Returning to the most natural state:
7-day Bilingual Silent Illumination Chan Retreat
led by Zarko Andricevic

At the invitation of Dharma Drum Mountain (DDM), Zarko Andricevic, one of the Western Dharma Heirs of DDM’s Founder, Master Sheng Yen, and the Founder of Dharmaloka in Croatia, led a 7-day Bilingual Silent Illumination Chan Retreat at DDM World Center for Buddhist Education on September 23-30, 2018.

More than 130 practitioners enthusiastically partook in the retreat, of which about half were foreigners, coming from the US, the UK, Germany, France, Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mainland China and Hong Kong; as well as many local Taiwanese participants.

Altogether, all practitioners experienced the intensive practices of Chinese Chan within 8 days and 7 nights in complete noble silence. Besides continuous sessions of sitting meditation, standing meditation, fast and slow walking mediation, eight-form moving meditation, and sitting and standing yoga exercises, practitioners also took on various duties during working meditation, to help them experience the method of “stillness in motion,” which was a good way to guide them in how to apply Chan in daily life.

In concise, simple yet very clear manner, Zarko gave his daily Dharma talks about the method of Chan – many practitioners later expressed how happy they were with the teachings because of how helpful they were to their practice. And through real-time bilingual interpretation (English/Chinese), it allowed participants who spoke different languages to also grasp precisely the meanings and essence of the teachings. The talks were very broad but cohesive in scope, embodying basic concepts of Chan practice, historical contextual development of the Silent Illumination Chan Practice of the Caodong (Japanese: Soto) School, practical methods of sitting meditation, and the useful principles in dealing with body-mind phenomena. As a result, it was a systematic and thorough introduction to Silent Illumination for all local, international and Westerner participants; in this regard, Zarko gradually guided all to a deeper comprehension of the background, methods, and daily application of Silent Illumination.

Over and over again, Zarko expounded the significance of Silent Illumination from various perspectives: silent means “unmoving”, namely not to habitually react to, label, nor discriminate any phenomena from body and mind; instead, take a holistic view of the totality of all sensations and mental states, and maintain a settled, peaceful and quiet mind. Whereas illumination means clear and bright awareness; through practicing this illuminating awareness, we could be rid of our habitual patterns of perception, and use this practice to let go of the attachments to our body and other phenomena, thereby gradually dissolving the sense of self. A refreshed view on the original nature of phenomena would thus arise accordingly.

Zarko also quoted from Master Hongzhi Zhengjue (宏智正覺) , “Without contacting the things, it knows; Without oppositions, it illuminates” (不觸事而知;不對緣而照), as a way to illustrate how silence and illumination are, in fact, two sides of the same coin. He exhorted all retreatants to apply the methods at all times, to integrate both silence and illumination, and keep returning to the most natural and simple state.

During the retreat, there were opportunities for individual and group interviews, where retreatants would come face-to-face with the teacher, to ask for help to resolve crucial questions that they had in their minds. During group-sharing session, a lady from Singapore shared that, thanks to Venerable Guo Xing’s (果醒法師) insightful advice, she realized that her harsh self-expecting mind is, in fact, all delusional thoughts, and true relaxation is from the letting go of all worries which are delusions also – this helped her to really open and relax her mind. Andy, from Malaysia, also shared his experiences, “There is nothing we can’t overcome in the world; what we truly cannot deal with is our mood”. As he further explained, people often get shackled by their own habitual way of thinking, without even knowing it. Applying the Silent Illumination method, namely be illuminatingly aware with an unmoving mind , we will find that both our daily lives and our body-mind conditions will become lighter and more open.

Before the end of the retreat, three retreatants, including one from the US, were ready to take refuge in the three treasures and the five precepts. They thus participated in such a ceremony, led by Venerable Chang Xiang (常襄法師), to officially become Buddhists.

After the retreat ended, , Zarko shared in a leisure talk that the biggest difference between leading a retreat in Taiwan and leading one overseas is in the scale of the retreat by virtue of the large number of participants. It is quite unimaginable to have more than 130 practitioners practicing together in overseas retreats. Not to mention, the tremendous efforts needed in the background to maintain such high-quality and smooth operation during the retreat even at such a large scale of attendance. For him, personally, it had been a big physical challenge to spend 5 hours per day for interviews, plus giving 2 sessions of Dharma talks daily. However, Zarko said, what mattered most was whether the retreatants truly experienced and understood something useful for them from the retreat, and then be able to bring that back to their daily lives; and, over time, transforming their lives into one that is at its most natural state.

Texts & Translation: Elenda Huang (頤嵐達)
Editor: Belinda Shi Ying Li (李詩影); DDM Editorial Team

Monastics' and Retreatants' Sharings

Interview with Venerable Chang-Xiang (常襄法師),
Monastic Advisor of the 7-day Bilingual Retreat of Silent Illumination

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