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It's Easy! Namo Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva!


Dharma talk by Ms. Angela Justice in the Buddha Hall of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas on Saturday evening, August 16, 2014


All Buddhas, Bodhisattvas,Venerable Master, Dharma Masters, Dharma Friends.

My name is Angela Alene Justice. My Dharma name is Qin Dao.

Tonight, I was asked to share a few words about how I first learned about the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

The short answer is through a book, in a class, while I was in college.

There is also a bit of a longer story.

Unlike many here tonight, I did not grow up in a Buddhist community during my childhood. I grew up in Atlanta, GA in a large family. My grandparents and their brothers and sisters are very religious. My mother’s family are devout Catholics. My father’s family are devout Southern Baptists. My parents’ and their brothers and sisters were either on a spiritual quest, or completely uninterested in religion around the time I was a child. So when my mother decided not to go to church after I was born, my grandmother took me instead.  My mother loved that my grandmother wanted to spend time with me, and it certainly made my grandmother very happy. My mom also thought it was important for me to make well-informed decisions about my life. She told me that my spiritual practice was ultimately something that I had the responsibility to decide and choose.

In my sophomore year during high school, I found a book on Buddhism in a Theory of Knowledge class - E.A.Burtt’s “The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha: Early Discourses, the Dhammapada, and Later Basic Writings”. After I read it many times, the teacher noticed that I was rather attached to the book, and decided to give it to me. I kept it in my backpack and read from it often. I started to look for more books about Buddhism, but there weren’t that many available then. I wanted to meet Buddhists, but couldn’t find any.

My interest persisted throughout high school. Then at 18, I left home to attend Mount Holyoke College in Western Massachusetts. When I arrived at college, the first thing I did was visit the house of religious life and asked them where to find the Buddhist group on campus.  Throughout college, I continued to read more books about Buddhism, took some classes on Buddhism, studied tea ceremony (both Chinese gongfu and Japanese Urasenke style), and also participated in an interfaith group on campus. 

In my senior year, I took a class called “Buddhism in the West”. One of the textbooks for the class was “How the Swans Came to the Lake” by Rick Fields. In that book, there was a picture of the Venerable Master. I remember pausing when I saw his picture, and really taking a moment to sit with it. I was very inspired. There was actually a whole chapter devoted to the Venerable Master’s work at Gold Mountain Monastery and the founding of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.  I was also especially impressed by the account of the first bowing pilgrimage. (This summer marked the 40th anniversary of the completion of that pilgrimage, and the 35th anniversary of the second Three Steps, One Bow.)  When I contemplated the sincerity, commitment, and bodhi resolve, necessary to undertake three steps, one bow, I was profoundly inspired. It was so far beyond my imagination or depth of understanding at that point. I almost couldn’t believe that it would be possible to complete such a journey. That people could touch the ground with their forehead on concrete highways with cars rolling by at fast speeds.

Also, bowing? Bowing was so far from my frame of context, I had no way to process it. I had never seen anybody do more than a half-bow. I had never witnessed someone make a full prostration, even though I had visited many different Buddhist meditation groups in college. Reading about three steps, one bow made a strong impression on me. It gave me an idea that Buddhism was about more than meditation, and even though I had already spent seven years trying to figure Buddhism out, I still felt like I didn’t understand enough and wanted to learn more.

After graduation, I moved to Berkeley. All of my family asked me why I was moving to Berkeley instead of coming back home. I told them that I wanted to live where I would be normal, and by normal I meant drink tea and meditate.  My mother was quite distressed by this. When I first started college, I wanted to work at a bank in Manhattan and manage portfolios. My studies had primarily been focused in Economics and Mathematics. My mother had thought that this was an exceptionally practical and mature decision. While I was in college, she had gone back to attending church regularly and was praying that I would come back. So you could say that her tolerance around my spiritual exploration shifted.

I eventually decided that investment banking was probably not a good plan for the future. So I went to my Career Center on campus and told them that I wanted to make a new plan.
"I don’t want to work on Wall Street anymore.", I told them.  

“Don’t worry,” the counselor told me.
“It's important that you do what inspires you. What do you love to do? As an Econ/Math person, you should be able to easily translate those skills to any field. “

I thought about it for a minute. I paused, because I didn't think my career counselor would take me seriously. Then I decided to say it anyways.

