Rebecca led Day-long Retreat in Newark on Feb. 23, 2020

On February 23, Rebecca led a Daylong Retreat at Newark Center for Meditation Culture with the assistance of Kathryn Davis and Leslie.  It was the first retreat held at NCMC’s new home at 2 Park Place, a lovely space for the growing sangha.  The day’s program included sitting and walking meditation, yoga led by Leslie, and a beautiful qigong sequence led by Kathryn.  Rebecca also explained the practice of eating meditation over lunch and offered private interviews for several participants.  The retreat organizer invited Rebecca to integrate her sociological expertise into the discussion.  She spoke about group dynamics that cause suffering in her Dharma talk “Community-building with Clarity and Compassion”.  With conceptual understanding of these dynamics, she explained how we can cultivate clear awareness of these unhelpful habits by Chan practice so as not to contribute to these dynamics.  She also pointed out ways to build more enduring ties in group life that does not require perpetuating the usual dynamics deployed by groups.  Retreat participants shared their experience and reflected on how they could apply the sociological insight and practice in their life at work and spiritual community.  At the end of the retreat, many participants shared how they planned to bring various aspects of the practice home to be integrated into their daily life.  (Photo by NCMC)

2020 Daylong Retreat group photo

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)

Rebecca spoke on Community Building as a Spiritual Practice at A Night of Philosophy and Ideas on February 2



On February 2, 2019, Rebecca spoke as part of the Tricycle team at A Night of Philosophy and Ideas held at the Brooklyn Public Library.  The event was a 12-hour long feast of intellectually-stimulating talks, music and films from 7 pm to 7 am on Feb 2-3.  Her talk entitled “Community Building as a Social, Political and Spiritual Practice” at 8 pm opened the series of talks following the keynote speech by Kwame Anthony Appiah of Princeton University.  Her talk can be viewed at the one-hour mark of this livestream recording here.  In this talk, she brings together sociological insights of how a sense of belonging is generated when we gather in groups and Buddhist insights using Chan practice to cultivate awareness of how we may be creating suffering for ourselves and others without intending to while doing so.  She also discusses how Chan practice can help us build communities that are connect and support us without generating hatred and anxiety.  One of the questions we can ask in our practice is: “Do we know how we are building a sense of belonging in our community?

(Photo provided by Tricycle Magazine)

She wants to acknowledge Julia Hirsch at the Tricycle who encouraged her to explore this subject matter in deciding a topic for the event.  Her Tricycle team worked hard in this incredible event.

The Tricycle Team
The Tricycle team with Julia Hirsch holding the sign. (Photo provided by Tricycle Magazine)

It was a real pleasure to meet Mindy Newman who teaches at the Tibet House.

Mindy Newman
Mindy Newman spoke on keeping calm in a raging world as a Buddhist psychotherapist (Photo provided by Tricycle Magazine)

it was lovely meeting Bo-Mi Choi, director of Cambridge Zen Center, and learning about her dissertation work on Adorno and how she connected his work with Zen practice.

Bo-mi Choi
Bo-mi Choi spoke on The Enlightenment Project: Theodor W. Adorno & The Buddha. (Photo provided by Tricycle Magazine)

The rooms were packed with people and there were long lines going in and out of every time, even between the stacks!



Rebecca gave the first public lecture hosted by Vancouver Chan Meditation Center

Our First Lecture at VCMC (by Tom Kaczmarski, VCMC member & volunteer)

On Thursday August 2, Dr. Rebecca Li presented the first, of hopefully, a long list of Dharma lectures at the new Vancouver Chan Meditation Center at Cambie and Broadway. Rebecca is not only a second generation Dharma heir of our founder Master Sheng Yen, but also a sociology professor at the College of New Jersey. This unique combination of deep spiritual practice and extensive academic achievement, as well as a personal familiarity with both oriental and western culture is rare and precious. It allows Rebecca to bring age old concepts to life in a modern world. Her lecture was entitled “Living a Fulfilling Life in Chan Practice”.

DSC_5467(Photo provided by VCMC)

It is common misunderstanding that Chan is only about sitting meditation. As Rebecca pointed out meditation is a small, but significant part of Chan practice. Throughout its history teachers and masters have emphasized that Chan must be practised continually, or it is not Chan. Chan exists in motion as well as stillness.

What then is the role of meditation. Rebecca explained that, meditation calms, settles and concentrates the mind. This is of crucial importance to our practice as Buddhists. It is only in that clear and settled state that we can become aware of how our mind produces our suffering. This understanding begins on the cushion as we deal with our reactions to our method of choice. It is in this simplified and quiet state that we first have a chance to see our grasping and rejecting first hand.

DSC_5484(Photo provided by VCMC)

But the work does not stop there.  As we grow in our meditative practice, and as our minds become more and more settled, we must take this awareness into the rest of our day to day lives.  The goal is to make our lives a moving meditation and in that movement find a growing awareness of our relationships with ourselves and the rest of the world.

