One-Day Retreat with Venerable Guoxing

One-Day Retreat with Venerable Guoxing                        by TH Lu

I was blessed to have had the opportunity to attend the one-day Chan retreat led by Venerable Guoxing on 9/20. The benefits of meditation have been scientifically studied and proven. It is good for the mind, body, and emotional well-being. I eagerly signed up for the one-day Chan retreat with Venerable Guoxing.

There were many volunteers who all greeted me with warm smiles when I arrived a bit late.  There were signs with the words “Noble Silence” posted throughout. The ambience of the Chan hall was casual but solemn. I spotted an empty zafu cushion set, promptly headed towards it, settled down and started Eight Form Moving Meditation which relaxed me.  While performing the eight-form moving meditation, I was reminded to let my mind follow my body.  Even though all the movements were slow and easy to perform, I quickly found my body warming up and my mind calming Guoxing.

The one-day Chan retreat comprised of various sessions of sitting meditations, yoga exercises, walking meditation, inculcations by Venerable Guoxing, and of course, a scrumptious vegan lunch!

The sitting meditations were most challenging for me. Every second felt like a minute. By the afternoon, I felt so much unbearable pain on my back and legs. I was proud to have persisted to the end.  Chairs were provided for people who could not sit on cushions. I like how Dharma Drum Mountain tries to make Chan accessible to everyone by suggesting different techniques and methods. One can reap benefits practicing at any level.

There were three lectures made by Venerable Guoxing that I found both enlightening and entertaining. It was entertaining because he constantly joked about his own foibles and failings. He talked to us like an erudite uncle instead of a haughty scholar, which made the discussions lively and engaging. He shared his knowledge and personalexperiences on the three major impediments to meditation, which are leg pain, scattered thoughts, and drowsiness.

Regarding leg pain, Venerable Guoxing stated that everyone experiences it, regardless of their mastery level, including the late Master Sheng-Yen. So no pain, no gain applies to Chan. According to Chinese medicine, the pain is caused by blocked Qi (energy), and practicing Chan will aid in "unblocking" the Qi pathways in our body, which will result in better health.  Venerable Guoxing also mentioned that if we could persist pass the pain, there would be a cooling and soothing sensation. He encouraged us to welcome pain.

There were many questions regarding the wandering mind. Some lamented that they noticed little improvement as countless random thoughts still surfaced in their minds during meditation. Venerable Guoxing reassured us that the realization of scattered thoughts is itself praise worthy, as most people do not even notice when their minds wander. He urged us to stick to our methods and continue practicing. There were also comments on how meditation might lead to some out-of-the-world experiences which Guoxing Fashi acknowledged but admonished that they are not the focus of practicing Chan. Our goal is to apply our meditative concentration and relaxation in our daily life in the Now and we do not want to be attached to any sensation, good or bad. We should practice Chan without any expectation, judgment, and attachment.

Finally, on the subject of drowsiness, Venerable Guoxing taught us to keep our neck and back straight so that air can flow freely from our nostrils into our lungs. Lack of oxygen is the most common cause of drowsiness. I was surprised to learn that drowsiness is worse than wandering mind. He reiterated the importance of awareness. Chan practice is futile without awareness.

What impressed me the most about these lectures was how Venerable Guoxing delivered them with profound insights, humility,humor and courtesy while displaying tremendous respect and affection for the late Master Sheng-Yen who believed that meditation can benefit everyone regardless of one’s religious affiliations.

I have enjoyed going to Dharma Drum Mountain where people exude wisdom and compassion. I always leave with sunshine in my heart and the retreat did the same!