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3-day Retreat Reflection, Chan Meditation Center, NY

What is the best possible way to spend my Labor Day weekend? Is it to head on a road trip with friends, to indulge myself in the sun on the beach, or to max out my credit cards at the shopping mall? These things above, I have done them all. However the happiness that they brought me were short lived; in fact, it disappeared right afterwards. It wasn’t until I started to learn about Chan meditation, that I finally found a way to embrace true happiness. So, that is how I spent my Labor Day weekend this year. Apparently, I was not alone. There were more than twenty people who had attended the 3-day Chan meditation retreat at the Chan Meditation Center in Elmhurst, New York. Our lead teacher Ven. Changzhai had mentioned that she was very encouraged to see us willing to join her to practice Chan meditation. Just like every other retreat, I had gained a lot more things this time as well.


I don’t remember exactly since when I started enjoying being alone and letting Chan meditations become my favorite activity in life. Chan meditation does indeed make simple life enjoyable. The temporary Chan Meditation Center doesn't have enough space to accommodate the retreat participators to stay overnight; therefore, they have to go back to their own home after the last sitting session each day during the retreat. Walking home from the subway station, I was able to embrace the breezy wind and enjoy the scents from the flowers by the edge of sidewalks. Unlike during my daily routine, when I'm on the same path, all I can smell is the disgusting garbage and human sweat. Just like how in the dharma talk session, Master Shengyen, our Shifu, had mentioned: “the mind turns with the environments; environment turns along with mind.” When your mind is peaceful enough, you can perceive a rather not beautiful environment as beautiful and vice versa.


Practicing often is the key to carrying and maintaining a peaceful attitude towards life. Non-practitioners are not able to realize their vexations and emotions that are hiding inside of them. However, those vexations and emotions will not go away by ignoring them or not realizing them. In fact, they will all come out when you are meditating to surprise you. Luckily, Shifu, Master Shengyen, had taught and spread the methods that have been passed down by the Chan patriarchs. Supposedly, the method can get us through all the difficult scenarios that we encounter. Picking up the method and using it well, however, is not an easy thing. In order to practice well, according to Ven. Changzhai, we need to practice constantly and not only at the Chan Meditation Center, but also in day-to-day life. In Shifu’s dharma talk, he told interesting Chan Master stories (konan) that had happened in the past to make us curious and more interested in Chan, as well as, reminding us to practice every minute as well so that way in the future we can reach the state of no mind from being able to utilize our true mind.

Us, ordinary beings, in general use our vexed mind to deal with things instead of true mind. However, by practicing hard, it is possible for us to improve ourselves towards the ‘true mind or no mind’ direction. What the world is like is created by our mind. At the Chan Meditation Center, the current space is rather narrow and badly ventilated compared to most of the other meditation centers. Not only that, with simple and basic insulation in the building, the variety of noises from the exterior have absolutely no problem penetrating the exterior walls to disturb us.

Shifu, in the dharma talk had mentioned the Konan about Master Huineng, the sixth patriarch. In the story, there are two monks who are arguing about a blowing flag. One argues that it is the wind moving while the other one argues that it is the flag that is moving. Master Huineng, however, said that it is your mind moving. When my mind is moving with the noise, I would pull my mind back to the method and remind myself that it is all from my mind. I believe that because our retreat is rather short, everyone is trying hard to cherish this time to practice. After the walking meditation session on the second day, Ven. Changzhai was happy to see us working hard, and praised us with encouraging and warm words.

Speaking of walking meditation, slow walking meditation is my favorite. I enjoy the feeling of forgetting distance and time. During the sharing time, someone had shared that for him, it was easier to focus when walking versus sitting. I agree with that. I have always thought I was pretty good with slow walking meditation, until this time when I got a chance to walk right after Ven. Changzhai. By seeing how focused and gentle she walked, I finally realized how awkward it was the way I walked and I corrected myself.

The three days had passed fast, the monastics and volunteers at Chan Center sincerely prepared food and comfortable space to provide us an environment to practice at our best. Every detail shows their care and love, which made the three days very memorable. Every time, Master Shengyen’s talks precisely hit our problems in such a vivid and interesting way. His words are like a sharp knife that helps us cut our vexations. He has never left us.


Written by Wenshu Xie, Chan Meditation Center, NY

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