Monk in the Grave Period

He raised the banner of proper Dharma at the Buddhist Lecture Hall in San Francisco. Because the Master started out living in a damp and windowless basement that resembled a grave, he called himself 'The Monk in the Grave.'

At that time the Cuban missile crisis occurred between the United States and the Soviet Union, and the Master embarked on a total fast for thirty-five days to pray for an end to the hostilities and for world peace. By the end of his fast, the threat of war had dissolved.

Dr. Ron Epstein, one of his early disciples in the U.S. recalls:

"In 1963, he left Chinatown and moved the Buddhist Lecture Hall to a first-floor flat on the corner of Sutter and Webster Streets on the edge of San Francisco's Fillmore District and Japantown. The Master's move marked the beginning of a period of relative seclusion during which he called himself "a monk in the grave." It lasted until 1968. He later continued to refer to himself in that way and wrote the following poem:

Each of you now meets a monk in the grave.
Above there is no sun and moon, below there is no lamp.
Affliction and enlightenment--ice is water.
Let go of self-seeking and become apart from all that is false.
When the mad mind ceases, enlightenment pervades all.
Enlightened, attain the bright treasury of your own nature.
Basically, the retribution body is the Dharma body.

[Click here to read an explanation of the above verse.]

Many local Chinese Buddhists were angry at him for leaving Chinatown. Only a handful of the most loyal disciples would regularly come to see him and make offerings, Nonetheless, the Master would share what he had with the people in the building. He would put bags of rice in the communal kitchens, so that no one would have to go hungry. Sometimes, on Buddhist holidays or when he had extra food, he would invite several of us to lunch and often prepare the food himself. We all thought the food was delicious.

- Dr. Ron Epstein (Guo Rong)

It was at that Sutter Street location that the Master first started having regular contact with young Americans who were interested in meditation. Some came to his daily, public meditation hour from seven to eight every evening, and a few Americans also attended his Sutra lectures. He lectured there on the Amitabha Sutra, the Diamond Sutra, the Heart Sutra with his own verse commentary, on his own commentary to the Song of Enlightenment, and also on portions of the Lotus (Dharma Flower) Sutra."

In July 1967 the Master moved the Buddhist Lecture Hall back to Chinatown, locating it in the Tianhou Temple. This marked the end of his "Monk in the Grave" period.