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The Venerable Master Hsuan Hua

Brings the Dharma to the West

by Ron Epstein (Upasaka Guorong)
In Memory of the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, Volume One.
Burlingame, CA: Buddhist Text Translation Society, 1995, pp. 59-68.

LAYING THE FOUNDATION

1. The Origins of the Master's Mission to the West

The Venerable Master's vision was as vast as the Dharma Realm, and he taught and transformed all beings without regard to path of rebirth, country, ethnic origin, religion, and so forth. There are two countries, however, where he had special affinities in this life: China and the United States. Although the majority of his disciples are Chinese, history will probably remember him primarily for his work in bringing the teachings of the Buddha to the people of the West.

The story begins in rural Manchuria at his mother's grave site. The Master, then in his late teens or early twenties, was observing the Chinese filial practice of three year's mourning. As a novice Buddhist monk, he did it in a uniquely Buddhist way by building a meditation hut of sorghum thatch and sitting in continuous meditation there. One day he saw the Venerable Master Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch in China of the Chan (Zen) Lineage, walk into his hut. The Patriarch spoke with him for a long time. The Master remembered him saying:

The five schools will divide into ten to teach and transform living beings: a hundred and then a thousand, until they are endless, . . . countless like the sands of the Ganges . . . the genuine beginning [of Buddhism] in the West.

That was part of the Patriarch's instruction to the Master in which he told him that he should leave China and spread the Dharma in the West. Afterwards the Master got up to accompany the Patriarch out of the hut. Only after the Patriarch had disappeared did the Master remember that the Patriarch had entered Nirvana long ago (A.D. 713).

Despite knowing from this initial vision of the Sixth Patriarch that he would eventually go to the West to propagate the Dharma, the Master had little contact with Westerners until he moved to Hong Kong in 1949. There he had his first substantial experiences with Western culture.

After his Dharma-lineage predecessor the Venerable Chan Master Xuyun (1840-1959) entered Nirvana and the Master completed the proper ceremonies in his memory, he felt that conditions had ripened for pursuing his Dharma mission in the West. Several of his lay disciples from Hong Kong had already gone to the United States to study.

In November 1960 the Master went to Australia to investigate the conditions for the growth of Buddhism there. He spent a difficult year there and then returned to Hong Kong briefly. In 1958 a branch of the