Letter from Delegates - Dec. 7, 1983
November 7, 1983
Dear Master and the great assembly,
Nov 10, 1983 - Sarawak Buddhist Association, Kuching, Malaysia.
We are situated in a large temple on a hill outside the city of Kota Kinabalu on the island of Borneo, midway between the Phillipines and Indonesia. The equator cuts the island in half and the jungle heat and humidity compels us to slow down and stay out of the sun. Yet, since we landed in Jakarta up until the present, people tell us the weather has turned remarkably cool. Usually I have trouble coping with hot climate, but to my surprise this time I've felt unusually comfortable and alert. Also, the delegation has avoided contracting any serious illnesses such as dysentery, heat exhaustion, travelling sickness and so on. Last week we stayed in a Thervada thatched jungle hut amid rice paddies, palm trees, and sweltering tropical heat. We were informed that almost everyone who visits this area catches Malaria. Yet, at night not a single mosquito bit us even though our hut had no screens and was surrounded by stagnant ponds. The winter rains seem to fall during the times there are no Dharma-assemblies, allowing people to come and go unobstructed. It rains at night and throughout the day, but before and after the Dharma gatherings, the skies clear.
One of our translators, a native physician, came down with Malaria. A local Dharma protector, Mrs. Murdaiya offered to replace him and translate our lectures into Indonesian. However, just before departing to Yogyakarta, she became ill, experiencing pain and a partial paralysis on her right side. Her doctor strongly advised her not to travel. He said if she didn't rest in bed the illness would worsen. But she was determined that the Dharma-assemblies go on as scheduled, so despite her condition, and against the doctor's advice, she accompanied the delegation across the island to Yogakurta and the ancient stupa of Borobudur.
"How strange!" she exclaimed. "I bowed to the Buddhas and started translating and when the lecture was over, my pain and illness were completely gone. I deeply believe the Buddhas helped me. I feel that same kind of special energy when I go to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas and special places like Borodudur. I usually feel invigorated with a very special energy that lasts for a week or so after I leave. I've become a vegetarian now. My husband thinks it's superstitious, yet bit by bit he, too, is starting to believe and take interest in Buddhism."
We visited the ancient stupa of Borobudur. On the top of this mammoth shrine one steps into an unobstructed panoramic view of the lush jungle countryside surrounded by a ring of volcanic mountains. The stupa is divided into three levels representing the desire, form, and formless realms. Climbing the steep stairs one is always surrounded by rocks and walls that give a feeling of enclosure and confinement. Suddenly at the top we emerge to the last level, the formless summit and the walls and rocks disappear leaving one with a sense of standing in empty space, face-to-face with only that emptiness and one's own mind. At this level there are no visible Buddha-images. The statues are concealed within the waffled dome stupas representing marklessness. There is just the sky, the wind, and an unobstructed view for miles. But passing through this experience which simulated the three realms, we remained aware that even the formless realm is not ultimate liberation. Those in the formless realm must take one more step off the hundred-foot pole and transcend the triple realm, become irreversible, and go on to certify to the Unsurpassed Proper and Equal Right Enlightenment.
At the top, we performed the Great Compassion Mantra, bowed to the Buddhas and circumambulated the main stupa reciting Kuan Yin's name. A Theravada monk joined us and there was a true feeling of religious unity. For a moment we forgot our superficial differences and let ourselves merge with the vast and great state of mind this magnificent stupa evokes.
Borobudur is a symbol of Buddhism in Asia. Because of its solid foundation, the stupa has been able to survive centuries of abuse, neglect, vandalism, and the elements of nature. Again and again the stupa has been restored and refurbished, reclaimed from thick jungle overgrowth, mildew, fungus and 'stone disease.' In the same way, in each generation of people there is a searching for and reclaiming of their Buddhist roots. In Asia now, amid the rot and decay of sectarianism, voodoo superstition, and profiteering, there is a reawakening of faith in the Proper Dharma. The ancient, deep good roots long for the Buddhas' sun and wherever we go we see the tips of healthy green sprouts pushing up through old parched ground. Withered wood returns to spring.
