The Dharma Drum Roadmap

In order to avoid discouraging the newer practitioner and to maintain the quality of our retreats for the advanced practitioners, we strongly recommend you to carefully read the following information.

For newcomers we encourage a strategy of gradually building up to an intensive retreat. The Dharma Drum “roadmap” suggests an optimal plan for journeying through your Chan training. Ideally, a practitioner should progress through our events in this order:

1. Meditation Class
2. One-day retreat
3. Non-intensive retreat/ Weekend retreat
4. Intensive Retreat

If you have attended comparable events at other Buddhist centers, this may also qualify you to our intensive ones. We are happy to work with you on a case-by-case basis to help you find an appropriate retreat.

Non-Intensive Retreat

Beginner's Mind Retreat

A “Beginner’s mind” is a mind open to experiencing life in the present moment, free from preconceived notions and expectations — a mind open to genuine understanding and self-realization. If you are new to meditation practice, or have never participated in a retreat, this is an ideal way to begin your spiritual journey.

In addition to sessions of seated meditation, this retreat features interactive workshops such as: The Art of Sitting, The Art of Walking, The Art of Questioning, The Art of Self-Massage, The Art of Perception, and The Art of Listening.

Foundation Retreat

Dedicate your weekend to practice, engaging in a relaxing schedule of mindful activity from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon. Harmonize your body and mind, balancing all of the five aspects of diet, sleep, body, breath, and mind. Either in stillness or in motion, cultivate a clear and stable mind amidst all that you do. This is the very essence of Chan practice.

This retreat offers a more relaxed schedule than our other retreats, and offers basic instruction in the methods of meditation.

One Day Retreat

Give yourself one day for meditation — a day to still the mind. Learn how to apply methods of meditation and mindfulness while sitting, walking, exercising, working, eating, and all other activities. The simple and relaxed schedule allows you to settle your mind while at the same time allowing you to maintain a constant silent awareness of your every activity.

This silent retreat also offers brief Dharma talks, guided meditations, and a review of basic meditation methods such as breath awareness and total mind-body relaxation.

Weekend Retreat

In addition to sitting meditation, this retreat also includes mindful work practice, walking meditation, chanting, and gentle yoga exercises. Interviews with the teacher are available for direct guidance regarding the method of practice, and daily Dharma talks elucidate the details of investigating one’s mind.

This weekend retreat is an opportunity to strengthen your practice by sitting together with other experienced practitioners. It is also excellent preparation for our longer intensive retreats, which generally span seven or ten days.

Intensive Retreats

Western Zen Retreat

“Who am I?” Thoroughly confronting this question can take us directly to the center of our being. Over the course of this retreat you will investigate the question “Who am I?” within a standard retreat framework, using silent sitting meditation in conjunction with the communication exercise, a unique method of verbal inquiry. This format allows you to use words to go beyond words and thereby enter the main gate of Chan.

The intensive nature of this process of inquiry drives each practitioner into a self-presentation that is difficult to experience in other ways. To guide and support you, personal interviews with the teachers are offered regularly throughout the retreat. With whole-hearted engagement this retreat may lead to the acceptance of self, the experience of “self at ease,” and may even provide an opportunity for direct insight into the ground of being.

Silent Illumination Retreat

“Silently and serenely, forgetting all words, clearly and vividly, it appears before you.”

The above comes from the poem “Silent Illumination,” composed by Master Hongzhi Zhengjue, a 12th century lineage holder of the Caodong (Jap. Soto) school of Chan Buddhism. They describe the mind of someone who has left behind all attachment to thought and conceptualization. Doing this, they clearly know the nature of things through the direct experience of enlightenment. Master Hongzhi wrote many beautiful poems describing his deep insight. While today we can read these poems for inspiration and encouragement in our practice, they also function as guidelines for a method known as silent illumination. With this method, the aim is to develop and maintain relaxation, clarity and openness of mind. Ultimately, the goal is to see into the nature of the mind. One who has achieved this insight establishes a solid understanding and confidence of how to cultivate freedom and ease in dealing with all situations. Naturally, they know how to resolve their remaining vexations, and use wisdom and compassion in their daily lives.

Lost to the Chan tradition for generations, this method was neither being taught in monasteries nor was it being openly taught to lay practitioners elsewhere. Only recently was it revived by Chan Master Sheng Yen (Shifu), who has systematized its use by drawing on the writings of Chan Master Hongzhi and the teachings of the Caodong school (traceable back to the Sixth Patriarch, Bodhidharma, and ultimately to the Buddha himself). Although silent illumination is similar to the Zen practice of “just sitting” (Jap. Shikantaza), there are subtle differences between the two. During this retreat you will learn how to practice silent illumination, starting with foundational methods to stabilize the mind, and gradually entering into what is known as the “method of no method.”

For further reading about the silent illumination method, we encourage you to explore Master Sheng Yen’s book, “The Method of No-Method.”

Huatou Retreat

“Don’t worry about whether or not you become enlightened — simply pick up the huatou.”

“Huatou” in Chinese, literally means “the origin of words,” or that which precedes words and language. This refers to the state of the mind before the arising of conceptualization or, more precisely, before the arising of a single thought. Thus, huatou is the source of all words and of all thoughts, the fundamental nature of the mind. But, it is also a method that we use to point directly at this mind while putting aside all other concerns. When we investigate huatou, we utilize questions such as: “What is my original face?” and “What is Wu?” These puzzling, seemingly illogical questions produce a deep sense of self-questioning which is called “the doubt sensation.” If you can succeed in penetrating this doubt, you will discover that which you have always had. As a result you’ll find real peace and ease within yourself and together with others, generating wisdom and compassion.

Widely in use since the 12th century, huatou is a method unique to the Chan school, popularized by Chan Master Dahui Zonggao of the Linji Sect and advocated in the last century by the great Chan Masters Xuyun (Empty Cloud) and Laiguo. In more recent times, Chan Master Sheng Yen made a unique contribution to Chan by systematizing the application of this method, making it clearly comprehensible even to the beginning practitioner. During this retreat you will receive guidance from the teacher that will enable you to practice in a manner most suitable to your current condition. Instruction in this method may be gentle or vigorous–depending on the style of the teacher and the causes and conditions of the student. Thus you are encouraged to attend this retreat with no expectations and “simply pick up the huatou.”

For further reading about the huatou method, we encourage you to explore Master Sheng Yen’s book, “Shattering the Great Doubt.”
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