Reflections on the 7-day Huatou Retreat (4/22~4/29 in Dharma Drum Vancouver Center)

I just attended the recent 7 day Huatou retreat. Although I have been practicing Zen, in another lineage, for nearly 8 years and have attended many 7 day retreats, this is the first 7 day retreat hosted by Dharma Drum that I have attended. The style of this retreat was quite different from what I have been used to. I was favourably impressed.

The first thing I noticed was the emphasis on relaxation. I felt that opening the day with the 8 form movement meditation was a great way to not only wake the body and mind up, but to also relax both in preparation for the coming days of meditation. The overt emphasis on relaxation as key to effective meditation was helpful even to someone who has been meditating for years. Concrete methods of promoting this relaxation were taught and emphasized. I found this very helpful.

In fact the teaching part of the retreat was exceptional. I felt that the instruction in the Huatou method was clear and concise. I am not a newcomer to Huatou, or what we would have called in our lineage koan work, but the instruction I received helped me use the method much more effectively than I ever did in the past. I am very grateful for this, as now this has become my method of choice and has become very beneficial.

This clear teaching of methodology extends to other practices we engaged in. Walking practice, prostration practice, Chan yoga practice, work practice, even eating and sleeping practice were paid attention to and explained. This in conjunction with the emphasis on relaxation lead to a very effective and growth filled retreat. I am not one to speak at length publicly about my retreat experiences. These things are deeply personal. Further, in my experience, what most people want to hear about is what I call fireworks. Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the deep earthquakes of retreat much more than the fireworks. Let us say I was happy with my rumblings.

None of this would have been possible if the retreat did not feel safe and secure. I would like to commend and thank all the monastics and volunteers involved. Their work was gentle, kind, generous, compassionate and seamless. Their handling of the retreat was a real tribute to their practice. We felt cared for. We felt secure. Most of all we felt welcome. Most of the participants were Chinese. As a result English was not the primary language of the retreat. Translations were always provided. Our translator was excellent and I cannot thank her enough for her hard work.

The purpose built facilities are clean comfortable and inviting…... and the food was fantastic!!! What more can I say.

To conclude, I will be attending future retreats at Dharma Drum and I have no hesitation recommending them to others. This retreat stands out in my experience as clear, effective, well run and most of all worthwhile.

Thank you

Tom Kaczmarski

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