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Journey of the Mind through the 7-day Surangama Retreat

Being curious and fascinated about the Surangama Sutra, there was no hesitation whatsoever to attend the Surangama Dharma Camp, for the second time.

Flights booked. Time off from work arranged. Bow arched…arrow aimed…off I went with a beginner’s mind to Dharma Drum Retreat Center (DDRC).

DDRC is a beautiful sanctuary. Expansive. Peaceful. Natural. One can see bees and butterflies flying around in unison and hear crickets and birds humming in synchronicity – all in oneness of their true nature. I instantly felt the “I” got humbly small and filled with wondrous feeling and appreciation that everything has its joyful existence with infinite potential.

The Chan Hall is simple yet sacred. One can walk in there and sense the meditative stillness. I felt an immediate drawn to be mindful as I walked into the Chan Hall. This was where we, the retreat attendees, spent most of our time for the week.

We reported into Chan Hall at 2pm for orientation, followed by meditation, evening service, medicine meal (dinner) and Dharma talk before lights out for the first day. During this first evening service, I was totally moved by the printed words; my whole body and mind were resonating with the sound of chime and wooden fish, and the powerful harmonized chorus amongst all the attendees. It felt like that my outer façade had been ripped to shreds. Not sure what had happened there.

For remainder of the week, every full-day was a well-thought out regimen. Morning board woke at 4 AM with eight-form moving meditation at 4:30, followed by sitting meditation. Then rest of the day unfolded from there with Dharma talks, sitting/walking meditation and standing/sitting yoga – segmented between morning/evening services, meals and working meditation. This retreat, the surrounding environment, the dining hall, the dormitory, the Chan Hall and the regimen, were inclusively helpful for everyone to be mindful, at every routine, from moment to moment. This conducive framework helped us recognized the essence of Surangama Sutra via Guo Xing Fashi’s Dharma talks while integrating that “aha” understanding into our meditative/mindful practices throughout the week.

Although not easy to comprehend conceptually, I appreciate Guo Xing Fashi’s thoughtfulness and hard work on structuring his talks on the essence and overall of the sutra as well as the details from within the essence. This allowed the audience to be able to see the entire forest as well as the trees from within, investigating further as we need after the retreat. Per Fashi, the essence, really, of this sutra, is the “True Mind” versus the “Deluded Mind.” It points directly to our true mind so our true nature could unfold and realize Buddhahood. Through our Chan practice, we can rise above the dualistic subject-object clinging nature of our deluded mind and see our true mind from behind. He also explained how the dark void, world and sentient beings were created from the mind, generating boundless karmic forces and receiving endless retribution. The relationships of three subtleties and six coarse aspects, five skandhas and other phenomena to our deluded nature were also discussed, along with other crucial details of the sutra. I particularly enjoyed Fashi’s directness on questions and conveyance of the Dharma. His Q&A sessions were equally effectual, allowing insights at a more profound level. Although the integration of the sutra understanding into my practice was on-and-off during the retreat, Fashi’s talks motivated me greatly on a quest to find true mind in a direction that I had never thought about.

I also had the honored to learn and partake the time-keeping duties to mindfully serve the wonderful group of 50+ people in the Chan Hall, focusing on administering the appropriate cadence and sequence on the wooden fish, drum, chime, incense board and wooden blocks, and leading eight-form moving meditation and yoga exercises, with the intention of creating a conducive and orderly meditative environment. The expansive feeling of oneness when everyone was sitting on their cushions meditatively while my mind was hovered the entire Chan Hall is especially inexpressible.

The last day came quickly. On the plane back home, flying in mid-air…waves and waves of thoughts and images gushed all over “mind.” Chang-Hwa Fashi. Chang-Di Fashi. Guo Xing Fashi. Fellow Time-Keepers and retreat attendees. Surangama Sutra. DDRC. They all participated in “mind” and each played their roles perfectly, that summed up a memorable experience that was indescribable.

Now that I’m home, back to my daily hustling and bustling distractions of metropolitan life. Sitting in front of my desk and trying to sum up my trip experience in writing. Not an easy task…the gratitude, the joy, the learning, the sentiment…all came gushing back. I had to take breathers between sessions to finish this up. Asking myself…what did I learn? A lot. One thing is for sure though. Sentient beings like me constantly need to learn about the right view (through Dharma) and apply that learning into daily practices, not just on the cushion but also in daily life.

Okay. Enough said. So, who’s talking? Not sure. Who said “no sure?” Don’t know… Where did all that come from? Was it my mind? Or, just mind? The search continues…


(by Warren Hsing)



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