The recollections of the national-day retreat camp

From:Voice of Longquan     Author:Xi Fa     Time:2017-11-01 22:15:56
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Xia recalled the national-day retreat camp of four monasteries, which make great change to her viewpoint of life and enhances her comprehension of Buddha Dharma.

Xia recalled, when getting on the shuttle bus boarding more than 70 people, she reminded herself to keep a sober mind by all means, and not to stumble into the pitfall of any illegal pyramid selling organization and get brainwashed.      

She was baffled at the enthusiasm of these people. Though greatly affected by their determination and heart felt delight, she was nervous and suspicious at the same time. 


She had just started learning Buddha Dharma for two months. In her own words, she was practically at the level of a primary-school student in terms of Buddhist cultivation. 

On the bus, Xia chatted with the fellow travelers, and discovered herself to have actually slipped into a group of “college students” in Buddhism, i.e., those who possess strong renunciation mind and are likely to take refuge in three jewels and become Buddhist nuns. 

She took part in this 9-day retreat camp during the span of National Holiday via online enrollment. When taking an on-site audition, she overheard several interviewees before her answering questions with great resolution. Xia couldn't figure out the reason why she was eventually shortlisted, but how lucky it was to become member of this special group! 

Despite of the short time learning and practicing Dharma, she does feel about the change that Dharma has brought into her life. It teaches her to observe the inner mind, and helps her grow in a subtle but steady way. 

However, Xia constantly deems herself to have little connection with Buddhism. Her daily job is about marketing and commercial writing, so she is naturally sensitive to words. Yet, she has been trying to remember the 260-word Heart Sutra for four years, and is never able to recite the full text. 

But, it is this mystical Buddhist world that she wants to explore.   

In the meantime, she cautions herself to keep a safe distance, avoid being controlled by powerful collective unconsciousness, and stay away from pyramid selling zealots. 

In this retreat camp, after finishing a trip by train, the first thing she was asked to was to hand over her mobile phone. Although masters at reception were all very kind and gentle, she still managed to take an excuse to hide into the toilet, and called her mother thousands of miles away. It was after making this phone call that she felt a tiny bit released. 

Of the nine days of retreat camp, two days were spent on the way, leaving only seven days. They were scheduled to visit four monasteries overseen by Shifu (Ven.Master Xuecheng) within the span of seven days. These sites were in different locations, and some of them took two or three hours by bus just to get there. 

Each monastery had arranged a tight agenda of many activities, such as Mengshan Food-giving Service, Yankou Food-giving Service, and Emperor Liang Repentance Service. 

Though exhausted by the trip, the group was immediately “shocked” when arriving at the temples. 

These people, from the big Beijing to a small third-tier city, felt like that they had never seen the outside world before. 

The first temple is donated by a renowned Buddhist charitarian. It covers an area so vast that it is called the “Forbidden City” of all temples, and the accommodations are of the legendary “five-star” standard. Nevertheless, the overall atmosphere is tranquil and unsophisticated, which is hard to come by. The first thought occurred to Xia is to bring her parents to this land of idyllic beauty, so they can spend the remaining years in comfort. 

The second one is a Nuns Temple. Looking out of the window, people can see hill barriers, winding trails and gurgling streamlets. The feminine exquisite and elegance can be felt everywhere. 

Priorto this trip, each time Xia visited a temple, she was afraid of those statues of Dharma Guardian glaring with angry open eyes. 

But the sculptures of this temple were so vivid and beautiful that she had no fear at all but to stay close and appreciate them in detail. 

Xia said: “What's good of the big Beijing, so lame indeed! I have never seen such gorgeous sculptures at other places.” 

More were about to come to shock her.   

 Masters told her that these magnificent temples were built by two slim nuns. Upon completion, they donated the temples to Ven. Master Xuecheng, and started building other temples elsewhere, with an aim to spread the Dharma and benefit all beings. Picturing in mind of the two nuns making aspirations and giving the best to do things that benefit all living creatures as if taking care of their own business, Xia suddenly felt that her daily fuss over trifles was like astorm in a teacup. 

The slender nuns once said, it is just natural to build the “home” by themselves. 

