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.
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.
Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly invited Rebecca to write a piece for the Ask the Teachers section. The question addressed was: How can practitioners “take on the suffering of the world” or practice “for the sake of all beings” without also inflating their own sense of self-importance? As profound as these practices are, they also seem fodder for the ego. Her piece appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of the magazine, the first one in the new format. You can click below for a PDF of the article.
Rebecca Li was invited again to speak at the 3rd Buddhism and Race Conference hosted by the Harvard Buddhist Community of Harvard Divinity School on March 3-5, 2017. This conference’s focus is to deepen the conversations started in the previous years when sangha leaders, activists, community members and students joined together to share justice-oriented teachings and training. The event was sold out again this year as the gathering has been found to be nourishing and crucial for community building for those determined to practice the Dharma while also engaged in social justice. Rebecca shared in the Opening night panel entitled “What is the conversation?”, along with Zen teacher Rev. angel Kyodo williams, scholar and Vajrayana practitioner Dr. Jan Willis and Nichiren priest Myokei Shonin, examining how eradicating racism is very much part of Dharma practice. On March 4, in a panel entitled “The conversations we never have,” along with teachers and practitioners from Vajrayana and Insight traditions, Rebecca pointed out that the invisibility of Asian American Buddhists and some of their struggles in having to choose between their heritage and practice centers where they are a minority but find more relatable in their practice are some of the conversations that rarely happen. The audience was deeply engaged in difficult conversations, hoping to find ways to continue the work without falling into division, hatred and despair. The day ended with the panel “Radical Dharma” where Rev. angel, Lama Rod and Greg Snyder helped the audience understand that the difficult and seemingly endless conversations is the process and part of the practice is to persevere. They invited the audience to contribute questions they would like to ask to be addressed by all panelists in the last panel of the conference on March 5. The conference ended with a simple ceremony where all participants held hands in a big circle feeling the love and joy that moved around the circle. Many participants shared afterwards how the conference had helped their sangha work on racism and inclusivity and the committee is already hard at work on next year’s conference.
Rebecca received full Dharma transmission from Simon Child and became the second-generation Dharma heir of Chan Master Sheng Yen in the Dharma Drum Lineage of Chinese Chan Buddhism that combines the Linji and Caodong lines received by Chan Master Sheng Yen. Her Dharma name is Zhi-deng Fa-chuan, Wisdom Lamp, Dharma Transmitting. The transmission ceremony was held after the 10-day Silent Illumination retreat co-led by Simon Child and Rebecca Li ended on June 5, 2016. Simon Child’s first Dharma heir, Fiona Nuttall, from the United Kingdom was also in attendance.
Below is the full transcript of the transmission ceremony held in the Chan Hall of Dharma Drum Retreat Center, witnessed by all participants of the 10-day Silent Illumination retreat, resident monastics and volunteers for the retreat in the Chan Hall as well as the Director.
Transcript of the Dharma Transmission Ceremony
Simon Child passing lineage transmission to Rebecca Li, making her his second Dharma heir
June 5, 2016 at the end of the Silent Illumination Intensive retreat at the Dharma Drum Retreat Center.
SIMON: In giving Dharma transmission to Rebecca, I’m appointing her as a fully authorized Chan teacher and I am passing the Dharma Drum Mountain Chan lineage to her. Not all of you understand about becoming a Dharma heir so I’ll explain in some detail. Shifu (Chan Master Sheng Yen) appointed two levels of Dharma heir; you can read his criteria for this in the book “Chan Comes West” 2nd edition. Regarding those two levels, to avoid any doubt I want to confirm that Shifu awarded me the full transmission which gives me greater authorization than might otherwise be the case, including the authorization to give transmission to Rebecca in this way. The transmission that I’m giving to Rebecca is also the full transmission, the same as mine. This level of transmission authorizes Rebecca to teach at the highest level. She could lead seven-day, ten-day, forty-nine day retreats, whatever she feels is appropriate for the practitioners she is teaching. This also authorizes her to assess people’s experience of practice and to verify their experience of seeing the nature. This also authorizes her to transmit the Dharma and the lineage to her own future Dharma heirs.
