“Three steps, one bow—three steps along the side of the highway, then a bow to the ground, so that knees, elbows, hands, and forehead touch the earth, then rise, join the palms together, and take three more steps, then begin another bow. Hour after hour, day after day, for two and a half years, this was how they made their pilgrimage . . .”
—from the opening of News From True Cultivators: Letters to the Venerable Abbot Hua
May 29, 1977
Please do not worry about us—Heng Ch’au and I are doing okay—we’ve hit a regular pace—and bow about five-and-a-half to six hours each day. We start bowing at 7:00 a.m., take one hour off at 10:30 to write and repair our gear or meditate, start again at 1:00 p.m., and bow until 6:00, taking twenty-minute stillness breaks each hour. At 6:00 we wash up, meditate, and prepare for wan k’e [evening lecture or ceremony]. We listen to the Avatamsaka [“The Sutra of the Garland of Buddhas”] each night—I recite and translate from Chapter One—we haven’t got a tape recorder yet, so we haven’t been able to listen to the tapes of the Master—and then we say the Shurangama Mantra forty-nine times (the short version) and then rest, as tired as young boys after a full day outdoors. I forgot to add that we get up at 4:00 a.m., do zao k’e [morning lecture or ceremony] and exercise, and then prepare to start by 7:00 a.m. As we leave the city behind, we will be able to add more bowing hours each day.
Our bodies have adjusted to the work slowly. We are exhausted each night and ready to go again each morning. We took off our gloves last week because we felt it was insincere. These sidewalks are pretty smooth and we don’t need gloves until we get into glass and gravel on the highway shoulder. I started using knee pads several days ago after I developed a deep, aching bruise on my left knee from so much bowing. With the knee pads I can bow all day—we did six hours and twenty minutes yesterday. As soon as the bruise heals, I’ll take the pads off. We have stopped all useless talking—plugged that leak.
We have bowed through Beverly Hills and we are nearing U.C.L.A. in Westwood. By next weekend we should be out of Santa Monica and on Highway 1, ready to start the long road north to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. Sometimes while bowing along through L.A., I feel myself at the point of tears—happy tears at the hope and the goodness in store for the West. We can turn our lives around and go toward the good, and we now have a road to travel on, a road that will carry us, our parents, our friends, young and old, back to a place of purity and light, balance, and harmony. I wouldn’t care if the road from L.A. to Wan Fwo Ch’eng was 70,000 miles instead of 800. I’d still feel it to be my sacred trust to bow and pace every step of the way.
Disciple Heng Sure
bows in respect
From News from True Cultivators: Letters to Venerable Abbot Hua by Bhikshus Heng Sure and Heng Ch’au, © 2003 by Buddhist Text Translation Society. Reprinted by permission.
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.