Understanding and practicing with the teaching of “no-self”

Rebecca was invited by the Buddhist Sangha of Bucks County to speak on the teaching of “no-self.”  She first explained the Dharma concept of “no-self.”  After the break, she discussed how to cultivate wisdom by establishing an accurate conceptual understanding of “no-self” and integrating the teaching in one’s daily life.  (Please note that a few minutes of the talk after the break is missing on this recording.)   This talk was given on November 18, 2019 at the weekly practice meeting of BSBC in Yardley, PA.

Chan Practice during the holiday season

Rebecca spoke on how to engage in Chan practice to identify ways in which one generates suffering during the holiday season.  By cultivating clear awareness of one’s unhelpful habits, one can generate less suffering for ourselves and others, hence living more in accordance with wisdom and compassion.  This talk was given on November 24, 2019 at the New Jersey chapter of DDMBA. 

Retreat report by T.M.

Reflections from Western Zen Retreat October 11th – 16th 2019 Dharma Drum Retreat Center

“Nothing matters, and everything must go, Yet love is having the heart touched in the valleys of suffering”

These words which were part of the liturgy recited at the retreat really sum up how I am post-retreat.  I also cannot help but recite these words and I cannot remember exactly where they are from but

“When I close my eyes and look within I know I am no-thing and this is wisdom, when I open my eyes and look outside I know I am everything and this is love”

As I’ve said to yourselves and to many other people since, this retreat with its very special format should be compulsory for everyone who considers themselves “a meditator”.  I have been practising so called meditation for embarrassingly many years yet I now feel I know what it really means to meditate properly and to understand the simple truth of when I’m not meditating. The insistence on moment by moment mindfulness of everything going on in the body, mind and environment yet remaining completely relaxed was compelling.  I realise I’ve been pretty good at the body sensations and the environment but tracking my own mind/emotions on a moment by moment basis has really opened me to my denied and disowned suffering and given me the ability to really empathise with others, developing compassion with the listening exercise repeated over and over and over again.  I was so amused and guilty on the second day when Rebecca spoke of how “Buddhists” struggle with this retreat more than others because of our “Buddhist concepts” which of course, I was naively spouting after a few rounds of the “Who are you?” – “well I’m pure awareness” “I’m empty”- hee hee!  Instead of being prepared to go in to the 100,000 caves in the dark mountains (a reference back to my koan on my first Chan retreat) and shine light on that which I have not explored.

There were revelations of course, regarding my childhood, my behaviour, relationships, emotional baggage and more but all happening in the now and passing through, bringing me to a deeper understanding of the Rumi poem – The Guest House.  I noticed my constant rehearsing of conversations!  I do this all the time, I mean all the time.  Is this as a result of my fear of rejection, reprimand, confrontations? – I seem to be treading on eggshells so often around men in particular, no wonder my throat chakra and surrounding areas (shoulders) are suffering!  And then Rebecca’s reminder to be careful of “I already know” – constantly reminding us to stay curious, explore, allow and taste and check.  Tenderly caring for our suffering, tenderly care for the grief, loss, sadness etc. It was moving and painful to hear others whose suffering was great and to feel in others their inability to “open” and as such block themselves, but as Rebecca taught us, everyone does this at their own pace and in their own time.  Reminding me of the word “titrating” which we often use in our Sangha.

This all lead to a renewed appreciation and understanding and I could even say embodied experience of impermanence.  Drilling the fact of the coming and going of everything except this always present, available and unmovable silence.  What more is there to say?

Words cannot quite .………………………………………

Retreat Report by P.T.


I came to the Western Zen Retreat because it offered opportunities for personal interviews.  I have been in another retreat with Rebecca, and have also had an interaction or two with Rebecca outside the retreat.  There was no way I was going to turn down a chance to have several personal interviews with her.  I knew nothing else about the retreat, and I’m glad I did not.

I struggled throughout the retreat.  I’m used to having 6 cups of coffee before I leave for the office in the morning.  And there was no coffee at the retreat!  I could barely stay awake on Saturday.

