Reflections on Venerable Guo Yuan’s One Day Retreat

Reflections on Venerable Guo Yuan’s One Day Retreat at Dharma Drum Mountain Chan Meditation Center in Fremont, California April 8, 2017                                                                                      

                                                                                              by Steven Clements

Step into Dharma Drum Mountain’s Chan meditation center in Fremont on any given day and one feels a sense of calm and unity of spirit that is not easy to put into words but that is always present.  If you have visited the Center before, you’re welcomed back like family; and if you’re new, well, you’re also welcomed like family and provided a place to learn, meditate, and relax where your worries, at least for a time, can be left at the door. There is nothing you need to think about-- the pristine meditation hall, the keeping of time, the guidance—everything right down to the cushions on which you sit are taken care of.  All one has to do is practice.  But, on Saturday, April 8, 2017, the Venerable Guo Yuan was presiding over a full one day meditation retreat and the volunteer brothers and sisters at the Center were impeccably well prepared, greeting the crowd of meditators with amazing efficiency, going about registering, and getting folks seated and comfortable in the hall all the while maintaining a noble silence.  This set the tone for a rewarding day of personal growth, learning, and practice.  
After a short mediation period, Venerable Guo Yuan personally led the assembled meditators through the 8 Forms of Moving Meditation.  Impressively, he went through each form in minute detail and gave his own personal flavor to each exercise while explaining very thoroughly each movement.
Throughout the day, Venerable Guo Yuan would give Dharma talks between periods of mediation. Each Dharma talk was geared to improving the mediation process.  Though he has many years of experience, he spoke with simple and easy to understand instructions to gently guide the beginners and reinforce the more experienced practitioners.   At one poignant moment, he instructed everyone to make a fist then make it tighter, and tighter still.  He let everyone feel the tension being made.  Then he had everyone open their hand and let the tension go illustrating how it is just like that with the rest of our bodies.  One must let go of the tension and be relaxed before meditation.  He emphasized the importance of not short changing the process of relaxing the body before going into a meditative state or the process of coming out of meditation.
Around midday, a delicious vegetarian lunch was prepared and provided by the volunteers.  The entire day was reserved for noble silence; so, the meal was eaten in silent meditative contemplation.  This process of meditatively reflecting on the process of eating is always fascinating and enjoyable.  It also allowed one the time to appreciate and reflect on the efforts of those who provided it.   
In the spirit of Chan, it was an almost palpable feeling of unification with others who were returning early from lunch to practice mediation together.   Soon after, the meditators were led on a meditation walk along a river and through the park across from the Center.  This walking meditation was a very peaceful, relaxing excursion.   Because the body is moving, it is on the one hand easy to be mindful of what your body is doing—each step is a new one, each movement felt through your feet touching the ground—yet on the other hand, the gentle awareness of the surroundings can sometimes be a lesson on being aware of but not attaching to what is going on in nature.  Coming back to the process is sometimes a challenge.

Venerable Guo Yuan took time to answer questions following two Dharma talks.  It was particularly gratifying that his answers were not overly pedantic, but straight forward and easy to understand for all levels of practice. 
Having the opportunity to spend the day in a retreat with the Venerable Guo Yuan was a wonderful honor that has strengthened my practice and has also put me in awe of all the DDM volunteers that work so diligently putting a retreat like this together.