I’m able to give her transmission at this level on the basis of her own past experience of Chan. I was very pleased on one retreat here with Rebecca to be able to confirm her experience of seeing the nature, in this very hall, in the interview room several years ago. I was also maybe even more pleased that she did not attach to the experience; she simply continued her practice and has deepened and stabilized her insight over the years since then.
I think many of you know that she has a strong commitment to the Dharma. Over many years from the late nineties onwards she was a regular translator for Shifu on many of his retreats and also traveled with Shifu to conferences, including international conferences, to translate for him. She is a strong supporter of Shifu’s mission to transmit Chan to the West; as another small example she’s been a board member of this retreat center from the beginning of its incorporation. There are many other ways in which Rebecca has been a strong supporter of the Dharma and in particular of Shifu’s teaching.
As well as attending many retreats with Shifu, both as participant and as translator, she has attended over twenty retreats with either John Crook or myself, mainly at this center here in retreats we’ve been leading since 2001. She’s also traveled to the United Kingdom and to Poland to practice on retreat with us. She is a very experienced practitioner.
In terms of teaching she is one of the smallish group of people who received extra individual tuition from Shifu in teaching the Dharma and in giving meditation instruction. Based on that training, for many years she has already been teaching, giving meditation instruction and Dharma talks at the Chan Meditation Center and at the New Jersey chapter, and leading three day retreats here and elsewhere. These are just some examples; there are many of them. In addition, over a few years Rebecca has trained with me in giving interviews on retreat and in leading longer retreats, and as you can see her teaching is very effective. I am no longer supervising her interviews and teaching, she is doing it independently; we are co-leading this retreat. When I have observed her I have always been very impressed by her teaching skills and her sensitivity during interviews. I’ve received many good reports on her teaching; I’ve heard some good feedback just this morning, to add to the long list.
I’ve also known her well in a personal sense over the fifteen years I’ve been coming here, because very often she and her husband David invite me to stay at their home for a couple of days before or after a retreat and we might have some trips together. Eighteen months ago we went up to Vermont together for the Fall color. Also Rebecca came with us on one of our trips to China. So I’ve had many times to mix with Rebecca in a non-retreat context. One of Shifu’s criteria for someone to be a Dharma heir is that they have a stable personality and are an ethical person. Knowing Rebecca as well as I do I have absolutely no concerns at all, I have complete confidence in her suitability for receiving the transmission.
It is a simple ceremony – essentially I present her with the robe. The passing of the robe symbolizes the Dharma transmission. Along with the transmission I also give her a transmission name. This was created following the traditional method which is described in the book “Chan Comes West”; there’s a footnote there which explains how these names are created by taking words from a particular verse and so on. Her name in Chinese is Zhi-deng Fa-chuan, “Wisdom Lamp Dharma Transmitting.” So now I’ll pass Rebecca the robe and that will be the actual transmission.
REBECCA: In the year 2000 Master Sheng Yen, our Shifu, led a forty-nine day retreat here in what is now our dining hall. During the retreat I was one of Shifu’s two translators. I remember that one of the things that Shifu kept saying over and over again, sometimes joking but actually quite serious, was “I, too, want to be a lineage master.” What he meant was that he was trying to inspire all of us to give rise to the great vow and Bodhi mind – that we will vow to devote our lives to the practice for the benefit of all sentient beings. Later that year Shifu gave transmission to Simon. At that time Shifu had already given transmission to John Crook, his very first lay Dharma heir, giving him the responsibility to make Chan teaching accessible to people in the modern time who have been receiving a more westernized education and find it difficult to practice with the traditional instructions of Chan. John Crook took this responsibility seriously and had devoted his life to finding ways to make the practice accessible. In addition to his innovation of the Western Zen Retreat which makes huatou practice accessible for us moderns, he also worked tirelessly in collaboration with Simon over the years to find ways to present and teach silent illumination practice and huatou practice so that we can understand how to practice those methods effectively.
