3 Day retreat with Guo Xing Fashi, Sydney (30. Mar – 1.April,13)

Every retreat is different, this retreat was no exception. The venue for the retreat was situated in Northern Sydney, close to the water and also bush land. This was the first time for DDM Sydney to use this venue.

Upon arriving at the venue, it was clear that a bit of spring cleaning would be a good idea. While getting the venue ready for the retreat, we could hear constant dog barking that came from somewhere close by. I wondered how these three days would go.
As this was a new venue, initially I felt uncomfortable, however, as the retreat began formally, I felt clearer and more at ease. Guo Xing Fashi spoke to us in a friendly manner. He mentioned at the beginning of the retreat that the participants varied in levels of Chan practice experience and thus he wondered how he was going to guide us.

Being new to Chan Buddhism and retreats, I’m always very keen to see what I would learn from Fashi and my own practice. During this retreat, Guo Xing Fashi spoke about HuaTou and Silent illumination methods and also other different ways to alter our thinking in order to scaffold our comprehension of things as they are. All this I found highly fascinating and mind opening.

Something from this retreat that stuck with me was the realisation that philosophical understanding alone will not be able to put my everyday busy mind at ease. My curiosity in Buddhist Psychology now needed something else to alter the way I felt on a day to day basis. During one Dharma talk, Guo Xing Fashi spoke about how to deal with leg pain. He raised the question of whether or not we would be affected so much by the pain if we did not dislike pain in the first place. This made perfect sense to me and I started to practice sitting with the pain and not disliking it. I thought I was doing a pretty good job of it. The next day, during another Dharma talk, I was trying to practice sitting with my leg pain without being affected by the pain, I have no idea how long Fashi spoke for, however, as Fashi continued to talk, I realised the pain was really getting to me, no matter how I tried to be at peace with the pain, I was not liking the pain at all. Eventually I let my half lotus go and changed sitting positions. This process allowed me to see that all things take practice. No pain no gain.

At the end of the retreat, when everyone had the chance to share their experiences, it seemed that everyone was very thankful to Fashi for his guidance and to the volunteers for their hospitality. Many spoke about how the dogs barking and the less that five star venue did not affect them so much during Chan practice. I spoke about how Guo Xing Fashi was a model of a great teacher to me, he was always kind to us, explaining concepts one step at a time and with great patience and flexibility. I will always remember this part of our conversation at an interview:

Me: Fashi, what if I don’t do it (Change my previous negative habits, using Chan methods to help me)

Fashi: Then it can’t be helped.

So I walk away from the retreat this time knowing that I must be responsible for my own happiness and wellbeing by practising. There are no short cuts.

(shared by DDM Sydney)

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