The Chinese phrase, 不好意思 (bù hǎo yì si) basically means, “Gosh, I feel bad about that…” It is sort of an apology, but not quite. It is more a recognition that you are putting someone out by what you are doing and wish you weren’t causing that much trouble.

It’s a phrase I kept repeating on Tuesday through lunch.

I had spent the morning in the library at DDM’s downtown office studying, and then dutifully sauntered down to the 3rd floor to have lunch with the staff there, like I had in days past. I came out of the stair-well to see the Abbot of Dharma Drum Mountain with a host of visiting monks and dignitaries eating together. I immediately recognized the robes of the monks at being from the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, a Chinese monastery in California founded by Master Hsuan Hua near Ukiah, California (CTTB). Once this recognition dawned, I then quickly saw a monk I knew sitting next to the Abbot: Rev. Heng Sure.

Rev. Heng Sure (恆實法師 Héng Shí Fǎshī) is an American monk and the Abbot and head teacher at the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery. He was good friends with the former Rev. Master Eko, and I have known Rev. Heng Sure for a few years. I was surprised and very pleased to see him at the same time.

Rev. Heng Sure

Much to my surprise, after paying my respects to him and saying hello, I was invited to sit next to him and have lunch at a table with very senior monks and important guests. I was too surprised to protest, and began offering the 不好意思 refrain. Everyone was quite insistant, so I happily began to talk with Rev. Heng Sure. He is a monk I have wanted to speak with for many months about this transition to the Chinese Sangha, and he, very kindly, gave me some very helpful advice. It was very good to see him, and it was very impressive to see how the monks from CTTB and DDM interacted. There was a lot of friendship and joy in the room.

Rev. Heng Sure is fluent in both English and Chinese, and has been given weekly Dharma teachings at this monastery on the Avatamsaka Sutra for years. Beyond his contribution to sharing the Buddha’s teachings in schools and communities, Rev. Heng Sure also is a strong advocate of vegetarianism, as well as active in fundraising for relief efforts around the world.

Probably the most endearing of his many contributions to Buddhism in the world is his music. Before becoming a monk in the early 1970s, he was a budding folk singer. A few years ago, he brought the guitar back into his practice to teach and share the Dharma. He sings what he calls Buddhist American folk songs. He has recorded one full length cd, entitled Paramita, and is in the process of finishing a second one, he says.  You can hear some of his songs here.

One of his now nearly-classic songs is called “Dedication of Merit.” It is an English rendering of a traditional Chinese Buddhist offering of merit at the end of a ceremony. He set it to music a few years ago to a Loreena McKennitt tune, after 9/11 if I remember right, and it has now been sung by tens of thousands around the world. At Shasta Abbey, it is sung at least once a month at certain ceremonies. You can hear Rev. Heng Sure sing it solo here:

Dedication of Merit

Rev. Heng Sure is very active in the Buddhist community, traveling, teaching, and translating. Here is his blog, as well as a website about this two-year bowing pilgrimage from Los Angeles to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in the mid-1970s. He and a fellow monk travelled the 800 miles taking three steps and then doing a full prostration; on sidewalks and gravel; in urban neighborhoods and farmland; in winter and summer. Two years. 800 miles. For peace.

This pilgrimage was one of the most inspiring things I had ever heard of when I came across it about 10 years ago. It is still a great source of inspiration.

It was very good to see and spend time with Rev. Heng Sure. He is a real gift for Buddhism in the west, and he offered many gifts of teaching and advice for me as well.

I felt very humbled (yet grateful) for stumbling upon such an impressive assembly of monastics. 不好意思!