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Short term monastic retreat blog series「2」——By Individual

It’s been 3 weeks since the retreat. What do you think is the biggest difference about you?

Chorework 出坡

Post 1 Jianan Duan

One of the questions I was trying to answer during the retreat is the meaning of my existence. Life and death, that's what religions all trying to answer. Searching through all sources, I found myself here at Hsi Lai Temple. Standing in front of the Path to Boddhahood, I have mixed feelings. After two years, I'm at the same place, time passes by so quick before I noticed it. Before I drove seven hours to arrive at LA, I had some hesitations: would getting too much time off hurt my career, would I make the most out of the seven days to make it worth it, why am I here... etc. Thoughts are spinning fast in my brain, it's like I'm there physically but my mind is not. I told myself: ok this is the time to settle my mind, I'm here must be because whatever experience I had at the last retreat was so worth it it drove me back subconsciously. I made a phone call to my parents and boyfriend, said goodbye and made arrangements to a few things. Anxiously I start walking towards the check-in line.

Having Class by Venerable Juefa

Seven days monastic training started, I'm always curious what is it like to be a monk. The idea of reclusing in a temple deep in the mountain might exist in movie, it is drastically different in real life. A day starts by doing the morning chanting and meditation. I like chanting, "Give Rise To the Bodhi Mind" teaches me how to make a vow to gain Bodhicitta. Meditation helps me to clear my mind and stay focused. "Observe Silence" is the first thing we need to practice, I must not talk; not looking around and keep my eyes busy; nor have a conversation with myself in my head. Walking steadily while counting my breath, I arrived at the dining hall. Eating is also practicing mindfulness, unlike my normal days where I can pick what food I like to eat, here I must eat all foods free of discrimination. While eating I also need to focus on every action, be present and be grateful. A day at the temple is busy but productive, just like what Master Hsing Yun said “Live a life worth three hundred years’ endeavors”. During free time, I had the opportunity to recite the In Praise of Monastics from emperor Shunzhi. There’s one part really resonated with me and I’ll share with you here:

Arriving confused, departing ignorant, this life lived in vain.

Before birth, who was I? After birth, who am I?

In adulthood, I am myself. When I close my eyes, who will I be?

It would be better not to have come, and therefore not have to leave;

Arriving with joy, departing with sorrow.

No one is the same, and we all have different monastic retreat experiences. It is important we applied what we learned to life so it can make our life better. With so many valuable teachings and ways to cultivation, it’ll help breaking through the darkness therefore lighting our way. Now back to my ordinary days, although it’s easier said than done, I’m not gonna give up. During the last four weeks, I noticed myself being more aware when I don’t like someone or certain things they said. Unlike before, I tried to accept that there’s other reasons they behave certain ways and it’s not up to me to judge. This actually repaired the relationship I had with them and returned me with a peaceful mind. Some other times, I found myself trying to solve the same problem over and over with the same approach unsuccessfully. Being aware helps me to try approach in a different way, although it might not resolve the conflict first try but it’s on the right track. Smaller things like helping people opening the door, pick up the trash, etc helps me to be happy too. One of the last things venerable taught us was, no matter what we learned at the retreat, if we made a little progress in serve and contribute to the society it’ll be seven days not wasted. Meaning of life lies in sacrificing and helping others, by doing so, this also expands my life, and only so will give my life a meaning. I’ll end the blog with a quote from Avatamsaka Sutra and hope you enjoyed the post: “Knowing the state of Buddhahood by purifying the mind so that it is just as the suchness.”

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