Brother Maos one day retreat

Sharing                      David John Burrowes

I had the pleasure of attending a one day Chan meditation retreat on the 15th of January, 2012. I believe this was the first Chan sitting I've done with Dharma Drum Mountain in the US.

I'd had a tumultuous time the day before, and I think this made me much less able to focus than I would have liked. Yet, in some ways, this was a blessing for me, for I got to spend a lot of time seeing the impact that the tumult had been having on me. It's pointlessness was made all the more apparent. So, I feel like the retreat brought a lot of benefit for me, though not in the way I necessarily would have expected.

Though the instruction was in Chinese, and I could mostly follow along, I was also happy with how willingly people, most particularly Warren, were to help me bridge the gaps in my understanding of the things the instructor had to say.

For those that haven't done either a Chinese-style meditation retreat, or a Dharma Drum Mountain retreat, I'll offer a couple thoughts on the practice and organization.  I've been impressed by Master Sheng-Yen ever since I saw him standing at the top of a tall building in a advertisement-like poster in the subway in Taiwan.  "How strange," I thought, "why is there an advertisement with a monk on it here?" Someone explained the couplet in the poster to me, and I realized that this was urging people not to commit suicide.

"Wow" I exclaimed to myself, "now that is what a monk should be doing.  Helping people make wise decisions about crucial things.  That's much more practical than urging folks to read sutras or the like." (much as I like reading sutras).  What I've read by Master Sheng-Yen since that time has only impressed me more. Practical, but keeping focused on what's important. One of the interesting things I've found with Dharma Drum Mountain meditation groups is that there's much more of an emphasis on attending to the body. By this, I mean that there are practices of stretches, patting the muscles, etc which I've not encountered in other traditions.  It sounds like a small thing, but I think keeping the body fit compliments the actual meditation practice very nicely. I'd like to think it actually improves the ability to meditate well.
During this retreat, we seemed to sit in short/medium-length sessions of 30-40minutes each, with breaks between to stretch, pat the muscles.  There were also a couple walking meditation sessions, and a silent lunch break (with excellent food!) at the mid-day. 

Circling back to what I got out of the retreat, or just how it produced some small increment of change within myself, I found it interesting that during the subsequent week at work I did a much better job of not imposing unneeded stresses on myself.  I think watching the pointlessness (and active harmfulness) of the stresses I was feeling during the retreat helped me put the way I treat myself in greater perspective during the week.

I hope I'll get other opportunities to interact with the good people at Dharma Drum Mountain in the time ahead!