Pilgrimage to Chung Tai Monastery

My Pilgrimage Experience to Chung Tai Monastery
by Robert King

Following is the most important and vivid realizations I experience on my trip to Taiwan and Chung Tai Monastery.

As I undertake the process of writing my pilgrimage experience, I contemplate the time I spend in Taiwan viewing different monasteries, and meeting Dharma masters and lay Buddhist practitioners. The more I think of my trip, the more I find my thoughts gravitate towards a few specific experiences. Mostly I think of the few occasions that I am privileged enough to see the Grand Master Wei Chueh.

Grand Master Wei Chueh is a man who is small in physical stature, but his energy and charisma are larger than life. The instant I first see him, I know I am in the presence of a true Zen master.

Although my encounters with the Grand Master are few and relatively brief in duration, I learn a great deal about practicing Zen from him. By observing the Grand Master, I can see that his mind is completely calm and he is mindful and deliberate in taking every action. It strikes me that the Grand Master is constantly practicing Zen.

For me Zen Buddhism is about practicing, not about theorizing or philosophizing. Grand Master Wei Chueh practices the middle way every second. He directly expresses his true nature in every action.

As a result of observing the Grand Master, I am inspired to practice Zen diligently. The fact that he can practice with such vigor makes me realize I have no excuse not to practice with intensity.

There are instances that I feel unmotivated to practice. In those instances, I remind myself of how the Grand Master practices. By thinking of the Grand Master’s practice, I suddenly become motivated to act.

Partaking in the pilgrimage to Chung Tai monastery and meeting Grand Master Wei Chueh and the other Dharma practitioners revitalizes my goals and commitments pertaining to my Zen practice. I commit to calming my mind, being mindful in my actions, letting go of my egotistical notions, and practicing Zen with robust effort—in each moment of my life.


Lay Bodhisattva Precept Ceremony
by Darlene Cioffi-Pangilla (Chuan Ling)

As I write this, it has been just about one year (May 2005) since I had the privilege of going to Chung Tai Chan Monastery to take the Lay Bodhisattva precepts. Little did I know what I was getting into. I quickly realized that this event was no joke. It was going to be a serious and important step in my life.

Master Jian Pin, then abbess at Buddha Gate, prepared us well. Her steadfast support and faith in me, personally gave me the strength to face my doubts, my lack of faith in myself, my feeling of not being worthy enough to take such a big step in my spiritual practice.

The five or so days of preparation at Chung Tai, before the precepts were finally given, were filled with frustration for me:

the weather – thunder, lightening, torrential rains that we had to navigate through.

the language – just being present to the liturgy while trying to keep the ear-piece in place to be able to catch the simultaneous translation and always feeling details were missing for knowing where to be and when.

the etiquette – seemingly always behind yet trying my best to catch the cues as to how and when to bow, kneel, stand up, and how to properly put on and take off our robes.

When the day came for taking the precepts, everything seemed to fall into place. Thanks to Master Jian Pin’s all night effort, we had the complete liturgy in our hands and we were able to follow the ceremony. The simultaneous translation, thanks to Master Jian Hu, was invaluable.

However, as the three Precept Masters, who presided over the ceremony, completed the transmission of the precepts, something transformed inside of me. The Truth within me had been touched. There was (and continues to be) a sense of inner calm and elation at the same time. I now have a deeper sense of commitment to the bodhisattva way; a deeper connection with Chung Tai, Buddha Gate, and to my dharma sisters and brothers, who were there for me in this very special experience. My life has been renewed.

Amitofo. In profound gratitude.

Reflection on the Chan Seven Retreat at Chung Tai Chan Monastery
by Peggy Bryant

“Have a cup of tea” said Abbot Jian Deng. So went the tea ceremony to open the Chan Seven Retreat a couple of weeks ago. This was my second Zen Seven at Chung Tai. The Abbot explained that the purpose of the Zen Seven is to realize our true awakened minds, to know WHO is drinking this tea. Do we know who we are? Are we the master of our minds? In what do we take refuge?

Taken from a well-known Zen koan, “Have a cup of tea” was to symbolize the theme of the retreat. As I sat there at the tea ceremony, I thought, oh I know what this means, we need to know ourselves. As the retreat got underway, however, and the busy everyday mind was tamed and made clearer by the rigorous schedule of meditation, dharma lectures, formal meals and chanting, I realized that my earlier thoughts about “have a cup of tea” were pretty superficial and that an important meaning and deeper lesson awaited me.

The dharma talks by the Grand Master and Abbot Jian Deng built on the theme of the mind ground dharma. Again and again we were asked “Where is your mind?”, “Who is it that is feeling this pain/discomfort?”, and remember always to “Dwell in your awakened mind”. During meditation, we were to “let go” of everything and focus on the clear mind. How do I let go, I asked myself. I worked very hard on this. After the retreat, we were told to “pick up” the activities of our conventional lives and still we need to dwell in our clear mind. “Don’t waste your time” the Grand Master admonished. I admit I grew restless and tired during some of these dharma lectures because they were too long, much longer than I was used to, and repetitive. Where was my mind?

The retreat and its message had quite an impact on me. When I arrive back at home in the San Francisco Bay Area I felt like a different, changed person. I found something. I now understand more deeply what it means to know where my mind is, how to dwell in my clear mind. I have a deeper sense of paying attention to what I am doing at the moment, to focus, to keep a clear mind, to avoid unnecessary and wandering thoughts. It’s hard to change habits in everyday life, but I feel inspired to work on mindfulness, to be aware of where my mind is. My true awakened mind, that is my refuge……Have a cup of tea!

Impressions and Reflections
by Tony Khoury

I remember very well the time I spent at Chung Tai in Puli, Taiwan. Chung Tai became a home to me for about six weeks between June and August 2007. I came to know several Masters, nuns as well as monks and I was fortunate enough to be the tutor to some. My students showed interest in learning about different subjects and expressed their gratitude for my contribution to their knowledge by presenting me with gifts. I learned the value of humility, generosity, and respect just by observing my students.

In order to make my stay at Chung Tai meaningful and productive Master Jian Zhong asked me to follow a schedule whereby I do sitting meditation for two hours every day. It seemed to me to be too excessive at the beginning, but by the end of the first week I was thirsty for more. If it was not for my other responsibilities during the afternoons I would have spent two more hours meditating. Meditation helped me see inwardly. It also helped me relax so that I was able to think more clearly and get rid of some of my mental anger. I also slept better.

Chung Tai houses some of the unique Buddhist art in the world. Its library contains some of the old and very valuable books on Buddhism. The Jade room is magnificent. The Pagoda is a masterpiece. I was impressed by the beauty of all the treasures around me. One drawing, though, impressed me so much that it became embedded in my mind. It was among several drawings hanging on the wall in the big hallway. It showed a monk with thick eyebrows facing a wall in meditation. I was fortunate enough to read this Monk’s book “The Zen teaching of Bodhidarma”. What Bodhidrama taught me is diligence. He is by far my favorite Buddhist Monk ever. The story of his travel to china to teach the Way is legendary, but then he is a legendary figure who walked in our lives with one shoe in the grave and the other on his shoulder.

Chung Tai’s hospitality, generosity, and kindness are LEGENDARY. There is truly nothing like it.