English | Vietnamese

On Gently Bringing Someone to an Understanding

October 29, 1973, Monday evening

(Timely Teachings, Ch. 1 Part III, page 356, before paragraph 1)


[Editorís note: The young woman in the dialogue that follows was visiting Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco for the first time. She had been living in Africa . Because the Venerable Master spoke in Chinese and the young woman spoke in English, the exchange took place with a translator as intermediary during the original dialogue. Later, the Master allowed her to enter monastic life and gave her the name Guo Mo. ]

 Master: [To the translator:] Ask that young woman whether she is a man or a woman.  

Young woman: Iím female.  

Master: Why did you shave your head?

Young woman: Because Iím a Buddhist.

Master: Are you a layperson or ordained?

Young woman: Iím a layperson.

Master: Since laypeople generally have hair, why did you shave yours off? Who told you to shave it off?

Young woman: I did.

Master: Have you realized enlightenment?

Young woman: I donít know what that is.

Master: To realize enlightenment is to have control over your own birth and death. You can be born or die at will, but you donít die by committing suicide. [Editorís note: The young woman remains silent.] Why arenít you answering?

Young woman: Because Iím trying to think of what to say. If I say yes, then you will tell me to die.

Master: This dying is not a case of me telling you to do so, but something one just does on oneís own. If I told you to die and you did, then I would have broken the law, and the police would come to take me to jail. Have you seen other Buddhist laypeople shave their heads, especially women?

Young woman: No.

Master: Then why do you want to be the first?

Young woman: Itís an offering to the Buddha.

Master: Where is the Buddha?

Young woman: Everywhere.

Master: If the Buddha is everywhere, then which one are you making an offering to?

Young woman: The one where I am.

Master: How long is your hair now?

Young woman: Itís no length.

Master: ŚŃkyamuni Buddha in a previous life spread out his hair to cover the mud, enabling DÕpaŕkara Buddha to walk on his hair. He used that to make an offering to the Buddha. If you were to encounter such a situation now, what would you use as an offering to the Buddha? [Editorís note: Everyone laughs.]

Young woman: Oh, I would lie down.

Master: What if he crushed you to death?

Young woman: That would be all right.  

Master: This is not just intellectualizing.  

Young woman: Iím not.

Master: Where do you live now?

Young woman: Iím going to be living in an apartment.

Master: Iím not asking about tomorrow. Iím asking about yesterday and today.

Young woman: Yesterday I stayed with a friend who is a Zen student. Before, I had a room in an apartment.

Master: Have you been living with hippies?  

Young woman: No.

Master: What was the point of shaving your head yourself?

Young woman: Like I said, it was an offering to Buddha.

Master: Where is the hair you shaved off now?  

Young woman: I donít know.

Master: If you donít know, then what are you using as an offering to the Buddha?

Young woman: Thatís not the offering. The offering is not having hair.

Master: Hmm. Not having hair as an offering? What is the difference between having hair and not having hair?

Young woman: None.

Master: Then why did you want to shave off your hair as an offering to the Buddha?

Young woman: Why not?  

Master: Because in Buddhism it is important to have the appropriate style. It would be all right if you were a monastic. But you yourself admit that you are still a layperson. Since you are a layperson, and all the laypeople especially women, have hair, why do you want to be different? Are you trying to be unusual, not like other people?

Young woman: No.  

Master: Do you want to be a lay Bhikshuni?  

Young woman: I donít mind.

Master: You canít be a lay Bhikshuni, but you can still be a lay Buddhist. However, it would be better for you to let your hair grow out. Okay?

Young woman: Okay.