Gold Mountain Monastery is operated by the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association and used to be known as the Buddhist Lecture Hall, which was then a tiny flat located in a fourth floor walk-up in San Francisco's Chinatown. That's where our very first Summer Cultivation Session took place in 1968. Many people from Seattle took part in that ninety-six day session. The full daily schedule allowed no time for resting. The only chance for a break came on Saturday afternoon, when participants did their laundry or took care of personal business.
We lectured on the Shurangama Sutra during that session, planning to finish it before the session ended. We began by holding one lecture daily, but before long, realizing that there wasn't enough time to finish the complete Sutra, we added an extra lecture, so there were two lectures a day. Later, because it still looked like we couldn't finish the Sutra, we added a third lecture to the daily schedule, and so forth, until at the end we had four lectures each day. We barely finished explaining the Shurangama Sutra during that summer session. Thus the merit and virtue was completed and we transferred it to all living beings.
Once the Shurangama Sutra had been explained, five young Americans left the home-life, so now there are three Bhikshus and two Bhikshunis. These are the first Americans to leave home and receive the complete precepts.
Each year thereafter we held a Summer Cultivation Session. Many people came to study Buddhadharma, and some of them decided to leave home and become Bhikshus and Bhikshunis. Although the total number of people is not large, at Gold Mountain Monastery we value quality over quantity. What counts is that those who come are sincere in wanting to cultivate the spiritual path and investigate Buddhadharma. Even one such person can't be considered too few; and if many people have that attitude, that's even better!
Gold Mountain Monastery publishes a monthly English journal called Vajra Bodhi Sea. (The journal is now bilingual, with Chinese and English side by side, and is called The Buddhist Month-ly--Vajra Bodhi Sea.) This journal brings the essentials of the Buddha's teachings to Westerners so they can learn the ins and outs of Buddhism, develop a correct understanding, and not misinterpret Buddhism as a superstitious religion, an idol-worshipping cult, a pessimistic escape, or parasitical burden on society. Our journal informs people that Buddhism advocates equality and freedom. It transcends all boundaries of country, race, and nationality and regards all beings alike as Buddhist disciples.
Since Buddhism's inception, there has never been a Buddhist war. This is due in part to the first of the Buddhist precepts, which is "no killing." Buddhists not only refrain from killing humans, we don't kill any animals, either. Instead, we liberate living creatures, and protect the safety of all animals; therefore, we've never been involved in a war.
At Gold Mountain Monastery, it's as if we're panning for gold in the sand. If a person has the quality of gold, when he arrives at Gold Mountain, he'll feel right at home. Although we don't talk much here, the silence makes it quite convenient for studying; Every day we study Buddhism, and nobody comes to interrupt our work; this is an ideal environment. America has a large population, but how many have taken the opportunity to come investigate the Buddhadharma and listen to lectures on the Sutras here? This attests to the fact that Buddhas are created individually, one by one, and not in groups. In this world, things which are scarce are considered valuable. Although the people who come to Gold Mountain to investigate Buddhism may be few in number, they are the most valuable people in this world. In the future, when you all understand the Buddhadharma, you can go out to propagate the teachings in every land and bring benefit to all creatures. My wish is that you will quickly lead all beings to Buddhahood.
Each one of you who has come to attend this summer session must cherish the time; don't let it pass by carelessly! I mentioned the Chinese proverb that goes, "An instant of time is worth an ounce of gold. Even an ounce of gold can't buy back an instant of time." So time is the most valuable, the most important of all commodities. All my classmates in this summer session, diligently study Buddhism! Don't allow the precious minutes to slip by. Use this time to learn some true principles of the spiritual path!
There's an important matter that I want to discuss with you all. In fact I thought not to mention it, but now I see I can't avoid it. You left-home people absolutely must learn to respect yourselves. Don't see yourselves as worthless and cheap. But neither should you be haughty and proud. Examine yourself at all times and reform any faults that you find. If you find no faults, then press on. Under no circumstances should you become lax and careless.
Since you left the home-life to study the spiritual path with me, I'm obliged to point out everything that I see, in order to correct your faults. If I failed to tell you of your faults, then I'd be doing you an injustice. Once I tell you your faults, it's up to you to decide if you want to listen to me and change. By telling you, I've fulfilled my duty as a teacher, and have nothing to regret or be ashamed of. So if any of you fall into the hells, you have no right to complain, "Oh, why wasn't my teacher more strict with me? If he'd taught me better, then I wouldn't have wound up in hell!"
So now I've had my say. Left-home people should never disturb other people or interfere with their freedom. If you yourself don't cultivate, take care not to obstruct the cultivation of others. If you don't hold the precepts yourself, be sure not to prevent others from holding the precepts. If you choose not to cultivate virtuous conduct yourself, don't keep others from cultivating virtuous conduct. If you do obstruct others in these ways, then you must discipline and reform yourself. Left-home people must take charge of themselves at all times and accord with the moral precepts in every word and deed. Don't act so wild! Be serious! Don't just do what you please. Don't you know the proverb:Without using a compass and a T-square,You'll never draw good circles and corners.
That's why before the Buddha entered Nirvana, he told Ananda, "Take the precepts as your teacher." This phrase can serve as a motto for every left-home person.
While we eat, we should make the Three Recollections and the Five Contemplations. There's a saying,
A single grain of donor's rice,Is as weighty as Mount Sumeru.If one should eat it and then fail to cultivate,One will have to repay the debt by wearing fur and horns.
How dangerous this situation is! This is called "losing one's human body while wearing the precept sash." So left-home people, wherever they may be, must sternly guard their precepts. Before we've put an end to birth and death, before our thoughts of desire have been severed, we may not be even the slightest bit lax or careless. Samantabhadra Bodhisattva exhorts us:
This day is already done,Our lives are that much less.
We're like fish in evaporating water,What joy can there be in this?
Great Assembly!We should be as diligent and vigorous,As if our own heads were at stake.
Never forget impermanence!Be careful, and never be lax!
We who have left the home-life must cherish each passing minute and second of time. Remember: "An instant of time is worth an ounce of gold. Even an ounce of gold can't buy back an instant of time." Time is just this precious, so don't waste it! Work hard at your cultivation. Be ever more vigorous. Only then can you expect success. There's never been a hard-working cultivator who had time to hold casual conversations or disturb others. I hope all of you will pay attention to this. It hurts me deeply to see people fail to cultivate! Aren't you letting down the vows you made upon first leaving home? Can this kind of left-home person who says one thing and does another consider himself part of the Sangha Jewel? I hope you'll all learn to respect yourselves!