Weekend Huatou Retreat with Guo Gu

Weekend Huatou Retreat with Guo Gu            

by Larysa Istomina

After some years of lay Rinzai Zen practice and taking part in retreats in Bremen, Germany, I decided to gain a broader context and see what do other Zen/Chan groups do.

I was much inspired by my recent trip to Kyoto, Japan, and visiting Rinzai Zen temples - tourist attraction as it is, but I felt so much supported by simply walking on that ground and realizing "Wow, this is not a dream, I am not alone in my effort, this whole thing does actually exist!"  "This whole thing" means the Zen/Chan teaching, in my ignorant way to put it.

I did not know Guo Gu, one of Master Sheng Yen's senior and closest disciples of Dharma Drum Mountain, from before neither did I read any of his books, just heard his Dharma talks on the web and read his article "You are already enlightened."  They appealed to me.  It did not go further at that point, until I was planning a business trip to San Francisco and looked for a Zen/Chan event there during my visit - what was my surprise to see a weekend retreat with Guo Gu just before my business trip!  Of course I enrolled.

I follow my own Zen master and did not expect much contact with Guo Gu.  I took this weekend retreat as a precious opportunity to practice a little more in preparation for a 7-day retreat which I plan to attend in three weeks from then, and as an outreach action on behalf of my own Zen group.  So that people at Zenkreis Bremenwho do not have the possibility to travel around would still have the opportunity to experience the support and connectedness in a broader sense.

What should I say, I got much more than I had hoped for.  Careful and warm guidance by the whole group, exceptional discipline in the group - thank you time keepers and volunteers, no distractions and no need to care for anything - I felt completely carried by others.  All I had to do was to practice.  The schedule of the retreat was somewhat different to what I am used to: longer sitting rounds but more sleep at night, lots of Dharma talks and guidance by the teacher - thanks a lot, Guo Gu! - lots of opportunities to ask questions, lots of physical exercises - yoga, stretching, massage, and the new for me wonderful practice of slow prostrations, slow walking meditation, and progressive relaxation.

What a powerful experience.  When you put yourself into a new environment, when people meet for the first time, a lot of things can happen, and compassion can take various forms.

It was a challenge to cope with all this under a 9-hour jetlag - as Guo Gu said, "A retreat is a vacation. Vacation from past, future, body and environment."  It was a fight "Do you want to let go of your old ways or to become more comfortable in your old ways?"

During walking meditation "You do not know whether your foot is up or down, it is just changing sensations, only changing sensations" - and I really did not know, jetlag helped.

During breakfast "Chew mindfully and finish your bowl with a little hot water afterwards - whatever they do, Chan/Zen practitioners do not leave a trace of waste."

During sitting, practice with "the mind of life and death," and "Precious state of not knowing…" and at the end "Practice and everyday life are not separate" and "Whatever the moment calls for."