"Stay longer, please," some say.
"We hope you will come back and lecture more. Stay for a long time and give us practical instructions on how to cultivate. We don't have anyone here who can teach us. Some monks simply build big temples to themselves, but the people can't go there to study and hear Dharma. Others amass wealth and power or just chant, usually in words few of us understand. But nobody talks true, down-to-earth practical Dharma. "We are really hungry for the Proper Dharrna," said another local person. I thought of this passage in the Avatamsaka.
- As one thirsty thinks of icy water,
- As one hungry dreams about good food,
- As one sick reflects on wholesome medicine,
- As a bee is greedy for good honey,
The signs of decay are everywhere; abandoned temples, altars with bottles of wine and dead chickens as offerings to the Buddhas, side altars with lucky fortune sticks, thick clouds of incense mixed in with cigar and cigarette smoke, Sanghans in pants and jackets without Precept sashes wandering as they please, socializing in noisy places with common people, jealousy and resentment towards monks with genuine virtue and learning, inwardly creating evil deeds while outwardly pretending to be of pure conduct.
Outside our room in a small Buddhahall there's a penny arcade fortune machine. You light a stick of incense, throw in a coin, make a wish and then a little Kuan Yin image rolls out of a toy temple door along a track carrying your fortune in a plastic shell. When Kuan Yin reaches the end of the track, a pulley trips and she bends over dropping your fortune from her basket into a hole that comes out into a catch-cup on the outside of the machine. I think the machine plays a song, too.
I thought of this passage from The Buddha Speaks the Ultimate Extinction of the Dharma Sutra as the immigration officer in Singapore coldly told us, "You may pass through but do not give any lectures!"
- The hordes of demonic bhikshus will be jealous of them. The demons will harass them, slander and defame them, expel them from their midst, and degrade them. They will ostracize the good monks from the monastic community. Thereafter these demons will not cultivate Way-virtue. Their temples and monasteries will be vacant and overgrown with weeds. For want of care and maintenance, their Way-places will drift into ruin and oblivion. The demonic bhikshus will only be greedy for wealth and will amass great heaps of goods. They will refuse to distribute any of it or to use it to gain blessings and virtue.
This isn't to say we feel ourselves to be "good monks" or that we cultivate immaculate virtue, but we truly want to go towards what is good and virtuous and change our errors. While the slick and materialistic commonwealth of Singapore gave us the cold shoulder, we turned around to receive a warm and eager welcome in Indonesia and Malaysia.
"Please come back again. Send more Dharma Masters to lecture," people said. One donor offered to sponsor a countrywide Dharma-lecture series indefinitely, and proposed we establish a regular commuter schedule every other month of Dharma Master from the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas to Indonesia.
We just finished reciting the Earth Store Sutra and a cooling afternoon shower is falling. Outside we are constantly on the move from town to town and country to country in planes, cars, and buses. But inside there is stillness. In the midst of movement we are finding stillness.
I feel as if I never left the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. Asia and America blend into one country. Los Angeles and a jungle in Java perfectly fuse. All the external sights and sounds take on a single nature and no longer catch the eye and ear. And so although we are in a foreign land, we feel very much at home. The mind is its own place and within it
- Myriads of worlds blend together and a multitude of countries perfectly fuse.
- from Verse of Worship of Avatamsaka
The Master's advice to us is proving extremely useful. "You don't want to be too stiff and wooden, yet you want to learn from the tree. Observe and respond to things yet be as solid and unmoving as a tree." And that's the state our group seems to be settling into. We are here in the midst of a dream doing the Buddhas' work.
- Wisdom everywhere examines
Yet it is forever still.
- Avatamsaka Preface
Bowing in respect,
disciple Kuo T'ing (Heng Ch'au)
Vajra Bodhi Sea, February 1984