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The most memorable retreat

Pak agus told me to share my experience on the retreat but I told him that I am too old and nothing has changed much (the same old soul which still has a lot of attachment and selfish).

But, contemplating about the great karmic debt that I owe to friends in “Jogja Friday Sitting Group” and seeing how enthusiastic our friends who share their experiences, I thought I could pour more oil into the fire. I hope this can pay a little bit the heavy debt of mine.

Two or three days before going to the retreat, my spirit was low. I had to make one important decision, let’s say between A or B, which could have a great impact not only to me, but also to my family in the future. This had been going on for few weeks. The proliferation was sometimes strong, sometimes weak, but it was always there on the background, like a hua tou: A or B? B or A? The source was clearly the “self” which was afraid, feeling fear and insecure, uncertain about the “unknown” in the future. Often, it was mixed with the hua tou: who is it that is worry? But most of the time the proliferation was stronger and the hua tou was gone. I made an aspiration; the decision must be before the retreat. But because there weren’t any suitable conditions, the decision couldn’t be made.

I finally gave up, tired, gloomy and feel lazy to go for the retreat. A day before I left, I participated in Om Mani Padme Hum chanting retreat. I felt better. Furthermore, there was “empowerment” ceremony by Ven. Guo Jun (for all retreat participants). I felt very blessed. On Saturday, I finally left for the retreat with concern and worry whether I would be able to meditate well on the retreat.

On the way to the retreat location, I reminded myself again and again, “It’s already final countdown to the retreat, what else can I do? Keep thinking won’t help anything, as I have thought about it for few weeks and still couldn’t make it out”. Once I arrived at the location, I finally dropped all my worries. I put all my heart on the method and on all activities of the retreat.

Surprisingly, I could sit very well without many wandering thoughts. Not even once I thought again about “A or B” which was vexing me before the retreat. Until the fourth day of the retreat, there weren’t any sleepiness or pain at all, and only a little uneasiness on my thigh and buttock. I felt that my body was fit and relax, I slept well, and once I woke up, there weren’t any fatigue et all in the morning, which I usually have it on the retreat. Until the end of the retreat, I remember had brief sleepiness only twice during the morning meditation and once on the afternoon. There were few occasions that I had a thought to continue meditating on the night until morning, but worrying that it would affect my comfort, I decided to sleep.

At first, I couldn’t understand why this retreat went very well (compared to many retreats in the past that I’ve attended before), but I thought maybe the cause was the relaxation method. Relax body scanning was a great help (for the last few months, I had been intensively revising this method – from Guo Jun Fashi’s meditation class). Each time I started to sit, I did body scanning 3-5 times, before I engaged into “just sitting”, feel the whole body sitting, and pick up the ‘hua tou’. When relaxed, the ‘hua tou’ could be sustained without feeling tired. I felt a deep appreciation to the relaxation method which had been taught before by many teachers in our tradition (Guo Yuan Fashi, Guo Jun Fashi, etc.).

Other causes must have come from many things: Shigong Sheng Yen, Guo Yuan Fashi, Guo Jun Fashi (Interesting to remember that during my first huatou retreat 10 years ago in New York, all these three great teachers were also there), Pak agus, friends who are practicing and supporting one another, and so on, which I aware of or I am not aware of. This what I believes as ‘causes and conditions’.

However, the great obstacle is still there. My attachment to the self is still very-very deep. It seems this is the only topic in our life which we must strive to find the answer. Whatever I do (or not do), good or bad, meditate, being aware, talking, helping people, being happy, being sad, all of them are based on a very deep attachment to the self. It has been said that the “self” is an illusion. But why do we continue being fooled, cheated, blanketed, and shadowed by this “illusion”?

I remembered two events on the retreat, where the “self” could be very quick to stab from the back. This happened just right after a comfortable sitting meditation (no pain, minimum wandering thoughts relax and fairly absorbed into the hua tou).

The first event happened when going back to Chan hall after meditating on the gazebo (first day sitting on the gazebo). Once I got back into the Chan hall and seeing that my cushion arrangement had changed (the small cushion was gone), suddenly the “self” could crawl in very quickly - became panic, worried: where’s the small cushion? Feel afraid of losing the comfortable sit (meditation).

Eventhough the solution was easy: just change it with another cushion; it’s only for a support in the back (under the main cushion). This experience was very clearly felt in the body: from asking the hua tou, then suddenly being grasped by the “self”.

The second event was when I asked my laundry to the hotel employee who apparently had made a mistake identifying my clothes. The laundry couldn’t be found. The explanation was probably had been mistakenly sent to other room. This also happened right after a sitting meditation session which had been fairly comfortable, and surprisingly resentment could still arise (could be felt in the body and the heart). I thought, when I handed over my laundry to them I had explained in detail the room number and the laundry, how come they made a mistake? Although I didn’t get angry, the resentment was quite strong. This experience was also felt clearly, mixed with astonishment and feeling weird. Who is it that is resenting? Still resenting? Why resenting? It took a few minutes, and only then the resentment subsided and eventually forgotten.

The conclusion of these two events was that “calmness” doesn’t mean anything. As long as we have attachment to the idea of “self”, the problem is still rooted inside.

I opened again the text of repentance of great compassion (Ta Pei Chan) which I chant before. The sentences beautifully describe the basic problem that I have:

“This very mind, shared by all living beings of the dharma realm, is fundamentally complete with the thousand dharmas. It has in full all spiritual strength and the use of bright wisdom

Above, it equals the Buddha Mind, below, it is identical to all that lives

Beginningless dark movement blocks this still brightness

Contact with things, dims and confuses it,

And thought arise and bind it in attachments

In the midst of the sameness of dharmas arise the notions of self and other


When this body is cast aside, it is fitting that I fall into the three paths of rebirth


For how long will this continue? I also don’t know the answer. “Who is dragging this corpse around?”

Deepest gratitude to Guo Yuan Fashi, Chang Hu Fashi, Chang Chy Fashi who had sacrifice their busy time to come to lead the retreat and to pak agus, all friends in Jogja and Jakarta who had organized a very beautiful, warm and unforgettable retreat, who had given up their time and energy for the benefit of everybody and also to Bro. Jimmy Lominto, the ‘translator’ who had skillfully lighten up the retreat atmosphere.

I am not sure how this retreat will have impact on me in the coming days, but at least this retreat has raised ‘one step higher’ my confidence towards the Buddha-Dharmas, teachers, methods, causes and conditions.

I’m sure that I will not forget this wonderful and most memorable retreat.

Deep bow for all.

(by Junarto M. Ifah)



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