The Only Way of the Cessation of Suffering
Chan 5 with Guo Yuan Fashi
Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 25th – 29th October 2009
In Touch with Ch'an Practice
Enthusiasm always rises while joining a retreat. This is the arena to meditate and practice intensively and attentively. All the efforts, energy, and time are devoted for practice, whether during the sits or activities.
To me, practice is no other than living life according to the Dharma. While to the outside, is to take part in conditioning the environment of fellow human beings to the direction of happiness. Such must begin with the mindfulness of speech, body, and mind. There is no other way to perfect this other than the way of the 'PRACTICE'.
Upon hearing the news of the upcoming Ch'an Retreat with teacher Guo Yuan Fashi from DDM, I was immediately interested. Because in the previous retreat, January this year, I had a nice impression on the teacher and the program on that retreat, as well as with the method given – which had an impact on my practice.
Before practicing Ch'an, meditation was to me an activity that required a strong determination and caused a lot of strain and pain. Of course there would be benefits from it such as calmness, quietness, and peace in heart. The rise of a little bit of understanding of Buddha's teachings comes from reading literatures.
But after I practice Ch'an, I experience that meditation is not entirely full of suffering. In brief, it didn't make me give up. There are several stages and conditions in practicing Ch'an. First is a sitting posture that is stable but not stiff.
After that, start to relax the body from the fontanel to the tip of the toes. Be mindful of each part and feel the loosening sensation. If there is tenseness then just experience it patiently and calmly, and relax it mindfully so that it doesn't create another tension.
If this stage has gone smoothly, the body feels light, relaxed, and awareness start to emerge, so naturally the breathing sensation is effortlessly sensed. If the breathing has been observed continuously, clearly, and more and more smoothly, then the movement of the mind would be easily recognized too.
If this process continues then the awareness will be open wide, illuminating the body and mind clearly and obviously. The mind will settle, silent but clear and active. By this someone enters a stage in which the body and mind is in a very relaxed state. His mind is in this moment, in the present, with the awareness to both the body and the mind – it felt as if they're unified.
My impression on Ch'an practice is that it is simple, humanist, and practical, easily applied in daily life.
The feeling of joy and gratitude surely arise within myself for having the chance, time, situation and condition to attend another retreat. Very very grateful to Mr. Agus who has organized this retreat and making it possible for this retreat to go well till the end.
In the first day of the retreat, the participants were given briefing and information about several agreements that would be applied. The participants accepted these enthusiastically, seen from their response, facial expression, and attitude. This made the retreat atmosphere becomes conducive and moves forward with one spirit, to practice.
This is an ideal retreat to me personally. Every session in this retreat program is started, covered, and ended with full understanding of physical and mental condition of each participant in the moment. Besides sitting meditation, there are morning yoga activity, walking meditation, working meditation, eating meditation, yoga before and after meditation, and self-massage session. The variety of activities is very helpful to the participants in relaxing the body and mind, and training to be aware anytime and anywhere.
Oh... Dukkha, There You Are
It really takes more struggle and patience to be in an intensive meditative state in the first and second day of the retreat. The most visible obstacle is drowsiness. Other than that are also strains in many parts of the body, plus the pain that arise in the leg areas. Although, in heart, I continue to encourage myself and be faithful, ‘This situation will eventually pass’, not by exertion, but by following the method that is given by the teacher.
Those are the times of extra-struggle and those really test one’s determination, which maybe from the outside seems like being able to sit straight, stable, and still. These times I take the analogy of being trapped in the middle of a storm, and put up effort to press forward one step at a time against the wind, hoping to reach the shelter on the other side.
There is one thing that keeps on motivating me to stubbornly sit and press ahead – a curiosity and this Quest to something, “How far can this physical-mental state endure, and what could be achieved by it?” This resolve isn’t futile, eventually the pain slowly subside. The sensation of pain and this body existence aren’t much of my attention anymore.
At the same time I also see a part of Dukkha in my life, which actually in daily life I’m nearly unaware of. These eyes are like clouded by dust, everything seems to be going well without problem. In reality, if everything is indeed going well, then why does this face don’t give the slightest smile?
In fact, there is always tension that dominates this body-mind. In daily life, when encountering a problem, whether that problem takes form in desire, fear, anxiety, hatred, or anger, then this untrained body-mind would automatically react, and it isn’t easy to control. And even worse, this self isn’t aware of it. All of a sudden the tension emerges and shackles the body and mind.
This is like a standard program of how the mind responds on anything. All of these are like stored beneath the subconscious layer of memory. When this body is full of tension, then this so-called ‘human’ would be conditioned to express his tension, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
Take example of when someone flares up his emotion of anger and hatred, of course it’s impossible for him to do it with smiling expression like an innocent boy. His action contains a very strong negative energy. This is what I call as Dhukka. Creating suffering for himself and others. This shackle continues to strangle this self from second to second. Continues to create the situation and condition that are repetitive and intertwined to form a cycle.
After going through two days of retreat, it looks like the physical and mind state is relaxed enough. With such state, the mind isn’t easily reacting to the ongoing phenomenon. At that point this awareness starts to take control. The breathing is easier to be sensed continuously and naturally.
Joy casually arises from within. Meditation starts to feel more comfortable and effortless eventhough the duration is the same. Quoting Guo Jun Fashi, ‘to sit as light as cotton’, then my sitting meditation probably could be analogized as light as thin clothes, if, compared to the first and second day, it’s more like a heavy pillow. J
While meditating, if I observe deeper, this mind actually contains so many desires: desire to relax, desire to be able to sit for one more hour, desire to look firm, to be wise.
Although those desires seem to be good, 'NOBLE', however, they are all tensions, mental burdens. "Just relax.. " "Let Go.... Be mindful of this body right here, right now." Recheck the body posture, be aware of it and feel part by part of this body, loosen it... This is how I practice as long as I'm mindful of it. How quick can I take control of this awareness is a result of practice.
The Rise of Faith in the Path of Practice
Guo Yuan Fashi's most impressive lecture in this retreat is the lecture about Anatta, no self - this 'I'. In general, the content of the lecture seems like guiding me to continue to go deeper. As if 'to peel the onion layer by layer'. Even though the lecture is quite brief but it could give a profound impression and understanding at that time. It's like being able to see the entire universe in one glance. In heart, rises a faith that such deep experiences and understandings could bring a good impact on someone's character.
My first impression upon meeting teacher Guo Yuan Fashi is that he is firm. But through several days in togetherness with Guo Yuan Fashi, it makes me respect and admire a monastic. Fashi lives amongst us. Almost in every activity whether it be chores, meal-time, or outdoor meditation, Fashi is always there. His presence is always felt. Sometimes it occurs to me, is teacher Guo Yuan Fashi not tired? Within myself rises a strong will to practice more seriously and never be negligent in order to repay the teacher's incommensurable merit.
In the closing ceremony, the participants were advised by the teacher to make at least a resolution that is constructive. I made a resolution to give time everyday to do sitting meditate for an hour. Until now I managed to realize this resolution, sometimes more, sometimes a bit less. These are the benefits that I reaped from this retreat. I humbly wish that my fellow practitioners would remind me again of this resolution in the future.
Such is the experience that I've been through and the knowledge that I summarize from the Ch'an retreats and other discussion sessions that I attend.
Deep bow full of profuse gratitude to Guo Yuan Fashi.
Thank you very much to all the volunteers who've been tired, and also all the participants in this retreat. See you all later in the upcoming retreat.
Andi (Chang An)
(Translated by Yoko Santoso, Edited by Berhen Widjaja )