June 15, 2018

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First I would like to express gratitude to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha for the gifts they bestow on all sentient beings. I would also like to express gratitude to Venerable Guo Yuan for sharing his teachings. Lastly I would like to express gratitude to the entire Dharma Drum Sangha and community for their support. When Dharma meets Dharma, innumerable sentient beings are saved.

We all face suffering in our lives. Whether it is physical or mental illness, old age, or pain, we must all experience suffering. Luckily, there are a truly fortunate few who are able to find the Buddhadharma in times of suffering. For me that suffering was due to physical illness. That physical illness lead to mental illness which seemed to have ruined my life. Little did I know that I was actually setting out on the path of the Buddhas and Ancestors. Over centuries, the Ancestors developed a path of training to end suffering for not just ourselves, but for all beings. The main features of this path are meditation, virtuous conduct, and penetrating insight. However, to truly meet Dharma it must be mind to mind transmission from master to disciple, warm hand to warm hand. Unfortunately though, despite finding the Buddhadharma, there are few masters in the West to study with. However, we in The Bay Area have been truly blessed, because a master came to us.

To study with the masters is a gift beyond comparison, and that was clear during the retreat with Ven. Guo Yuan. Over the course of the last 5 years, I spent the majority of my time practicing as a lay monastic in a Soto Zen monastery. Although I studied meditation a lot, I was amazed at how much I learned from spending one day training with Ven. Guo Yuan. Guo Yuan was able to walk us through an entire day with a constant stream of useful instruction. During the mediation sessions he was able to provide quiet but useful feedback. When we walked in between mediation periods, he gave us crystal clear instruction on multiple forms of walking meditation. Before we ate lunch, he provided us with instruction on how to eat in a contemplative manner. Before and after we sat, he made sure our methods for easing into and out of meditation were proper. I came with some fellow Soto Zen practitioners who were amazed at how straightforward and concrete his instructions were, and how helpful they were in establishing deeper concentration.

Although I have the benefit of having a deep meditation practice already, Guo Yuan still transmitted some helpful tips that have really stuck with me. His teachings on easing in and easing out were far more detailed than I had previously received. His instructions on easing in helped my mind settle much more quickly than before. This settled mind could then be used to facilitate deep experiences with any of the meditation methods. His instructions on easing out were also much more detailed and useful than the instruction I had received before. His easing out included working with pressure points, something completely new to me. With this addition to my practice, the samadhi developed during seated meditation stayed with me for longer. Not just that, but the easing out techniques taught by Guo Yuan made meditation more enjoyable because of the intense relaxation after the period is over.

Just in general, the whole experience was enjoyable. Many of the Zen meditation retreats I’ve been to in the past have focused on sitting as much as possible in the time allotted. Most of the time we spend the whole day meditating with just a few short breaks. Although this schedule has many benefits, I was surprised at how productive a short and gentle retreat like this can be. This gentleness allowed for the instructions given by Guo Yuan to sink in deeper. By not being overwhelmed by the amount of sitting, what sitting we did do was of much higher quality. Having this gentle schedule with great instruction was instrumental in making some of the longer and more intense retreats I’ve done since, much more enjoyable.

All around, retreats at Dharma Drum are truly special. Each time I go I learn so much. Thank you to Guo Yuan, to Warren at Dharma Drum, and to the entire Dharma Drum community throughout the ten directions. It’s because of communities like these that the treasury of the true dharma eye is being transmitted west.


15 June 2018


Greg Benza


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