DDM Spreads the Dharma Seed in Croatia

In search for the truth about human nature, Mr. Zarko Andricevicitenary and Mr. Djordje Cvijic from Croatia began looking for answers from Eastern philosophy. Their spiritual exploration led them to the discovery of Buddhism which to them serves the best spiritual cure. Mr. Zarko Andricevicitenary and Mr. Djordje Cvijic became devoted Buddhists soon after and initiated the movement to spread the Dharma seed in the Republic of Croatia.

Since then they have established a Buddhist center in the capital city of Croatia and are now dedicated forerunners of Dharma Drum Mountain (DDM/Fagushan) Croatia. Promoting Ven. Master Sheng Yen's mission of 'ulifting the character of humanity, building a pure land on Earth' is their aim. This Buddhist center is now the largest and the oldest established Buddhist center in Croatia.

For many years they have both attended Chan retreats held at Dharma Drum Retreat Center in New York. On 7 July 2007, they attended for the very first time a 49-Day Huatou Chan Retreat in Taiwan, which was led by Ven. Master Sheng Yen.
On the morning of 7 July at the Chan Hall of DDM World Center for Buddhist Education, Mr Zarko Andricevicitenary and Mr Djordje Cvijic gave an interview, with the help of Venerable Guo Yuan and Venerable Guo Xiang.

With the early morning summer sun taking over the Chan Hall interior, amidst the chatter of cicadas outside, everyone seated themselves on the floor beside the Chan Hall door while Mr Zarko Andricevicitenary and Mr Djordje Cvijic cheerfully shared their stories of how they discovered Buddhism and how they became Ven. Master Sheng Yen's followers.

Searching for the Truth

Q: We all know that more than 90% of Croatians are Catholics. So, amidst this naturally Catholic culture, can you tell us about how you found out about Buddhism? Under what motivations? How did you find out about Dharma Drum Mountain and Ven. Master Sheng Yen?

Zarko: It was about thirty years ago when I was young. As a teacher of Martial arts and Yoga, I have always wondered about the meaning of existence in general. Students who practiced with me were also having the same questions about the truth.

This made me turn to Eastern philosophy for answers. Then I found Buddhism was the philosophy that responded perfectly to my spiritual questions. This was how I came to discover about Buddhism.

In the early 1980s, I began to run groups for practicing meditation and studying the Dharma. It was very difficult to study the Dharma in Croatia in the beginning, because I had less than three translated Buddhist books in Croatian language as guidance, and I had very little information on where to obtain more. So I did all I could to purchase Buddhist books in English for translation. Although that time was difficult for me, I was actually very enthusiastic.

Based on the original group in 1992, I established the first Buddhist center in the capital of Croatia. This made me begin to look for Buddhist masters who were both knowledgeable in the Dharma and in meditation practice.

This was how I met Ven. Master Sheng Yen. In 1997, I flew to New York again to attend a three-day Chan retreat led by the Master himself which was held at Dharma Drum Retreat Center and invited Shifu to come to Croatia to open the Dharma talk as well.

It was a brand new start for me in promoting Buddhism in Croatia after meeting with Shifu and having him in Croatia to open the Dharma talk in 1997. Shifu was not only very knowledgeable in Buddhist teachings but also experienced in Chan meditation. He was exactly the Buddhist master whom we were looking for.

Since then, the Buddhist center's operation has become much more established and its members soon increased to the size comparable to a 'community' in 1998. Now, the center has close to 500 members who regularly participate in various activities held at the center. Next year, in 2008, the center will celebrate its 10th anniversary.

Djordje: I'm from a small town, a hundred miles away from Zarko's place in the capital of Croatia. My first contact with Buddhism was from a special meeting with two Sri Lankan monks, whom I was helping out at the time with some translation work. But I practiced meditation very earlier on, even before this meeting.

The contact with these monks has brought me to begin to explore a question deeper: what is the meaning of life? It was strange. I always knew since I was a child that I would someday do something in the East. I suddenly realized that Buddhism was like a door for me to open to the universal truth. I was so shocked. I didn't eat or sleep for almost two days after this sudden realization. I was not a religious person before learning Buddhism.

Then one day, Zarko called me and invited me to join the Dharma talk, led by the Master arriving from the East. This was how I first met Shifu. That was also the first time in Croatia that a Dharma talk was held and it was successful, attracting almost 200 people who filled up the small room to listen to Shifu's inspirational teachings.

So next year in 1998, I went to New York to attend the 49-day Chan retreat led by Shifu at Dharma Drum Retreat Center. I took refuge with Shifu in 1999 whereas Zarko was in 1996.

Q: Can you tell us how you taught the Croatian people to understand Buddhism? Have you run into any difficulties?

Zarko: The center mainly runs two programs: the Dharma learning and meditation practice. For the Dharma learning, the center provides very basic learning about the nature of Buddhism. This is because people in Croatia still acquire little information about Buddhism.

As for meditation practice, the center provides at least ten-hour practice on how to calm the mind. So, when one goes home, one would know how to practice at home alone. If one wants to have a deeper practice, one could join regular programs of one-day retreat, seven-day retreat or three-day retreat held at the center.

Honestly speaking, it was a big struggle to form a religious group in Croatia and for it to be approved by the authorities. However, it was a good sign when the new government showed a positive attitude in cooperating with the center for the legislative measures involving religious practice. We gave many suggestions to the authorities during the process, and they listened to our opinions.

Just this year, as a representative of Buddhism, I was invited for the first time to attend the 2007 roundtable meeting of interfaith talks hosted and broadcasted on live national television in Croatia.

Actually, through Yoga practice one sooner or later will naturally ask oneself: although I could bring the body to a good balance, which is the master behind the practice - the body or the mind? Thus, one would naturally begin to look for answers. I do not need to push them. By taking advantage of one's exploring period, I naturally guided them to the teachings of Dharma.

Dharma is the universal teaching which deals with people's common questions and perfectly addresses human nature. Thus teaching students to become religious people is not my purpose, rather my purpose is to teach them how to apply the Dharma into their daily lives to bring peace in the mind.

Zarko Andricevicitenary and Djordje Cvijic are DDM's exceptional forerunners in spreading Dharma in Central Europe. They have truly embodied Shifu's compassionate vows for the people, despite differences in religion, ethnicity and skin color.

This one and a half hour interview was cheerful and inspirational. Towards the end, Zarko shared that in order to build a well-equipped practice center to accommodate more people to attend Dharma learning, a larger size land situated on a hill in the capital of Croatia has already been purchased.

In order to propagate Dharma further, a translation team in Croatia has been formed to translate more of Shifu's English books into Croatian. Zarko cheerfully expressed that Venerable Guo Jun, who is currently serving at Dharma Drum Retreat Center in New York, has promised to initiate a Dharma talk tour in Europe in 2008.

(Reported by Jin Yang/edited by DDM Australia Editing Team)

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(Left:Zarko. Middle: Jin Yang's daughter, Shanzi Yang. Right: Djorgje Djorgje Zarko
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