  “Understand what?”

Cece:  “What you are doing.  I think you are still just searching.  It’s just that you aren’t sure yet and you’re searching, right?”

Me:  “Aren’t you?”

Cece:  “What?”

Me:  “Searching.”

Cece:  “Well no. I mean I’m pretty settled.  We have our house and the kinds and financially we’re finally getting to a place where...”

Me:  “What about dying?”

Cece:  “What about it?”

Me:  “You got that settled?”

Cece:  “Well the way I see it, you die and that’s it.  Not much you can do about it, right?”

Me:  “How should I know.  I’m searching, remember?”

Cece:  “Let’s eat.”

Me:  “The food’s not here yet.  Really, honestly, does that way of dealing with your death…I mean how does that feel to you?”

Cece:  “It terrifies me.  I sit in bed some nights trying to imagine being dead and it scares me.  I don’t know:  I would like to not feel terrified but…”

Me:  “So you are searching.”

Cece:  “Well, yes, but…” (squirming)

Me:   “So when mother and dad ask you what I’m up to with all this Buddhist stuff don’t sit back and say, ‘Oh, he’s still just searching…doing his own thing’ (Cece smiling) because if you say that then you had better be ready to tell them that you’ve found the answer to the problem of dying, so now you are not searching.  You know mother isn’t satisfied with the whole issue of her own death, right?”

Cece:  “I know.”

Me:  “ Make you a deal.”

Cece:  “What?”

Me:  “We both keep searching and whoever finds out first promises to tell mom and the other.”

Cece:  “It’s a deal.  But I still don’t understand.”

Me:  “What?”

Cece:  “Well you’re going to become a monk and give up all these nice things you have--your job and friends and clothes, good food, and it’s so cold there too.  It’s like all the things you used to do you don’t want anymore.”

Me:  “Do you want your tricycle or old boyfriends back?”

Cece:  “Well no, but that’s different.”

Me:  “How?”

Cece:  “Let’s eat.”

Me:  “Let’s talk.  It will be our last time for a while.”

Cece:  “Well what if you find out you gave all that up for nothing?”

Me:  “That’s it!:

Cene:  “What’s it?”

Me:  “By getting rid of all that, you get nothing and from nothing…well it’s like if what you got his cold tea in your cup there and you want fresh hot ea, you got to empty to cup first right?”

Cece:  “Right, I suppose so.”

Me:  “Well?”

Cece:  “Let’s eat.”  (smiling)

Me:  “Remember our deal?”

Cece:  “OK.”

Bowing through the smog and hostile vibes that also seem to follow people home from their jobs the other day, I began to get down on how unhappy people seem to be.  At that moment an old eccentric wrinkled lady came up, beamed a genuine happy deep--inside alive smile, patted me on the should and ambled on.

“What You See is What you Get.”

There haven’t been any reaction to three steps, one bow that are identical.  People see what they want, what they can, and sometimes not at all.  Some seeholy men, some see morons, some see weirdos, some see prophets, some see hate, some see compassion, some see “cute dresses” (our robes), others freak out over shaved heads.  “Hey, I got shoes just like his-easy walkers, neat!”  Others ask if we are sick, trying to find the beach, kissing the ground.  They try to convert, divert, run over, and ignore.  Some try to make us laugh or tremble--it’s endless.  They all get what they see and what they see is mostly themselves.

Today as I rounded a corner after parking the van, I saw tow men gesticulating widly and slowly pacing off steps, jabbering and arguing all the time.  Heng Sure was down half a block from them slowly bowing.  As I got in range here’s what I heard.  (One man was huge with a handlebar mustache named Mario, the other was short and squat named Pepe--brothers connected with the Italian restaurant they are arguing in front of.)

Mario:  “I a tell ya it’s a four--a four steps.”

Pepe:  “No, no, no, no--I counta tree, tres.  No more.”

Mario:  “Whadya know?  Nothin’, you don’t know a nothin’  Watch!  One, duo, tres--see!  Quatro!”  (pointing to Heng Sure.)

