The Problem is, “ Are YOU Suffering or Not ? ”
Retreat Report - Chan 5 with Guo Yuan Fashi
Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 25 – 29 October 2009
This retreat was the third retreat I’d joined. But the first with Guo Yuan Fashi. I’d always enjoyed a retreat although I knew somewhere in the middle of the retreat I might face obstacles, boredom, painful knees …
I came to this retreat with a lot of excitement. Firstly because I’d always tried to find time to sit for a long period which with my activities in my office, was a bit difficult to do. I work in an English school and I have pretty busy days. But I still manage to sit regularly everyday.
Although sometimes I can only sit for 30 minutes everyday or so. With the tight schedule everyday, my laziness always finds reasons not to meditate. I really enjoy my work. That’s a good thing, I suppose. But because of that reason, I can easily justify myself to skip my meditation schedule and simply sink myself into my work.
I am lucky that I met some friends and mentors who had a sitting group every Friday evening so now I can sit for at least one hour every Friday. To me, sitting in a group is always easier than sitting alone where I can easily get bored, get up and make a cup of coffee in the middle of sitting or simply find reasons not to start. I know this very clearly but find it hard to handle.
That’s why retreat is one good answer to my negative habits. It can somehow ‘force’ me to sit longer and in a more disciplined way. So in a retreat, I’d have no choice but to meditate. I was excited also because that would be my first time to see Guo Yuan Fashi, who I usually only read about.
The schedule of the retreat, as usual, was pretty tight. We slept at 10 and woke up at 4. But we didn’t know of the exact time since we weren’t allowed to wear our watch.
And there’s simply no hanging clock anywhere. Also we had to apply ‘noble silence’ where we couldn’t talk to anybody, no eye contact, no communication whatsoever. I had no problem with those rules. I was used to sleeping early and waking up early. And I didn’t have to make a chit chat, which I didn’t particularly enjoy. I could enjoy the silence.
The first day of the retreat passed quickly. I started to enjoy my sitting quickly. Guo Yuan Fashi arrived in the afternoon and gave Dharma talk in the evening. At first he looked like an old wise guy, a bit serious. But when he smiled, we could feel the serenity.
Later on, I found out that he was a very understanding man, approving a lot of our requests, like giving an additional talk in the late afternoon, telling us the story of his first encounter with Master Sheng Yen etc. He was like a gentle father to us.
At the end of the first day, my knees started to hurt. I began to be a bit distracted. I tried to relax, like what Fashi told us. But it just didn’t work. So I began to be absorbed in the pain, busy trying hard to hang on and not straightening my legs right away.
On the second day, the pain crept in very quickly, almost as soon as I sat. The enjoyment I had on the first moments I got to the retreat disappeared. I began to have these mixed feelings: nervous, disappointed, and angry… I tried to say to my self: “Relax … This pain is not real …”
“Do you think you will be happy if the pain just goes away?” ... but still I was very much distracted.
Then later in the Dharma talk, in the Questions and Answers session, Guo Yuan Fashi said these words that would later echo through the rest of my sitting sessions in the retreat: “The pain is there. The problem is: are you suffering or not?” It struck me. Every time I felt the pain, I asked these words to my self. Then I began to be less reactive to the pain. I began to check my response instead of paying too much attention to the pain or trying to get rid of it as soon as possible.
Also later, Ko Agus said that we should just forget that we were in a retreat. Don’t think that we should do this and that. Don’t think that we were in charge of anything. Just think that we were in a holiday having a break from our daily routines, that we were anak bawang (unimportant person in a game so it’s OK to fail or to make mistakes and no consequences entail).
That made me survive.
I also enjoyed this retreat because every time after morning and afternoon meals we have a working meditation where we are supposed to do some household chores: cleaning the Chan hall, dining room, yard, bedrooms etc. Amazingly, I often saw Fashi picked up leaves (later on in the interview he told us that he also picked up cigarette buds). We were supposed to do them mindfully, being fully aware of what we were doing. This attitude made the chores easy to do. It still has an effect to my daily routines. Now I still spend 30 minutes every morning cleaning this and that.
The days passed quickly and suddenly I was at the closing ceremony of the retreat.
I hope Fashi will be so kind as to visit us again soon.
In this very life, I feel very fortunate to have been able to meet a great teacher like Guo Yuan Fashi; Chang Tuo Fashi, an old friend who became a monk; Bro. Agus, a regular sitting guide; and many other brothers and sisters in Dharma.