Global Buddhist Village - Chan Buddhist Union


Global Buddhist Village - Chan Buddhist Union


In 1993, Master Sheng Yen transmitted the Dharma to Dr. John Crook, a British national, who vowed to practice the Master’s teachings and sow the seeds of Chinese Buddhism in Europe. Practitioners in Poland invited Master Sheng Yen to give guidance on Chan practice for the first time in 1997. Twenty years on, these Polish disciples have continued to practice diligently under the guidance of Ven. Chi Chern and Dr. Simon Child, constantly honing their faith in Chan teachings.

Before encountering Shifu, Master Sheng Yen, we firstly began Buddhist practice in a group that had roots in the Japanese Zen tradition (Anna in 1975, Paweł in 1984). In the early 1990s, the group experienced difficulties due to improper behavior of the teacher, which prompted us to look for a new teacher.

In 1994, a couple of its members got in touch with Master John Crook, the first Western Dharma heir of Master Sheng Yen, took part in one of his retreats, and in 1995, also with Shifu himself, in the United Kingdom. Impressed by the personalities and teaching of both teachers, they inspired several other Polish practitioners, and together they invited John Crook to come to Poland in 1996. John accepted the invitation, and gave a public lecture and led a retreat in Warsaw.

Chinese Chan Buddhism vs. Japanese Zen

John Crook would later come to Poland almost every year until his passing in 2011. His visits and guidance were of great importance to us. He showed us a slightly different taste of meditation than the one we had been used to. We saw that Chan offers more natural forms of meditation than Japanese Zen does, emphasizing such aspects as relaxation, not pushing for achievements, respect for the natural rhythm of practice, and acceptance of the present moment. It does not force anything. What it considers important is penetrating attention rather than intention.

Master Sheng Yen's Visit

Master Sheng Yen also came to Poland, and although it happened only once (in 1997), it was a significant visit. Our group invited him here after John Crook’s first visit. Shifu came with Guo-gu Shi, gave a public lecture and led a 7-day retreat for more than 50 people (including many members of other Buddhist groups). A Taiwanese television crew also arrived to film fragments of the retreat.

Although Shifu was a monk, it turned out he understood well the problems of lay people and the forces operating in this world, driven by vexations. He served us with his teaching and personal example during the short time he spent here.

Translating and Publishing Chan Texts

Shortly thereafter, the group began translating and publishing Chan texts. So far, we have published three of Shifu’s books (e.g. Getting the Buddha Mind, Dharma Drum: The Life and heart of Chan Practice), two books by John Crook (Illuminating Silence: The Practice of Chinese Zen-Master Sheng yen's talks from the retreat in England with John Crook's comments, World Crisis and Buddhist Humanism: End of Game Collapse or Renewal of Civilisation) and one by Master Yin-shun (The Way to Buddhahood). These are not big print runs, sales have been going slowly, and the readers have mostly been meditators.

Also Took Part in Chan Retreat Runing Abroad

Some of us did not limit ourselves to participation in John Crook’s regular Chan retreats in Poland, but also took part in those run abroad. We traveled to the United Kingdom, Switzerland, the United States, Germany, Lithuania, Russia, and even Taiwan, in other words, the places where Master Sheng Yen or John Crook happened to lead retreats.

Master Sheng Yen's Dharma Heir Kept Visiting Us

Master Sheng Yen passed away in 2009 and John Crook in 2011. After their passing, the group did not remain without teachers. Master Sheng Yen’s first Dharma heir, Master Chi Chern, visits us each year with his assistants. He has been coming from Malaysia since 2008, always in August. Apart from that, in late winter or early spring, Master Simon Child from Great Britain comes and runs shorter retreats (7-10 days). The visiting teacher usually gives a public talk in Warsaw, addressed to a wide audience.

Ecumenically-Minded Chan Practices

We meditate together each Friday afternoon, renting the premises of another Buddhist group in downtown Warsaw. Once a month, on a Saturday, we have a 6-hour meditation period there, during which a Chan talk recorded in one of the retreats is played for cultivating our correct views.

We are “ecumenically-minded.” Some of us sometimes join other groups for practice, and we are also visited sometimes (both for the Friday practice and occasionally for retreat) by people from other traditions or those who practice without any affiliation. This gives an opportunity to do some additional meditation together, fosters mutual understanding, and prevents the arrogance of a “we are better than others” attitude.

Group members want to deepen their understanding of Buddhist teachings and base their lives on them, and they orient their practice accordingly. The core of the group consists of a few people who have been practicing for a few decades. For those people, Chan is their principal tradition. Their practice is quite stable. They find support in the teachings, available texts (including Chan Magazine), and opportunities for interviews with teachers, in their own experience and in having dealt with difficulties in the past, and sometimes in mutual conversations. They can also be of service to people with shorter practice experience. We are open to conversations about meditation with various people interested in it, including those who are not planning to join the group.

Future Challenges

Poland has traditionally been a Catholic country, and Buddhism is a new religion here. Forms of practice that would fit the local culture, customs, and living conditions have not developed here yet. Even the adaptations of Chan to British conditions (Western ones, so more familiar to us than Asian ones), initiated by John Crook, have not had time to take root.

People attending seven-day retreats are usually elites. For those who are striving to support their family, a Chan retreat is almost out of reach. Many misunderstand that Buddhist practice only takes place at retreats, in a meditation hall. These pose big challenges for Chan practice in Poland. That also reminds us practicing Chan is like water dripping through cobble stones, continuation is possible only with long steady flow.

By Anna Jedynak & Paweł Rościszewski(Chan Buddhist Union, Poland)

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