Pepe:  (imitating Heng Sure) “Open your eyes, Mario.  Wow look. One, tro, tres, fine.  Sometimes you a so stupido.”  (hands fly in the air)

Mario:  (grabs me and lines me up between himself and Pepe, pointing to Heng Sure).  Nowa you tell us.  Watch real close.  You a playin too--witha that guy right?  (I nod).  Okay, so now watch.  (I can’t move pinched in between them staring down the street, waiting, sweating with anticipation-what a sight!)  They count.  When Heng Sure does his three steps Pepe peels off dancing and shouting, “Three, see?  I told you.  It’s a three.  Ha!   Thre steps.”  When Heng Sure brings his foot forward to complete the third step Mario peels off on the other side yelling, “Quatro, quarto!  I’ma right.  I’ma right.”  Turning pleadingly to me, “I’ma no right, huh?”  I hold up three fingers.  Peple slips into a smug teasing sigh.  Mario flips and stamps, “You don’t know nothin’ either.  You all can no count, can no see.  I, Mario, say it’s four.”  He imitates again.  Pepe contradicts.  And around they go again.  I would like to say something profound or even explain a little but they could care less.  All the space is filled with their things.  “Three!” “Ia tell ya it’s four.” 

I sneak towards Heng Sure--their brotherly battle fades like everything else we encounter.  I’m smiling because they were so accepting, unusually so, of us-more than most we encounter, and yet they had no idea what or why we were bowing.  It didn’t matter--all they saw was a chance to bet and compete.  They have probably been doing it all their lives.

I thought of a line from Shih Fu’s gatha in the Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra:

Because of the finger, gaze at the distant moon; the finger is not the moon.

These guys were fighting over a hang nail.  They never even saw the finger, much less the moon.

Mario:  (distant but distinct)  “Nobodya knowsa nothin’.”

Disciple of Billing Bright stopped (Campus Crusade for Christ).  “I saw you all workin’ so hard here to get to heaven, I thought I’d do you a favor.  Here, now, read this.  It’s a shortcut.  No need to work so hard.  Just take hold of Jesus here.”

The problem with shortcuts is they usually leave you short.  No one saves you but yourself, Billy, even Jesus had to do it himself.


June 2, 1977 -  More on the song.  When you work with the mind, the mind becomes sensitized to input, to the environment, to ideas and subtle shadings, nuances.  The difference between affliction and Bodhi is as thin as a reed.

By singing a non-Dharma song yesterday I trashed the sensitive mirror of my thoughts and planted the stupid, mundane lyrics and tune of the song in my head for a long time.  I’ll be hearing the song long after I should  have been enlightened.

It’s like bowing hard to polish a crystal tray, getting every bit of dust off it and then turning around and dumping the morning sweepings of garbage and dust on it.  How silly!  All the day’s work wasted!

Another way to view the mistake of singing after cultivating silence is like a mountain climber who slips off the trail, falls a few feet and bruises his ankle.  It will take a while for the bruise to heal, it makes walking all the harder and I must be really careful to avoid taking a big fall and doing real damage.  Dumb!

The Bodhisattva goes where others cannot go to complete his work of bringing the Dharma to the world.  Bowing beneath the San Diego freeway is such a place.  Toxic, foul, evil, uninhabitable, foreign to the planet, the underpass and the roads that feed it were made by human hands and strength, but did they know that in the future, the space they created would be destructive to human life?  Heng Chau and I did not have the protective armor of an automobile when we dared to traverse the area.  As we bowed through the thunder and poison of the exhausts from thousands of buses and trucks, we lost our breath, lost our minds, our hearing, our sight, our sanity.  White faces, short of breath and fading, if we had to stay there for one hour instead of twenty minutes, we would have collapsed and died of the poisonous vapors.  So congratulations, modern people.  We have made our cave truly uninhabitable.  Only this time we can’t leave it and go further West.  We’re stuck with it.  Unless your thoughts get really daring:  say, use fewer cars?

We do not bow across intersection.  We pace across, counting the steps, with hands in “palms together” position, to bow the right number of bows on the far corner.  Walking slowly, mindfully with palms together startles the motorists we cross in front of.

On lady, however, picked up on the purpose of palms together crossing of streets right away.  At the busy Gayley and Wilshire intersection I crossed with palms together, slowly pacing and counting the steps.  When I reached the other curb, the hour was over so I made a half-bow, mentally marked the spot and the number of bows to do and turned around to look for a drinking fountain.  I met the smiling face of a 40ist woman who happily said, “See, you made it, safe and sounds.”


June 2, 1977 -  In the last two weeks or so some drastic and powerful things have been going on inside.  At first I noticed my t’ai chi was much stronger, like every pore and corner of my body was charged with almost too much juice to contain.  Then I went through a couple of days where sexual desire was running wild.  I felt like fifteen or sixteen years old.  Every sight and sound was a potential threat.  Even though I could see what was happening the pulsing yearning was still hard to control because so much came so fast and I felt it hormonally, like an animal instinct.  Finally I got some leverage on this runaway energy.

