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Personal Journal/Blog/Letter to YOU
From Br. ChiSing
October 18, 2012

Journal entries from my 2012 stay at the Korean Buddhist
WON DHARMA Retreat Center (south of Albany, New York), etc.

(more on WON Buddhism: www.WONBuddhism.org)

SUNDAY — I arrived at the Won Dharma Center in the afternoon, meditated on my own, had a mindful silent vegetarian dinner, and took a mindful walk on the trail through some woods where I saw a male deer. I meditated some more, then I took another mindful walk after the sun was setting and saw FIREFLIES, wow! Then I went to bed. I made a commitment not to use my cell phone or a computer for at least 3 days. But alas, guess what I dreamed about tonight? I dreamt that I was typing on a computer, LOL! Sure proof that I definitely have what's now being called a "Technology Addiction," ha ha ha!

(more on "Technology Addiction")

MONDAY — I woke up VERY early for the morning chanting, bowing and meditation, followed by light group exercise. After a silent breakfast, my working meditation assignment was to water the vegetable garden, which turned out to be quite pleasant. It's been a long time since I felt so close to Mother Earth in such a tangible way. After lunch and conversation, I spent the afternoon reading Dharma books, meditating, chanting and walking mindfully on my own. How refreshing! I also did some more working meditation by cleaning and sweeping the hallways. My meditation just before dinner was very deep today. After dinner, I took a Nature walk on the trails through the woods, reciting my gratitudes and recounting my blessings for several minutes. This kind of affirmation practice brings me so much joy. Later in the evening, another lay practitioner named Martha and I practiced meditation together and chanted "Namu Amita Bul" (which is the Korean version of "Namo Amitabha Buddhaya"). It was so wonderful to combine both chanting and meditation like that in one session with another person who also appreciated the ancient complementary synthesis of Zen and Pure Land practice. I hope more practitioners will do this every day or at least once a week ... about 10 or more minutes of Amitabha chanting and at least 20 minutes of Zen meditation per practice session.

TUESDAY — After the morning chanting/bowing/meditation/exercise group practice and silent breakfast, as I walked between the buildings, I finally noticed the little worms on the ground. Ah, a sign that my mindfulness was deepening, since I was beginning to notice more and more details, more and more of the little things, the precious little things. I smiled at the worms and watered the vegetable garden with gratitude and joy. Then I took another Nature walk, and this time I walked by a creek and saw a waterfall in the distance. I also noticed 8 particularly radiant flowers with yellow centers and white petals. This was very symbolic to me, reminding me of the Eightfold Path of the Buddha, and the yellow (saffron) robes of monastic disciples and the white clothing of the original lay practitioners. There were lots of mosquitos flying around too, so I brought some "Off" with me (thank Buddha for insect repellant, LOL!). Before lunch, I had a very nice interview time with the Dharma teacher Rev. Do-sung, and during lunch, everyone at my table had an interesting conversation about Korean Buddhism, the profoundly great respect that many Koreans have for Thich Nhat Hanh (who is not Korean but Vietnamese), and modern Buddhism's evolution in America. During my afternoon walking meditation, it began to rain, and I saw a dragonfly, as well as a yellow butterfly and white butterfly dancing together in the air, and I found a beautiful bird feather on the grass. I did some sitting meditation, then read a book, and did some more sitting meditation. During dinner, I saw the power of manifestation and the law of attraction tangibly at work. The day before, some of us were discussing how this area of New York state is known for its apples and apple pies. So, in my mind yesterday, I made a strong thought of wanting an apple pie. Well, lo and behold, someone brought us a HOMEMADE apple pie tonight for dessert, and I must say, it was the MOST delicious apple pie I have ever tasted in my life! YUMMMMMY! After dinner, there was a weekly meditation class which I participated in. Rev. Do-sung asked me to share the practice of Amitabha chanting (based on the Chinese style) with them, which they very much enjoyed. Namu Amita Bul! (Namo Amitabha Buddhaya!)

(here is an example of Chinese style chanting: "Namo Amituo Fo")

WEDNESDAY — During morning meditation, I felt somewhat restless and agitated. During breakfast, everyone at my table had a lively discussion in Korean, so I remained silent since I do not speak Korean. I decided to leave the monastery for the day and return the next morning. So I got in my rental car and drove to visit a few different centers nearby. I visited the famous KRIPALU Yoga Retreat Center and then drove to Saratoga Springs (a very beautiful town) and had lunch at "Four Seasons" vegetarian cafe. Then I drove to visit a Christian monastery and retreat center nearby and had a nice tea and cookies chat with the Episcopal nuns of St. Mary. I have to make a confession here that, on my way over there, I saw a Dunkin' Donuts shop and a Homemade Ice Cream shop, and well, I stopped at BOTH places and bought lots of donuts and ate lots of ice cream. BURP! My stomach didn't feel so good a few hours later, though, LOL. When will I ever learn my lesson on sugar addiction, ha ha ha ha ha. In the evening, I went to visit my friend "J" (who will remain unnamed) whom I know from when he lived in Dallas. He moved to Saratoga Springs to recover at his parents' house after the sudden death of an older female friend, who was also his roommate and business partner. I had dinner with him and his loquacious father, said hello to his non-conversational mother, and spent the night at their house in the basement guest room. They were very hospitable.

