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Why Do We Recite 'Eat One Meal a Day' and 'Always Wear My Precepts Sash' in CTTB Everyday?

A Dharma talk by Bhikshuni Heng Syin during lunch on January 29, 2009 at Gold Buddha Monastery

Translated into English by Shramanerika Jin Jing

Vajra Bodhi Sea, Issue # 469, June 2009 pp 40-43


To all Dharma Masters and lay people, Please take a look at the verses hung in the Dining Hall. This is what all DRBA branch monasteries have to recite in the morning and at night, "Eat one meal a day" and "Always wear my precept sash" are not written out here. It is because these two rules only apply to the monastics.  Does anyone know why the Venerable Master asked us to do this?

Regarding "Always wear my precept sash," it was mainly because of an incident that occurred in 1992. I was "fortunate"  enough to witness the entire situation from beginning to end. It started with a Chan Dharma Master from China. When he came to CTTB, the Venerable Master let him teach us how to sit in Chan meditation. It coincided with the time that the Venerable Master had to travel abroad. So, this Chan Master led us during the Chan meditation. The Venerable Master instructed us to listen to him and follow his instructions.  After the Venerable Master left, this Dharma Master applied some of the rules observed in Chan Halls in China to the session being held at CTTB. One of them was not to wear the precept sash. This means when sitting in Chan, we would take off the sash and hang it behind us. When twelve midnight came around, we were served steam buns. The Chan Session's schedule was from 4:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m.

After the day was over, there were steamed buns and dessert for us. In the past, the Chan monasteries in China also served sesame-oil steamed buns, candies and nuts. This tradition was not invented by this Dharma Master. He just copied the same tradition and had us follow it in CTTB, thinking that he was teaching us Chan. We were also hit soundly with the incense board. As soon as we dozed off, we got hit.

So, some monastics listened to his instructions by taking off their sash and hanging the sash behind them. When midnight rolled around, they went for steamed buns and desert. However, I didn't take off my sash nor did I go for the steamed buns because I never thought that Venerable Master would have agreed with his style. At that  time, I had lived in CTTB for a few years. I have been "deceived" by many situations and so I got smarter by then. I knew Venerable Master would not support his way. (comment by D.M. Jung: we only had steamed buns and soy milk. Because everyone was busy, the kitchen was only able to provide these two things).

So, when sitting in Chan, people would take off their sash and then drink soymilk at 12:00 midnight. The monastery would give Chan meditators more stuff to eat like candies and peanuts saying, "Oh, you have worked so hard!" Then people would eat what was given. But this Chan Master did not do this to us and the laypeople did not give candies and peanuts to us, either. The lay Dharma protectors under the Venerable Master did not dare to do such a thing. Therefore, no one gave us anything to eat but there were steamed buns and soymilk at midnight. I found out about this later. I did not go for the steamed buns or the soymilk and had "cling on" to my sash tightly. In other times, I may not have wore my sash all the time, but at that time, I did not dare to take off my sash and did not go to the midnight snack. I also did not go to the meditation that ended at midnight since I could only last until about ten o'clock at night. I went back to my room after that. I had been hit by the incense board too much and my shoulders were hurting. So, whether people went for the snack or not, I had no clue whatsoever. As to where they ate the stuff, I had no idea, either. Later on, this incident was exposed and the cat was out of its bag. The Venerable Master had us enumerate the people who ate the buns and took off the sash.  All those people were reported. I couldn't do anything but follow the request. After the report, I didn't know if the Venerable Master was going to pay attention to this matter or not.

Little did we know when the Venerable Master walked into the Wonderful Words Hall after returning to CTTB, he wore a black veil. We usually would recite the Buddha's name and wait for the Venerable Master at the Wonderful Words Hall when he was going to speak Dharma to us. As soon as he was seated on the stage, everyone was very surprised and people just wept wild. Why do I say so? The Dharma sister sitting next to me started laughing out aloud. I thought, "It's strange! What is going on with her? She cannot just laugh like this despite this odd and unusual situation." Later, I found out she was actually crying when I saw her wiping her tears!

One person went up to the stage to try to take off the Venerable Master's veil. But the Venerable Master raised his cane and gave that person a beating. Another went up to try to resolve the situation and were dismissed forcefully by the Venerable Master. He fled from under the railing. Alas! As you can see, there was all sorts of strange behavior. The entire situation was a bit chaotic.