"Actually, what I love to do ... is drink tea and meditate."  

He paused.

"Well then …. Would you consider doing some research into the tea business? That might be interesting."

So I walked directly from the career center to the library. Not the school library, but the public library in the beautiful old building across the street where they had tea and cookies on Wednesday. When I walked through the door on the new book table directly in front of the the door was a book. “The Agony of the Leaves: The Ecstasy of My Life with Tea” by Helen Gustafson. I felt like it was a sign that I should meet her.

So I reached out, and she invited me to Berkeley and offered to introduce me to more people in the tea business. She graciously introduced me to many people in San Francisco and LA. All of whom were very kind and encouraging.

When I graduated college in 2002 and arrived in Berkeley, one of my new mentors, introduced me to the owner of a tea company which had just opened, close to Berkeley, Celadon Fine Teas which later became known as Teance.

I was thrilled because they were directly importing all of their teas, and I was on a personal quest to taste all 10,000 teas, and was rather sad that I had only tasted 468 teas,
... and was striving to do better.

On the back wall of Celadon, was a large and very beautiful statue of Guan Yin Bodhisattva, made during the Qing dynasty, sitting at ease.  A couple weeks after I began working there, the owner, Winnie, told me that a monk would be coming to bless the new space.

I asked her where the monk was from, and she told me about Rev. Heng Sure and how he had done a bowing pilgrimage from Los Angeles to Ukiah with another monk.

“Really.That's so interesting.”, I remember telling her. “I just read about two monks that did a bowing pilgrimage in one of my college classes. I think they were from the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.”

She smiled.

I thought all of this was quite wonderful.

I was very much looking forward to meeting Rev. Heng Sure. I wanted to ask him many questions about the most difficult texts I was reading that I had accumulated throughout my college experiences. When I finally had a chance to speak with him, he was very patient.

I don't remember him responding to my questions about Nagarjuna, but I do remember him asking me about my mother, and if I still talked to her regularly...which at the time I didn't.

Actually, I was very distressed, because I wasn't getting along with my mother at all. So he asked me if I had recited Guan Yin Bodhisattva's name and asked her for help.

"I don't know how to do that."

"It's easy. Namo Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva."

"But I like to recite, Om Mani Padme Hum on my mala."

"That's very good. Maybe try this?"

So I did.

It was strange, because I never told my mother I was reciting. We were just barely talking at that time.

For my birthday that year, she had found me a Chinese statue that she thought was very beautiful. Since I was selling so many Chinese teas, she thought maybe I could find a spot for it in my living room.  

When I opened the box, I couldn’t believe it. The pretty statue that my devout Catholic mother had sent me as a birthday gift was Guan Yin Bodhisattva.

How? How was it possible?

A birthday present is a small thing, but it made an impression, and encouraged me to continue reciting.

At that time, I could have never imagined that I would have the opportunity to come here to help with Dharma Realm Buddhist University and practice at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

Like many Westerners who are curious about Buddhism, in the beginning, I thought the point of Buddhism was to have a big awakening, and fast. After the big awakening, I thought I would be able to make sense of this existence. But as I went along, with patient nudging from a Good and Wise Advisor, I realized I hadn't quite gotten "it".

The "it" in this case being the fundamental interconnection between precepts, samahdi, and wisdom. Later it became clearer that I was never going to realize anything until I better understood filiality and why we observed precepts. I needed that as a foundation for all other practices.  It was as if I had a puzzle before me, with all of the pieces, but no clue how to put them together, but I knew it was a wonderful puzzle and I needed to devote myself to figuring it out.

Twelve years later,

I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to meet so many people on their respective journeys, seeking spiritual community, and wanting to deeply study the texts. It is a privilege to be out in the world letting prospective students and their families know that Dharma Realm Buddhist University is a place where they can study, and begin the process of realizing their own inherent wisdom with like-minded companions.

It is a joy to be surrounded by experienced cultivators who have traveled much further along this path, and have so much to teach.

Fall is almost here, and the new semester is starting at Dharma Realm Buddhist University. This week, let us all welcome the new students as they begin the Fall Semester, and also all of our visitors who are taking classes.

May we all awaken and realize our innate wisdom.