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Global Buddhist Village, Wujimen, Russia, Part III

In 1998 and 2003, Master Sheng Yen visited Saint Petersburg and Moscow respectively to give guidance for local Buddhist practitioners, introducing Chan teachings into Russia. Part III of this in-depth interview will share the story of how do they face Challenges and opportunities to practice Chan

Challenges and opportunities to practice Chan

Q1:What are the most challenging things to practice in Moscow?

Sasha: The lack of understanding and weak motivation lead to the practice itself becoming irregular and random because of being busy and having no time. This is a superficial level. Having no opportunity to address questions to a Teacher of undoubted competency, in my opinion, creates a gap between the immediate practice of Zuo Chan and Dharma, impeding the understanding of their actual interconnection. This leads to the lack of clarity about how the practice should be done, not only during the thirty-sixty minutes dedicated to the seated meditation, but on a wider level, in life, about how to widen the boundaries of practice, making it a Practice.

Rinya:I suppose, in this regard Moscow hardly differs from any other place where Buddhism is a foreign culture phenomenon. The Buddhist theory is kind of a foreign language for us: the words seem the same, but the meaning and links between them are actually different. To understand it on a profound level it should be your mother tongue – or at least you should be assisted by a good translator, i.e. a master. Besides, in an environment where a robust community of people supporting each other in their common cause has not formed, it's even more difficult to maintain a focus on the practice throughout your life, compared to a case when such a community is present and functioning perfectly.

Q2:Why and when did you decide to lead Chan group practice in Moscow? What courses have you arranged for Russian practitioners?

Sasha: After the first retreat with the Teacher, having moved to Moscow, I decided that anyone coming to Wujimen school should have an opportunity to be involved in the practice, although they might not have an articulate need in it initially. On the last day of the second retreat with Sheng Yen, when he presented a scroll with a Buddha image to Wujimen, I expressed my gratitude saying that now that the Teacher gave us Dharma and Buddha as a present, I would do everything I can to help Sangha to become established here in Moscow. I cannot say that I am successful in fulfilling my promise; however I do not give up.

Speaking about the plans, the visit of Jinghou Fashi was rather helpful. Her energy and inspiration strengthened practitioners' motivation. Based on her suggestion an intention came up to make a pilgrimage in the future to the Buddhist sacred places in China and Taiwan together with the idea to request the Dharma Drum Mountain sangha leaders for support. Currently our group gathers once in a fortnight on Sundays for joint practice. There are several cycles of seating, text declamation, joint meals and reading and discussing the texts of Master Sheng Yen. I do not feel myself a leader of this group but rather a senior member among the practitioners and a kind of arranger.

Q3:What suggestions/advice do you have for practitioners in Moscow?

Sasha: According to my experience, the study of literature and talks about it at our level can rather fuel the interest. However for real practice you should have an opportunity to communicate with the tradition bearers and teachers to be able to compare your understandings and adjust the course of your practice. I would advise not to mistake an interest for practice.

Rinya: Appreciate any opportunity to contact the Teaching bearers, take care of the place of the ritual in your own life – this is my advice both to others and me.

Q4:Do you have any future plan about cultivating talent to promote Master Sheng Yen’s teachings and Buddhism?

Sasha and Rinya: In terms of educational activities and information support the Wujimen school's website which is quite well promoted can be used as a basis. The site has a section with the Master's lectures and news being posted. Having published “Wisdom of Chan” by Shifu we are preparing his autobiography titled “Footprints in the Snow”. Our plans include the future development of translation and publishing activities. However it seems to us that without permanent representation or at least regular visits to Moscow by some of the Sangha members this will hardly bring any worthy results.

Q5:How well is Chinese Buddhism received in Russia??

Sasha: Of all the Buddhist confessions Chan seems to be the least represented. Since there are many Tibetan teachers visiting and overseeing various groups, many in Russia have think about Buddhism as of a predominantly Tibetan tradition. As far as the Far-Eastern Buddhism is concerned, it is much more famous due to the Japanese word “Zen” than the Chinese one “Chan”. Many are familiar with it although in a very superficial way.?To be continued, Part IV, Continuation of Chan practices in the family

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