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Wednesday, May 08, 2019
Last weekend I attended the Introductory Meditation Class held by Dharma Drum Mountain Toronto Centre.

Fashi provided different variations of how to sit properly, where to place your hands, and how much to open your eyes while meditating. I appreciated how detailed her instructions were and why it was important to follow them. For example, I had difficulties counting because in the past, I counted on both the inhales and the exhales of the breath. It was mechanical and forced. But when I applied Fashi's method of counting only on the exhales and focusing on the air going through my nostrils with each inhale, the breathing felt deeper and more natural. Another very important tip I got was not to visualize the numbers when counting. In the past, I would close my eyes to visualize the numbers but this only made things more challenging. I often became drowsy. Keeping my eyes slightly opened without visualizing any numbers made it easier to focus as my mind had less thoughts.

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What does Dharma Assembly mean? To my understanding, Dharma Assembly means a group of people coming together to learn and practice the Dharma. It should embrace much more than just chanting for good health, wealth and blessings. Why do we need to follow so many rituals at a Dharma Assembly? What the true meanings of these rituals and why they are necessary? I wanted to find out.
Last year, the annual 8-day DDM Great Compassion Water and Land Dharma Service (法鼓山大悲心水陸法會) ended on Dec 2, 2017, which also was my first time to serve at the rite as a student of Dharma Drum Institute of Liberal Art, it was a practice that was granted by the institute.
The October seven day retreat, led by Zarko Andricevic, was the fifth he has led at the Dharma Drum Mountain Vancouver and the third that I have attended. As always the retreat was exceptional. Zarko is a great teacher. As usual the volunteers and monastics worked together to help all the participants have a rich and rewarding retreat experience. From my perspective there was one difference, one change from the usual. I was a timekeeper.
As the Monastic Advisor during the 7-day bilingual Silent Illumination retreat at DDM World Center for Buddhist Education, New Taipei City, Venerable Chang-Xiang (常襄法師) supported Zarko Andricevic, Chan teacher and one of Western Dharma Heirs of DDM Founder Master Sheng Yen, to help all retreatants. According to his sharing, this bilingual retreat still brought him newly and unique reflections even after so many years of experiences as a supervisor of Chan retreats.

“Welcome back! Lydia, how are you?” “I am… Happy.”

That’s my response, when my colleague welcomed me back warmly in the office the day after the retreat. Though I arrived at 4am in the morning, with little sleep, I felt a deep sense of joy and gratitude inside me. My sister, Emileigh and I took the 12am flight from Taipei to Singapore, spent 3 hours in the airport, sharing and reflecting what we have learned during the retreat before I head to office that day. I felt joyful, fresh, and happy.
First of all, I want to thank all the monastics, the retreat teacher, Zarko Andricevic, and all of the volunteers for the opportunity to join this 7-day Silent Illumination retreat as well as for their guidance and assistance.
What is the best possible way to spend my Labor Day weekend? Is it to head on a road trip with friends, to indulge myself in the sun on the beach, or to max out my credit cards at the shopping mall? These things above, I have done them all. However the happiness that they brought me were short lived; in fact, it disappeared right afterwards. It wasn’t until I started to learn about Chan meditation, that I finally found a way to embrace true happiness. So, that is how I spent my Labor Day weekend this year. Apparently, I was not alone. There were more than twenty people who had attended the 3-day Chan meditation retreat at the Chan Meditation Center in Elmhurst, New York. Our lead teacher Ven. Changzhai had mentioned that she was very encouraged to see us willing to join her to practice Chan meditation. Just like every other retreat, I had gained a lot more things this time as well.
It all started in 2010 at the first “Protecting the Spiritual Environment Camp” (心靈環保體驗營) in Mianyang (綿陽)Secondary School in Sichuan in 2010. That was the first time I encountered Dharma Drum Mountain (DDM). At the camp, we played games, learned to relax and listened to Dharma teachers sharing their thoughts on “protecting the spiritual environment”. I realized that this group of people truly sought to help us. Therefore as soon as I graduated from High School, I returned as a volunteer to pass on to my younger friends what touched me. At the same time, I was determined to devote more time to get to know DDM better.
This retreat just passed was my third with Dr. Rebecca Li. To date I have attended two three-day retreats, including this one, and a ten-day retreat she co-lead with Dr. Simon Child. As has always been in the past, this Three-Day Chan Retreat was well run, insightful and moving.
At the beginning of 2018, the Venerable Chang-Fa from Lan-Yang monastery was invited by the Dharma Drum Humanities & Social Improvement Foundation(法鼓山人文社會基金會) to help mentor the dedicated volunteers serving the Crisis Support Hotline (關懷生命專線), which operates once a month.
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