This weekend turned out to be a very special one for us, a three-day immersion in Dharma activities. First, we hosted Master Jian Zong, a Buddhist instructor at the Chung Tai Zen Center of Sunnyvale, CA, at our humble home on Friday (Sep 14, 2007) evening during which he delivered a Dharma talk on Zen meditation to a Chinese speaking audience (but it became a bilingual affair when several of our American friends turned up as well as blogged here).
On the next day (Sep 15, 2007), we brought Master Jian Zong, who stayed at our home for the night, to Clearwater for the 8th monthly event of the Middle Way Buddhist Association. The event, held largely for an American audience, comprised a session on Zen meditation followed by a Dharma lecture on Zen -- A Life of Wisdom [tune in for a separate blog on the proceeding in the near future].
Then today (Sep 16, 2007), we traveled again, this time to Phillippe Park at Safety Harbor, to participate in the Living Chan [Chan is the Chinese word for Zen popularized by the Buddhist movement in Japan] Day organized by Mdm. Nancy Kau, the local contact for the Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association, Florida Chapter. Starting at 10.30am, the day’s events featured the 8-Chan Movements, conducted by four Buddhist disciples from Taiwan who are on a 8-city tour of US to share their personal journeys in “elevating our quality of character, establishing heaven on earth” through experiencing clear, relaxed, and enjoyable Chan bliss. Tampa was their second stop, and the next one is Chicago.
The banner said it all, but in chinese (Dharma Drum 8-Chan Movements).
The Organizer, Mdm. Nancy Kau, giving the welcoming speech.
From my conversation with Mr. Tsei, one of the four isntructors, I learned that they are mostly retired teachers and university professors from around the Taipei area and they meet regularly to pass on the gems of their life experiences to the young generation who would one day shoulder the task of national development.
I estimated the turnout to be about 40-50 at its peak as some participants had to leave after lunch for a variety of reasons. The day started with the sitting meditation led by Mr. Liu whose instructions were ably translated by Mr. Patrick. We sat on half of the bench, width-wise, body upright, hands placed lightly on the thighs, eyes closed, refraining from talking, and started to relax from the top of the head gradually moving down to the sole of the feet. Feeling the softness of different body parts, we proceeded to focus on the breathing, and to feel nature, its expansiveness growing.
Mr. Liu, in white T-short, and Mr. Patrick, holding the microphone, acting in tandem.
This was followed by three moving exercises. They all started from the same standing position: palms joined, and legs apart at shoulders’ width. The first exercise involved swinging both hands, each alternately touching the opposite front shoulder and the back, with the waist acting as the pivot.
For the next movement, we crossed our fingers, and slowly raised the outstretched palms upwards over the head, applying pressure to extend them as far up as possible. Then we slowly brought them down, and when they were at the level of our face, we started to bend our backs forward while the palms, now facing downward, continued their downward descent, we laboring to inch them as near to the ground as possible, touching it if possible. However, we were told not to force it as relaxation is the primary aim. Then we reversed the movement and let the palms travel upward. And the whole cycle was repeated. Perhaps because the morning was warm and less breezy, the exercise actually brought out some sweats in me even though it was not done in a hurried pace. But I felt good, mind alert and clear.
The last Chan movement entailed the synchronous bending of knees and swinging of the hands to and fro. Mr. Liu said that the knees are supposed to be bent twice for each to-and-fro motions of the hand, and I observed his movement to be so. But for some reason my knees bent only once during the hand cycle and when I tried to consciously alter the knee movement as required, my hands either stopped or were moving in a very out-of-sync fashion. So I gave up and stuck to the one I was most comfortable with, mindful that the important thing is to be natural and relaxed.
Mr. Liu then continued with the Listening to the Wind Chan. “Feel the wind on the skin, feel the breeze going by your body,” he intoned. I closed my eyes as instructed, and tried to feel no pressure. As if on cue, the wind picked up a notch, and I started to feel the the brushing action of the wind as the air swooped by. We were asked to be neutral to the ambient noise, not making a conscious effort to detach the noise.
The last Chan before the lunch was the Eating Chan. We lined up to get the vegetarian food in our plates and while seated, felt gratitude for the food that was served. Then we looked at the food in front of us: colorful and tasty. We ate slowly, chewing the food that was of high carbohydrate content at least 30 times as the associated high starch level, which cannot be easily digested by the acidic secretions in the stomach, can interfere with the digestive system, leading to indigestion when the food is ingested too fast. Then we all dug into the food, the morning series of exercises having taken its toll on our stomach.
After lunch, Mr. Liu led us on an outdoor walking Chan, following a pavement path that descends to the edge of the water (the park is next to the uppermost part of the Old Tampa Bay), skirts along the water edge, and ascends back to Shelter #7, an open air roof-covered area where the Chan activity was being held) via a series of steps. Along the course, we paid 90% of our attention on our feet, feeling their contact with the firm ground. The remaining 10% was devoted to the surrounding lest we would walk into a tree or something.
