This is a retreat report for a One-day Online Retreat conduct via Zoom on February 26, 2022. This bilingual retreat report was translated from Chinese to English by Rebecca Pai.
I always feel blessed to be able to participate in Chan meditation retreats. This is particularly true for joining retreats guided by Teacher Rebecca Li. Chan retreats guided by Li is productive and inspiring. Her teaching is a booster for me to reflect on my life attitude and to enhance my interest and courage in going on and on with Chan practice.
The theme of Dharma talks for this retreat is refuge-taking. Teacher Li raised a question: Are you always expecting to get liberated from vexation through assistance from others? I was deeply touched on hearing this, for it seems to directly probe into my heart. I used to be a dependent person, relying on parents and teachers as a little girl, dependent on my husband and coworkers in my adulthood, and on the advice and support from spiritual teachers. I’ve been starting to take heed of the problem for the past years, but how hard it is to eradicate those deep-rooted habits! Teacher Li reminded me of the fact that this is not a case like “O.K., got it,” but rather, it’s a universal problem worthy of constant reflection.
雖然聽了不少禪宗祖師關於皈依自性的教導，但在我看來這些教導一直都是非常高遠。老師很形象地說明，皈依就是“coming home”， 讓我這幾天很認真地思考真實皈依處這個問題。老師強調，當下一刻練習回歸自性，如實觀照、接納自己的身心狀況，我們就是走在皈依的路上。
We have learned from Chan masters quite a lot of teachings regarding to “taking refuge in our self nature”, but to me these are all based on remote and profound viewpoints. Teacher Li’s specific definition of it, “coming home”, has urged me to seriously ponder on the issue “where is the sanctuary.” According to Li, we are precisely on the path of refuge-taking if we can keep on practicing contemplating our real states, returning to our self-nature moment after moment, and accepting our momentary physical and mental state.
As far as my understanding goes, I have to take care of two parts in regard to this issue. The first one is to keep immersing myself in the learning and understanding of Buddha Dharma, and the other is to increase my self-confidence through solid and steady practice so as to strengthen the confidence and perseverance, which is necessary for the spiritual cultivation and to gradually reduce the upside-down view of seeking outward.
Another reward I reaped from this retreat is concerning the application of method. I’ve always been using the method of counting the breath, for the key targets of the method, breaths and numbers, are efficient items in terms of retrieving the mind to concentration. The core skill taught by Teacher Li is to be clearly aware of our changing sensations. Since I am not quite familiar with this skill, drowsiness or scattering thoughts become my frequent disturbance. Accordingly, I would very unnoticeably return to the method of counting the breath and pick up the numbers. However, as instructed by Li in Dharma talks, practitioners have a common habit of taking meditation concentration as a wall for protection, inside which they can enjoy ease and tranquility. This is mistakenly considered as the goal of Chan meditation but actually it is precisely against the core teaching of Chan: live the moment. Then, what should I do, should I practice letting go of numbers after all? I asked Teacher Li during my personal interview.
In response to my question, the teacher very skillfully emphasized the cultivation of the clear awareness of body and mind as the major goal of Chan meditation. She reminded me of closely watching the mental states of rejection or evasion whenever I am going to pick up the numbers. Mental states like these can be likened as noise which can impede my abiding at the moment and honestly facing my own self. I ventured to clarify my preference of sense of security based on well-organized and step-by-step way of handling matters, otherwise I would easily fall victim to anxiety. In reply to this, Teacher Li prompted me to do a self investigation out of curiosity and ask my self, “What on earth are you afraid of?” She suggested that I practice facing and accepting my internal contradiction and conflicts with an open-minded attitude. After continuous practice for a period of time, the mental states of resistance and evasion would naturally transform and dissolve. Peace and ease of body and mind would according be attained.
The method suggested by the teacher was sort of shocking to me at first, but it turned out worthy of try. Yes, what am I worrying about? What am I scared of? Am I afraid of being rejected? Or am I scared of being punished? I decided to give it a try. In the next two sitting sessions after that individual interview, I tried to tell myself, “Let it go! Let’s see what’s the next!” whenever the notion of picking up the numbers popped up. I felt so good for the next sitting sessions in maintaining the state of relaxation, in which I was experiencing the physical and mental sensations in between drowsiness or wandering thoughts once in a while. It is exactly the case as stated by the teacher, no big deal, just keep on practicing letting go and returning to the method. During the two sitting sessions I was fully enjoying the internal calm and contentment.
The more I practice meditation the more I realize the essentials of Chan practice: a process of inward exploration. Whether it’s about the learning and reflecting on Buddhism teachings or the application of practice methods, the goal of exploration is aimed at the mental activities of consciousness.
Deeply appreciated to Teacher Li for your wisdom and skillful instructions. Your guidance makes Chan meditation more and more fascinating to me. I aspire to take the best opportunity to work hard on practice, so as to cultivate my mental power and to bring about my part of peace and serenity to the world.