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The Interpenetrating Dharma


A talk by Mr. Alan Nicholson on June 6, 2018 at the Buddha Hall of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas




Good evening Dharma Masters, lay people, Bhikshus, Bhikshunis, Upasakas, Upasikas, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

I am honored to be here. My name is Alan Nicholson. I want to say that before I start this talk, the stories which followed should not be taken as a story about me, Alan, but rather the great merits and virtues of the Venerable Master, those living beings in the world and the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas which are here to teach us if we are receptive.

For many months before I met the Venerable Master, I frequently dreamt about a buddhist monk standing and walking in my dreams. He would appear overlaid over the sub consciousness level of the dream and I could not understand what it meant. The first time I met the Master was at the Buddha’s birthday in 1970. He had a Buddha’s birthday ceremony at a large rented temple in downtown San Francisco. In the evening the first five left home Americans spoke and I didn’t actually meet the Master but I did see him. It was common, it was a good teaching practice of his, and he would have his students speak and he would speak afterwards to kind of sum things up, to set people straight and to give a real Dharma Jewel to everyone after everyone else has spoken. However on this occasion he didn’t speak. So it was the Buddha’s birthday.

The next day I went to the Buddha Lecture Hall in Chinatown in San Francisco, the Master was going to give a Chinese lesson in the afternoon and the monk who met me at the door invited me to come and stay for the Chinese lesson. I went in and sat down and waited, I think I was 15 minutes or so early. And soon I felt the whole room was full of light. It was like a thick green-golden light, I can’t explain it but it was very very thick and almost like water. It was so rich and then this great ball of bright light appeared and out of this ocean of light walked the Master Hua. He had a beaming smile on his face and I don’t remember if there is anybody else in the room at that time or not, but he walked up to me and he said “Aahh, it’s you, how have you been?.” I didn’t know quite how to answer him but I said “Well, I‘ve been fine and how are you?.” And he said, “I don’t know how I am, there is no way to know whether I am good or bad, whether I am well or not well, this is my state” he said. “What are you doing here, what do you want to do?.” And I said “I come to study Buddhism”. During this exchange I realized I have found my teacher of many lifetimes past, and that was how I found Shrfu. That was day one and things just got more and more amazing as I stayed at the temple and got to live closer to him.

From then on, I came to his lecture every day and about a week later I moved into the Buddhist Lecture Hall. Shrfu started lecturing the Lotus Sutra that summer. Most sutras talk about the conditions for the sutra been spoken. It usually speaks about how the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas come to listen to the Dharma and there is a sort of a formal lay out of the ground work for this sutra or whichever suture it is. In the Lotus Sutra, it begins to go into some lengthy detail about the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, who they are and where they come from, what direction they come from, and all the attendance and adornments of the Buddha when he's speaking the sutra. For me, it was real and actually happening. I could see the response to his words as the sutra unfolded. This was Shrfu speaking, but I could see there were millions of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas coming to listen to this Dharma Assembly. There were heavenly beings who had manifested, the jeweled nets and canopies that were adorning the altar and raining down flowers and incredible jewels. It was quite remarkable. This was my introduction to Buddhism. Master Hua had brought it to life, happening now, happening here in the Proper Dharma Age.

Another thing that happened shortly after moving into the Buddhist lecture hall, and I've heard many other people speak about this, that there's a feeling of family, of coming home, of returning, and for me, I certainly had that feeling when I would stand in the Dharma Assembly. It isn't just that I felt cozy or comfortable or at home, people's physical body would melt and their Dharma body would manifest. I could see people's Dharma body living beings that are part of the master's Dharma family, those who have been studying with Shrfu for eons. I have no idea how long I understood that there was a strong and large Dharma family in many different realms and I was part of this Dharma family. This was very reassuring and soon afterward I took refuge with the Master.

So that was my first summer of living with Master Hua with the Dharma and the fourfold assembly. On the one hand it was unique, a unique and very unusual, but on the other hand it was just normal. It's just like all of us sitting here today when things are the most uncommon and unusual, it is also the most usual and common. You can't be attached and take anything too seriously. We all have an opportunity to study with the Buddha and the Buddhist legacy, and this is very, very special. This is a very unusual. Not many people get to do this and it takes really good roots to be able to draw near to the Buddha Dharma. We should take this opportunity and investigate it as much as we can, put as much effort into it as possible, and there certainly will be results to carry us on our journey. A human body does not last very long, so we must not let a moment go by by wasting this precious opportunity.

Well, I'd like to talk a little bit about a Buddha Root Farm (1). Not too long after we had moved into the new Gold Mountain monastery, which is now the old gold mountain monastery. We bought a piece of property in Oregon near Reedsport. Master named this property Buddha Root Farm. With the Master’s guidance I started to design a monastery there, which would be the central educational and monastic complex for DRBA, that is until Dharma Master Heng Lai found the old hospital, which soon became CTTB as we know it.

We went up there to hold an Amitabha session in 1975. This was the first of many to come and we still have sessions there to this day. For the first one, it was very rustic. There were no improvements to the property. There was a very old trailer that was probably the most livable thing around. The roof leaked and you know, there had been generations of spiders and mice and other things living there.