The biggest challenge for me was the communication exercise.  I found myself going back repeatedly to my “greatest hits:”  I’m the black sheep of the family; I’m a loser; I’ve been given opportunities and assistance no one else has received, and look where I am despite all that; I am yet to grow up and become an adult; Look at the others I know – my brother, my parents, my friends—see how much they have accomplished; I am an addict; All I do is move from one pleasant sensation to another.  I talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.

And then came my personal interview with Rebecca on Sunday.

I can’t remember what exactly Rebecca said, but the rug was pulled out from under my feet.  All these responses I had disclosed to various partners were narratives, nothing more.  All they did was confine me in set patterns of responses and behaviors.  They imprisoned me.  A heavy, unbearable burden had been lifted.  The elation that accompanied the sense of freedom was palpable.

But this was only the beginning.  The exercises did not get any easier.  If I wasn’t all those things I believed myself to be, then who was I?  I struggled more.  I tried at all times to be genuine and state what was arising at the moment, without being influenced by responses I heard from my partner, without any intention to impress my partner or gain sympathy.  I attempted to stay with the top plate.  I was searching, honestly.

What I want to add is that the process of unraveling continued after I returned from the retreat.  It is still working in the deep recesses of my mind, even (annoyingly) when I am asleep.  The energy from that well keeps on flowing.  It is 10 days now since the end of the retreat and the unraveling has not ceased.  Something foundational continues to stir within me.

As a manifestation of that change I have not resumed coffee—I realized I was drinking coffee just to do something, to be distracted; how could anyone like dark, black, strong coffee!  I have not had alcohol or cannabis.  I indulged in these until the very day I came into the retreat.  There are many other behaviors I have had difficulty with in the past that seem to be falling away.

There are many new behaviors that are beginning to take their place.  Wholesome behaviors.  I am being less defensive, more open, more expressive of affection toward my children, my mother, and my friends.  I spend more time with my 87-year-old mother.  I am more open to self-evaluation at work.  I’m looking less toward others to satisfy my need for connection.  I am becoming more respectful toward myself.  I am more comfortable being by myself (it’s Saturday evening now and it would have been inconceivable that I am not out partying!).

I will close my reflection with something I came across the day after I returned from the retreat.  Talk of serendipity!  “Through the constant refining of the self—of teasing out what is not self and letting it go—we suffer less, get unburdened, feel lighter.  We become more adept at discerning when something is within our control, and bears our acting on it, and when it doesn’t.  We can see what kind of perception of self is skillful and put that into practice for as long as we need it, thereby cultivating a reliable inner strength that can ferry us to the other shore.  To be one’s own mainstay is to be one’s own self help.  Teaching us to do that is the Buddha’s ultimate gift.”   From Tricycle’s Daily Dharma, “Saving Vacchagotta,” by Mary Talbot, October 17, 2019.

And that was the greatest gift I received from coming to the Western Zen retreat.  My deepest bows of gratitude to Rebecca, Fiona and Hillary.  May you be blessed abundantly.

Chan Practitioners as Agents of Social Change

Rebecca was invited to present her work at the conference “Buddhism and Social Change” hosted by the University of British Columbia and Dharma Drum Vancouver Center on September 21, 2019.  The title of her paper was “Chan Practitioners as Agents of Social Change” where she explained the importance of cultivating sociological insights in invisible dynamics in social life for Chan practitioners to effect social change that is in accordance with wisdom and compassion. 

DSC0593201(Source: Dharma Drum Vancouver Center.  From left to right: Ven. Chang Wu; David McMahan; Rebecca Li; Wendi Adamek; David Loy; Jonathan Gold)

How to practice with people who hold very different political views

In this polarized political climate, many people are suffering from strained relationships as their friends and family members hold very different political views.  Rebecca spoke on how Chan practitioners can use this as opportunity to practice to cultivate wisdom and compassion as these relationships continue.  This talk was given on September 15, 2019 at the New Jersey chapter of DDMBA in Edison, NJ.