In the last week my sitting meditation is more concentrated; less distracted.  When I sit and fix on the tip of my nose a wave of warmth spreads from my waist and hips (inside though) up my spine and throughout my body.  Any pain or discomfort disappears.  I feel light and at ease, aglow.  Regardless of how cold or hot it is I feel comfortable in light clothes.  After sitting I feel as if I had just taken a hot bath--refreshed but not hot or heavy or dull.

This morning waves of anger and edginess hit. I was really irritable, almost like pre-flu skin sensitivity, only emotionally as well.

Patience, patience, got to have patience, don’t get angry, Swo pe he.

This low follows an incredible high energy peak last night where I literally felt like I was nine years old again—boundless light energy without afflictions of sexual desire, adult worries, cares, and attachments.  Just got to hang on and let it go where it goes.  Don’t be moved.  The only thing true is hard work and patience.

Where does the energy outflow go?  Waiting patiently waiting for the slow kiln inside to transmute this new energy.  To woman and pastry shops it goes, checking out the sugarland.  To anger and short temper (hurry up kiln I am about to explode).  Cross it over, don’t spill it.  Patiently sweating it out at a foundry in the oven!  We both feel like we are smelting a pure substance in a super hot furnace in a small room--all around the furnace are open barrels of gun powder.  One mistake, broken rule, too serious a slip and boom!

Three straight days of diarrhea and hot pavement, bad smog and more Jesus converters.  (The one this A.M. kept shoving his crucifix into our face “See this, see this?”)  All little tests it seems.  Now we are in Santa Monica nearer the beach.  “Really nice there…smooth sailing.”  And yet we are both just fine.  Nothing to be happy about or sad about either.  No reason to get angry or impatient.  No cause for doubts or enthusiasm.  Three steps, one bow.  Through the picket line of construction workers, three steps, one bow, three steps, one bow.

Orange Juice Bomb

We usually eat promptly at 11:30 A.M., but for some reason today we decided to eat later and instead use the time to contact the Santa Monica police and let them know about three steps, one bow.  We pulled into the police parking lot, got out, and closed the door.  As the door closed…Boom!  There was an explosion and I saw the curtains shake.  We looked inside.  Orange juice was dripping and running all over and the half gallon glass bottle it came in was scattered about the van in jagged hunks and splinters.

The bottle was in a box we always set right between us when eating and the time of the explosion?  We looked at Heng Sure’s watch.  11:32 A.M.  The force of the explosion and the glass projectiles would have left two bloody bhishus or taken something more serious like an eye or major artery.

Tonight our Verse of Admonishment will have a special reality to it:

The day has already passed, life is shorter.  Like fish in an evaporating pond what joy is there in this?  Great assembly:  take heed, be vigorous.  As if your head depended on it.  Be mindful of impermanence and never lax for an instant.

The Flies Get in

During certain weeks of the hot, muggy dog-days of summer in Wisconsin the flies and mosquitoes get pretty thick.  Screen doors and windows are essential.  But they are useless if left open. Running in and out all day and night, we kids were pretty thoughtless of cause of effect and so always left the door and windows open.  My mother would yell, “Close the door behind you or the flies will get in.”  We never listened.  At night harassed by all manner of bugs and sometimes bats, we would holler and cry.  All my mother would say is “Not much good closing the barn door after the horse is gone.”

Yesterday afternoon I couldn’t seem to keep my doors closed.  All my energy and concentration was going out mostly at one particular gigantic billboard with an attractive woman serving a cool drink.  This is what’s known as outflows (letting your light leek out, moving away from the Buddha nature within).  So I said, “You got to stop this.  For this next hour all you are going to look t is the back of Heng Sure’s shoes. This is it.  Plug your leek.  Shut the door.”

I was good for awhile and then without even noticing caught myself looking at the billboard again.  Right at that moment a car pulled alongside with one of the meanest, baddest men in it I’ve run across.  He was carved and tattooed on his face and sneering a sick smile.  The door left open, the flies were in.  My stomach tried to hide and right then I understood the principle my mother tried to get across:  what you create you must endure; leave your doors open and you are vulnerable to the outside.  Live by the Way and there’s no hole for death to enter.


June 3, 1977

Upasika:  “How long have you been with Shih Fu?”

Heng Ch’au:  “A year.”

Upasika:  “Only a year?”

Heng Ch’au:  “Time time.”

Upasika:  “You were with him before?”

Heng Ch’au:  “Sure.  Lots.  Weren’t you?  If I were really smart I wouldn’t have come back this time, because I never would have left.”

