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Silent Illumination retreat with Zarko Andricevic (Dharma Drum Vancouver Center, 10/15~10/22)

On October 15, 2016, I attended my first 7 days Silent Illumination retreat in Dharma Drum Vancouver Centre. Silent Illumination is a method-less method. Teacher Zarko Andricevic teaches in simple language which is easy to understand. There are a lot of details in his teaching and some are pretty profound. All are very useful. When I told him that I could’nt remember all the details. He said just use what I can remember. So I will try to give a summary of what I can remember and what is useful to my practice at this time. He has a sense of humour that makes us laugh often. At the end of each lecture he will try to inspire us to want to go right back to sitting.

The method is also the goal. It is a very simple method of just sitting. Watch our body sensation and thoughts as a whole but not interfering with them. Not putting our self-centeredness into all arising phenomenon. Let it comes and goes. It is all about letting go. It is so simple and yet it can lead to some very profound insight; the insight of impermanence, no self, emptiness and the realization of our self nature. In fact, it is too simple for our complicated mind. We are all conditioned by social norm, and we have a habitual tendency to label, analysize, discriminate things. The instruction is simply not to cling on pleasant feelings and not to avoid unpleasant feelings. Let the sensation tells us what it really is instead of reacting to sensation in the habitual way.

Start by relaxing the body and mind. Leaving the past behind and do not worry about the future, just focus on the present moment. One way to relax the body is to relax part by part from the head to toes. Relax the body by releasing tension in the muscles. Another way to relax is to feel the sensation of the body. Cold, heat, numbness, pain, itchiness are examples of body sensation. It is most important to relax the eyes and the abdomen. After the body is sufficiently relaxed, start to be aware of body as a whole. Do not focus on any sensation that arises. Also, do not dwell on any thought that arises and make a movie out of it. Maintain this totality by being aware that our body are sitting in meditation. Clearly aware of the sensation of the body and our thoughts is “Illumination” and not reacting to our body sensations or thoughts is “Silent”. If we can do this consistently, eventually our body and mind will unify and we will lose the sense of the body. Continuing to practice in the same way, we will merge with the environment.

This is my fourth 7-day retreat since the beginning of this year. I was very confident about going to this retreat as I have been consistently going to the centre every Sunday morning to relax my body and mind. I was quite successful with it. Chang Wu Fashi had been emphasizing on building a good foundation by practicing relaxation first. As a good student, I always follow her instruction. For the past few months, I was able to sit for long period with a relaxed body and with few wondering thoughts.

However, the most unexpected thing happened, I was struggling with pain during the first 2 days of the retreat. I was trying to find all sorts of excuses for this. During the end of one of the lectures I have the opportunity to ask Zarko about the pain. His answer is interesting. He said that I was totally defeated, I lost the awareness of totality. I am not letting go of the arising sensation of pain and is discriminating the part with pain and the part with pleasant feelings. There is a “I” struggling with pain. So, the next time pain arises again I try to put his teaching into practice. I told myself just let it go and don't fight it. True enough, the pain does not intensify and I was able sit through it. There may even be a sense of lightness. Once I got used to this routine, the next few days went relatively smoothly. During the individual interview, I told Zarko about my achievement of letting go of pain. I was proud of myself and my ego was growing again. As soon as I did that, the pain returned. It was the last few sitting sessions and I was fighting the pain again. All sorts of thoughts have gone through my mind. “I cannot be a failure. I must not let my teachers down.” “ I must end this retreat with the best sitting ever. I must hang on and remain motionless.” My body was all tensed up again and when the bell finally rang, what a relief! It seemed that I did it but deep down I knew I lost the totality again.

Chang Wu Fashi mentioned two auxiliary methods that will aide our practice. These are the mindsets of repentance and gratitude. Without these two aiding conditions, it is hard to progress in any practice. We did these in the form of prostration. I found these particularly useful.

Every daily activity is a chance to practice silent illumination.

Despite the fight with pain, I wish that I could continue to practice in the retreat and did not want to go home. What is to be missed? A peaceful and quiet environment. The food is delicious. The teaching is excellent. Nothing to worry about, just put all my energy into the practice.

Special thanks to teacher Zarko and all monastics for your teaching. Also like to thank all the volunteers and participants for making this retreat a success. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

By Yoke Teng (Dharma Drum Vancouver Center)



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