Good evening Dharma Masters, lay people, teachers, and fellow students. My name is Chris Yiu. If no one here has any objections, I would like to tell the story of how I came to this place. 9 years ago, my mother found a new sanctuary in which to alleviate some of the everyday stress of being a single mother of three; the Buddha Gate Monastery in Lafayette, California. You see, not a few months earlier, my mom and dad had gotten divorced; on top of that, my oldest brother was also failing out of UC Davis; this put considerable pressure upon my mom. Add on to that a 9 year old boy with the attention span of a pebble, and you have a heck of a lot of stuff to deal with. She seriously needed somewhere to turn to. My mom started out at Buddha Gate modestly; a few Buddhism classes a week, and maybe a few hours of volunteering here and there; nothing too extreme, you know? But as time went on, she relied more and more on that monastery for respite from her life my oldest brother went to Taiwan for a few months, and then went missing in action; my other brother graduated from high school and went to UC Berkeley; and I made the deceptively simple transition from elementary school to middle school. In almost no time at all, my mom was spending her whole day – from after she dropped me off to school at 8 in the morning to 10 o'clock at night – at the monastery, only leaving to pick me up after school and take me to the monastery to help out myself.
During all her time at Buddha Gate, my mom forged a pretty strong bond with the monks running and managing the grounds. So when they announced that they were being moved to help start another monastery an hour away, my mom was sad, to say the least. She was so sad, in fact, that she decided to follow the monks to their new monastery down in the South Bay Area. She pulled me out of my school, and enrolled me at the middle school nearest to the monastery. The monastery luckily had a new apartment complex donated to them from a prominent benefactor, so that is where my mother and I stayed.
By this time it was sometime around the middle of 2004. My mother had been following Buddhism for more than 3 years, and we had on many occasions followed our monastery on their annual pilgrimage to Taiwan to visit the main branch of our Grandmaster, the recently completed Chung Tai Chan Monastery in Puli. My mother loved it there, and for obvious reasons: the atmosphere there was indescribably calm and beautiful. During the summer my mom pulled me outside our apartment and asked me the question that would change my life forever: she asked me for my permission to leave home and become a nun at the Chung Tai Chan Monastery in Taiwan. She told me that she had asked everyone else in our immediate family for permission, and they had all agreed already; she had left asking me for last because she was afraid of my reaction. Of course, at first I was left in a daze; I couldn't believe this was happening.
But as I thought about it, I realized that cultivating the Way was the only way that my mom would truly be happy for the rest of her life. When I was younger, I was a handful to take care of. There was nothing I loved more than to take my mom for granted. I always thought that she would always be there for me, when I was in trouble or was depressed, and I acted like she would never leave me. When she asked me for permission to leave home, I was only 13. I didn't want to have my mom deal with me – an immature, spoiled little kid – for another five years til I could, so to speak, "leave the nest."
So I finally, after days of deliberation, gave my mom her final and ultimate permission to leave home and become a Buddhist nun. It was a load off my chest, and I felt that I had done the right thing for once in my life. But there was a huge last problem that had to be dealt with: what would become of me? My oldest brother was living with my grandma in San Francisco, and his room had no spare space for a preadolescent boy. My dad was living out of his office; no way. My other brother was living in a tiny studio apartment in the heart of Berkeley; sorry, no can do. So where could I go?
My mom and I started to look for boarding schools in California. As we soon found out, most of the tuitions were way too expensive and completely out of our meager financial reach. It seemed that all hope was lost. But it was a miracle when a fellow volunteer, David Yin, mentioned a relatively affordable boarding school in northern California run by another monastery he frequented.
We checked out the Developing Virtue Secondary School in the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. The pictures on the website seemed purty enough, and from what David Yin said about it, it was a pretty practical place for me to live. My mom decided to send me to the school's summer camp for two weeks to see how I liked it there. The two weeks I spent at the summer camp were dry, hot, bug-ridden, and the best time I had ever had up until that point in my life. I even stayed an extra night after most people had left to hang out with my newly-made friends. (My mom didn't like this one bit; she had driven up two and a half hours just to pick me up) But I loved this new place. Things were so laid back here, and I had real freedom for the first time in years. I was my own person.
So that summer my mom left to Taiwan to become a novice, and the following fall I was plopped in the dorm of the Developing Virtue Boys School. The first month of school was more or less equivalent to a constant barrage of floggings with a steel-studded whip. I expected to be going to school with my fellow summer camp-mates, but when I got here I knew only two people (one of which was a counselor from summer camp who I hadn't really noticed before, and the other a student one year younger than me). But the teachers were nice, and the other dorm students warm and inviting; soon, I was one of the pack.
Ever since then, my experiences here at the school and the City have molded me into who I am today. I've learned everything that will be useful to me later in life in the past five years. Before I came here I was naïve, dreamy, and totally lost. I could never focus, and was too erratic for my own good. But when I got here, I settled down. I learned my life skills from those around me, students and teachers alike. I learned patience, the value of hardwork, appreciation for others, and a lot more than I can say in the measly 12 minutes they give me up here.
This place is my home, as weird as it is to say it. This is the only place where I really feel like I fit in and belong. All my friends are from here, and I'm so used to this life style that when I graduate this year I'll probably be lost for a few months before I find my ground. But it's time for me to move on; I can't stay here forever. Sure, I'll come back to visit for Honoring Elder's Day and Cherishing Youth Day, but no more than that. I can't cling on to this place too much. One thing this place has really taught me is how to let go of things. You can't attach yourself to something, or else when you lose it you lose yourself. So when I leave here I won't look back with wet eyes or anything. Instead, I'll remember all my days here and what they mean to me. I'll remember all that I've learned, and apply them to my life; this is the best way to honor what this place and everyone inside it have done for me. Thank you for your time.