Upasika:  “When I first came to Gold Mountain years ago with my mother, I wasn’t too impressed, you know.  Excuse me for saying this, but it was so dark and there were all those American people and I didn’t even see Shih Fu.  My mother just went in, bowed to the Buddhas and jetted back out of there.”

Heng Ch’au:  “You know the saying, ‘False outside, true inside’.”

Upasika:  “Right.  So why won’t the Shih Fu advertise?  He’s such a great man, you know, and yet he’s always telling us not to talk about him.  How come so few people know about Gold Mountain?”

Heng Ch’au:  “Basically it’s not Buddhism to talk about personalities.  If it were advertised like that then everyone would come expecting to be entertained--climbing on conditions--like going to a movie.  In Buddhism you have to really cultivate.  ‘You yourself must walk the path, the Buddhas only show the way’.”

Upasika:  “Well nobody will ever find it then.”

Heng Ch’au:  “You did.  Besides, when you’ve got the real thing, you don’t have to advertise it.  The people who really recognize you will come anyway.  It’s just a matter of time.  We’ve only begun Buddhism--the true Dharma--here in the West.  But it’s going to be here in this land for centuries.   We’ve got to start slowly and surely.

Upasika:  “How come you are eating so little?”

Heng Ch’au:  “It’s funny, but I want to eat less because I want to bow more.”

Upsika:  “But if you don’t eat enough then you can’t bow at all.”

Heng Ch’au:  “So the answer is to eat just enough and bow just enough.”

I see clearly that once you begin to cultivate and really do it, the only thing that can sustain you, actually save you, is continued vigorous cultivation.  As soon as you let down or relax, all the energy you have built up can go the wrong way.

In the mornings I have to struggle to keep ahead of my new energy.  It wants to go the wrong way already.  It is potent, hard to resist, and requires a total dedication of will and then constant, mindful effort to keep it from flowing out the old channels.  That would be a total loss, a tragedy, a waster, and a situation of real danger.

I just wish that my old habits were not so strongly burned in, and I wish that I hadn’t shortened my life-span and taken the deviant for the proper for so long.  How can I avoid it in the future?  I vowed to cut it off in this life and in all future lives.  That will have to cover my early, forgetful years when the bad habits begin.  It must work!  This is too wrong!

The good-timers breakfast club in the Country Chicken Café in Santa Monica called the police on Heng Sure at 7:25 Friday morning-told the police that there was a crazy loose who was trying to climb buildings on Wilshire Boulevard.  They were disappointed when Officer Kaiser, and three squad cars arrived, found everything in order, read his transit papers, said good morning, and left.

On The Edge

Feeling grouchy and irritable. “Don’t touch me!”  “What do you mean, ‘get off the sidewalk’?”  It’s the old/new energy rising and Heng Ch’au and I have to be alert every minute to keep it intact.  We hope that we don’t explode and waste it before it goes where it is supposed to.  Got to keep the work up but not more than we can absorb or else it’s start-over-again time.  When we feel like this, the streets are an affliction griddle--the roaring metal river is gritting, broiling to head and hands, long and blinding, smoky with exhaust, fumes, dazzling with reflected sun, and noisy with whistlers, honks, cat-calls, stares.

I remind myself that no one put me here but me myself.  All I have to do is stand up and walk away and I can have all the sense pleasures there are in the world, without having to leave my own condominium pool.  Don’t be such a sap.

The worst part is doing the form right and then losing your concentration for one instant when a woman walks near you and you feel your energy change involuntarily.  You feel cheated, betrayed, robbed of all your treasures.  Oh, my, no, the Dharma is not easy to master.  Not at all.

Patience is number one.  Compassion, and vows to take them all across.  If thee were no self, who would there be to get angry?  Just grow up and work hard.

The Mysterious Exploding Orange Juice

The layperson brought two half gallons of Vita-Pakt orange juice (from concentrate, no sugar added) for lunch “This should hold you until Friday,” she said.  “Forget that one bottle.  It’s fermented already.”  (Orange juice?  Fermenting?)  I took up the bottle, shook it, and it gushed up all over my arm like orange soda on a hot day.  Son of a gun, carbonated orange juice.  Well, it didn’t start out that way.  What makes it fizz?  I wondered.

Innocently I capped the bottle and set it back in the box intending to give it to the layperson to take back for a refund.

The next afternoon we took the usual lunch hour and visited the Santa Monica police to report in and check out.  As we got out of the van at 11:30 when we normally eat, there was a “punt” “tinkle” sound and the side curtains were suddenly wet.  And orange.  Heng Ch’au had not even taken the key from the door he was locking, so we opened the van to discover the force of the gaseous orange juice had shattered the heavy glass half gallon container and had sent shards and missiles of glass and spits of orange juice all over the rear of the car.  Had e eaten at the usual time we would have been picking glass from our eyes for days.


