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Propagating Chan Buddhism to the West for 20 yrs

Editor Notes
Gilbert Gutierrez, an attorney in U.S., also a seeker all his life, studied various martial arts and mind arts but couldn’t be satisfied until encountering with Master Sheng Yen.

He received Master’s teachings as well as Dharma transmission and started to propagate Chan Buddhism to the West ever since he became one of the Dharma Heirs of Master Sheng Yen.

How did he make all these possible?


By Gilbert Gutierrez

I have been a seeker all of my life. I grew up Roman Catholic. However I was never satisfied with Christianity. My main discomfort was how could a god create sentient beings and condemn some to everlasting hell. I thought, "Was the fault in God or his creations?" But God was perfect and god loved all his creations. Even as a boy of nine years old this troubled me.

As I grew up, this troubled me more. I sought to know the truth and sought for it all my life. Later I studied various martial arts and mind arts. I had a good capacity to eat bitter so I would quickly advance among the most serious students. As I studied Chi Gong I developed a strong concentration and meditative practice. I realized everything was created by the mind. I did various types of mind work and studied with some of the best Chi Gong masters.

Yet when I asked them why they practiced I generally received an altruistic answer that one practiced for the betterment of others. This response did not ring true. I felt that I was hearing a response from a beauty pageant contestant. There was no sincerity in the words. Practicing Chi Gong exposed me to incredible skills but still I was not satisfied. I was still seeking. One famous Master even made me his heir. Something still was missing.

Once a Chi Gong master, whose practice was Wei Tuo Pusa Chi Gong, told a Chinese student to get me a book on Buddhism. When the student inquired of the Master just what book he should give me the Master said "Any book." So the student brought me the “Diamond Sutra.” For those of you who have read it you know that this book requires serious study. When I first began to read the “Diamond sutra” something very curious happened. I felt light as if I was lifted into the sky. I was not actually being lifted but had that sensation. Closing the book brought me slowly down. I thought, "Hummm this is very strange. There must be something very important written in this book." I began to study it very diligently.

A short time later I was studying with another Chi Gong Master who was a non Buddhist master. When I interviewed with him I told him what I was looking for and he said I was not the master that he was looking for. I agreed but said maybe I could learn from him for a while. After studying with him for a short while I was not comfortable with his style. Just about this time Master Sheng Yen was going to give a lecture at UCLA, the University of California at Los Angeles. I found out the same afternoon just hours before he was going to speak. My wife and I rushed sixty miles to get to the lecture. I did not know him but I was told he was a great master.

Early that afternoon Master Sheng Yen arrived in town. He instructed his attendant Vera Lee to go out and find an American attorney who would help him with legal matters in the United States. Ms. Lee was confused she told him, "I do not know any Americans much less an Attorney where will I find him. Mater Shen Yen said , "You will find him." By the way I am a lawyer.



We arrived just before his lecture and the auditorium was crowded. The only two seats left were directly in front of Master Sheng Yen. As no one was sitting there we pushed our way along the crowd to sit in the seats. (Many years later I asked Shifu who were those seats for and he said VIPs, oh well for that night we were VIPs.) As Shifu's talk began I closed my eyes and did not move. I listened very carefully to these wonderful words that Shifu was speaking. I thought "yes true true, yes so correct, so clear". All at once I felt like I came home. I finally knew what I was seeking- Wisdom, beautiful, incredible, simple, and ordinary wisdom. It made sense of the human condition. Shifu had an ability to talk to the few thousand in the room and make them feel that he was addressing them alone. Yes I will follow this Master. As he finished lecturing I opened my eyes and Shifu was looking directly at me smiling and nodded his head. Then we left him to the crowd. I never said a word to him.

The next day I had a Chi Gong class with the Master that I was practicing with. On the way in to his house I had decided that this would be my last class and I would devote myself to study with Shifu. Now a little earlier before I arrived Vera Wang was at the Chi Gong Master's house asking about a possible treat for Shifu. After they finished she asked him. "You wouldn't happen to know any western attorneys?"
He said yes one is coming right now if you want to wait for him. When I came in she jumped up and quickly began explaining who she represented. Before she finished I told her of course I would help him. I told her that I just heard his lecture at UCLA.

