DDM Global News

Dharma Drum Mountain Was Invited to Lead the Summer Retreat in India

On July 26, 2023, 63 nuns (bhikshunis) and 65 novice nuns (shramanerikas), from Taiwan, USA, New Zealand, Vietnam, Nepal, and Bhutan etc., made a long journey to the Great Shravasti Buddhist Culture Center in India, in preparation for participation in the 6-week "2023 International Mahayana Bhikshuni Varsa (Summer Rains Retreat)" starting on July 28. DDM Vice Abbess Ven. Guo Goang was cordially invited to serve as the abbess of this joint summer retreat. In addition to giving Dharma talks on the Buddhist precepts, she also led a Seven-Day Silent Illumination Retreat, where she expounded the "Ten Ox-herding Pictures", sharing the fundamentals of Chinese Chan teachings. Accompanying her on this retreat were DDM Chan Meditation Center Director, Ven. Chang Hwa, and Ven. Chang Zhai.

This International Mahayana Bhikshuni Varsa was held for the first time. Its initial proposal originated in 2018, when Ven. Konchog Nyima Drolma, ani (nun) of the Tibetan Buddhism Kagyu Sect, sent out an invitation letter to DDM to participate in, and plan for, this joint summer retreat initiated by His Holiness Drikung Kyabgön Chetsang Rinpoche. Also included in the organization committee of this event were Xiang Guang Shan Temple Abbess Ven. Wu Yin, National Taiwan University professor Ven. Heng Ching, Sravasti Abbey Abbess Ven. Thubten Chodron and their respective planning teams. The joint retreat was due in the summer of 2020; however, it was postponed to this year due to the pandemic and several other issues. 

The summer rains retreat unfolded in accordance with the rituals set down by the Buddha. On the morning of August 1st, the participants first embarked on the long walk to the platform where the Buddha preached the Dharma. Legend has it that this place is where the first bhikshuni, Mahapajapati Gotami, led 500 women requesting Buddha Shakyamuni for ordination. It is therefore especially significant that the bhikshunis from all Buddhist lineages congregated there to sing praises to the Buddha and make offerings.

The summer rains retreat officially began on August 2nd. Its curriculum is divided into three subjects: Precepts, Samadhi and Wisdom. The first part was precepts, where, apart from the teachings delivered personally by Ven. Guo Goang and Ven. Thubten Damcho, pre-recorded Dharma talks given by Ven. Wu Yin and Ven. Thubten Chodron were also broadcasted, with simultaneous translations in English, Tibetan, Bhutanese (Dzongkha) and Vietnamese. Each of these translations took up some time; however, all participants waited patiently throughout the process due to their highly motivated aspiration to learn the Dharma, especially with the Tibetan congregation, who deeply cherished this unique opportunity to listen to the precepts.

Throughout the summer retreat, community discussions were carried out daily. The nuns from different lineages and countries took turns to share their personal learning experiences, the daily operations of their respective monasteries and temples, as well as their practice and study curriculums. These discussion sessions were exciting and highly inspirational to all. Among participants, several Tibetan nuns shared their emotionally moving experiences when they received precepts. Meanwhile, Ven. Chang Hwa and Ven. Chang Zhai gave a brief account of Master Sheng Yen's life, the process of founding Chan Meditation Center and Dharma Drum Mountain, the DDM Chan methods, and Master Sheng Yen’s instructions on fostering a structured Chan learning and practice framework.

The two seven-day Chan retreats beginning from August 23 were part of the Samadhi subject. The first Chan retreat was led by Ven. Konchog Nyima Drolma, during which she instructed everyone on learning the Anapanasati courses designed by His Holiness Drikung Kyabgön Chetsang Rinpoche. The second Chan retreat was directed by Ven. Guo Goang on the practice of the Silent Illumination. The third subject of the curriculum was cultivating wisdom. From September 8 onwards, each group would share what they had learned in this joint summer retreat, as well as perform the repentance and pravarana* rituals. At the end of the retreat, His Holiness Drikung Kyabgön Chetsang Rinpoche will personally officiate the completion ceremony, bringing the summer rains retreat to a joyous end.
In Buddhism, pravarana is a ceremony performed by monks and nuns on the last day of the summer rains retreat, where they publicly repent of their errors and confess their offenses before the assembly.

Text: Venerable Chang Hwa 
Photos: Venerable Chang Hwa 
Translation: Cheng-yu Chang (張振郁)
Editing: Keith Brown, YKL