June 3, 1977 -  During the last part of morning recitation this A.M. during the visualization of the Patriarchs, I had my eyes closed.  It was very dark inside and out.  In coming up from a bow I “saw” a Buddha head rise like from behind a hill or mound or something.  But since it was so close it felt like from behind and within, out of some place in me, as if my heart were a shaded mound.  From below and behind came this glowing, bright head with a reddish golden hue around it.

A Morning

False thinking:  Bowing along feeling tingling on top of my head like a scurrying hub in a circle.  The difference between inside and outside is not a difference.  It is false.  The thinking self creates barriers, separations, here and there, inside and outside.  Where is the Buddha?  Where are the demons and Bodhisattvas?  The gods and ghosts?  Wherever “you” are.  Nothing very spectacular really.  Your share, your light is the key to turning from the dream to the source.  “Being one substance with everything is called compassion.”  It is also real.  Does each cell of the body maintain its autonomy and “ego”?  Do air molecules discriminate a “me”?  In a very real, tangible, ultimate way, all is thus, the Buddha, unbounded and one.  The Avatamsaka Sutra is within like the light, light the Buddha, and totally without.  There is no difference.  Only the false thoughts create the illusion of difference.

Literally in every way imaginable and inconceivable all is just one and the differences are masses and chains of false thoughts bobbing and splashing the pond.  The nature, the pond, needs to be moved and splashed to create waves.  The mind moves; the waves follow.  Stop splashing and the pond returns to stillness.  It takes work, effort to crate waves.  Like those paper weights with liquid and snowflakes inside.   You have to shake them to snow.  As soon there’s no movement there’s no more snow--stillness.  The physical sensation that accompanied this state:  everything was the same texture, consistency--sidewalk, air, me--all the same; light and soft, round.  Not pleasant or unpleasant just easier to concentrate because of lack of contacts.

Every day the sequence repeats.  We see and feel the waves disturb the pond about 5:30 A.M. or so--a couple of cars start, the birds crescendo into peak chatter, dogs start barking, a backfire, sirens, rush hour.  Rush hour in Los Angeles is anywhere from 7 A.M. to 9 P.M.  “Coming into being” and “dwelling.”  The karma flows and shifts.  Old and new.  Lots of room. By 5 or 6 P.M. “decay” sets in and by 9 or 10 P.M. “stillness.”  All from the mind, from a single thought it turns and we, in turn, are turned.  Stop shaking and it all settles eventually, clear and unmoving.  “Thus, thus, eternally bright.”

“One thought produced, the entire substance manifests.”  My fake thoughts are interrupted by two women and two kids (one in arm) who have quietly fallen behind us bowing along. I glance around.  They are sincere and absorbed.  No words or even glances--just bowing.  A few minutes later I look again.  Nothing.  The streets empty for blocks.  Who were those people?  Were they?

A pickup truck passes.  I hear a whizzing behind my head and see something land in the grass of the empty lot we are bowing next to.  Just missed.  I hear a snicker and see a head crane out to see if he hit the target as the truck speeds away.

An upasaka drives up with some juice and bread for lunch.  We were low on food but wanted it that way to starve the diarrhea and do a little purging. 

A whole bunch of women and children come up.  The kids are bearing arms and handful of fruit and carrots.  Everyone is bowing.  The two women and two kids who bowed along this A.M. are with them.  The men in the Jaguar-Triumph Sports Car showroom, whose main window this scene is taking place in front of are staring in stunned silence--can’t even find their smug grins at present.  The group says they are for “the unity of all paths.”  They live somewhere in the mountains nearby in a Sufi community.  They read the release.  One says “My husband saw two monks about 3 or years ago doing this.  I remembered.  We are from Seattle.”  After they finish reading one says, “I hope your message touches many hearts.”

The little one named Juniper Serra grins and says goodbye.  More food, goodness!

As we are resting and waiting for lunch I hear this knocking on the window and “Amito fwo, amito fwo.”  It is a upasika who lives in the area with a box full of food and an offer to be available for anything while we are in her area.  Wants to do our laundry.  “No thanks, we wash our own.”

An Afternoon in Santa Monica

A yellow VW bug pulls up, “Hey brother, what order?” 

Us:  “Buddhist monks.”

Man:  “Far out!” varoom.

Not far enough.  If we were a little farther out of our “selves” then it would really be far out.

