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Vigorous Yet Simple

In Memory of DM Heng Ding at the Second Anniversary of His Passing

Guanyin Cave (1960s)

Zhongnan Mountain - the first time I heard the name was from Dharma Master Heng Ding. He always told me that he would like to go there to cultivate the Way. However, I was too young to really understand why he wished to cultivate in such a remote place. 

Later on, I read about Zhongnan Mountain it is a sacred place for both Taoist and Buddhist cultivators because it is embedded with lots of good energy (Chi), and is an auspicious, serene and harmonious place. There are many secluded sites and caves with soothing sounds of flowing water and wonderful flying clouds. That partly explained why DM Ding liked to stay in caves in remote places to cultivate, especially when he was in the bustling city of Hong Kong. Just two years before he passed away, he had told me that it was time for him to go to Zhongnan Mountain. I asked him how he could go there? He said that when it was time to go, he would go. At the time, I didn't know whether he was joking with me, or just said it casually. Now I understand the real meaning behind his words! 

In front of the Guanyin Cave, DM Heng Ding (right front)

The Dharma Master was the only left-home disciple that came with the Venerable Abbot Hua to Hong Kong from Dongbei (Manchuria). When I first met the Ven. Abbot, the Dharma Master remained in the Guanyin Cave at Mt. Furong in Chuan Wan, New Territory, Hong Kong. He didn't want to come to the crowded city of Hong Kong. When I was young, I only knew he was a very vigorous cultivator, I hardly saw him at Xi Le Yuan (the Western Bliss Garden, the first Temple that Shifu built in Hong Kong during the early 50's). We only saw him on the First Day of the Lunar New Year. As I recall, he was either meditating in the Guanyin Cave or in long seclusion at Lantao Island in the little hut by the roadside of the Cixing Monastery. 

 Inside Guanyin Cave (1960s)

 Dharma Master Heng Dinh (1960s)

After the Venerable Master came to America, he did not want to come even though the Master had asked him to come repeatedly. He stayed at the Guanyin Cave until the mid 70's. He then moved to another cave by the side of a Guanyin Boat that was built on top of a piece of boat-shaped rock with a small shrine and a giant Guanyin statue. He stayed in the cave since then and also took care of the Guanyin Boat. From time to time he might have no food to eat since he did not go out to collect alms food, or just ate whatever he had from the previous days. I think he already had no concern about having food or no food because when he first came to Hong Kong with the Venerable Master, they often had nothing to eat or just ate moldy and spoiled foods. 

Though the Venerable Master was in America, he had told the disciples in Hong Kong to make offerings to him. The Venerable Master always looked after his disciples! However, he seldom went out of his cave. He just meditated inside the cave most of the time. That is why he got his hunchback at later days due to the high moisture in the cave. He would only go to the Buddhist Lecture Hall in Hong Kong twice a year, the Chinese New Year and the Fifteenth Day of the seventh month (the Ulambana Day). 

Because of his way of practicing in accordance with the Dharma, gradually people nearby knew about him and made offerings to him. Also the temples nearby offered him meals too. People from as far as Taiwan and overseas wanted to become his disciples, but he refused. I had asked him why he did not want to accept disciples. He told me that he was not up to the standard of being a Master. He wanted to cut off the cycle of birth and death in this life. "If I still have no control over my own birth and death, how could I be others' master", said he.  

Dharma Master Heng Ding with laypeople from USA at Guanyin Boat, 1998.

Every so often, he would write me to remind me to cultivate, to recite the Buddha's name, to make offerings for Sutra printings or liberating life. Every time he met me in Hong Kong, he told me the same thing. He used to tell me that I was so lucky to have met the Venerable Master at such a young age and learned about the Dharma, and that I should use the opportunity to cultivate. Whenever I made offerings to him, he always used the money to either print Sutras or liberate life for me. He never saved money for himself. Now, since he was gone, I no longer have any chance to hear him, urging me on to cultivate! And I don't have him to help me plant seeds of merit any more! 

Ms. Madalena Tan and DM Heng Ding (1998)

As a layperson, his Dharma name was Guo Yi. After he left the home life, he was named Heng Ding. He was born in 1927 in a village of Fushun County, Shenyang City, Liaoning Province. Being the only son from a wealthy family, he received a very good education. When he was 13, he had a dream of Guanyin Bodhisattva leading him with her hand to cross over a bridge. Ever since then, he wanted to leave home and become a monk. Of course, his parents strongly opposed it. Wishing not to hurt his parents, he continued his education. After he graduated from his nine years of high school education in Shen Yang, he was one of the top ten students to be chosen to attend the Normal University in Beijing. 

