One winter, I went to a place south of Harbin to take care of some business. On my way, I passed a hotel owned by my disciple, and I went in to say hello. The owner said, “Dharma Master, there’s a person staying in my hotel who wants to become a monk, but he can’t find a temple. He’s a vegetarian. Could you accept him as your disciple?”
“Why does he want to become a monk?” I asked.
“He’s a tailor from Shandong province, and he lived with a woman who smoked opium. One day when he was out, the woman made off with all his savings. When he came home to find the woman and all his money gone, he felt that life is totally meaningless. And so he has decided to renounce the life of a householder and cultivate. He went to Ultimate Bliss Monastery south of Harbin and asked to join the monastic order under Dharma Master Ru Guang, but he was turned down. Not knowing what to do, he came to my hotel. He is very unhappy and doesn’t talk to anyone. It’s a real pity.”
“Go get him!” I said. The owner went to call him, but he wouldn’t come out. Maybe he saw my rag robes and thought I didn’t look like a monk who had a temple. After being called a second time, he came reluctantly. The first thing he said was, “What do you want from me?” (Shandong people are very frank and outspoken.)
“I came to get you,” I said.
“Do you know me?” he asked in surprise.
“Let’s not talk about that. Do you want to become a monk? My temple needs a cook. You can take this chance to cultivate ascetic practices. You’ll be fed and have a place to stay, but no cash. Are you willing to come?”
Hearing that I was going to take him as my disciple, he replied happily, "I’ll come!" He returned to the temple with me, worked as a cook, took the novice precepts, and received the Dharma name Guo Neng.
One day, on a sudden impulse, he made a brick bed in his small room. He did this without asking for permission from the people in charge of the temple. I was not aware of it either. But then some people sarcastically commented, “You take a disciple, but you can’t even discipline him. What a disgrace Your disciple thinks he’s already a patriarch!”
Thinking this strange, I went to the back of the temple to see what on earth had happened. On the way, I met a Dharma brother who said, “Your disciple has revolted. He’s built a brick bed for himself and broken the rules of the Way-place.”
I went into Guo Neng’s room and found him sitting on the brick bed meditating. When he saw me, he came down from the bed and bowed to me. I asked him, “Who told you to make this brick bed?” He answered, “No one.” I said, “If no one told you to make it, how could you go ahead and construct it on your own? That’s against the rules!” He had nothing to say, he just kept kneeling. I said, “Go and repent in front of the Buddha. Kneel for the time it takes for one stick of incense to burn down [about an hour].”
But after I left, he did not go to kneel in front of the Buddha. He went back to the bed to mend his clothes. Half an hour later, I went to the Buddha Hall and didn’t see him there. I returned to his room and asked him, “Guo Neng! Why didn’t you kneel?” He said, “Later.”
“If you’re not willing to kneel for one incense, I’ll do it for you.” I went to the Buddha Hall, lit a stick of incense, and knelt down on the brick floor.
He saw me kneeling and begged me to stop, saying, “Master! I know I was wrong. Please forgive me. Please get up! I’m kneeling now!” I said, “I can’t discipline my disciple, but I can discipline myself.” After this incident he always followed the rules and cultivated diligently at all times. He had the courage to correct his mistakes when he recognized he was wrong. I hope you can also correct your mistakes when you become aware of them.