When I first heard the announcement for the three-week winter Chan Session, I didn't pay much attention to it. The reason was I knew I couldn't do it, so why bother. Actually, I had prepared some reading materials for the three weeks, thinking that I would take it easy and do a bit of Chan sitting and lots of reading. This way it would give myself a rest from the hectic fall semester and revitalize my energy and spirit for the Spring Semester. Well, to my surprise, it didn't turn out the way I planned.
After the Chan rules and regulations were clearly explained to the assembly, the Master's tape was played. He started with "Chi...Chi...Chi..." The assembly followed him and started the warm up walking for twenty minutes. Then we sat for our very first incense. The schedule was 14 sitting meditations a day with 20 minutes of walking meditation with the first sit starting at 3:00 a.m., an hour lunch and 1hour and 20 minutes in the afternoon for break. This Chan Session was meant to be an intensive meditation. It was my very first time experiencing it so I just followed along. People walked, I walked, people sat, I sat, as long as I didn't make a lot of noise. In the first evening we listened to the Master's instructional talk on Chan. He said: "the Chan Hall is the wisdom hall also known as Vajra Hall. You sit in the Vajra Hall and be patient with your pain. When time comes you will feel comfortable, then you will develop samadhi, from samadhi you will attain wisdom. Also sitting in the Chan Hall you are holding all your precepts; if you are outside of the Chan Hall, you may risk in making a mistake from your mischievous thought." The Master also encouraged us to strike up our spirit, work vigorously day by day, eat less and sleep less. Somehow, I seemed to be awakened by the Master's talk. I started to think of sitting vigorously, eating less and sleeping less. I determined to sit through the entire Chan session. I didn't want to think about if I could or could not, I just committed to it. However, I did generate a thought to inspire myself and cheer myself on with the upcoming challenge and that was I wasn't seeking for enlightenment, I wasn't seeking for attaining any ability to cross over people, but just to stay in the Vajra Hall to use electrotherapy to help reducing the polluted air in this universe. This was one thing I could offer to all living beings. It just happened that it was the beginning of the New Year. It's a wonderful thing to do to start a New Year.
So I sat for two solid days; the third day my body fell to pieces. When my alarm clock went off at 2:00 a.m., I thought it was impossible for me to raise any part of my body. I just had to escape a couple of sitting meditations. Then something strange happened. As soon as the wake-up wood board struck, I jumped up as if I were a wooden toy soldier being pulled from a string and all my body parts were intact. So I took a quick wash and rushed over to the Vajra Hall. The mornings had been so bitter cold, so I didn't know which one was more painful, the leg pain or the pain from the bitter cold. Then a verse came to my mind: "If not for the bone chilling cold, how can the plum blossom be so fragrant." I couldn't sit well, and I couldn't sit still so I determined that I should cut off sweets and eat lighter which helped a lot, especially the three sitting meditations in the afternoon. I really noticed the difference after restraining my diet. Like the Master said: "You are refining yourself day by day, bit by bit, like snow smelting by sunshine, like wisdom smelting your ignorance and afflictions. Accumulate your endurance a little by little, and later it will became large". I appreciated the Master's instructional talk in the evenings. It helped cheer me on with my meditation workout.
Something auspicious happened on the New Year's Day. It happened just before the third sit in the afternoon; there were about eight to ten youngsters with their guardians, visiting and wandering in the Buddha Hall. As they got closer to the altar, they all lined up in a straight line and bowed to the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, all sages, and the Master respectfully. I was so impressed by their reverence. When the Wei No called out "Run", they all ran with us. The mixed energy and their laughter filled the hall for a long time. That particular sit went by so fast with hardly any pain.
On January 8th, it was sunny but cold and frosty. The first thing that came to my mind that day was my gratitude to our Master who found this place which I renamed during the Winter Chan to Forest of 10,000 Buddhas -- in order to inspire myself to keep up with my meditation workout. He found this remote and rustic place for people who want to cultivate for the truth and for ultimate liberation. He set down constructive Daily, Chan, and Assembly programs for us to follow. In ten years of studying and practicing Buddhism, this is the very first time I feel that I have experienced a taste of the traditional Chan like some Chan Masters did in the woods in ancient China. I appreciate all the die-hard practitioners who get up at 2:30 a.m. and stay up until 12a.m. We supported and encouraged each other in the Vajra Hall. Everyday I felt it's colder than the day before. Everywhere was frosty: the lawns, car windshields, roof tops, trees and even the puddles had sheets of ice on them. When you sat inside the Buddha Hall you could feel the waves of cold penetrating through the brick walls. So every morning I repeated this verse: "If not for the bone chilling cold, how can the plum blossom be so fragrant." However, most of the afternoons were nice and warm, during some of the afternoon breaks when I was leisurely walking in the courtyard I felt like I was the roaming clouds in the sky and the wild cranes in the meadows.
I was more conscientious of the dates because I really didn't want the Chan Session to be over. The second to the last day of the Session, my energy was still high so I intentionally had my eyes open to release a bit of my chi. There was a moment my sight went blurry, the white metal heater panel right in front of me against the Buddha Hall wall, all of a sudden, turned into a huge beautiful white wall with the exact pattern of that heater panel. I adored it for a moment by studying its architectural wall pattern. Then I became aware of myself sitting on something, I presume, but not in the air, in front of the wall as high as the top of the wall itself. Because of my high-energy situation, I was afraid that my body would flop forward and for sure I would fall and kill myself. I opened my eyes wide and took a closer look at the grand white wall and it returned to its original size -- a small piece of white metal heater panel. Since, my energy began to mellow down and I returned to my recitation of the Buddha's name (Qing Jing Fa Shen Fo... Qing Jing Fa Shen Fo, Namo E Mi Two Fwo) until the three-week Chan Session reached its end.
The novices had an open discussion on our Chan experiences, from there I found out that the states I had experienced were caused by my creditors who came to disturb my concentration. I was advised to do more repentance and bowing and transfer the merits to my creditors. My teacher and fellow novices encouraged me to bear the physical pain, which normally lasts only for fifteen minutes or so. I tried it out and bore the pain; they were right: After fifteen to twenty minutes of physical pain, I could sit in meditation for an hour and a half in full lotus posture. I also aspired to get up at 2:00 a.m. and meditate for an hour before starting the day. I value my teacher and my fellow novices' input.
I have learned a lot from this intensive Chan Session and the open discussion afterwards. Now I have to walk what I have learned in the hope that I will gain some skills in meditation and will do better in the next Chan Session. I am grateful to Venerable Master Hua for his great compassion for all living beings. I am also grateful to my parents; if not because of them I would not have this body to repay some of my debts to all my creditors from beginningless of time. E Mi Two Fwo !