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DDM Sydney Weekend Retreat led by Venerable Chang Ling & Venerable Chang Zhi

What is Chan?

That became the theme for the retreat recently completed during the Easter long weekend at Camp Ku-Ring-Gai in Ebenezer, next to the Hawkesbury River and about 60 km from Sydney. The retreat started on Friday evening, 2 April and finished on Monday afternoon, 5 April 2010. A total of 18 participants and 5 volunteers attended the retreat.

Easter in Australia is traditionally a holy weekend. To most, however, it is a weekend of holidays as Friday and Monday are both public holidays.

Taking up this opportunity, Dharma Drum Mountain Sydney organized a retreat for anyone interested in practising Chan. Fortunately, many things came together to make this happen.

First of all, we were very fortunate to have two very eminent teachers, Ven. Chang Ling and Ven. Chang Zhi, from Dharma Drum Mountain, Taiwan to lead the retreat. Next, it was a challenge to find suitable accommodation and only after significant effort and persistence was the Camp found. After that was the organisation of participants and helpers. With thanks to all, everything came together and it was simply a matter of packing and making our way to the Camp.

The retreat was a first in many respects. It was the first time that Ven. Chang Ling and Ven. Chang Zhi had come to Australia. It was also the first time that Ven. Chang Ling had conducted a retreat in English. For two of the volunteers, it was also the first time for them. And for a few of us, it was the first time that we participated in a retreat.

Back to the question of what is Chan. We were told to forget about books and all that learning that we hold dearly. We were also told to leave the past and the future alone, and to simply experience the present. In simple terms, that was our practice during the whole retreat.

This included all activities whether we were sitting, walking, eating and even while performing our toiletry activities. It was no puzzle but as one of the participants commented, it was easy to say but very difficult to keep to the present.

To help us, Ven. Chang Ling devised and taught us many techniques. In addition to usual sitting, there were slow and fast walking, carrying a bowl full of water, sitting outdoors while being exposed to the elements, slow raising of arms for awareness of sensations, listening, performing 8-form moving meditation, and free form sitting of our own choosing.

Each night, there was opportunity for questions, addressing problems that participants had in their individual practice. This was found to be extremely helpful, not only in resolving some problems on techniques but also as encouragement to keep going.

Inevitably, participants experienced intolerable pain but with clarification and encouragement from Fashi, some participants were able to report that they could endure more than they thought otherwise.

To the mind, the morning and evening services were always a welcome relief from the sitting. Ven Chang Zhi led these services and interestingly found subtle differences in the chanting used in Australia.

Through the lead of Ven Chang Zhi and more experienced members of DDM Sydney, those of us who had no idea about how to chant properly, or do not understand Chinese were able to be inspired by these services.

Our thanks must be extended to Ven. Chang Ling and Ven. Chang Zhi for their good humour, dedication and patience. Our thanks should also extend to the volunteers and especially our chefs who overdid themselves by serving more than five dishes for every meal.

They were very worried that there was not enough to go around as participants showed a big appetite. Maybe it was just the food being too delicious.

(by DDM Sydney)

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