During his college time, he often dreamed of Guanyin Bodhisattva with the thousand hands and the thousand eyes image. One night, he dreamed of her again, so he bowed down to her. All of a sudden, he heard a voice asking: "When you are asleep, things appear clearly as they are. Before going to sleep, you also see them clearly as they are. What about the time in-between? Where are you then?" He was left dumbfounded and speechless. Since then he dwelled on the question and finally he realized that everything was false, his resolve for leaving the home life became much stronger. 

When the Japanese launched the full-scale invasion of China, DM Ding used this opportunity to fulfill his dream of becoming a monk. He lied to his parents that he had to go south with his school because of the Japanese invasion. But his real intention was that he wanted to go south to Nanhua Monastery, where Venerable Master Xu Yun was, to become a monk there. Meanwhile, Venerable Abbot Hsuan Hua was also on his way travelling south to Nanhua Monastery. They met each other on the train, and he took refuge with the Abbot. 

When he first met the Venerable Master, he had severe headache and pain on the top of his head for many months due to the severe cold in the north. Later on, the Venerable Master used the Great Compassion Mantra to cure his headache; and it never troubled him again. 

He also remembered another incident in which the Venerable Master helped Dharma Master Chao Fan subdue a snake demon to save disciple Guo Neng while they were at Nanhua Monastery. Guo Neng was the first disciple of the Venerable Master to become a monk. His Dharma name was Heng Ji. He used to be a very poor tailor. After taking refuge with the Venerable Master, he became a very diligent cultivator. Later on, a snake demon came to disturb his cultivation. 

Dharma Master Chao Fan noticed that in his dhyana samadhi and tried to chase away the snake demon from Guo Neng. But the demon was very stubborn and would not surrender. After much negotiation, the snake demon finally agreed to leave. But DM Chao Fan accidentally stepped on the snake demon's tail and got hit on his foot while the snake demon was leaving. Later on, DM Chao Fan's foot was severely damaged and rotten. 

The Venerable Master saw that and also helped negotiate with the snake demon. Finally, with the power of the Forty-two Hands and Eyes Dharma, the snake demon left and Guo Neng became better and DM Chao Fan was also cured. But occasionally, Guo Neng was still a bit muddle-headed, not very clear, due to the incident. When the Venerable Master decided to leave Nanhua Monastery, Guo Neng was supposed to leave with them. But on the departure day, they could not find him anywhere, and after that DM Ding never saw him again. How true that one should be very careful while cultivating the Path, if one does not cultivate with a straight forward mind, one can fall into the demon's clutches in no time! 

"The Venerable Master was very well known and capable of taking care of many duties while he was at Nanhua Monastery!" said DM Ding. "He led me to pay respect and talked to Venerable Master Xu Yun when I first got there." 

DM Ding was the Venerable Master's fourth disciple to become a monk after Guo Shun (Heng Yu), and Guo Zuo, the youngest novice monk at that time. 

When DM Ding heard that the Venerable Master was very sick in America, he knelt in front of his altar and recited the Earth Store Sutra seven times a day and prayed in hope of lengthening the Venerable Master's life span. One night, he had a dream of seeing the Venerable Master's lotus flower-shaped recitation beads hanging in midair, (the one that the Venerable Master brought and always kept with him from Dongbei), but he could not see the Venerable Master's body. Instead he saw many pieces of white cloths hanging all over. He woke up from the dream and rushed to the altar to recite the Earth Store Sutra for the Venerable Master, hoping the Venerable Master will regain his health again. Suddenly, his eyelids blinks nonstop rapidly, and his recitation beads snapped and beads rolled down to the floor all over. He knew immediately that the Venerable Master was leaving us. 

Surely, on the same day he heard the bad news of the Venerable Master's passing away! While DM Ding was telling me this story, his eyes were red and welled up with tears. At that moment, I could feel that his grief at the loss of the beloved Teacher as much as I did! 

One day in October 2003, in the midst of my travels in China, I received a phone call from DM Sure and another one from the Venerable Master's disciple in Hong Kong telling me the bad news that DM Ding had left us. I quickly flew back to Hong Kong to attend his cremation ceremony. I saw his face was very peaceful and he was as if still alive! 

From the laypeople in Hong Kong, I learned the following story: The Dharma Master foresaw his leaving. Three days in advance, he told the layperson who usually brought him food to stop doing so. That layperson asked him why. The Dharma Master told her that he was going away. But the layperson insisted that he should have some food till he went away, not knowing his actual meaning. Finally, the Dharma Master told her that she could bring him some liquid food instead. Following the instruction, she brought the food; on the third day, she arrived as usual, but found that the Dharma Master had already passed away in full lotus posture in the Buddha hall!' 

All his life, he was mindful of ending birth and death, and diligendy cultivated the Path. He surely served to be a role model for everyone in the cultivation of the Way! 

The Gate of Cixing Monastery (1998)

Guanyin cave (1998)