CMC Hosts the Camp of 360 Degree Meditation Retreat
I started getting into Buddhism at the beginning of this year. I had been reading books, participating in chanting sessions at Chan Meditation Center in Queens.
Now, You may ask me why there was no meditation on the list. The answer is I was afraid of this profound practice, which I thought I was not ready for, until about three weeks ago. Ven. Chang Di from the Chan Meditation Center handed me an application form for 360 degree Meditation Retreat in upstate New York, after one of the chanting sessions. I was extremely flattered by that Ven. Chang Di thought I was ready for the practice of meditation, which finally walked into my life.
The excitement didn't last long. The day before the registration day, I was at home packing, the unknown worries hit me from head to toe. What kind of life routine do they have up there? What will happen during the meditation practice? How are they going to arrange us? What if I will not be able to make 3-days through? Tons of questions were swirling in my mind, quickly. With anxiety and excitement, I arrived in Darhma Drum Mountain Retreat Center in Shawangunk.
The first building I saw was the reception hall, a very neat country house painted white standing by the entrance. We were brought in to the house and warmly welcomed by the well-known sweet volunteers. The inside was simply decorated, with wooden floors and shelves on the wall with the books by Shifu, Chan Master Sheng Yen. Soon we were assigned numbers and rooms. On the way walking to the dorms, we passed the dining hall, a few fields of grass ground and a fence-surrounded garden, where some volunteers were working on the plants. Everyone I passed by was smiling at me, everything in the campus seemed so peaceful and warm. I was still wondering in my wonderland, when a two-story dormitory appeared in front of me. On the 2nd floor, where I stayed there was a long hallway, the rooms were on both sides, bathrooms were at the end of the hallway. I found my room on the right side. The sun shined into the room through the windows. I dropped my luggage and decided to take a look at the Chan Hall. The Chan Hall was located on the top of the hill on the other side of the entrance. There were two stone lions standing in front of the building, simple and venerable. I carefully entered through the side door and cat-walked into the main hall. What a place! Everything was made of wood even the statue of Buddha, big windows surrounded the whole room which was lit by the natural sunshine. The cushions were already placed on the floor. I found my assigned cushion, sat down and closed my eyes. It was so quiet that I could hear the vibration of the air, as if my body had evaporated into the atmosphere, the energy was mixed together. I felt ONE at that very moment.
The first afternoon, 360 Degree Meditation Retreat officially started after the video of Shifu’s guidance. In the video, he mentioned the rules and purpose of this retreat, which were NO names, NO talking, NO reading, No phone calls, following the schedule, looking into ourselves. Then followed by the lessons of meditation and my first serious practice of sitting meditation. How was it? It was very tough that I almost fell asleep. The following meditation practices on the same day were all the same, struggling to wake myself up. Somehow, the first day had passed quickly through my napping meditation. Day 2, we walked into Chan Hall in the early morning with the stars’ company. While we were doing the exercises of moving meditation, my mind traveled back to the time I was studying at the board dance school. The same feeling, half sleeping, half moving, was I doing exercises or sleepwalking? But, somehow, that was the most relaxing moment of my mind for the whole day. Because of that, in that very morning, I had the unforgettable experience of sitting meditation. I was that light, I was so light that I could not even feel the existence of myself. I was that clear-minded, the mind was so clear that I could see everything but without seeing it with my eyes. I was that focused, I was so focused that I was not aware of anything distracted at the moment. Bing(the Buddhist chime)! It was the first time I wished it could have been longer. But, the weather is not always sunny. I went back to my napping meditation again in the afternoon. Therefore, the consistency takes time. The only time we were allowed talking during the whole retreat was the session called Buddhism Q&A which occurred in the evening of the 2nd day. Maybe because we hadn’t talked for a day and half, the Q&A was unusually fierce. I listened for the whole time, at the same time my mind was dragged to the other place as always. I was thinking what a wonderful world that we have so many people who are extremely interested in Buddhism. Maybe the world is not as ideal as we think now, but I believe that it could definitely be the mortal pure land in the future, by our efforts. We finished the day with a passionate Buddhism discussion. The last day had arrived, we were introduced to standing meditation. The Venerables led us on a walk into the woods not far from the Chan Hall. I had convinced myself to get over my fear of the woods, I took the walk with everyone. We walked through the narrow trail in the woods, there was no sound other than birds crying and the sound of walking on the falling leaves and branches. We passed by a beautiful pond (later on I learnt that it was Murray Pond), but we had been instructed not to look at any beautiful views in order to remain focused on the present walking meditation. Soon, we stopped by a rivulet. Abbot Ven. Guo Xing directed us to do standing meditation by starting with observing an object in the nature. I chose the puddle by a tree. I had noticed it earlier that the water drops were dripping down from the trees into the rivulet, making continuous ripples with the sound of water dripping. I found it easy to concentrate on the ripples in my mind. After a few moments had passed. I found that actually the whole puddle was constantly shivering, which made me think of the impermanence in Buddhism. Everything is constantly changing, which sometimes we don’t see as a mortal human being. And then, I saw the reflection of the tree, and the sky was so clear to me that I almost could not tell which was real, which drew me into the thinking of the emptiness in Buddhism. Everything actually is a reflection that we normally insist is real so that we often are being controlled by the vexation from unreal reflections. How far my mind had traveled! I was not following the Venerable’s instruction at all, just simply observing, having no other thoughts and comments although all those inspirations had came up to me. Afterwards, we returned to the Chan Hall and concluded by separating into groups and discussing the experience of this retreat.
At the end, there was an introduction session of all the volunteers who had worked for us during this time. I was surprised that we had so many volunteers during this retreat, and felt extremely grateful for the people who had vowed to make this happen and the people who volunteered for all this hard work. What a beautiful world I am living in! On the way home, Chen Ce, who volunteered to car-pull four of us back to the city, said:” Why is the road so beautiful, why does everything seem so beautiful right now!” Even though we struggled getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning, maintaining the position of sitting meditation, and so many other difficulties during these 3 days, we still got something---the mind is clearer, the heart is calmer, the soul is more centered. The next is, how we keep it and get improvements day by day. I have read a book called “What I Talk About is What I Talk About Running” by a Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. He was talking about his running and writing practices. He thinks that there are three elements for those two things, which are TALENT, FOCUS, and ENDURANCE. I totally agree with him because those three elements can fit in almost everything that people are trying to achieve. It obviously can be used on our Buddha paths. It is as if we are in the maze without any hints. But suddenly, there is a thread shown on the ground like the sutra. Everyone has the talent of knowing that we have to get out of this maze by following the thread. Meanwhile, we need to have the focus and 100% believe to follow the thread that will absolutely lead us out of the maze and also the endurance to maintain the steps walking out every single day.
Blessings to everyone!
(by XiaoChuan Xie 謝小川)