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SFU Student's First Taste of Chan

What a blessing it is when Dharma Drum Mountain can fulfill its mission to uplift the character of humanity and uphold its commitment to furthering Buddhist education all in one day. Sunday, October 18th may have been just another cloudy fall day but DDVC was alight with the curiosity and enthusiasm of 34 Simon Fraser University (SFU) humanities students taking a course in Buddhist studies. Lead by their professor Michael Newton and his wife Kate McCandles, both Soto (Chn. Caodong) priests with Mountain Rain Zen Center in Vancouver, these students got to have a taste of some delicious cheesecake and Dharma Drum's unique flavour of Chan.

The guests arrived early, standing nervously in the parking lot, excitedly chatting amongst themselves. For university students, taking time out of their precious weekend, when they could have been studying or having fun, they all seemed happy to be here. I greeted the students and took time to chat with Michael and Kate, inquiring about the Zen practice of Mountain Rain and answering some of their questions about DDM. After everyone had arrived the professor made the call to go inside.

After taking their seats inside the Chan Hall the students heard some opening remarks from the Venerable Chang Wu Fashi. This was followed by a video explaining the core concepts of Chan and the mission of DDM, set to serenely beautiful footage of DDM's Taiwan headquarters.

Once the students had a little bit of information they were ready to experience the heart of Chan - seated meditation. Venerable Chang Xuan Fashi guided them through a thorough routine that included head to toe relaxation, meditative posture, following the breath, and body massage. Whether it was the relaxation, Ven. Chang Xuan's infectious sense of humour, or the joy of temporarily putting their vexations on the shelf, the students were happy as they made their way to the Dining Hall for the final segment.

Indulging in some fine vegetarian snacks - the cheesecake seemed a particularly big hit, the students also got to indulge their curiosity, as part of a Q and A session featuring Venerables Chang Wu, Chang Xuan as well as Michael Newton and Kate McCandles. There were a lot of questions during this lively session, from the details of monastic fashion, to the differences between Chan and Zen priesthood, to questions about dietary rules for monastics. I particularly loved to see the interactions between the fashi and the priests, and learned about the similarities and differences between the two traditions.

At the very least I'm sure most of the students had a good time, even if the only thing that piqued their interest was the dessert. But I couldn't help but wonder whether the day's activities have provided the first spark for some of them that would lead to a lifelong interest in Buddhadharma.

(written by Merle Langlois)

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