The Laughing Buddha
By: Leonard Kalina
When I was a teenager in 1950's Brooklyn I collected photos of famous men; writers, artists, philosophers and visionaries. To fit in my collection their faces had to show character, wisdom and nobility.
They had to transcend the ordinary.
I'd open my scrapbook and gaze at Dylan Thomas, his ruddy face transported as he declaimed his verse; Albert Einstein, hair flying as he attacked his blackboard; Picasso, his eyes ablaze as his brush flew
across the canvas.
The struggle of each of these men to live an authentic life had left deep imprints on their faces. They did not shrink or disappear before the eye of the camera as I did. I could hear them whisper. "Go deeper. Seek an authentic life."
On the journey I met a few teachers whose faces would have fit perfectly in my scrapbook Living Buddha Dechan Jueren is one of them A few years ago, a friend from Sri Lanka told me about a remarkable Chinese teacher who was going to give a weekend workshop in LA. He said he was the 49th-generation Master of a recently rediscovered Esoteric Buddhist School; one that had been lost for 12 centuries. Ranjit also said that he did amazing healings, which caught
my attention since I had been having debilitating back pain for 15 years.
The workshop was to be held at a Temple east of downtown. The price was $108, the number of beads on a Buddhist rosary. Even the fee seemed auspicious. I decided to go.
The Dari Rulai Temple was a former church on a main street in the City of Alhambra, an hours drive from the Westside where I lived. It was a community with more signs in Chinese than English.
I took off my shoes and walked into a large room. This was no austere Zen space. Color swirled around me; Boddhisattvas surrounded by rainbow halos danced on the walls, and long red and gold banners covered with Sanskrit mantras floated down from the ceiling.
Five life-sized Bronze Buddhas draped with red, yellow and white scarves stared down at me from a high platform in front, while every shelf, altar and table was alive with smaller statues. Below the Buddhas was an altar, and in front of it a throne-like chair with
dragon arms. A central aisle flanked by two low yellow tables ran up to the chair.
I was very happy to see chairs in the room as I had been dreading the possibility that we would have to sit on the floor for two days.
Some 25 people were there for the workshop, and a smaller number dressed in burgundy robes sat in the front row. Several of them fingered enormous black rosaries which hung down almost to their knees.
Most of them were conservative looking Chinese, while the majority of the Workshop participants seemed to be New-age seekers from the Westside of L.A.
On opposite sides of the front altar, two robed disciples sat in front of a temple gong and a large drum covered with painted dragons.
One picked up a trumpet and sounded three blasts. Everyone settled down.
The musicians played a deep meditative rhythm; one strike of the gong followed by two drumbeats. My mind was lost in the sound when suddenly I felt some movement coming from behind us. I turned to see a
tall man in golden robes striding down the center aisle. He had long flowing hair brushed out upon his shoulders and a long beard streaked with grey. He appeared to be around 50. He fingered a crystal rosary in both hands as he walked. I imagined he was repeating mantras.
When he got to his chair the music stopped, he sat down, and nonchalantly tossed the beads around his neck.
The Master, whose dharma name is Dechan Jueren ("Attain Zen/Awakened One") was the picture of an Ancient Chinese sage. His size and robust physicality were not those of an effete Taoist scholar. I
later learned he was from Manchuria. That was the reason he was half a foot taller than his Han Chinese disciples. He had a bit of the warrior about him, and I could understand the ease with which his Manchu
ancestors had conquered China.
He stood up to talk, in Chinese, and a bespectacled monk started translating in competent but somewhat stilted English. I was disappointed that Dechan Jueren spoke only Chinese.
He began to teach us the first of the Four meditations he would cover during the weekend. It was called "Calming and Relaxing" and was to lead us into the first stage of Zen. With a tape of Chinese
music playing in the background, he asked us to put our awareness in each part of our body. Slowly, repeating each direction three times, he had us relax each muscle and nerve from the top of our head down to the bottom of our feet . After 20 minutes of this my mind still wandered, but my body was too relaxed to let it go very far.
Then he had us focus on a series of poetic images that seemed to flow out of an ancient Chinese brush painting - a Bodhisattva meditating on a rock next to a calm sea; a boat slowly disappearing over a hazy horizon; an old monk with a long white beard sweeping a courtyard.
By the end of the meditation I felt as if the calm of the
bodhisattva had transformed my awareness, the boat had vanished with my thoughts, and the old monk had somehow swept my mind clean.
This was a completely new experience of relaxation and emptiness.
After a break Living Buddha Dechan Jueren spoke about healing. Before teaching us specific techniques he offered us a demonstration. He said he wanted to show us how Esoteric Buddha Dharma can effect changes in our everyday physical reality.
He had a pen in his hand and a smile on his face when he asked us to hold our palms toward him and close our eyes. He was twenty feet away.
I distinctly felt a tingling sensation cross my left palm and then stop.
I peeked; he was slowly moving his pen across the space in front of him When the path of the pen crossed my right palm the tingling returned
and then stopped when it passed my hand. The feeling was undeniable. How was this possible? He said moving the pen was akin to him using the Copper
Staff, one of the 72 Dharma Instruments of esoteric Buddhism. He said that this technique could be used for healing.
Immediately, I began to hope that the Master could help to heal the spinal problems that had plagued me for years. I had limited mobility in my back, and could not turn my neck at all. Doctors diagnosed me with a form of Ankylosing Spondylitis; the connective tissue between the vertebrae was slowly calcifying. I had good reason to fear that I was well on my way to the final stage called "Bamboo Spine," in which the whole spine becomes one solid bone. Nothing I had tried was able to reverse the condition.
At the end of the Workshop, I found out that every morning Living Buddha Dechan Jueren did healing at the temple.
I soon began making the long trek from the West Side.
The first time I joined a few other visitors who were sitting on chairs in the middle of the temple. We were asked to close our eyes and hold our hands palm up on our knees. The Master spent the whole 40 minutes in animated conversation with some Chinese visitors, and I was vexed that he didn't seem to be paying any attention to us. During the session I didn't feel much but after returning home I noticed a deep
relaxation spreading through my back.
The next time I returned I was obsessing over the pain in my lower back. He had me lie across a chair on my stomach and I felt a series of taps in the sacral area, and then he surprised me with a guttural shout.
When I stood up the pain was gone, and he was smiling at me.
That smile got me. It reminded me of something important that I had forgotten. I remembered another picture I had; a picture of myself as a 2-year-old boy. I once had a smile like that on my face,
innocent, pure, filled with the joy of the moment.
I wanted it back.
A short time later I took initiation and became a disciple of this Laughing Buddha, Master Dechan Juren.