Introduction: Literary Works

On July 27, 1995, on the occasion of "Ceremony in Praise and Recognition of the Venerable Master's Kindness" Dharma Master Heng Sure gave a talk about the Venerable Master, from a perspective few people would give much thought to -- literary works. An excerpt of the talk follows:

Many people have sat here in the last few days, and will continue to do so, talking about their memories of their teacher, talking about the Master's contributions to education, to translation and Sutra lecturing, propagating the Dharma, creating the Sangha, making Way-places, and so on. Everyone has said what was on their heart, and we have many more to hear later today. But I wanted to share something that I think is rare.

Probably not many people today, if they were asked what was the Venerable Master's outstanding feature, would say, "The Master was a poet without peer. He was a literati, a writer, an editor, a social commentator, and a historian without peer." And yet the Venerable Master wrote an eight-line verse for every line of the Great Compassion Mantra and every line of the Shurangama Mantra. He wrote the Verses without a Stand for the Heart Sutra. He wrote verses for the Patriarchs, adding to Elder Master Hsu Yun's Lives of the Patriarchs. He wrote not only verses but excellent rhymed essays. He was a master of prose and verse. The Master's scattered writings, occasional verses, and songs number in the hundreds. One of the things about the Master that has touched me the most is his contribution to literature, in the form of songs, essays, and poetry.

The Master would teach a matching couplets class, in which he would put the first line on the board regarding a state or a situation or a disciple's habits, and invite everyone else to come up and add the second line. It was amazing how just the few Chinese characters of your couplet line could reveal your character, your nature, your shortcomings, your literary skill, your education... He even had children who were not able to speak Chinese come up and put matching couplets on the board that were surprisingly sophisticated in form and refreshingly pure and straight in content. It was a wonderful experience to have the Master teach couplets. It's probably the first time in any American Way-place that a Buddhist teacher has done this (and maybe the first time in Chinese Buddhist history for a long time). So this is just to point to one aspect of our teacher that I think needs to be remembered.