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Friday, March 27, 2015
“Leave all previous instructions and experiences outside the Chan Hall” with these words the Retreat Master, Venerable Chang Hui, encouraged the retreatants to come to the retreat with a fresh and open mind uncluttered by what we have heard or experienced before. I began the 7-day retreat with the mind of a newly born baby, at least I tried to do so. This will be my fourth Huatou retreat and I was looking forward to enhance my practice, which often felt a bit disorganized. Sometimes I yearned for the simplicity and linear approach of observing one’s breath. But I was determined to stay with Huatou despite my difficulties.


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As a practitioner of Chan meditation, I’ve been fumbling about an appropriate method for nearly 10 years. Trying hard on the method of Huatou, I participated in a few 7-day Huatou retreats, yet ended up merely “reciting” the huatou so far, unable to give rise to any doubt sensation. Silent Illumination, on the other hand, seems intangible and difficult to pin down, even though I’ve already tried hard in 3 or 4 Silent Illumination retreats. I’ve been trying to find out the key problem and wonder whether “relaxing the body and mind” could be the critical issue.
While Buddhists do not believe in the existence of a creator-god, the existence of the universe cannot be doubted, nor can the existence of life be denied. According to Buddhism, the most basic elements that comprise the universe are empty of self-nature, and the elements that comprise life are also devoid of self-nature. This lack of a separate self-nature, called emptiness, is the only unchanging truth in the universe. That it is an unchanging truth implies that emptiness has no beginning and no ending: emptiness is the true state in which the universe and life have always existed.
To find your real self, you must lose yourself. I tell my students that they must put aside thoughts about their own birth and death if they are to get anywhere. A meditator who is full of thoughts about himself, thoughts of improving his health, or of gaining limitless freedom, will attain neither wisdom nor freedom.
The Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association, with headquarters in Taiwan and the United States, actively promotes the Movement of the Pure Land on Earth. We teach these concepts and methods of practice to all practitioners, whatever their cultural or educational background. Our slogan is: "Everywhere is a meditation hall; everywhere is a Buddhist temple." Every family is encouraged to set up a meditation space, a place where together and singly, family members can compose their minds and experience genuine peace. We believe that "engaged Buddhism" begins by engaging one's own mind, in one's own space.
The course of history can be changed radically by a zealous, dedicated individual or by a minority. A small group of people may greatly impact the ideals, ethos, philosophy, and behavior of the majority. The impact can be either negative or positive. When the impact is negative, the minority leads the society into war and destruction. When the impact is positive, they lead the society into prosperity, stability, and happiness, and may even bring about a new civilization or culture. In these ways, great or infamous historical eras are made.
The conventional view of peacemaking is to focus on changing the environment to achieve peace. Such a view advocates the use of institutions, laws, economic structures, military power, etc., to create an environment in which peace can flourish. Buddhists do not oppose such a view, but stress the greater urgency of transforming the mind of the individual.
In many sutras the Buddha teaches lay practitioners to treat their parents, children, spouses, and colleagues with understanding and compassion. These sutras teach that each person has many roles in society and that each role dictates specific responsibilities and duties. Rather than putting blind faith in rituals and worship, the Buddha tells us that we should strive to mindfully undertake the responsibilities and duties of our normal lives. If everybody does so, the world will enjoy enduring peace. You can say that the Buddha was the first advocate of "engaged Buddhism."
To achieve social peace, Buddhism begins with a program of inner peace, believing that long-lasting peace derives from the ability of each person to calm his or her own mind and to temper actions controlled by the mind. Thus empowered, individuals can encourage those in their immediate sphere of influence to also understand the need for peace and to begin calming their minds. In such a widening circle of influence, more and more people will be included. Step by step, people throughout the world can be at peace with themselves and with others. Like a pebble thrown into a pond, causing expanding ripples to reach the far shore, a single person can positively influence many others toward peaceful modes of thinking and acting.
The reason I signed up for the gardening retreat was simple curiosity. I always thought that meditation meant sitting on a cushion until your legs are numb and your back is sore! How can you meditate while you are gardening? So I decided to find out!
Now let us look at the third dualism: “neither increasing nor decreasing.” Your weight may increase by a few pounds, and you may think it is either good or bad. In our appearance-conscious society, where gaining weight has a bad name, many people try to live up to a conventional image of beauty by working away their fat. If it has no impact on health, what are a few pounds more or less? Every time l return from a trip, people tell me I have lost more weight. If this were true, I would have disappeared by now. This is an example of how increasing and decreasing are relative things in people’s mind.
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