As this awareness grows so do our choices.  As Rebecca pointed out, how can we make choices if we are not truly aware of our thoughts and actions.  So much of what we do is based on habitual thoughts and reactions that we are often not aware of yet deeply attached to. Chan practice aims to open this awareness and plumb its depths. It strives to understand the mind and its workings.

DSC_5465(Photo provided by VCMC)

Chan in its practice on and off the cushion aims to make the invisible visible, and in so doing breakthrough Mara and Samsara, or could we say today illusion, bias and prejudice. These illusory views are the bricks that form the walls we put between ourselves and others, and these walls are the impediment to our fulfillment as sentient beings.

This is but a brief synopsis of an informative and enjoyable talk and my hope is that a recording of it will be available on the internet for others to hear.  The day after this lecture Rebecca held a Three-day Chan Retreat at the Dharma Drum Center in Richmond that I had the good fortune of attending.  Her clear and relevant teaching continued throughout those three days.  I look forward to her return next year if causes and conditions allow.

Visiting the Future Chan Retreat Center in England

Rebecca and her husband spent over a week in June visiting the farmhouse recently purchased by Simon Child, one of late Chan Master Sheng Yen’s Dharma heirs, to be converted into a retreat center.

Simon future retreat center

The property is located in the Peak District of England, approximately an hour south of Manchester.  A small part of the house will be converted into a modest living quarter for Simon and his wife.  The rest (the entire section on the right side in the photo and more) will be accommodation for the retreat leaders and guest master and Chan Hall.  The barn (not shown) will be converted into dormitory, kitchen and dining hall for retreatants.


The surrounding is perfect for retreat practice.  There will be miles of footpath for outdoor walking meditation, surrounded by natural beauty amidst deep silence.  One can walk along the running stream and sit by the pond to contemplate a koan.  Occasionally, one may catch sight of one of the owls currently residing in the owl box in the attic of the barn.  We look forward to attending or supporting a retreat at the new retreat center soon.

SRC_0039-G4(Photo provided by Simon Child)


Rebecca co-led Koan Retreat with Fiona Nuttall in Wales

From June 9 to 16, Rebecca and Fiona Nuttall co-led a Koan Retreat at the retreat center in Maenllywd, Wales.  Fiona Nuttall was the first Dharma heir of Simon Child which makes her and Rebecca Dharma sisters.

Looking out from the interview room at MaenllwydLooking out from the interview room at the retreat center in Maenllywd, Wales (photo taken by Rebecca Li)

A number of retreatants commented on how much they appreciated having two female teachers.  In fact, not only was the retreat led by two female teachers, both the guest master and the chef were also women.  This was the first time Rebecca led a Koan Retreat.  The retreat leaders helped participants to choose a koan that resonated with them, to learn to integrate the koan into their practice, and to work through difficulties along the way.  It was also the first time Rebecca led the chanting in morning service.  When the group struggled with the pronunciation of the Chinese words in the liturgy and the melody in the chanting, Fiona asked Rebecca to give everyone a tutorial.  Rebecca shared that the last time she gave a similar tutorial was when John Crook and others needed help with the chanting during the Bodhisattva Precepts training at the end of the 49-day retreat in 2000.  After the tutorial, the services went much more smoothly.

On the last full day of the retreat, Rebecca gave some participants a seminar to explain the meaning of taking refuge in the Three Jewels and how to practice with the five precepts.  On the last morning of the retreat, Fiona and Rebecca conducted the refuge- and precept-taking ceremonies as well as the thanksgiving ceremony.

Koan Retreat 2018Taken in the Chan Hall after the refuge ceremony on the last day of the retreat (Photo taken by Juliet Hackney)

Rebecca spoke at Yale on “Asian & Buddhist(?)”

On April 10, Rebecca was invited by the Yale Buddhist Sangha to speak at an event co-hosted with Asian American Cultural Center at Yale University.  She shared how she experienced being “Buddhist” and “Asian” in America, addressing many mistaken assumptions often made about her.  Through her experiences, she pointed out the inadequacy of the distinction between ethnic and convert Buddhists used in the U.S. to categorize Dharma practitioners, and advocated a more nuanced approach that can embrace the diversity of experiences among followers of the Buddha’s path.  Yale students, many of whom grew up in different parts of Asia though not all were Asian or Buddhist, shared their experience with Buddhism.  Questions regarding the violence in Myanmar led by Buddhist monks and the monastic sangha’s incorporation of LGBTQ concerns were raised.  It was a well-attended but intimate event of heartfelt sharing and thoughtful discussions.


