Coming into the Light:
A Sharing from the Retreat in Moscow

Hi! I am Maria from Russia. I’m thirty years old and I’d like to share with you how I became a Buddhist and how I was an interpreter during the retreat in Moscow urban this May, led by Venerable Guo-Xing (果醒法師).

How did I come to practice Buddhism? Well, my first encounter was at the age of 18. The next year, I went for further studies in China and became a volunteer translator for Lung-quan Monastery (龍泉寺), in Beijing. It was through the various events and activities I participated in where I came in contact with “Humanistic Buddhism.” It was revealed to me how one could be granted the opportunities to benefit others as well as the self. This view has kindled within me ever since, to have faith and explore more of the treasures embedded in Chinese Buddhism.

However, to my disappointment, there is rarely direct access to Chinese Buddhism in Russia. People who are interested can only come across Tibetan Buddhism through Buryatiya and other religious participation, or by chance, the visiting lamas from overseas in recent decades. It seems that the only portal here to Chinese Buddhism and traditional Chinese cultures is through some of the related practice groups such as martial arts, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, etc.

Though my pursuit of doctoral studies was planned right after graduating from university, and studied Chinese Buddhism, it was rather difficult to find any professional guidance who is mastering the art of Chinese Buddhism in Moscow. Fortunately, I was forwarded, by a colleague when I worked in Respublika Buryatiya, to the Dean of Confucian Academy, Buryat State University, and under her supervision, started my research on the history of Ritsu Buddhist School in Late Ming and Early Qin Dynasty. I’ve been studying for three years.

While I was engaged in data collection and literary reviews for my dissertation, I found the Buddhist Studies Person Authority Databases very useful, which are sponsored by Dharma Drum Institute of Liberal Arts. And, a wide range of books by Chan Master Sheng-yen were also of great value for me. This paved my way to be in contact with Dharma Drum Mountain. How much I appreciated these practical aids! I had so much diverse affinities with Dharma Drum Mountain. You could imagine how thrilled I was, when I was invited to be a volunteer oral interpreter for this Chan retreat!!

So far, my understanding of Chan was basically literary and theoretical, even though I had been taking the refuge to the treasures of Buddhism and been a Buddhist from an early age. It didn’t dawn on me that I was rather inexperienced in practice until I was actually IN the retreat for the first time, so it was a significant breakthrough for me! As I did not know how to make myself comfortable in sitting meditation; I did not know any methods to relax my mind and body, particularly, my poor, aching, numbing legs. Even with the encouragement from my boyfriend, I still felt embarrassed and frustrated every time I released my legs before the sitting sessions were over.

During this retreat, I didn’t find many differences with the practices at home. Old issues emerged again, making me feel uneasy. Thanks to the words of wisdom from my boyfriend, as always; he urged me to ask the venerable teachers, and it relived my feelings of helplessness and shyness. I thus learned from them how to observe my own breathing, such as counting the breaths. I learned to assign a number to every exhale, from number one, while trying to focus on the last sound of each breath I count in my mind. On the other hand, I understood that numbing legs means poor blood flow. By keeping the way of relaxing, prolonged the counting number in Russian, and listen carefully to the number I was counting. I was gradually able to settle my mind and sit still for about half an hour, with less pain, even with numbing legs for sure! Upon the improvement, I was more calm, confident and motivated. “I didn’t like sitting meditation, now I know what to do. I think I am going to practice more afterwards!” I said to my boyfriend, exultingly.

By the way, I also want to share with you how thoughtful the team was during the retreat. My boyfriend and I actually brought our seven-month-old baby girl to the retreat with us. Before we set off, there were so many things to worry about: Do they have facilities for baby care? How am I going to heat the baby food? Is it a bumpy pavement for the baby pram? Lots and lots of questions and uncertainties overwhelmed us as green-hand parents.

Out of our surprise, the venue was in a beautiful and well-equipped hotel, situated in a quiet suburban scenery spot. The hotel was built by a Russian who has been practicing Shao-lin martial art for years. The architectural style is a combination of various cultural elements such as China, India, Russia, etc. and found a gym to serve as a temporary Chan Hall perfectly.

The venerable teachers were so considerate that they allowed us to attend the lectures with the baby, since she was not so noisy. So, we got the chance to learn the meditation methods of Silent Illumination and Hua Tou. And certainly, the value, flexibility, and vitality of Chinese Buddhism! What an experience for us during the seven-day retreat! My boyfriend and I were taking turns, busy taking care of the baby, the translating, the sitting meditation, and everything else. But it was very rewarding!!

It was time to say good-bye to the retreat! Still, my heart was filled with delightful feelings like coming into the light…I wonder, however, if it is a falling star for once or a rising sun for the everlasting sky? I hope for the latter. Many hoped that the Dharma Drum Mountain keeps conveying the Dharma message to my country. Many hoped that through the venerable Chan teachers as Master Sheng-yen’s teachings, the Russian people could benefit more and have more explicit access to Chinese Buddhism. For me as an interpreter, I’d like to connect these resources to one another. And as usual, I pray to the Buddha: please help me in my support to my family as much as in my dedication to the Buddhist prosperity and well-being. Thank you!

Written by: Maria (in Chinese)
Transaltion: Chen, Amanda
Editing: Huang, Christine

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A Sharing from the Retreat in Moscow