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Ven. Guo Yuan shares Chan practice at Dharma Drum Mountain San Francisco Bay Area Center

Master Sheng Yen, founder of Dharma Drum Mountain, once made a trip to San Francisco to share Chinese Buddhism, prompting him to establish the San Francisco Chapter in 2004. Ven. Guo Yuan, abbot of Dharma Drum Retreat Center, was the first monastic from DDM to visit the chapter and share the Dharma.

In January, 2017, the chapter was transformed into Dharma Drum Mountain San Francisco Bay Area Center, with Ven. Chang Xing as its director. In the spring of this year Ven. Guo Yuan was invited to share DDM’s style of Chan teaching by giving lectures on Chan practice, organizing a one-day Chan retreat, and offering lessons on Buddhist study taught in Chinese; all aimed to help people living in today’s high-tech and stressful society calm body and mind.

A Series of Activities

A series of activities attracted around 230 participants, and there was lively participation and interaction for each activity.
The activities went as follows:
April 7: The event began with a relaxing Tea party, where Ven. Guo Yuan later gave the “Origin and Evolution of the Chan School” lecture in English.
April 8: One-day Chan retreat taught in English for people to experience the methods of Chan practice.
April 9: A lecture entitled “The Life Story of Master Xu Yun, an Extraordinary Eminent Monk” and how he inspired Buddhist practice in our time—part of a series of courses on eminent monks for the Chinese Buddhism Class taught in Chinese.

Chan Talks and Experiences from the Sound of an Inverted Bell

Ven. Guo Yuan started off his lecture by introducing two representative figures in the early history of Chan Buddhism—Bodhidharma and the Sixth Patriarch, Master Hui Neng. Halfway through, he led participants to experience the calming effect of Chan practice through the sound of an inverted bell (a Buddhist percussion instrument). Towards the end of the lecture, many participants expressed that they had never expected that the sound of the bell could calm their minds. As the harmonious, deep, and rich sound of the bell resonated through the Buddha Hall, participants could soon realize the benefit of a relaxed body and mind.

Relaxation Is the Foundation; Only with a Relaxed Body-Mind Can Go on to Apply the Method

The next day, over 60 people attended the one-day retreat at the Guanyin Hall, where Ven. Guo Yuan guided them to practice the Eight-Form Moving Meditation, sitting meditation, and outdoor walking meditation. He explained the steps and philosophy of relaxation, and advised participants to practice repeatedly before and after each sitting session. The venerable said, “Relaxation is the foundation; only with a relaxed body-mind can one go on to apply the method. Otherwise, it would be futile.” When just sitting down to meditate, do not rush to start counting the breath or reciting the Buddha’s name; at the end of a sitting session all the movements should go from small to big, and make sure to do a massage from head to foot. It is essential to do each step well.

Life Story of Master Xu Yun

On the third day, 110 participants, both full-time and part-time, attended the Buddhist study class taught in Chinese. A TV screen was set up outside the lecture hall to allow more people to attend the class in real time. The Exemplary Deeds of Eminent Monks series of the class gave an introduction of Master Xu Yun. Living an extraordinarily long life, “the Chan master of recent history had highly virtuous deeds and observed the precepts strictly,” allowing us to clearly see “the master’s style and way of practice, process of spiritual learning, and most admirable spirit of selflessness,” Ven. Guo Yuan said. The venerable explained Master Xu Yun’s life stories in chronological order, and their underlying messages of Chan. In the group discussion and sharing session, participants all expressed how they were inspired and moved.

Welcome to DDRC, New York, for Intensive Chan Retreat

When making a conclusion for the course, the Center’s director Ven. Chang Xing expressed gratitude to Ven. Guo Yuan for making a special effort to visit the center after he had only just returned from a pilgrimage trip in India. Ven. Guo Yuan assisted Master Sheng Yen in founding the Dharma Drum Retreat Center in Pine Bush, New York, in 1997, as an international meditation center; a calming and peaceful environment that can accommodate more than 100 practitioners simultaneously for a retreat. People from the San Francisco area are also welcome to attend intensive Chan retreats at DDRC to hone their practice.

Report and photography: San Francisco Bay Area Center
Translation: Frances Liu (劉珮如)
Editor: Christine Huang, ChiaCheng Chang (張家誠)

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