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My experience as a Timekeeper, in Dharma Drum Vancouver 

The October seven day retreat, led by Zarko Andricevic, was the fifth he has led at the Dharma Drum Mountain Vancouver and the third that I have attended. As always the retreat was exceptional. Zarko is a great teacher. As usual the volunteers and monastics worked together to help all the participants have a rich and rewarding retreat experience. From my perspective there was one difference, one change from the usual. I was a timekeeper.

I must admit I was a bit nervous about taking on the role, but the Venerable Chang Wu was always there to lend a hand and teach or help as needed. Still, there is a lot to take care of. We all take for granted the smooth running of a retreat, but that seamless experience is the result of the efforts of so many. As a timekeeper I was more involved in the workings of that machine and one of the benefits for me, was a deeper appreciation of the efforts of all those involved.

From the standpoint of personal practice, I found the experience deeply enriching. It may seem like a bit of a paradox to some, but the reason being a Timekeeper was so enriching on a personal level, was because it was not about me personally. The participants became my practice. Every detail, lighting, temperature, ventilation, the tone of the chime ( I promise to practice more on that chime!!) or wooden fish, the length of the sits, what exercises we do between sits, all matter, all have an effect.

This is so apparent from that cushion at the back of the room. It was gratifying to look over the participants and see a change and, more importantly maybe, feel a change as the retreat wore on. I could see and feel a growing peace, calm and order in all the participants as the days passed. More than that, I came to feel a deep connection between myself and all that were there. It stopped being retreatants, teachers, volunteers and me. It was just the retreat.

Maybe now I have a deeper understanding of the old story of Mazu sitting in his hermitage and his teacher standing outside polishing a brick. The teacher had asked Mazu why he was sitting. Mazu replied “to become a Buddha”. His teacher then started polishing a brick. Mazu asked what he was doing and the teacher replied, ”making a mirror”. Mazu then said you can’t make a mirror by polishing a brick. To this his teacher replied you can’t become a Buddha by sitting in meditation.

This is of course a paraphrase of the original but it has a relevant point. I think some people are reluctant to take up responsibility in a retreat because it will interfere with their sitting, and they are there to sit!! Yet Chan teaches that everything is practice. In Chan everything is interconnected. And truly, the practice isn’t about “Me”. Ringing some bells, hitting a wooden fish, opening and closing blinds and windows, changing batteries in radios and being part of the beauty of all there growing makes this very clear.

Needless to say, I would encourage anyone offered the position of a Timekeeper in a retreat to take up the challenge. The opportunity to deepen your practice is not one to be missed.

Written by: Tom Kaczmarski, Dharma Drum Vancouver
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