An older lady with cane and dark glasses slowly strolls by, stops, quickly rushes up.  She tightly grasps my folded hands, puts her face inches from mine and says “Faith in me,” squeezes an extra to make the point and leave.

She walks about 20 yards, stops, turns, and watches us intently.  Returning she zeroes in again and says in a heavy European accent, “I’m a devout Catholic, but your prayer is beautiful.  My priest was in Asia and the taxi driver he was with asked if my priest minded if he stopped and bowed.  My priest was very impressed.  How many people think to humble themselves to pray every day.”  She was starting to crack a little in voice and control.  “I need your prayers.  Please help me.  Pray for me.”  (start to cry)  “And especially for my grandson, please.”

Me:  “Everything is ok.  Don’t worry.”

Bowing near the curb where there’s a Mercedes parked ahead with the door open to the sidewalk.  An older woman has her legs stretched out to the walk smoking a cigarette.  She watches us surgically.  She looks like Gabby Hayes only with lipstick and no beard.  Her voice matches.  Tough and gravely.

Woman:  “What order?”

Monk:  “Buddhist monk.”

Woman:  “You’re going to need a bath when you’re finished with this.”  (terse, jabbing, testing, cool.)

Monk:  “This is our bath.”

Woman:  pauses--a little softer, “Cleansing the soul.”

Monk:  “Right.”  Smiles all around.

A busy man, across between Karl and Groucho Marx dives between us near a row of newspaper stands.  He violently jerks the door of each and then stabs his fingers into the coin return.  He’s carrying a briefcase and talking to himself.  As he walks away, he slaps three 13 cents stamps in my hand and says, “There, 50 cents…”

Two people are bowing behind us.  They are young with beads around their necks and grinning an unfathomable smile.  I give them a release and say, “I’m going back to bow.  There’s too much hate in the world.  If you have any questions, just ask.”  The woman opens her arms in a gesture of “We’re yours.”  Oh, no you’re not.  I went back and started bowing.  A few minutes later I glanced around.  They were gone.  “Nobody saves you but yourselves…”

Right after, a careful of rowdy, loud boys pulled up and piled out. They ran over and began mock bowing and ridiculing behind us.  We kept bowing.  They left.

We are getting near the ocean (8 blocks).  It’s windy and everything is slightly more raw, in flux, unpredictable.  The land ends and if you’re looking outside for answers all you see is the sea…and yourself.  The road becomes a mirror.

A woman with a cane stops us outside Fish & Chips.

Woman:  “What faith are you?”

Us:  “Buddhist monks..”

Woman;  “Oh, Buddhists.  Where do you meet, on 7th Street?”

Us:  “Everywhere.  Right now are meeting here.”

Woman:  “What does Buddhism teach?”

Us:  “Be compassionate.  We are all one substance, one family.   Be more peaceful and stop knocking each other around.”

Woman:  “Who is the Buddha?”

Us:  “All things have the Buddhanature.  The ground we are standing on, the ants, you, me--all are the Buddha.  All we need to do is wake up.”

Woman:  “Well now me, I’m of Jewish faith.”

Us:  “If you wake up then you’re a Buddha.  If we wake up then we’re Buddhas.  It doesn’t matter what faith.”

Woman:  “Well now my husband, you see he’s a rabbi…”

Us:  “ If he wakes up then he’s a Buddha.”

Woman:  laughing, “Ah, wonderful!  I’ve always wondered, wanted to know what he really was.  Have a good pilgrimage.”

Us:  “You, too.”

Young woman:  “Beautiful!”

Passing care:  “Are you weirdoes still bowing?  God!”

Older woman:  “Pray for my wrists.  Both my wrists are sprained.  I know they’ll get better if you pray for them.”

From across the street, “Hey, they’re disappearing.”  Don’t we wish “we” were disappearing.  That’s it in a sentence.

“Hello, God.” from a passing car.  That’s not it in a sentence.

The Last of the 9th

In cultivation, unlike baseball games, there are no innings.  You are always at bat, always fielding.  Try to turn your cultivation into a game and it quickly falls apart.  Rained out.

It was the end of the day, Friday on Wilshire Boulevard.  Santa Monica.  Because of diarrhea stops we had “lost time” bowing.  (1st mistake--cultivation is qualitative, a constant state of mind, even with diarrhea.  Cultivation isn’t just bowing, it’s sleeping, eating, and resting--no loose ends.  No dugouts.  I was physically exhausted.  Fighting cramping and more diarrhea.  My whole body was aching and I had a sunburned bald head.  Moreover an unusually large number of people had engaged us today and some were pretty needy, draining.