THURSDAY — In the morning, I drove back to the WON Dharma Center and meditated. I also practiced chant-walking for several minutes. What a relief to be back at the monastery! I realized that it was difficult for me to be around "J" because of his extremely untamed monkey mind and also difficult to be around his father who talked quite a lot without much silent spaces. I have noticed more and more lately that I am more sensitive to these things than when I was younger, so I want to honor my need to limit how much time I spend with those who have a lot of "monkey mind" energy and those who talk excessively more than usual. If I dishonor myself by staying longer in their presence than I should, then I usually end up feeling very emotionally drained, mentally exhausted, and even physically tired. So, it is not their fault, but my own responsibility to take action and take care of myself. I think my limit is about 3 hours to be around such kinds of persons. Any more time than that would start being unhealthy for me and perhaps eventually even energetically toxic for me.

During lunch, the mindful table conversations revolved around the topic of mental illness. Rev. DoSung and I talked about the meaning of "Original Mind." Then I took a nap. When I awoke, I spent some time in the garden, weeding and planting seeds. I had a nice talk with Rev. Young-in about WON Buddhism. I really like the integral and modern nature of this new form of Buddhism, which synthesizes Buddhist transcendentalism, Confucian humanism, and Taoist naturalism together. It is very much in the spirit of Chinese Buddhism (which has the majority of Buddhists), which has always leaned toward synthesis and integration. I have a Tibetan Buddhist monk friend who disagrees with me on this subject, as he believes in being doctrinally and praxically "pure" without mixing elements between traditions. However, the entire history of Buddhism (and of all religions for that matter) is one of evolution, change, mixing, blending, synthesis, and growth over time. There is no such thing as "pure" Buddhism or "pure" Christianity, etc. There is no such thing as "pure" Zen or "pure" Vajrayana either. As the Mahayana Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra declares unequivocally: "Form is empty … neither pure nor impure … " I prefer a "One Dharma" approach to spirituality. One good book on this topic is by Joseph Goldstein, entitled "ONE DHARMA: THE EMERGING WESTERN BUDDHISM." Hi friend, Jack Kornfield, a great lay Dharma teacher and author, is another example of "One Dharma." And, of course, Thich Nhat Hanh is ALL about "One Dharma" as he is its embodiment for the 21st Century.

After dinner, I showed Rev. Ji-soo how to practice Amitabha chant-walking, which she enthusiastically wanted to learn. Then I participated in the gentle Yoga class in the main hall.

FRIDAY — After morning meditation, etc., and breakfast, I weeded the garden one last time and watered the vegetables. Then I did my laundry and cleaned my room (during which time the electricity went out in the whole area for about an hour). I meditated, had lunch, took a walk, then said my farewell thanks. They were very generous and gave me some gifts, including books, incense and honey. I got in my rental car and drove to see all the different centers within an hour radius. There is SO much here! They call this part of New York the "Buddha Belt" rather than the "Bible Belt" like what we have here in Texas. My first stop was Omega Institute. Wow! This is the best upscale retreat center I have ever visited! Very nice! (Too bad it's too expensive for me to stay at). I ate some chocolate, drank some almond milk at their cafe, and I browsed their lovely spiritual bookstore. I bought a BEAUTIFUL wooden Quan Yin statue there for an extremely low cost (I wonder if they knew what kind of treasure they had?) I was shocked that they were selling it for such a low price, but hey, I wasn't going to argue. I saw a raw foods demo and tasted some of the yummy vegan foods. Then I visited their meditation sanctuary room and wonderful spiritual library. After that, I drove to KTD, a Tibetan Buddhist temple, in Woodstock. There happened to be a lecture that day presented by a very high lama, who was speaking on the topic of karma, reincarnation and Bodhichitta (the Aspiration for Enlightenment to serve all beings). I ate dinner at a nice local restaurant and stayed across the street at a bed and breakfast owned by a nice Chinese lady, who is also an artist. I ended up buying a couple of her exquisite Quan Yin paintings too!