Next we gathered around the water side of the shelter, some on cushions placed on either the hard floor of the shelter or the grass-covered earth, and some simply on floor mats overlain by a blanket placed on grass. I, along with some others, preferred the hard surfaces of the benches. Termed direct contemplation, we were asked to seek out a specific object to focus our sight: a small leaf, a ripple on the water surface, or just simply peripheral viewing with no focus on any particular object. I chose the later, and just took note of the things that entered into my window of vision, framed between two trees. There was some white birds flying by, surface waves gently moving though, some motion at the water surface possibly made by some fish jumping out of water. Occasionally a speed boat would careen by, churning up a frothy sea and leaving some wakes behind. For a time, I was focused on the tip of a wind-induced swinging Spanish Moss hung from one of the two trees. But just observing all the time.
Each finding his/her little niche for the direct contemplation.
My window of vision, now nothing but surface waves, and the tip of the Spanish Moss ...
Then the moment my wife was waiting for arrived: Chinese Calligraphy Chan. This is understandable as she has dabbled in Chinese calligraphy [see here] since she received her shipment of Chinese brushes and ink from back home [as these are not easily procurable items here in US].
The instructor, Mdm. Tsai, a Chinese soft brush in hand, explained that Chinese calligraphy has a art-like nature than promotes health and longevity, citing a Chinese calligrapher living beyond the century mark. The variation of strokes and ink strength (fast, slow, strong, soft, broad, fine) permits diversity and free expression. The very action of executing the brush strokes induces relaxation, and instills joy when we write for the moment, and accept whatever one has written. There is no pressure from competition, each finished calligraphy an achievement in its own right.
Mdm. Tsai demonstrating the proper way to hold a chinese brush.
Before that, Mdm. Tsai introduced the various forms of Chinese calligraphy, starting from the oldest form, the Oracle carved out on turtle shells and bones. This early form mimicked the form of the substance or subject of interest as borne out by the hanging banners of chinese calligraphy below.
The right two sets (or couplets) are of the Oracle format while the others are of more recent vintage (Chou/Han dynasties).
A soft brush in hand, a red colored concoction passing as ink in a paper dish on the table [my wife was told that the original black ink that was brought in was confiscated at the disembarkation airport because of its liquid nature], a blank sheet of paper to write on, and a copy of the twelve zodiac animals written in the Oracle form as a guide, the participants proceeded to write out the Oracle character that they wished.
Recognizing my own inadequacy in this respect, I chose to stand behind my wife and observed her, fully in her own elements now. At the risk of sounding boastful, she did earn praise from the instructor, noting that her writing demonstrated the many stroke variations that make Chinese calligraphy such a delight to behold.
These are the twelve Chinese zodiac signs of animals written in the Oracle format. While some are easily recognizable (the rat, the hare, the horse, being the top three on the left-most column), others are not so, especially the tiger. The trick actually lies in looking at some of the characters sideway from top to bottom. See how many you can make out, and answers are at the bottom. Also, one set is the guide given while the other is my wife's handiwork. Care to venture which is which?
Obviously, these are my wife's creations and by extension, the answer to the question above becomes apparent. The Chinese zodiac signs are the snake, the rat, and the horse, they being for my wife, her late GrandMa, and yours truly, respectively.
Putting the brushes away, we next held an orange in hand, and proceeded to appreciate the hard work of the farmers that bears fruit [no pun intended]. We then observed the fruit, noting its rough skin. Then our consciousness took over: is this fruit delicious? How do I peel it to get to the fruit? So our mind had moved from our touch to our consciousness, and to our eyes. We then plied open the fruit with hands as instructed by Mr. Liu. Smelling the contents, we were told that our mind had now moved to our nose. By eating the opened fruit slowly, our mind moved on to the taste buds. Then to our consciousness that now dictated that the fruit was good.
From this root shifting (In Buddhist parlance, each of us has six roots: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, touch, and consciousness) experience, we can see that our mind changes with the environment. And the important thing is to know where the mind is at the moment.
The last Chan movement of the day consisted of walking while holding a bowl of water in our hands, the Holding the Water Chan. At first, the water in the container would slosh about as we were two separate entities: us and the water in the bowl. But when the two merged and became one, the sloshing was replaced by a relatively calm surface, obviating any spill. But I must admit that this was easily said then done, and my wet hands were sufficient proof of that. But I got the point.
The last business of the day was a big round of applause for and our heart-felt appreciation to the unselfish efforts of the four instructors, not to mention the unstinting endeavor from Mdm. Nancy Kau and her group of indefatigable volunteers, under the aegis of Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association, who made this sharing possible. Before we parted company, we were each given a gift.
The gift, in addition to a 2007 greeting card from The Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association with a dedication penned personally by Master Sheng Yen, includes verses of encouragement/admonition from Master Sheng Yen calligraphed by Mdm. Tsai, our teacher today. The right set is in my wife's gift packet, translated as "Worrying is a superfluous ordeal; diligence is a motivator for safety," and the left set is in mine, translated as "Giving oneself is for repaying meritorious deeds; repenting is for regulating our own conduct."
For both me and my wife, the conclusion of the event marked the culmination of a Dharma bliss-filled weekend. And now, more photos to complete the pictorial account of the day’s proceedings.
Wify and Shenghua, who came with us.
Mdm. Wu, the fourth instructor, said we have the proverbial husband-wife look, the shot taken by Ted. Any dissenting view?
Lunch in session.
And the answers that you have been waiting for ...