That night she saw Shifu and told him that she found me. She said "Shifu, he was at your lecture last night." Shifu told her "I know he was, and his practice is very good."

So began my work with Shifu using wisdom in every action of body, speech and mind until there was no wisdom to use. Guided by Shifu's instructions and directed by the Bodhisatva vows. When Shifu selected me as a Dharma heir the actual ceremony was very quick and simple. Most of the time was spent in Shifu explaining the Three prerequisites to become a Dharma heir. The First is a Stable morality; The Second Bodhichita the interest in delivering sentient beings and The Third Right View. Of the three I consider Right View the most important. Right View is not book knowledge of mind; it is a direct experience and thorough application of Mind. With Right View Morality and Bodhichita will naturally follow.

It is best exemplified in the ancient masters directions:

"Sages return consciousness to mind;
Fools turn mind into consciousness."


Once I met Shifu my life changed I was always assisting him with various projects in the USA. The more help I gave the deeper my practice became. I know that this lifetime I should have started my practice earlier. I remember the first business meeting I had with Shifu and his monastics. There was a monastic Guo Chuo Shih (果稠) who was quite bright. I said to him that he should have been an attorney. Shifu quickly said looking at me pointing his finger, "And you should have been a monk!" Next lifetime that is my first order of business. Instead of crying at birth I want to say as I am coming out, "Amitofo."




Becoming a Dharma Heir is not a privilege or honor. It is an accepted commitment to the Dharma and delivery of sentient beings (even if they are of an illusory nature). My serious commitment began years earlier when Shifu conferred Inka to me. Then I knew my life was going to change. I have striven not waste time that could be used in the delivery of sentient beings either by lecture or by following the Buddhas in study. I lament that my practice is still too poor and my effort is not strong enough. But I vow to try harder and not waste a breath. Shifu always reminded us that the number of our breaths was finite- we just don't know how many of them we have.

I have a study group in Riverside, California. I am fortunate to have followers that record my lectures and transcribe them for the benefit of all English speakers. These lectures can be accessed at riversidechan.org. Hopefully one might find some benefit in these studies.


The future of the Chan School is in our hands. Especially in America I am concerned in the over standardization of the Chan practice. There is merit in organizing studies but Chan CAN NOT be taught. It is not an intellectual exercise and it must be presented from the very first class with Right View. Right View cannot be left for later while new students practice consciousness and expect to awaken from a dream- to what another dream? The essence of mind is mind. The substance of mind is mind. Without Right View we may be teaching new students to sit like duck decoys (wooden ducks) on a pond wishing for enlightenment.

When I encounter new students I don't teach them the four noble truths right away. I ask them to imagine a red apple in their mind. Then I ask them what is it projected on? Where is the world projected on? Consciousness is part of mind but mind is its substance. Like a fraction. Consciousness is the numerator and mind is the denominator. (i.e. 1/8). We should not shy away from mind just to use meditation as a pacifier. We should utilize the spirit of Chan moment to moment. The Buddha is in the present moment. My plan for the future is to continue exposing practitioners to the Right View so that we can all benefit.

The most important lesson Shifu instructed me in is to rest in the present moment. He would say, "I am always resting. I am now resting from studying and later I will be resting from lecturing." It is not a mundane rest, although not separate from it. It is resting the mind by following function in the present moment. Not attaching to thoughts as we course through our day. Resting allows us to be mindful that causes and conditions never fail. Our minds are free via body, speech and mind to select the best course of action via wisdom to harmonize with the environment.

I close with a quote from Lin-Chi (臨濟禪師) ever vigilant in the search for the “true man”.

"There is no end to this talk. Each of you, do your best! Thank you for your trouble."

By Gilbert Gutierrez


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