Annual Summer Retreat for the Sangha: Building Consensus toward a Common Vision

Social and environmental phenomena such as low birth rate, aging population, unequal distribution of wealth, extreme weather from climate change, disruptive innovation and more are breeding anxiety and unrest in our modern lives. How can DDM fulfill its role as a stabilizing force in society?

The Annual Summer Retreat for the Sangha was held on June 1-29. With a theme around self-improvement and building consensus, it began with a twenty-one-day intensive Chan retreat at DDM World Center for Buddhist Education, and successfully concluded with a Learn and Share workshop at Tiannan Monastery. Mr. Yan Changshou, the Chairman of the Alliance Cultural Foundation, was invited to speak on the topic, “See DDM's Course and Bearing on the World Map”, while Mr. Chang Changbang, President of DDM Fellowship, shared his thoughts on “DDM through the Eyes of its Supporters and Followers”, all in the hope that DDM's direction and methods in spreading the Dharma can keep up with the times, so as to better address people’s needs.

During the twenty-one-day Chan retreat, the first seven days were guided by Master Sheng Yen's Dharma talk given at a seven-day retreat in 1998 for core volunteers, after which Venerable Chi Chern was invited to lead the retreat for the next fourteen days. Over one hundred Sangha members attended in either retreat. On the second day of the first retreat, a heavy rainfall storm hit Taiwan. Abbot President Venerable Guo Dong specifically called in from his Dharma Tour in USA to ask everyone to include recitations of Bohdisattva Avalokitesvara’s name in prayer for the disaster victims during daily morning and evening services. Outside the Retreat, other Sangha members and volunteers were busy with disaster relief work. Despite the pouring rain, they delivered food and water in person to ensure that the Summer Retreat was assiduously supported. Retreat participants, in their deepest gratitude, put in greater effort and diligence to advance their meditation practice.

Almost two hundred Sangha members participated in Learn and Share workshop organized by Tiannan Monastery. Upon entering the reception area, which was thoughtfully decorated by the Sangha with portrait exhibits of past ordinations from 1979 to 2016, they felt as if they had traveled back in time. Recalling old memories, having mutual understanding across three generations, and interacting with others, everyone had a chance to revisit their initial aspirations for joining the monastic order.

Two speeches were specifically arranged for the Learn and Share workshop. “See DDM's Course and Bearing on the World Map” given by Mr. Yan Changshou was an insightful analysis on how Taiwan came to the world stage during the global economy boom, and how Taiwan’s economy has evolved into its current state. He pointed out that religion is the soft power of Taiwan, and regardless of technological or cultural advancement, people will always have the need for spiritual exploration and pacification. Especially when our future is impacted by political and economic instability, DDM should do more as a stabilizing force in society, where DDM’s true value lies in.

The other speech was “DDM through the Eyes of its Supporters and Followers” by Mr. Chang Changbang, President of DDM Fellowship, who described the Ten Treasures at DDM. Other than DDM’s Vision and Master Sheng Yen's publications and Chan teachings, Mr. Chang also added the following to complete the list, Sangha members, DDM World Center for Buddhist Education, Bodhisattva Precepts, various rituals, Buddha Dharma courses, and two well know projects – Hospice Care and Eco-friendly Memorial Garden – in recent social limelight but initiated years ago by the Sangha. All of which represents the Dharmakaya of Master Sheng Yen, creating far-reaching impacts on society. Today, the Sangha members carry on Master Sheng Yen's aspiration and vows. Mr. Chang has hoped that the Sangha would seize every opportunity to spread the Dharma to benefit sentient beings and to introduce Buddha’s teaching to everyone because the world needs more of DDM.

In the session of "DDM’s Present and Future", Sangha members were separated into groups to discuss how the Sangha Community is impacted by low birth rate, aging population and etc. The general consensus amongst the participants is that low birth rate is not necessarily the direct cause of decline of monastic population. Instead, we need to go back to the source of issue to investigate and overcome the challenges leading to the decline of monastic population. The most important point is that as long as every member of the monastic order continues to improve oneself, we can lead by example and aspire people sharing the same ideals to join the monastic order. Henceforth, we can bring peace to self and others, and dedicate ourselves for a better society.

Master Sheng Yen once said, "We live in an environment that is not perfect. But if we can see it from a different mind and perspective, the society will be more delightful." After a month of retreat, all the participating Sangha members had a fruitful experience. With Master Sheng Yen’s teachings in mind, they were ready to return to their roles with joy in Dharma and a sense of peace, to benefit self and others for cultivating blessings and wisdom.

Texts: Dharma Drum Monthly (法鼓雜誌)
Translation: Chang, Cheng-Yu (張振郁)
Editors: Angela Chang (Canada); DDM Editorial Team

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