Memorial For My Master,
The Great Teacher T'an Hsu
At the time that my master entered his final Nirvana, I was on my way home from the office. When my friend, Chung Wen, told me the heartbreaking news, it was difficult to believe him. I took the news lightly at first; but when I paid my Master a visit the following morning, I realized it was true: I found him still in the meditative posture; when I called out to him, he did not answer; and when I touched his hand, it was completely cold. Only then did I realize he had left us.
I hold the greatest respect for my Master. He always treated us with loving-kindness. This was not only my personal impression, because those who listened to his lectures made the same observation. At the dedication ceremony of the Buddhist Library of China in April, 1958, the Grand Master presented his commentary on the Mahaprajna Paramita Sutra. He was most happy to do it. He also shared with me his intention to explicate the Surangama Sutra and the Lotus Sutra, saying, “Following my lectures on The Heart Sutra, I intend to explicate the Surangama Sutra and the Lotus Sutra; I hope you will still be able to take on the responsibility of translation.” The sincerity of his words moved me very deeply. I have many worldly concerns, and I am also duty-bound. Still, I agreed to do it. I told him, “Yes Master, I will do it because you yourself, advanced as you are in years, still spread the wonderful teachings, thereby liberating sentient beings. As your disciple, I would not shun this responsibility; I shall follow the example and the wishes of my Master. Do not worry.” The Master added with a smile that the lectures at the Library always provided a good opportunity for the dispensation of the Buddhadharma. Because of my willingness to translate, those who speak only Cantonese will also be able to benefit from his lectures now.
There was a gathering of the assembly for a Dharma function honoring Buddha the Healer some years ago. It took place in the memorial hall of Grand Master Ti Hsien, and my Master and I were seated side by side. He said at that time, “I am going to explicate the Lotus Sutra very soon. That Sutra is very profound, in terms of the Buddhadharma, as the manifestation of all Dharmas. The Buddhadharma is beyond speech and cannot be conveyed through words; the wonderful meaning of the Lotus Sutra is subtle, and so is the meaning of Suchness. The boundary of verbalization is reached when we use words to end all words. In spite of the difficulty of speaking about the profound meanings, we can resort to expedient means and continue the cultivation of Buddha’s wisdom. Let’s open the way to perfection by helping people understand the Supreme Doctrine.”
My Master’s words were sincere, and there was such a glow, such depth to his purpose, that I immediately visualized a meeting of a great Dharma assembly, highlighted with my Master’s lecture, sometime in the near future. The sound of his Dharma talk is still in my ears, and his kindly face is still in my mind; yet he is gone. I am overwhelmed with grief. I always went to see my master whenever I was free and had a question regarding Dharma. Even when I received only one word or one sentence from him in response, my heart was moved and my consciousness felt clear and bright. Later, when he was advanced in years and could not talk for long, he could not complete his answer at times; and I had to leave disappointed. Had I anticipated then that he was going to leave us so soon, I would not have left him for one single moment, my worldly concerns notwithstanding.
On one occasion my Master wanted to share with me something that made him happy, but Dharma Master Cheng Hsiang, a disciple of his, dissuaded him, saying I was surely very busy in my office. I brought the matter up with my Master, and since that time he would come out of his room at the Library every time I made an informal visit. He was very generous with his time and never appeared to be in a hurry to return to his room.
My Master had the highest goal and had taken the Great Vow. He was meticulous, choosing his words with deliberation to help his listeners grow spiritually. One day, I brought my younger son, K’o Hsin, with me to the Library; but the boy, being so young, was very disrespectful. Not only did he not bow, he practically ignored the Master and amused himself as he wished. But the master only smiled and said, “This is innocence, the original face of all people.” He gave my boy some treats and then said to him, “I am going to save some more candy for you, so come to see me again; when you grow up, remember to be generous when a monk asks for a donation. Be generous so you will receive blessings in return!” His remarks and his manner always manifested exemplary compassion.
Alas! Had he stayed in this world longer, my master could have given more people the opportunity to hear the Buddhadharma. He could have converted even more sentient beings. However, now that he is gone, I realize how lucky I was to have received the wonderful Dharma and, even moreso, how privileged I was to have been so closely associated with such a great teacher.
I paid my Master a visit a few days before he passed away. He said at the time, “In the first place, I am not ill. Do not call the doctor anymore. He can cure illness but not death. In death we are all equal, so do not be concerned about me any more!” I thought that his health was, indeed, not getting any worse, and so, from then on, I made my visits less frequent. Who would have guessed that a serious illness can be cured, but not a minor one? Whenever I think about this, I realize my ignorance at the time. I did not perceive that he knew he would leave soon and did not want me to see his final moment. Without my Master I am a man without blessings. Shall I ever meet a True Master again? When am I going to hear once more the radiant Dharma? I do not know.