19 October 2005

News from True Cultivators

I'm reading a very profound book now, and I intend to share excerpts of it here. The book is called "News from True Cultivators", and it is 'written' by Bhikshu Heng Sure and Bhikshu Heng Ch'au (Bhikshu is the Sanskrit word for monk). I say 'written' because it wasn't really written for publication. Instead, the contents of the book are actually letters sent by them to their teacher, Venerable Abbot Hsuan Hua.

You may have heard of Ven. Hsuan Hua. He is the founder of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Talmage, California. It is a very famous place for Buddhists in the West. It is only one of many temples under the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association (DRBA), another institution set up by Ven. Hsuan Hua. American Buddhists have him to thank, for he was one of the first monks to popularize and introduce Buddhism to modern America. That was way back in the early 70's, and by now his efforts have bore fruit. But I'll write more about him later. Let's get back to the book.

In 1977, those two monks, Heng Sure and Heng Ch'au, set out on a life altering journey - the Three Step, One Bow pilgramage. Basically, they were to walk 3 steps followed by 1 five-point prostration. They did this for more than 2 years, covering more than 800 miles. Their destination? The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, which was just opened at that time. Along the way they wrote letters to the Master, detailing their journey, encounters, realizations, and mistakes. They are profoundly honest and engaging at the same time. The more I read, the more impressed I am with what they went through.

I have finished about 2/3 of the book, and I have decided to share with you some of the more interesting excerpts. Of course, the entire book is interesting, but at 319 pages I can understand that some readers are put off by it. Furthermore, it is only available at DRBA centres as a free distribution book. You don't have to read them if you are not comfortable with it, but I highly encourage you to do so because they are (mostly) universally applicable to everyone, not just Buddhists. To help me categorize the postings, I will include the acronym NFTC: in front of every title. So if you see the post title "NFTC: The Five Flavours Dull the Palate" then you'd know it is an excerpt from the book.

To start things off, here's an excerpt from the preface that will briefly introduce the concept of Three Steps, One Bow and their prilgrimage:

"Three steps, one bow - three steps along the side of the highway, then a bow to the ground, so that knees, elbows, hands, and forehead touch the earth, then rise, join the palms together, and take three more steps, then begin another bow. Hour after hour, day after day, for two and a half years, this was how they made their pilgrimage. In China, devout Buddhists sometimes undertake the ardous and prayerful practice of three steps, one bow, for the last few hundred yards of a journey to a sacred site. But this was California, and these two pilgrim-monks were young Americans. Dressed in their robes and sashes, carrying no money, armed with nothing but discipline and reverence, they walked and bowed 800 miles along the narrow shoulder of the Pacific Coast Highway. Progressing a mile a day, they bowed from downtown Los Angeles along north along the coast, through Santa Barbara and along the Big Sur, through San Francisco and across the Golden Gate, then 100 miles farther north to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, a newly founded religious and educational center in Mendocino County. As they bowed, their prayer was that the world would be free of disaster, calamity, and war."

"On the road, the two pilgrims [Heng Sure and Heng Ch'au] followed their monastic discipline strictly - eating one vegetarian meal a day; never going indorrs, sleeping sitting up in the old 1956 Plymouth station wagon that served as their shelter. In the evenings after a day of bowing they studies the Avatamsaka Sutra (Flower Adornment Sutra) by the light of an oil lamp. They translated passages into English and attempted to put into practice the principles of the text in their day-to-day experiences on the road, as their teacher had encouraged them to do. The monks guarded their concentration by avoiding newspapers, by leaving the car radio silent, and by keeping to a strict meditation schedule. Heng Sure held a vow of silence for the entire journey, and it became Heng Ch'au's job to talk with the many people who stopped along the highway with questions. Occasionally the visitors were hostile, and some threathened violence, but the greater number were curious, and often the curious became the monks' protectors, bringing them food and supplies until the monks had bowed their way out of range."

This is some serious pilgrimage, I tell you. I give them my respects for even thinking about doing it. And the more I read, the more I respect them and the more I appreciate what they did. I hope you guys enjoy the excerpts which I plan to post once every few days.

You can read a complete online edition of the book.


nipun said...

Rev. Heng Sure and Marty Verhoeven (Rev. Heng Chau at the time of the pilgrimage) came to our house one time to share some stories.

As an offering to them, several of attendees typed up the out-of-print 'News From True Cultivators' book and posted it online.

You can find it here:

They are absolutely amazing people!

ZemieN said...

Wow, that's great! I'm sure it must have been a profound experience to meet them!

Sadhu to those who made an online copy of it! It'll make it easier for me to gleam excerpts for my blog.

Speaking of which, how did you stumble across my blog?