They also worked tirelessly together to figure out how to train a new generation of teachers (who very often live lay lives in the modern world in very different situations) so it is possible for us to carry on the practice and preserve the lineage. Simon has taken this responsibility seriously. He has identified suitable people to train with him; Fiona, my Dharma sister, his first Dharma heir, received transmission last year. With the transmission from Simon to Fiona, Shifu’s wish to become a lineage master has been fulfilled.
Because of his great vows and Bodhi mind Shifu devoted his entire life to share the benefits of Buddhadharma with all sentient beings, finding whatever way possible to teach the Dharma and also to find Dharma heirs who can pass on the lineage and teaching. Simon has followed Shifu’s example in practicing and teaching the Dharma but also trying to find suitable people and training them tirelessly. He even took on the arduous task of training someone with dull roots like myself and I’m deeply humbled by his patience and great vow and Bodhi mind. Like Shifu, Simon with his Bodhi mind and great vow has inspired many people to take on this path of practice. Without his tireless effort this practice that we have to rediscover over and over again may not continue and the lineage may not be passed on. So I’m deeply grateful for the work that Simon has done for all sentient beings and I’d like to invite everyone to join me to do three prostrations in deep gratitude, and one more prostration for Shifu. Thank you.
Rebecca Li was invited to speak at the Second Buddhism and Race Conference hosted by the Harvard Buddhist Community of Harvard Divinity School on April 22-23, 2016. At this conference, sangha leaders, activists, community members and students joined together to share justice-oriented teachings and training. The event was sold out and it was standing room only when the event opened Friday evening. Rebecca shared in the Opening night panel why it is important to hold dialogues on race and the challenges involved, along with panelists from Zen, Tibetan and Insight traditions. On April 23, in a panel entitled “How to Adopt Practices to Address the Racial Aspect of Suffering,” along with teachers of Tibetan Buddhism, Zen and mindfulness, Rebecca shared practices in Chan to work with forms of oppression and aspects of the teaching that may shutdown conversations regarding oppression. The discussion was moderated by Harvard Professor Charles Hallisey. After the panelists shared, discussion was opened up to the audience. In addition to these two panels, there was also a panel where practice leaders in People of Color groups shared their experiences, challenges and successes in creating a space for practitioners to feel welcome and included. There were also breakout sessions where workshop leaders shared practices to facilitate inclusivity and to investigate one’s privileges as a way to deepen one’s practice. Many participants of the conference reported the experience to be transformative to the organizers and look forward to the conference in 2017.
The second edition of Chan Comes West, edited by Rebecca Li, was published in February 2016. Copies of this book can be obtained by contacting Dharma Drum centers. Below is the Prefaces of the book.
Preface to the First Edition
In the summer of the year 2000, Master Sheng Yen held a 49-day silent illumination retreat for the first time at the Dharma Drum Retreat Center at Pine Bush, in upstate New York. During the retreat, he urged the participants to practice diligently, and jokingly said, “I want someone to be my Dharma successor so that I can be a lineage master as well.”
Towards the end of the retreat, Master Sheng Yen announced that among his Western disciples there were already a few who are qualified to teach the Dharma and to independently lead three-day or seven-day retreats. He pointed out that these individuals are chosen based on three criteria. One needs to have a stable personality, a correct understanding of the Buddhist teachings, and a great vow to spread the Dharma in order to benefit all sentient beings. An individual can be appointed a “Dharma teacher” if he or she has met these criteria, but does not need to have received confirmation of “seeing the nature.” A Dharma teacher can teach the Dharma and lead three-day retreats independently. A Dharma heir, however, is one who has met these criteria and received transmission from Master Sheng Yen, which must be preceded by the verification and confirmation of one’s experience of “seeing the nature.” A Dharma heir can teach the Dharma, lead seven-day retreats independently, and confirm other people’s experience of “seeing the nature.”