Amitabha Session at the Buddha Root Farm (1975)

Mr. Bill Breevort at The Buddha Root Farm (1975)

The owners of this property, the Breevort family who sponsored the assembly living, and they lived on the property next to this temple property to which they had donated. They were the reason that we bought more property there. We cleaned up this little trailer or they did and Shrfu stayed in the trailer and everybody else stayed under canopies of tarps or tents. I had driven a car there, so Shrfu said that I probably should stay with him to help him get around and take care of him. During the day we spent the day at the Buddha recitation session and at night I would go to sleep in the trailer with Shrfu. There was just a little partition wall between where I stayed and were Shrfu was staying. At that time I had been sleeping sitting up for a couple of years, but I was having a very difficult time staying upright. I would lean over one way and then I would fall over the other and my feet would poke out. I'd lean back and oftentimes I'd be lying on the floor when I woke up. The Master saw that I was trying to sit up and still having a hard time. The first night I propped myself into a corner so I would not fall over to the right or left. Then Shrfu told me, "If you're going to be a cultivator, you have to not dwell anywhere. You cannot lean against anything. You can't use anything for a prop. If you're going to sit up, you should sit up and sit like a bell. Sit anchored to your position." Then I thought, "Well, I better do this as my teacher is telling me not to lean against anything." That night I slept sitting up without leaning against anything and it was a real breakthrough for me. I felt very fortunate that I had learned how to do this and I certainly could not have done this without Shrfu overseen and adjusting things. After that, my meditation improved greatly.

The Buddha Dharma is indescribable and infinite and universally pervasive. This theme became something I investigated after this and maybe I can explain a little bit about the interpenetrating Dharma. Another time the Master announced we would have a World Peace Gathering in Seattle (2) to honor and celebrate the Three steps, One bow Pilgrimage of Heng Ju and Heng Yo (2). At that time, there weren't any computers. We couldn't just check the weather in Seattle or see what the traffic was on the highway. Somebody found out that it had been raining in Seattle and it was a big storm. Seattle gets a lot of rain during the year and it was a big winter storm. It was supposed to be raining for the next three or four weeks, just solid rain. Somebody mentioned this to Shrfu and he said, oh, don't worry about that. I'll take care of that. Everybody else drove up to Seattle and I flew with Shrfu on the airplane and when we got near Seattle I was looking out the window for a 10 mile radius.

There was a perfect circle over Seattle where there were no clouds. It was just like somebody had taken a compass and drawn a circle, 10 miles in diameter where there was no rain. We got to the airport where it was raining very hard and when we drove to Seattle, there was no rain. It was sunny. The skies were clear. The grass we were holding the ceremonies on were all dry. I don't know what the newspaper said about this, but we had our ceremonies and our world peace gathering. Many people decided to take refuge or to leave home after that session and this grew Shrfu's disciples immensely. After three days, we got back on the plane and the circle just disappeared. As we left, I don't think anybody else got to see this and if I hadn't been on the airplane with Master Hua, I wouldn't be able to see it either because if you were in the park in the area where we were staying, to those on the ground, it just seemed like the crack, the clouds parted and it was nice that it wasn't raining, but from the sky you could see this very definite circle. Very, very strange.  

Three steps, One bow Pilgrimage of Dharma Masters Heng Ju and Heng Yo from San Francisco to Seattle (10/1973 - 8/1974)


"World Peace Gathering" - Seattle (1974)

Traveling with Shrfu who was always a special occasion. When we came back to San Francisco and landed, I was aware that just sitting in the airplane with him, we had to sort of change gears just to get out of the plane. It was a different kind of space. There were lots of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and Guan Yin there traveling with Shrfu. We had to return to the earth in more ways than one. So those are a few short stories about having an opportunity to travel and to be near Master Hua..

Oh, okay. So I wanted to talk a little bit about turning confusion into wisdom. The Buddha told us the story of Ananda in the Shurangama Sutra where Ananda gets confused and forgets he's taken the precepts and the Buddha uses this as a teaching tool to let Amanda understand where suffering come from and where his true self nature is and is not. Nagarjuna is the founder of the Avatamsaka Sutra and brought it back from the world of the Naga King's palace. Before he opened enough wisdom to propagate the teachings of the Buddha, he like Amanda, got into trouble seeking worldly pleasures. Nagarjuna realized that lust and desire were the origin of suffering. He went to pay homage to the Buddhist Stupa and then became a bhikshu. He studied the whole of the tripitika and was called the Master of a thousand Shastras. His Madhyamika Shastra had great influence on the development of emptiness, the theory of emptiness and Sunyata or the emptiness of all Dharma teachings. And Nagarjuna was viewed as the founder of the Madhyamika School, and we too can see our own shortcomings and use the teachings of the Venerable Master, the Buddhas, and the Bodhisattva to understand our original nature and become true dharma protectors.

When the Venerable Master was lecturing the Avatamsaka sutra, he corresponded with other monk, noted for his study and understanding of the Sutra. Recently I was in Taipei and went to visit the Avatamsaka temple. I was told that they had several letters from the Venerable Master in dialogue with the founder of that temple regarding the Avatamsaka sutra. I don’t know if anybody has found the correspondences from that dharma Master in Taipei but it would be interesting to see those letters and how they would influence the Master’s commentaries on the Avatamsaka sutra. So these are a few short stories about living with Master. And I appreciate the opportunity to share them with you again. Again, I wish there was less about myself and a more emphasis on Shrfu’s teaching. So thank you very much. And, I guess we could stop here.




(1) The Buddha Root Farm http://www.dharmasite.net/BuddhaRootFarm/index.htm

(2) Worl Peace Gathering - 世界和平聚会 - http://www.drbachinese.org/vbs/1_100/vbs52/news.html