So when Heng Sure suggested we do some extra time I agreed.  (2nd mistake--don’t force cultivation.  Can’t make corn grow faster by pulling it up from the tops.  Force it and it breaks.)  There are really no goals in cultivation.  Seeking a goal is just seeking obstacles to “true letting go.”  It is an attachment.  Accord with conditions but don’t change (i.e. be mindful at all times, without false thought); do not change but accord with conditions (i.e. don’t force your way, yielding properly timed is an advance).  At Gold Mountain it’s said “Don’t go too fast or too slow and you’ll get there right on time.”

So when a lady got out of her Cadillac at a gas station and came striding over I was pushing and forcing, false thinking, “This is the last of the 9th.  If I can make it through, put out one more burst, then I can relax.  The game will be over.”  She was hostile, antagonistic, and articulate.  I ducked, smiled, and let the bad pitch pass.  Then I swung at a wild pitch.  Woman:

“Well I don’t see why you have to show off like this, making a public display of yourselves on Wilshire Boulevard.  Buddhism is getting off to a bad start in America as far as I’m concerned.”

Me:  “Well what you see is what you get.  If that’s all you want to look at…”  (3rd mistake--gas tossed on the flames.)  She fumed and got indignant and launched into a lecture about the humble monks she saw in India.  When she cooled a little I slipped away. 

Realizing I had made an error--shouldn’t make people angry; don’t fight and contend--I felt vulnerable and ashamed.  I thought if I could have another chance to correct, compensate then I could end the day on a good note. (4th mistake--think ahead, looking behind, one can’t see now.)  So when a Mercedes pulls up and asks the same questions, “Why don’t you do it in your back yard?  Why do you have to make a spectacle of yourselves?  Do it in your church.”

I answered, “Well, we don’t want to make a show.  We just took the most direct route to our destination.  Besides this is our church, our home.  It’s all we have.”  Being so eager to compensate for the last strike with the woman, I overlooked the fact that this man was drunk or drugged, smoking, and wouldn’t even get out of his car to talk.  In short I should have ignored him.  (Strike two:  5th mistake.)  The conversation went nowhere.

The day’s bowing ended, we transferred the merit but all I could think about was what a mess I had made (strike three:  6th mistake--indulging in “self”.)  Game over.  No runs, no hits, 6 errors, some karma left to face.  Oh well, there’s always…now.


June 4, 1977 -  This is the last bow of the first day of the rest of your life.  No…uh, that’s…this is the first bow of the only day to last the rest of your life.

Today after lunch I felt totally here for the first time.  It has always taken me time to adjust when traveling.  Very slow, like mud, it takes a while, but today I arrived.  Felt all here and relaxed, ready to go to work.  The trip has really begun and tomorrow the Abbot comes to start us all over again.

There is a constant low-key fear in our bodies.  We can function, our minds would stay loose, but deep in the spinal muscles, in Heng Ch’au’s shoulders and in Heng Sure’s guts there is tension.  Actually it’s all in the mind, natch, but it shows up in the deep parts.

On one hand you could call it really dull and uneventful, slight fuzzy, occasionally impure, occasionally clear and tranquil.  On the other hand you could call it the mellow, even, state of mind of a Gold Mountain cultivator.  Not many hassles, not many highs. The frequency range, if I were a radio goes from 850 to 920, highest in the early AM, just before lunch, and past 4 PM.  Lowest just after lunch and from 3 to 4 PM and just before bed.

Someone who looks for thrills and space-outs would probably feel unsatisfied.  It’s too constant, back-burner on medium heat day and night and day.

Something in that pot will be cooled though, by and by, sure as sure can be.

The job now is to keep the kitchen clean, watch the post, adjust the flame, tend the fire, thank the cook, and patiently wait.

I can see the beach for the first time.  Nearing the end of the trip’s first leg.  Fought a bout with fear this morning during the first hour.  A test to try to move me using my old weak bowels habit.  I got the boiling guts urge all of a sudden and it was hot and fearful.  I was full of fears--the streets threatened this and that…I was ready for it and recognized it as a state, a test, because I had been feeling fine up to that time.

I wanted to bow more than I wanted to find a bathroom. So after struggling inside to overcome the fear with logic and reason, blank-outs, and low-energy coercion, I gave up and yielded.  I said, “I don’t care what guts full of acid, I kept on bowing.  After making this resolve, my wandering eyes found my nose and rested there, concentrating.  Suddenly it all changed.  My whole state fell into order.  The test was over.  My breath caught up and returned, my shoulders relaxed, my energy fell to where it should be.  Everything relaxed, straightened, and breathed.  Control your eyes.  Bow!


