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Retreat Experience at DDM Taiwan

Time: April 2008

I'm writing this report as I wait on my 9pm flight which was switched to 7:15pm, only to be delayed indefinitely. The seven day Ch'an retreat at Dharma Drum SanYi DIY Centre has been a very fruitful experience. Due to the variety of experiences I will categorize them for easier reading.

My Purpose In Life
The purpose of the retreat was to relax my mind and find my general direction in life, as each person's meaning in life is essentially chosen by themselves. Whether someone chooses to chase for a higher meaning or float aimlessly through time is ultimately a choice they make by themselves as not making a choice in itself is a choice in life. I ultimately decided to make my choice consciously by first understanding my inner self in order to come to a decision.

I am thankful for Shifu's talks as it has now given me a sense of direction. In particular Shifu's talk in regards to 'chu li xin' (mind of renunciation). Shifu told us that many people mistaken suffering for happiness, lingering in greed, chasing for power, wealth, fame and sensual pleasure and mistaken it for happiness.

When we see someone chase for something, we follow and chase and compete for the same thing, boosting our ego, our arrogance if we are unfortunate enough to have obtain this impermanent object and hurting our ego if we miss out. Like the girl who manages to buy the latest limited edition handbag and shows off or the other girl who really wants the bag yet misses out. The former will feel agitation when her new bag is no longer special as the next season's edition comes out, the latter will feel depressed as her desire to have ownership of that bag was not satisfied. Ultimately both will suffer for mistaken an impermanent object for happiness.

I realized through his talk that I myself was like the above. Ever since I completed university, I had always desired to follow others. Follow my peers and become a banker, earn lots of money, become "successful". I was chasing for something that was impermanent, thinking it would bring me lasting happiness but in reality was the cause of my suffering. Through this retreat, I now understood that this is not the right way and that my direction in life is to do something to help this world, where I have a particular interest in clean energy.

Ironically, immediately after coming out of the retreat, I have received a few enquiries about potential roles working for investment banks. Whether I take up one of those roles will depend on causes and conditions but now I feel that even if I end up in such an organization and work like there's no tomorrow, it will be worth it if it is for a cause that helps the environment or leads to such a path. Even though monetary reward is still an appealing incentive to me, as the mealtime prayer mentions, 'those that give for the sake of happiness will have a peaceful mind'. May greed not blind this vision in life, which I have found, as I re-enter an industry built on greed and profits, may I overcome this test through wisdom and compassion.

This is my first 7 day Chan retreat and the experience has been painful but worth it. When fashi asked, "Who has been to a 7 day retreat before?" A few older experienced practitioners raised their hands. I knew instantly, I was in trouble.

Fashi also mentioned according to our application forms, the sitting time of each individual ranged from 15mins to 1 hour. I belonging to the extreme end of the former category. But I am proud to report that by the end of the retreat, I had managed to sit for 1 hour.

Besides breaking through the pain barrier after experiencing severe leg pain, a small example of human suffering, I managed to experience various new states of mind which I had never before. Such as vaguely feeling my breath as I meditate and feeling like I was only counting numbers all with a few small scattered thoughts. Feeling a surge of emotion swelling from my sub-consciousness, an obstacle I had never faced, and tears streaming down my face for absolutely no reason at all. All these new experiences gave me a boost of confidence!

There was even one session when I lied to myself that if I loosen my legs I would die. But that turned out to be a bad move as my scattered mind started to wonder how fashi would 'kill' me. Would he use a knife? A machine gun? Or like the comedy 'Shi Shen', use a chair and then drag my body back into the temple leaving an over dramatic trail of blood.

Thus my meditative journey was very fruitful and I vow to return one day for more. Although I did not reach enlightenment, I feel I have come back with a relaxed mind and a sense of achievement.

Prayer of Repentance
All I can say is I'm very grateful for this prayer. During repentance, I cried and cried, tears streaming onto my face, my forehead, my chin and the floor, my nose running as ever.

The prayer of repentance is very powerful and I saw all my bad habits, greed, arrogance, selfishness and lots, lots more. I repented to the point where when I had nearly nothing left to repent, I repented for not listening to Aunt Ting and to bring a towel along and wipe my tears! This prayer has shown me the need to practice wisdom and compassion and I feel it has been a valuable learning experience for me personally.

The Attitude of Practice
Shifu once said, practice need not be forced, but rather it should be treated as an ordinary part of life. Like waves of the sea, flowing seamlessly, bit by bit. I experienced this through the water bowl meditation. Moving through the course marked out in the kitchen with a bowl of water filled to the rim, my mind rushed when people over took me and my concentration waned. And like the story of the monk and the obstacle course, with his bowl of oil, I told myself time and time again, "I cannot spill a drop or I will die", "I cannot spill a drop or I will die".

I was the fifth male practitioner to start in line and the 9th by the end of the course but amazingly when I dropped my thoughts about others, I managed to catch up to the 8th person and beat him to the finish line. I realized this was because at the final leg of the course, instead of trying to take big slow steps as I did at first, I took small small steps which let me move faster without spilling any water. This in itself was very much like practice, whereby it is more efficient to take small frequent steps rather than large slow steps.

Although I made it to the end, unlike the monk, I did not attain enlightenment but I experienced the attitude of practice, a very important step in this new journey.

In summary, these are my main points of experience at Sanyi. Find a purpose in life, meditating, reflecting through repentance and experiencing the attitude of practice. I look forward to my next retreat with DDM, and recommend those who have never been to Taiwan for a retreat to give it a go. Otherwise you will be missing out. Amitabha.

(By Ken Chow in Sydney)

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