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Seven Day Huatou Retreat with Zarko Andricievic

For the last six years Zarko Andricevic has been leading a seven-day retreats at the Dharma Drum Mountain Center in Richmond BC. Traditionally these have been Silent Illumination retreats. This time he led a Huatou retreat. As always, his gentle and insightful teaching was both helpful and appreciated.

Huatou retreats have a reputation for being intense. They are famous for being driven. Teachers are known to push their students hard, leading to emotional outbursts and people behaving in strange unpredictable ways. This has led people to be warry of the method. What is not commonly known is that a gentler approach is also advocated. Zarko focused on this gentler approach in this retreat.

Huatou practice uses a simple question to probe the nature of mind. The question must be unanswerable by logic. The practitioner uses this question to develop what is commonly called The Doubt Sensation, or a deep want and need to know. To the practitioner the question points to and encompasses the existential questions of life and death. Since any answer offered by the discursive mind is rejected, the practitioner is left in a state of open questioning. He uses this state to explore the nature of mind. This practice is maintained continually for the retreat, in all activities, thereby leaving the mind open and receptive to awakening if causes and conditions are correct.

The famous intensity of this form of retreat comes from a tradition of goading the practitioner to intensify this Doubt sensation. In contrast, Zarko’s retreat began with relaxation and worked on developing our Huatou from there. Zarko explained the development of Huatou practice from the early stages of simply reciting the Huatou, to questioning the Huatou and finally to becoming one with the Huatou. Most participants were either new to retreats or Silent Illumination practitioners. In the sharing session after the retreat these practitioners were grateful for this approach as it made the practice more accessible.

For those of us familiar with Huatou, the retreat was a great opportunity to learn another approach to our practice. For myself this gentler approach served to deepen and intensify my relationship with my practice.

The retreat was capped with a talk at the Vancouver Chan Meditation Center in Vancouver. The talk was entitled ‘Finding Peace in a Rapidly Changing World”. The talk was well attended by both retreatants and the general public. It is difficult to condense two hours of wise speech into a couple of sentences. Briefly, Zarko advised us to first embrace change as it is inevitable. We must also practice. Through practice both on and off the cushion, we become less buffeted by the change and more involved in shaping its direction. Zarko’s insightful words were well appreciated.

This is now my seventeenth retreat in the Dharma Drum organization. I have yet to be disappointed. I would like to thank the Monastics and volunteers who worked diligently to create a smooth experience for all. Their dedication never ceases to impress me. I would also like to express my hope that Zarko can find time in his busy schedule to return next year.

Written by Tom Kaczmarski
Photo by Dharma Drum Vancouver Centre

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