They lifted heavy components with weak arms, turned every screws by their bare hands. They said that it was a form of cultivation, a tie with the Dharma, and a contribution to all sentient beings. 

Before arriving here, Xia viewed the temple as an image of dim lights and old scriptures, as well as those solemn faces of the monks. 

However, every master here was so gentle and considerate. They would stand by your side in peaceful silence, ready to give any support and assistance. They were indeed a group of joyous and vivacious practitioners. 

The third temple was one with profound history and grand Dharma ceremonies. After five hours of Yankou service, young masters stepped out of the Buddha Hall, smiling with Dharma joy. Xia almost thought that they were all bouncing over the doorsill with great happiness. 

The five-hour Yankou was the biggest challenge in her life, Xia recalled. She had aches all over only after a while of sitting with the legs crossed, and deemed every minute to be the last moment that she could endure. Once every two or three minutes, she had to move a bit and change the position, but when looking around, she found the masters sitting gracefully as original, without a slight change in posture.

Yankou service started with Chinese Mandarin first, then followed by local dialect, in a purpose to escort and serve all sentient beings in that area. 

The sound of chanting was loud and spiritually attractive, reaching high above the sky and deep into the heart. 

Xia commented that the singing competitions in the secular world were a very far cry from such a real ”cool” voice of chanting. 

If a film crew were to come here and set up a recording camera, they would produce a fantastic classical movie straight away without any post editing work. 

When the service finished, Xia stood up naturally. A fellow nearby asked her in surprise: “Aren't your legs aching?” 

It was only at that moment when Xia realized that her legs in great pains before didn’t ache at all.   

The fellow pointed at the sky and said: “Look!” 

Xia saw a big piece of magenta-color could hover alone in the sky right over the temple. 

The fellow said that she had noticed the cloud since the Yankou started. It had been in the sky above the temple during the whole service, and drifted away afterwards, as if embarking on a magnificent destination beyond human imagination. 

The fourth temple was the last stop of this Southern-China retreat tour. A ceremony of Eight Precepts was carried out there for three days. It was just like a twinkling of time before it concluded. 

Prior to the trip, Xia was a bit worried about the length of nine days, but once arriving at the monasteries, she found that the time was far from adequate. There were scriptures to recite, morning and evening prayers, Buddhist services, Dharma discourses, labor activities, and so on. 

When the trip began, one volunteer practitioner handed out a set of “meditative cards” to the participants, asking them to record the every-day experience and inspirations, including constant observation of inner-self such as the facts that how many swallows when having a meal, which foot was first used getting on and off the bed, how many steps from the dining hall to the prayer room, and the list went on. 

Since the agenda was so closely scheduled, Xia, at many occasions, had to write her meditative card during intervals, i.e., when waiting for others to sit down in the monastic dining hall, or after the bath when the washed hair was still dripping water.  

Xia felt ashamed because in the latter half of the retreat camp she kept being late for assembly. She started to realize how annoyingly clingy mundane trifles were, and how unnecessary it was to be tangled by these trivial matters in life. 

Now Xia wears a short ponytail, but she used to have long hair to her waist. She said that several towels were needed for a single bath, one before putting on hair conditioner, one to dry the hair, one to absorb excess water, and one to wrap the hair around. She asked herself: Is it truly necessary to make life so complicated? After all, there is only one tiny soap in the bathing room of the monastery. 

In a flash of moment, Xia felt it splendid to have no hair at all. How refreshing it would be to lead a simple life! 

A huge lot of time is spent in everyday life on clothes, food and entertainment, without leaving a single trace down the road. 

It is now that Xia starts to appreciate the value of time. Each minute counts. 

Xia admits that she doesn't know in depth about Buddhist doctrines, but she knows for sure that this is a group of people whom she can entrust with her life unconditionally. 

“It reassures these days when time counts as time, and life counts as life.” said Xia. 

The temple had no doors but only an open doorframe, and the hall constructed temporarily for the services was “open air” as well. When chanting and praying with masters and fellows in the hall, Xia could see all kinds of people passing by. Sometimes during the interval of a service, casually-dressed youth in slippers could be seen outside the door, leaning on the doorframe, squinting inwards at the assembly in the hall. 

It was like seeing herself in another lifetime.

Tags:simple life, value of time

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