June 4, 1977 -  Liberated two tiny frogs trapped in an empty casting pool in the park this AM while we were doing t’ai chi. Heng Sure gave them the refuge ceremony and away they hopped, with the hope that they will come back as Bodhisattvas and cross over countless living being. We were going to Gold Wheel this AM.  End of Wilshire.


June 5, 1977 -  Slept as Gold Wheel last night and cleaned up.  Really dirty.  So good to see Shih Fu and the Sangha again.  Family.

Returning the Light Within

Received some criticism about sense of superiority and lack of humility in our letters.  In looking over the last month’s essays and entries in my heart I find some truth in that.  It’s too easy for me to float away, leave the ground.  This helps to see things as empty and break attachments but hinders compassion and humility which I equally feel--the need to cultivate.  The aloofness is partly to defend and stay on guard to dangerous people and situations and partly because the very act of slowly bowing and meditating in the midst of mundane activity we easily settle into a kind of invisibility and separateness, but there’s more to it than that.

The criticism of things I’ve seen was coming from an awakening perspective that there is an alternative, another way to deal with suffering, freedom, and birth and death.  That alternative is within and Buddhism offers another way to discover it.  I dwelled upon criticism and didn’t say enough about the compassion, giving, and kindness I’ve seen.  So what I recorded became lopsided and critical.

Yet underneath and through all this I was hurting and feeling the suffering within all these places and of all these people.  It was from a wish to end my own and other’s suffering that I came to Buddhism.  Perhaps that doesn’t come across because I stiffen and distance my heart from the inconceivable agony of what I see and feel.  The hardness and intolerance with which I look at and criticize myself, my weaknesses, laziness, and stupidity lacks humor, especially self-humor.  It also is cold and looks at the negative a lot.  If I am not that way I have found I can easily slither out of changing my bad habits, let myself off the hook too easily and end up repeating mistakes.  My ego is strong and keeps finding new guises and ways to show its ugly face.  I have to keep on it constantly.

All of this is to say that I often end up generalizing this hardness and distancing to others which can come across as superiority, lack of humility, and arrogance.  To stop my own suffering and afflictions I need to be relentless, uncompromising, critical, and impersonal, I have discovered.  Since I am so easily and deeply empathetic with others, I have talked about and written about their lives and problems from that stance and perspective.  But now that it’s been pointed out to me, I realize that 1) maybe I don’t really know what they are going through or are like 2) to be hard on yourself is ok but don’t lay that on others unless they want it.  You chose it, let others choose, too.  3) other people may learn and change and grow differently than me-more easily.  Mine is surely an extraordinarily large ego to contend with.  4) I’m hard on myself because I too easily indulge and feel sorry for myself.  Sink into the Pices blues, wallow.  I need to be kicked, prodded, own.  What I share with others really is the struggle and desire to end suffering, be joyous and light and truly enlightened and peaceful. It’s this which I ought to project rather than my faults and ways of contending with my “self.”

Summarize:  Be hard on yourself; compassionate and soft in criticism of others.  Emphasize the light, the positive, the proper.  Make bridges, alternatives to greed, hatred, and stupidity.  You are not a teacher.  If you were an enlightened teacher and these people were your disciples then scolding, prodding, severe criticism, etc. has a place but I don’t know anything of that.  Most important, don’t be arrogant, forgetting that you are able to see and know only because you yourself have just recently begun to “reverse” it and only because you receive countless others’ patience, compassion, and teaching.  This is being Bodhisattva--to truly help others, to repay your parents and teachers (numberless), to transform and cross over with empathy.  Don’t be distant and pull away from it.  Doing that is just small vehicle--“save myself--everyone for himself.”  I resolve to eliminate all arrogance and “self” from body, mouth, and mind and writing and replace them with compassion and gratitude.


Excerpts - "Three Steps, One Bow" journals
With One Heart, Bowing to the City of 10,000 Buddhas
Records of Heng Sure & Heng Ch’au Bowing

Part - #1,  #2,  #3

" Three Steps, One Bow" --  Photo Album

- Highway Dharma Letters -


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From 1977 to 1979 American Buddhist monks Heng Sure and Heng Chau undertook the ancient ascetic practice of bowing once every three steps on a two and a half year pilgrimage up the coast of California. They took with them only their faith and a wish for world peace as the inched their way from Los Angeles to the newly established City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Mendicino County. Traveling about a mile a day, they bowed, studied, and wrote letters chronicling their experiences to their teacher, Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua.