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One-Day Chan Retreat for prominent professionals in Penang

Dharma Drum Mountain founder Master Sheng Yen once said, “Chan practice helps one know oneself, affirm oneself, and transcend oneself. By using the methods of Chan practice at any time and place, one becomes more aware of one’s thoughts, as well as one’s own strengths and weaknesses. This is ‘knowing ourselves.’ Through knowing ourselves, we are able to master our own mind, and come to affirm and transcend ourselves.”

By focusing our attention on each and every present moment, Chan practice empowers our mind to remain unmovable like a still lake and reflect like a bright mirror, clearly aware of what is happening around us while unaffected by external situations. But, how can busy urban people living such a fast-paced life really stop or slow down for a while to experience the wonderful benefit of Chan practice?

On May 24, Ven. Chang Zao (常藻), director of Dharma Drum Mountain Malaysia Center, travelled to Penang to guide a one-day Chan retreat for prominent professionals. This retreat shared the methods of essential Chan practice to engage in daily activities, such as eating and sleeping and realize the extraordinary significance in ordinary activities in life. The retreat attracted a participation of some 50 entrepreneurs and top managers.

Ven. Chang Zao began the day with the question - why have you come for meditation? She continued by commenting that whatever the reason may be, it is hoped that the participants could practice relaxing the body and mind, and experience inner happiness. She then led eight form moving meditation, whereby participants experienced the saying ‘wherever the body is, the mind is there, being aware and relaxed, relax the whole body’ through motion. She patiently guided the group to slow down their action in order to experience the subtle changes in every movement. In this practice of relaxing their body, one can feel as if all their muscles are like clothes hanging on a clothes rack, light and weightless.

Holding the water bowl meditation, on the other hand, allows the participants to cultivate stability of the body and mind as well as concentration. In this process, participants are reminded of the importance of harmonizing the body and mind. A participant shared that with every step taken, carelessness will cause the water to spill. On the contrary, with patience and steadfastness in every step, the water remains intact. The water in the bowl resembles the mind. If we are not settled into every moment, it fluctuates easily.

The experience of eating raisins before lunch brought about different discoveries to retreatants - “I never knew that raisins could be that sweet.” “It turns out that after being chewed, the raisin’s taste becomes so delicious!”Such a simple action of eating raisins has helped participants to realize that people in the modern day have gradually built up the habit of carelessness and absent-mindedness over the years and that has weakened the ability to experience the present moment. When we take our meals, we either take it too quickly or too slowly, either demanding full flavor or become numb with the taste. We can see that a body and mind that is too coarse, in addition to a discriminating mind results in mindless eating. During eating meditation, Ven Chang Zao asked participants to try to experience the food in front of them wholeheartedly, being clearly aware of the changes in taste as it is finely chewed.

The day continued with a sitting meditation. Participants learnt how to adjust their posture to the upright position, to relax and settle their mind into every present moment. Everything in life occurs in this present moment, yet how many moments have passed by without our conscious awareness? Every breath is precious and maintains our life from moment to moment. But as we inhale and exhale, how often are we aware of this breath that maintains our life?

The event also attracted a group of volunteers who attended the retreat at the same venue two years ago. With a mind to give back and share, they have come to support this activity. They happily preparing food in the kitchen and helped to run the retreat smoothly, sometimes even having to endure the blazing sun. At the end of the retreat, they prepared a gift for every retreatant, showing their aspiration to tread the bodhisattva path and to bring the practice of Chan to everyday life.

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