The Venerable Master said, "I have no face to come back to CTTB.  I am never returning again. You have changed all the rules I set up within a few minutes in a night, I have prepared five veils in five colors: black, red, blue, green and yellow. I will alternate wearing different colored veils."  At that time, the Venerable Master and Prof. Yang were playing a "two-man act". When Prof. Yang came in, he said, "Do you know who this is?" The Venerable Master had his face covered at the time. He continued, "This is your Master! Why did he cover his face?" Prof. Yang just went on and on like this standing next to the Venerable Master.

Consequently, the Dharma Master who led us in Chan meditation got really embarrassed. He bowed and apologized to the Venerable Master. He explained, "I am just following the Chan Hall rules in China. That was the tradition there. But I only let them eat one meal at midnight and did not let them eat anything during the day. We still kept one meal a day during the day time." He was saying he did not apply all the rules the ancient ones left us. If the ancient ones had known about his disobedience, he would have been blamed! So, what else can we say? From then on, the Venerable Master just reprimanded us continuously every day. Subsequently, he set up this rule that we have to recite these verses posted on the wall in addition to reciting, "Ask yourself: Do I eat only one meal a day? Ask yourself: Do I always wear my precept sash? These are the traditions of the City of the Ten Thousand Buddhas, and no one can change them."

We can say that this incident taught us what not to do. Due to what happened, the Venerable Master had us recite these verses once in the morning and once at night. It is similar to how the Buddha set up the precepts for the Bhikshus and Bhikshunis. Originally, there were no precepts. Later, when the disciples committed mistakes, the Buddha then established these precepts. If the Buddha set up these precepts prior to people making mistakes, the disciples would not obey. The Venerable Master wanted us to remember very clearly and well that we cannot leave our precept sash and that we only eat one meal a day. When people deviated from these two rules, he had us recite these once in the morning recitation and once in the evening recitation. This way, disciples would have nothing to say against this.

Was that the only Dharma Master who came to CTTB to "teach and transform" us? No! He was not the first one who taught us in this way. When the Venerable Master was alive, he let many monastics and laypeople come to CTTB and asked all of us to learn from their strengths. However, they all had problems and left. Disciples would ask the Venerable Master, "You know very well that this person is not proper; why did you let him come to teach us?" The Master would reply, "This is to train you to have Dharma-selecting Vision."

In fact, the Venerable Master knew ahead of time what would happen. However, he still let them come and let us experience this in person in order to create a deep impression.  It is so true.  There were some incidents that are just unforgettable!!

If you hear people saying that they lived in CTTB in the past and that the Venerable Master transmitted the Dharma to them, that they held such and such a position, that they were the senior monk there, or that the Master transmitted the Forty-two Hands and Eyes to them, do not pay attention or listen to any of these. It may be that when they first went to CTTB, the Venerable Master let them speak Dharma, but you must know that  the fourfold assembly all had to learn to speak Dharma. It was one of CTTB's rules. However, they probably did not mention a word about how or why they ended up leaving.  I want to bring this up because quite a few people came to ask me. Therefore, I'd like to take this opportunity to clarify the situation. In addition, after CTTB was founded, the Venerable Master never set up the position of "Senior Monk" in any of his monasteries. All the disciples under him were separated into the men's side and the women's side. We line up in the order we are ordained in, except for the Abbot, who stands in the center of the Buddha Hall.

Moreover, there was the Forty-two Hands and Eyes. The Venerable Master told the Abbot of CTTB, "You must transmit the Forty-two Hands and Eyes to the next generations in front of the Thousand-handed and Thousand-eyed Guanyin image in the Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas at CTTB." Some say, "What should we do? We can't go to CTTB now. Is it the case we can't learn the Forty-two Hands and Eyes?" I cannot really answer this question. The Venerable Master did not mention this issue and the disciples did not ask about it, either.

No wonder the Venerable Master said that his disciples were like wooden logs. It is true! However I feel that it is better to be like a log. Why? Although disciples don't know how  to  be  flexible  according circumstances, at least the rules  and the Dharma passed down from the Master will continue without losing their original form. If we, without any wisdom, become flexible and adaptive about the rules and the Dharma, then it is hard to imagine how deformed the Dharma would become!