Meditation Retreats

Seven Day Chan Meditation Retreat
by Chuan Dun

Gratitude is the first thing that comes to mind when I think about the 7 Day Chan Meditation Retreat. I am truly grateful to the Abbott and all of the Shifus and Volunteers at Chung Tai who made the 7 days possible. I am also thankful and fortunate to have the support and teachings from the Abbess and the Shifus at Buddha Gate Monastery who encouraged me to participate in the 7 Day Chan.

The dharma talks were the most memorable part of the retreat for me. There seemed to be so many topics but there really was only one, the awakened mind. Through different stories the Abbott spoke about this topic.

The Abbott reminded us that breath counting was a tool to be used to settle down and calm our mind. I used this tool countless times. Chanting the Buddha’s name was another tool the Abbott spoke about, I choose to chant Guan Yin’s name and this helped me to stay focused and calm at times when I was not sitting in meditation. The Abbott spoke of these methods as tools and not to be taken for the awakened mind. He said that it is important to not get stuck here. I chose to interpret this as a reminder not to get lazy with meditation, something that is very easy for me to do.

With a calm mind the story the Abbott told about one of Buddha’s disciples using the analogy of a hotel front desk manager and guests coming and going to describe his awakening and understanding of who is the host and who is the guest resonated for me. The host is there (the pure mind); the guests (the thoughts) are coming and going filtering everything through the five sense organs and my ego, judging, labeling and rationalizing each thought as if it was real. It is best to just observe them and not attach. I practiced this for days. At first the more I tried to ignore “the thoughts” and not attach the louder they were and so I would have to go back to using breath counting. I realized that once again I was chasing something, leaning outward instead of focusing inward. This is something I find myself doing a lot, but now I see it more often and am able to let it go.  Occasionally during the last days of Chan 7 there was nothing to chase. Whether sitting in meditation or in action there was clarity.  Is this an awakened mind? No, I do not think so but it is a beginning and I will continue my practice with a focus on daily meditation and reading the sutras because Chan 7 has shown me both knowledge and practice are one.

The Abbess at Buddha Gate often says, “There’s a little, there’s a little more.” I understand this in a new way and if conditions are right, I will attend Chan 7 again next year.

Awakening in Meditation
by Anne Khoury

My face smiles as I remember my Chan 7 Retreat. My mind hears the sound of chanting, drums and the awakening bell, smells the incense, and sees the fog settled in the mountains at day break. My heart remains touched by the kindness and generosity of all who shared their wisdom, practice and guidance and made me feel at home in a new experience and land.
Sitting in mediation was a profound awakening, for my mind has seldom been still in the outside world. When sitting in meditation and my mind became calm, much delusion, ignorance and attachment floated by . . . some of which was deep rooted and long repressed. As I sat with a still mind, I felt a peace and lightness I have never before experienced. Attachments and judgment seemed to disentangle from my mind as clarity, calm, and a feeling of connectedness settled in. That feeling of connectedness to the universe and all beings increased as I meditated during Zen breakfast and lunch . . . reflecting on how what I put into my mouth, to became part of my body, came from a multitude of sources and perspectives.
It is now my challenge to hold onto this experience in practice as I “pick up” in the outside world. Interestingly, upon my return to the USA, there was no jet lag and my mind seems to have transformed. It is much calmer, focused, and aware of the essence of what I am here to contribute. There is hope. Perhaps our world leaders and all sentient being need a Chan 7 Retreat. The world would be a much different place.
Thank you for your generosity in sharing the dharma, your practice and for the joy of glimpsing my awakening mind.

Reflections on a Half-day Meditation Retreat
by Mae Hoag

A half-day meditation retreat at Buddha Gate Monastery provides a welcome change from one’s daily life of routines and demands. It is an opportunity to return to one’s true nature through focus and concentration in a quiet, peaceful environment free of interruption and intrusion. How easy it is to lose sight of who we really are in our every day existence. To participate in a retreat is a reassuring reminder which leaves one renewed and refreshed. In stillness comes charity and a realization, “I am home.” I am returning to that place where no “I” exists and the long cultivated persona is not needed or required. I become mindful of what is truly important in my life and renew my commitment to being awake and fully present here and now.

Thoughts during “One Stick-of-Incense” Meditation
by Mae Hoag

To enter the Chan Hall for meditation is to take refuge. There is an immediate sense of tranquility and peace which transports me from the world outside to the world within. I am at home. During the hour of sitting and walking meditation, I experience a familiar and comforting beauty. I forget who I am; my persona is like the shoes I remove and leave at the entrance. Meditation seems a natural process and many of my other activities artificial. I ask myself “Why am I not here every day?” My life would be very different if I sat for one hour daily in the kind of supportive environment the Chan Hall provides. However, my limited experience of “two sticks of incense” during this month encourages me to be more disciplined in my practice at home and wherever I may be. I feel tremendous gratitude that Buddha Gate Monastery exits and offers such opportunities.