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Sydney DDM held a 4 and 7 day retreat at Karuna Sanctuary, 3 kilometres west of Katoomba in the Blue Mountains area, approximately two hours drive west of Sydney in the state of New South Wales, Australia.

The Environment
The retreat started on Friday the 21 March 2008 and coincided with the traditional Easter holiday period in Australia. This period is set on the cycle of the new moon after the equinox – a moment in time when the centre of the Sun can be observed to be directly above the Earth's equator. Traditionally, Easter marks the end of Lent in the Christian calendar, a season of prayer and penance but is mainly seen now by secular Australia as a symbol for the changing of seasons to autumn.

The retreat was held in the Karuna Sanctuary which is nestled in the Greater Blue Mountains area, approximately 1000 meters above sea level and 100 kilometres west of the Tasman Sea and the city of Sydney. This land, formed around one million years ago has been named 'Blue' Mountains as densely populated Eucalyptus (Gum) trees disperse oil droplets that connect with dust particles and water vapour to scatter short-wave length rays of a blue colour.

In this area there are over 130 plant species found nowhere else on the planet. Included in this is the Wollemi pine, a species thought to be extinct since the age of dinosaurs until a handful of trees was found in a remote gorge in 1994.

This area is listed as a World Heritage Site due to the universal importance to the planet of its massive eco system and is a forceful backdrop to practice impermanence by witnessing the turning of nature's seasons.

A rock shelter dates Aboriginal prehistoric occupation in this area back 22,000 years and it should be noted that the Aboriginal people maintain a strong spiritual presence here. In this context, to further harmony, peace and tolerance, I would like to stand here with the Australian Federal government who this year led our nation forward after years of divisive debate by formally apologizing in our national Parliament on 13 February 2008, as follows (paraphrased):

Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history. We reflect on their past mistreatment. The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future. For the pain, suffering and hurt we say sorry.

We apologise for the laws and policies that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

The Gundungarra and Darug tribal groups are acknowledged here as the traditional custodians of the land at which the retreat was held.

Chan exists universally and eternally.

The Retreat - Chan Practice - Uplift the Character of Humanity and Build a Pure Land on Earth.

It is in this auspicious context that the retreat commenced on 21 March 2008.

The retreat was led by Guo Yih Fashi, Dharma heir of Master Sheng Yen, and assisted by Guo Shie Fashi. Sydney DDM would like to take this opportunity to express simple gratitude to the tradition of Chan monastic service that was faithfully represented.

Wisdom and compassion was manifested by simple action that need no explanation. Guidance as to how to practice retrieving a mind lost in illusion was unbroken and continuous and were streams leading to a river. Respect and gratitude is stated here as the following was clear to all present: - show discipline and practice for there are guides to contemplation and energy which are taught and guarded by compassionate beings to allow us to abide in nothing.

As it is said that there is no true meaning were there are words, there is only one moment to record here.

One late morning the participants of this retreat were walking in single file with awareness in the North West direction. The file was led in the front by Venerable Guo Shie and held firm at the rear by Venerable Guo Yih. This walking path had Huineng's axe and wood pile to our left and a hidden natural amphitheatre in the East direction where the graceful hosts of Karuna Sanctuary had erected a totem pole requesting peace on earth.

The sun was that which soaked up the morning autumn dew and will allow plums to ripen. Impermanence abounded.

With our steps crunching the dying tree leaves into the grateful earth, we awoke the bush and stirred a grey kangaroo whose two strong legs in the jump simultaneously hit the earth in a deep vibration similar to the strike of the wooden sound board to call us to rise in the morning. This kangaroo jump caused a nest of kookaburras to break their silence and call out in shrill ancient surprise.

All this majesty was caused in one startling moment. Note well that Venerable Guo Shie led us all forward to the next moment by putting one foot mindfully in front of the other.

Be disciplined; Abide in nothing
Return to your method with faith.

(contributed by DDM Sydney)

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