Since that retreat, in addition to John Crook, who received transmission in 1993, three other Western disciples have received transmission from Master Sheng Yen. It seems causes and conditions have ripened for a book on Master Sheng Yen’s Dharma heirs in the West. Since all of these Dharma heirs are lay practitioners with careers and families of their own, I believe it would be of interest to Master Sheng Yen’s students to know how these Dharma heirs came to the practice and their experiences on the Path. So I invited each one of them, John Crook, Simon Child, Max Kälin, and Žarko Andričević , to write an article telling us about their experiences in the practice, to be published in a small book. When I invited Master Sheng Yen to write an introduction for the book, to my delight, he decided to write an article about his experiences in the practice and to clarify his view on the issue of lineage transmission. This article gave the book its focus on the issue of transmission, and as a result, we decided to include the lineage chart of the two lines of transmission Master Sheng Yen has received for the reference of those interested.
This book is a result of the collective effort of Master Sheng Yen, the four Dharma heirs and a great number of bodhisattvas who helped in producing, editing, and funding this publication. It has been a true privilege to work on this project with these individuals. In the process, I learned a great deal about Chan in action—using wisdom to handle business, not insisting on one’s point of view, and working only to benefit all sentient beings. I would like to express my gratitude to Master Sheng Yen and these Dharma heirs for everything they have taught me in this process. I would also like to thank everyone who helped in the book’s production. Finally, thanks to all those who helped raise the money necessary to print this book for free distribution in order to benefit more people.
Dr. Rebecca Li
Bridgewater, New Jersey, 2002
Preface to the Second Edition
The preparation of the second edition of Chan Comes West began when Master Sheng Yen, whom we call “Shifu,” (teacher) asked me to add an article by Gilbert Gutierrez after he gave transmission to Gilbert, his last lay Dharma heir, in the summer of 2003. Around the same time, I was informed that the first edition of Chan Comes West was almost out of stock. It seemed a perfect time to begin the preparation for the second edition. Yet, it took many more years before all the causes and conditions finally came together before the second edition can be published.
Over these years, a couple of things happened that allowed me to make some useful additions to this book. First, there is an addendum to Shifu’s article on his practice and transmission. This addendum is a transcript of part of a meeting between Shifu and two of his Western Dharma heirs, John Crook and Simon Child from the United Kingdom, who paid a visit to Shifu at Dharma Drum Retreat Center in the fall of 2006. In this part of the meeting, John Crook asked Shifu for advice on how to identify suitable individuals for them to give Dharma transmission to the next generation, in addition to the criteria clearly articulated by Shifu in his article and when they received transmission from Shifu. Shifu’s response sheds light on this important matter. Shifu’s response has already been published in the New Chan Forum, a magazine published by the Western Chan Fellowship founded by John Crook, led by Simon Child at present after John passed away in 2011. Immediately after the meeting in 2006, I asked Shifu for his permission to insert his response as an addendum to his article in the second edition of Chan Comes West, and Shifu agreed. Next, in 2010, Dharma Drum Mountain in Taiwan published an updated lineage chart that reflects some revisions after further research. This updated lineage chart will replace the one used in the first edition.
I want to express my gratitude to Shifu and all his Dharma heirs who have contributed to this book both for their support and wisdom and for the valuable lessons I have learned from embarking on this project. Many thanks to my Dharma friends, in particular, Ernie Heau, Chih-ching Lee and Guo Sheng Fashi, who have put much effort into the production of this edition, and to the generosity of those who made the publication of this book possible. I also want to thank Gilbert Gutierrez for his patience as he sent me his article soon after I requested it many years ago. Please forgive me for the long delay.
Dr. Rebecca Li
Bridgewater, New Jersey, 2016