It was my first time participating the Retreat at Chung Tai Chan Monastery. There were more than 900 of us attending this Retreat. It was an unbelievable blessing to do this meditation retreat with so many respected cultivators from all over the world. To see rows and rows of meditators sitting quietly in perfect harmony and in perfect silence is mind-blowing. The atmosphere was so tranquil and so pure. The most admirable thing is that we have the Grand Master and the Abbot of Chung Tai giving excellent Dharma talks on topics of impermanence, mindfulness, detachment and enlightenment. The experience is worth all the treasures in the world.
The 7-Day (Zen) Meditation Retreat was scheduled to start on the 15th of February 2010 which happened to fall on the second day of the Chinese New Year. We set out early in the morning and managed to arrive at Chung Tai Monastery just in time for the registration. There were seven of us, three from Philippine, one from Hong Kong, two local Taiwanese (driver and the navigator) and the last one from Australia – me. The timetable for the day was the same except the first and last day where there are the Initiation and Closing ceremony respectively. We need to wear our black robes at all meditation times, Dharma talks and meal times.
We were very quickly rushed into our quarters and had to change immediately to get ready for the “Initiation” ceremony. I looked for my seat and sat quietly with abated breath. We were given instructions, to keep the golden silence rule at all times during the retreat, questions and messages can be in written form to one of the shifus who will be attending to the area you are sitting.
During the Initiation, strict instructions are also given on how to conduct at meal times. There is a specific way on how and where to place your bowl, plate and other utensils and remember, you cannot ask, if you are not sure, you just have to observe your neighbors and follow swiftly and quietly. Everyone is supposed to leave together, but you still can stay and finish your meal even after conclusion of the meal.
The clapping of awaking board sounded at 4:30 in the morning and we needed to be at the Meditation Hall by 5:00. The day’s schedule was full until 10:00 PM. Even though I do not read nor write any Chinese characters but fortunately, there was one shifu always close at hand to help. She would make sure that we had our translator machines whenever there was a Dharma talk; if we were sick there were medications available or a doctor if we so needed one.
It is an enormous task to organise such a big throng. To ensure that everything goes smoothly like clockwork, we need to adhere to the strict instructions. Moreover, all these little details help to deepen the mindfulness which we hope to achieve.
With the Grand Master’s and the Abbot’s teachings and together with one’s mindfulness, concentration and sincerity, one may be able to attain Sudden Enlightenment or achieve Samadhi (in Sanskrit term which means deep concentration). It is achievable, it is possible to attain this if you are really, really mindful and have the utmost sincerity at heart. The Grand Master’s teaching of Chan is the tool to guide you through. It is worth every breath you take, every step you make, every sacrifice you do. The impact is beyond any words of expression. It is no wonder that, at the end of the Retreat, everyone goes home with so much of bliss, so much of gratitude and with a deep sense of wanting to remain or to come back. You may have found the path to enlightenment. It is, still, only the beginning of the Path.