New Experience of a Gentle Huatou Retreat

“Leave all previous instructions and experiences outside the Chan Hall” with these words the Retreat Master, Venerable Chang Hui, encouraged the retreatants to come to the retreat with a fresh and open mind uncluttered by what we have heard or experienced before. I began the 7-day retreat with the mind of a newly born baby, at least I tried to do so. This will be my fourth Huatou retreat and I was looking forward to enhance my practice, which often felt a bit disorganized. Sometimes I yearned for the simplicity and linear approach of observing one’s breath. But I was determined to stay with Huatou despite my difficulties.

We were told to approach the retreat like a vacation with relaxed mind to take every session as a new gift. The repeated encouragement to relax and stay relaxed helped to ease, and on some occasion, to transcend the burning pain in my back. During the first few days Venerable Chang Hui laid out the progressive structure of Huatou practice. I had been familiar with the terms of “reciting the Huatou, asking the Huatou and investigating it” but these terms with the exception of reciting the Huatou had remained unclear to me. Asking the Huatou was an enigma to me and investigating Huatou with a unified mind was just a dream of a distant future. And the big mass of doubt, well, it remained hidden in a big cloud of not understanding.

The Dharma talks brought clarity into my confused mind. Over time wandering thoughts diminished and a clear sense of wanting to become aware of “wu” arose. This sensation remained with me beyond the retreat days and carried over into the following week. The gentle atmosphere that was so characteristic of this retreat allowed my mind to became calm and stay relaxed not only during the meditation sessions but also during the work assignments. For the first time I was able to approach the work assignment as a meditation practice. My fellow retreatants’ unwavering commitment to their practice supported my mind when it was tempted to go astray. I am deeply grateful to Venerable Chan Hui as well as all others who made this retreat such a deep experience.

(by Eva Neumaier)

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