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Seven-day Chan Retreat in Malaysia

A beginner’s seven-day Chan retreat was held at the Uttama Bodhi Vihara, Malaysia, from September 9 to 18, with a participation of 59 practitioners. Impressed by the keenness of the retreatants, Ven. Chang Zao, guiding Dharma teacher of the retreat and director of Dharma Drum Buddhist Centre Malaysia, praised them for showing faith in Chan practice. Once again witnessing the incredible effect of the Chan teachings, the venerable observed that participants, by constantly practicing the method, had become more calm and stable, compared to their distractedness and confusion at the beginning of the retreat.

In addition to sitting meditation sessions, the retreat includes the practices of Eight-form Moving Meditation, prostration to the Buddha, yoga exercises, and working meditation. A video of Master Sheng Yen’s Dharma talk was also played, to give participants an idea about the Buddhist concepts and methods of practice. Many of the participants expressed amazement with the Master’s concise comments on their possible emotions and thoughts at the moment. The retreat director, Ven. Chang Zao, led the practice by using a step-by-step approach: when retreatants are feeling relatively calm and stable, she would skillfully give them extra tasks, as a reminder that taking good care of our everyday activities is in itself a best Chan practice, and that whether eating, washing, walking and resting, they should relax their body and mind while constantly using the method, allowing no time for deluded thoughts to emerge.

Nine retreatants decided to take the three refuges and five precepts on the morning of the concluding day of the retreat. Ven. Guo Ming, the monastic interviewer, hosted the refuge ceremony, followed by homage-paying to ancient Chan masters and patriarchs. As Master Sheng Yen once said, we should be grateful to those eminent monks who left behind such wonderful methods of Chan practice with their life-long commitment.

Zeng Yuqing, leader of the volunteers, most of whom have attended Chan retreats before, said that they expected themselves to help foster a “happy seven-day retreat”. Though as a small team, volunteers worked together in coordination to create a fully supportive environment for the retreatants to concentrate on their practice. Lin Manling, a volunteer in the kitchen, said she had been helped by dedicated volunteers before, which prompted her to devote herself to volunteering by helping with preparing food and setting up table, for those aspiring to improve their Chan practice through meditation. Lin Huiru, assisting timekeeper in charge of the hand-chime, has learned that the chime actually reflects her mind: a distracted mind will unmistakenly show in the disconnected rhythm of the sound.

Participants could not stop expressing their delight in practicing Chan after the retreat had concluded, even with an interactive sharing session taking place on the previous day. Su Jibang, who made a special effort to fly from Singapore for this retreat, said he was grateful for this opportunity that had inspired him to want to make further spiritual progress. Su Shuting, a long-time practitioner, praised the calming, pacifying atmosphere at the meditation hall, which is most facilitating for beginner practitioners. She appreciated Ven. Chang Zao’s lively manner in reminding them to be relaxed at the right time, enabling them to focus on the method of practice, despite the many retreat rules and regulations to observe. Zhang Fengzhi, who attended the retreat last year, said she had experienced it differently this time, in that she found the guiding Dharma teacher’s reminder—reining in the eye faculty at all times, whether walking, standing, sitting, and lying down—most beneficial and useful.

Asked about how it is possible to be aware of retreatants’ body-mind states, Ven. Chang Zao, who served as the guiding Dharma teacher for the first time, said the key is to fully empty the self and be constantly mindful of the practitioners’ needs. Having in mind the mission of “taking up the responsibility for the wisdom-life of all” allowed the venerable a fresh experience of the retreat. She also pointed out that seven-day Chan retreats are different from other activities, in that it requires practitioners to keep coming back every year to familiarize with the methods of practice, thereby truly purifying the mind and being our own master, freeing our minds from all sorts of external temptations.

Reporter: Chen Yunjie (陳允潔)
Photographer: Ma Wenyan (馬文燕)
Translator: Elenda Huang (黃儀娟)
Editor: Chiacheng Chang (張家誠)



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