Meeting Vandana Shiva

On April 12, Rebecca met Vandana Shiva who was on her campus to speak on the theme “Who we are, What we eat.”  Rebecca found Shiva’s tireless effort to save the world’s biodiversity through advocacy and education and advising governments to stop large corporations from patenting life, plant and seeds incredibly inspiring.  Shiva’s warning that our view that humans are machines and food is fuel keeps us from seeing that “food is us in the making” and “a gift of co-creation with all beings” is particularly poignant.  Rebecca is currently reading The Vandana Shiva Reader signed by the author herself, an important book to understand and undo the notion of “violence is power” fed to all of us and to begin to cultivate the practice of “nonviolence as power.”

Some of the favorite quotes from Shiva’s talk:

“Hope is stop thinking through other people’s mind and start thinking through our lives.”

“Anyone who says it is too late to do anything has not done anything for the earth.”

“The idea that plants are machines that can be manipulated and patented leads us to view everything as enemy to be conquered and dominated.”

Vandana Shiva 4-12-2018

(Taken on 4/12/2018 at TCNJ)

Rebecca led day-long retreat at NCMC

Around twenty members of the Newark Center for Meditative Culture (NCMC) participated in the day-long retreat “Relaxing into Clarity” led by Rebecca Li and tai-chi teacher Shaka Georges on February 25, 2018.  The community was founded in 2012 and Rebecca has served as one of the visiting teachers from the beginning.

NCMC 2018 retreat group photo
NCMC 2018 retreat group photo
Retreat Dharma talk
NCMC 2018 retreat Dharma talk

Rebecca Li addressed a gathering of 200 Buddhists in New York area discussing how Buddhists can be more engaged

Here is the full text of Rebecca Li’s address:

In a blog post on the Lions Roar website, Bhikkhu Bodhi has stated eloquently that it is no longer enough for us to apply the Dharma merely as “regimen of resilience, a means of maintaining inner balance against the shock waves rippling across the social landscape.”

That’s why we are here. Although transformative in many ways, we know it is no longer enough to practice our meditation and apply the Dharma in our interactions with our family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors anymore.

I think the debate of whether Buddhists should be socially engaged is over. As Bhikkhu Bodhi argued, “Politics today is not merely a battleground over power and position; it is also an arena where great ethical contests are being fought, contests that have a crucial impact on everyone in this country and on this planet.”

We, as human beings, who have benefited so much from our ancestors who fought these ethical contests and created this world that gave us our ethical values, cannot stay on the sideline as these values are being eroded.

Having benefited so much from the Buddhist practice and teachings and from the work of people who came before us, how can we not want to give back by making an effort to promote ethical values that have benefited humanity so much for future generations?

Yet, we dabble, perhaps hesitate to get more politically engaged for various reasons.  I heard about a study that found that politically conscious young adults do not get politically engaged because they thought politics is too divisive and too judgmental.  They are afraid of conflict and the discomfort resulting from strained relationships due to disagreement, and they are afraid of being attacked for their position.

Here we are, joining this gathering to find ways to be more engaged.  We are putting our moral conviction into action.  We may find that we are also putting our practice and faith in the Dharma to the test.

I find myself wondering: how do we engage politically without being sucked into the culture of divisive speech, the mental habit of demonizing those with whom we disagree, and developing rigid views that stops us listening to each other—practices that are pervasive in the realm of politics nowadays?

Also, how do we get into the fray of supporting one policy position over another while still being able to empathize with and appreciate the humanity of those of us who may hold different positions?

What do we do when, upon a closer look, we find disagreement between the Buddhist teachings and our existing political position?  Are we going to compartmentalize the two, telling ourselves that is where the Dharma no longer applies?

I wonder if it is fear that our current beliefs about ourselves and the Dharma will be challenged if we get more involved that is keeping us from being more engaged.

I have no answer to any of these questions.

We can talk about and analyze them using Dharma concepts, but still we have no idea how any of this is going to unfold in practice.  We will just have to find out for ourselves, and the only way to find out is by rolling up our sleeves, getting our hands dirty as we dig into the mess.

If you have been wanting to do more but have been hesitant and wondering about some of these questions, you are not alone.  I am with you.  Working on this talk has helped me articulate these thoughts.

The question is: do I trust the Dharma practice to get me through the mistakes I will make and find the way to resolve these questions?  Absolutely.  I have no doubt about that.

That is the only answer I need at this point.  I have no idea what we will talk about and what we will end up doing.  It’s okay.  I am ready for the adventure.

So, I guess, what are we waiting for?  Let’s get started!

What we have here is this amazing opportunity today to begin the process of figuring what we can do together and how we can go about it using our Dharma practice, with the support and encouragement of our fellow Dharma friends.

We may disagree at times, and perhaps act or speak unskillfully in the process, but we can all practice holding each other in tenderness, knowing that we are all trying to accomplish something together for the benefit of all.

I am so thankful that we have each other in this moment.  What a great blessing!

I am looking forward to seeing our hearts touched and our mind changed by each other as we listen to and learn from each other with sincerity.