SATURDAY — I had breakfast at a vegetarian cafe in Woodstock (lots of neo-hippie tie-dye stores everywhere here!), explored a neat little spiritual bookstore (and chatted with the woman who owned the store, very cool lady). After lunch, I drove to Menla Retreat Center (which was co-founded by Tibetan Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman, who is the father of famous actress Uma Thurman). And I also visited Zen Mountain Monastery. It felt very distant and cold at the Zen center, even though it is famous. The nun in charge was quite un-friendly too. This is definitely not a welcoming place, at least on that day. Maybe the nun was just having a bad hair day … or at least a NO hair day anyway. ;-)

I drove through a few small cities such as Phoenicia (quaint) and Newburgh (scary) and finally had to stop in Poughkeepsie (typical) for dinner. I stayed at a cheap hotel and went to the nearby mall theater to watch the movie "Men In Black 3." LOL

SUNDAY — In the morning, I drove to Carmel to visit Chuang Yen Monastery, one of the largest Chinese Buddhist centers in North America. Wow, it was very beautiful, with truly magnificent buildings. The Buddha statue is humongous! What I loved most was that my 3 favorite Buddhas were the primary Buddha statues in the temple. In the center, of course, was Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical Buddha who started Buddhism 2,600 years ago. Then, to the left (in the Western direction) was a statue of Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light, Love and Life. And, to the right (in the Eastern direction) was a statue of Bhaishajya Guru, the Medicine Buddha of Healing. How perfect! I had lunch at the temple restaurant there. And I also explored their Buddhist library. I also enjoyed feeding the koi fish in their pond.

Here is a picture taken at Chuang Yen Monastery:

Brother ChiSing at Chuang Yen Monastery

In the afternoon, I drove to a Tibetan monastery and had tea with the residing abbess nun there. She was SO kind and wise. She gave me a little informal Dharma talk over tea regarding the love of parents for their children, and how the parent's love usually exceeds that of the child's love (parents are more giving in their love, and children are usually more concerned with receiving that love). I was moved to tears. So I called my parents a few minutes later to tell them that I appreciated and loved them.

After that, I drove by a Chinese retreat center named Dharma Seal, which practices a combination of Chan meditation (Zen) and Pure Land "Amitabha" chanting. It is actually a very ancient and common practice to combine Zen and Pure Land methods in Chinese Buddhism. This is also in the inclusive spirit of how Thich Nhat Hanh teaches the Buddha Dharma, and this is definitely how I prefer to practice as an expression of integral "One Dharma." Zen meditation awakens the Enlightened MIND, and Pure Land "Amitabha" chanting awakens the Enlightened HEART. Yin and Yang. Masculine and Feminine. Wisdom and Compassion.

Then I drove over to a Chinese Chan (Zen Meditation) Retreat Center called Dharma Drum, which was founded by the famous Buddhist Chan Master Sheng Yen. I was fortunate to meet Master Sheng Yen several years ago before he passed away. He is a truly wise and enlightened being.

And finally, I made it to Blue Cliff Monastery, one of Thich Nhat Hanh's monasteries, just in time for dinner. It was so good to see the monks and nuns there. And I also met some new young adults there who are aspiring monks and nuns. They will be ordained as novices sometime this Fall. Since Sunday evenings at the monastery are "lazy evenings," the monks and nuns decided to have a movie night, so we all watched "We Bought a Zoo" in English with Vietnamese subtitles. We even had popcorn. What fun!

MONDAY — I awoke, drank lots of water, then went to the meditation hall to meditate alone for about an hour. Then I had a silent breakfast. After that, I read some spiritual books. In the afternoon, I took a hike on Sam's Point, a gorgeous cliff overlooking the valley. Then I drove into town to buy some groceries for the monastery. I made veggie burgers for all the monks and lay brothers for dinner. They ate them all up as if I had cooked up a gourmet feast. I guess they don't get to eat burgers very often (I think they usually just eat Vietnamese food). Anyways, everyone seemed very happy after dinner.

This is my last evening before I fly back to Dallas the next day. Sometimes I wish I could live here as a monk. But it seems that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have some other mission in mind for me. For now, I am here to serve the Dallas area and share the Light of the Dharma in Texas. I hope I can find good friends, good fellow practitioners, and good students who will be diligent and faithful to the Dharma, so that I can stay encouraged in Dallas. Sometimes, it feels hard on me emotionally when I give and give and give, and people only attend meditation sporadically and inconsistently (and the Sunday 5 pm Sangha sometimes has 60 persons and then 20 persons the next week then 40 the next -- such fluctuations). How can we ever build a true and deep Sangha community if people do not attend group meditations at least once or twice each week minimally (when I lived in California, I attended group meditations at least 3 or 4 times each week)? Even if I could just find a core of 12 persons, that would be enough. Then it would be okay that the other 40-80 persons only come about once a month. If I could just know that there was a core of 12 persons who would be regular and consistent bodhisattvas with me, then I could do anything, I would feel inspired and encouraged to keep on keeping' on. I would feel that I have enough of a support network to make staying in Dallas worthwhile. I know that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas gave me the idea to start the Dallas Meditation Center. So I trust in Them to help give me the strength to keep it going successfully, even with the major move and transition that is about to take place in January 2013. I cannot do this alone. And so I trust that I am not alone. I trust in the Sangha. And I trust in the Dharma and the Buddha too. SANGHAM SHARANAM GACCHAMI (I Take Refuge In The SANGHA)!

I Take Refuge In The Buddha

In joyful gratitude,
Brother ChiSing


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