More than twenty years ago, I was not yet a Buddhist when I saw on the Internet that Master Shengyen was going to lead a Chan retreat in the United States. I registered by fax and thus began my study of Chan with Shifu. One year later, Shifu gave me permission to translate his books. Then a Muslim publishing house helped me publish the translated books.
In Indonesia, such inter-religious collaboration is not uncommon. The government recognizes six religions: Islam, Protestant, Catholic, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. The Yogyakarta Department of Religions provides support for each of the religions, including Buddhism. Different religious groups help each other from time to time. I started propagating the Chan teaching of Master Shengyen through such collaboration with other religious groups.
Founding Practice Group and Expanding Connection
Chan was an unknown domain to Indonesia. As far as I know, up to fifteen years ago I was the sole Chan practitioner in Indonesia who formally studied with a Chan Master. There was no Chan Center, and no one around me to practice Chan together. I started by helping a Theravada temple with their activities. Because I had published some of Shifu's books, they regarded me as a Chan practitioner from the start. But I seldom talked about Chan, unless someone asked. I simply offered my service for various activities to help others learn and practice Buddhism.
Later, I started a group in the temple to practice meditation and discuss Buddhism. I held meditation sessions, small group discussions, yoga practice, and meditation retreat. In the conventional thinking of the Indonesians, usually only the Theravadins meditate. Some people came to learn because they were curious about us, and our group gradually became more popular. Later, we moved to the Buddhayana Temple in my hometown, Yogyakarta. The Buddhists here in this temple supported Chan meditation, and we started to hold regular group practice on the last weekend of each month.
To this day I maintain very good relationship with the most senior Theravada sangha groups in Indonesia. I learn from them too. Because I live near the world renowned ancient Buddhism site - Borobudur, I often accompany or help arrange the visits of Theravada honorables or Tibetan Lamas to the sacred site. Sometimes I also help them arrange forums and activities. Through these activities, I can learn about the teachings of other Buddhist traditions, which not only broadened my perspective and helped me gain confidence in my own method of practice, but also brought me the opportunity to develop good affinity with other Buddhist groups.
Seven Stages of Tuning the Mind as the Guideline
Our courses are based on the teaching of Shengyen Shifu and adjusted through actual experiences to suit local needs. They encompass Shifu’s teaching to beginners in meditation practice, such as yoga, seven keys to adjust sitting posture, regulate the breath and the body, relaxation body scanning, just sitting, counting the breath, following the breath, Silent Illumination or Huatou, Buddha name recitation, standing meditation, walking meditation, and so on. We even include Chan Tea Meditation in our course.
When studying Chan, unavoidably many non-Buddhists would want to achieve specific goals. Shifu’s elaboration of “seven stages of tuning the mind” serves as a concrete map for Chan practice. It not only provides clear guidance to the direction of practice, but can also be used to reflect one’s own progress. Our goal is to help people progress from the first stage of “scattered mind” to at least the fifth stage of “concentrated mind”. After continued practice in daily life followed by intensive Chan retreats, it is possible to progress to the sixth stage of “unified mind”. Yet, even a small progress from the first to the second or third stage is already a wonderful experience, because it signifies the practitioner becoming the master of his own mind and life for the very first time, and he would in turn gain greater confidence in the Dharma practice.
We also incorporate interactive instructions to make sure students can truly use the methods. For example, when we were guiding whole body relaxation, if the beginner students were not able to feel the sensation of certain part of the body, we would instruct them to touch the part of their own body to feel it. We call this as relaxation body scanning with touching. If they become tense when concentrating on counting the breath, we would instruct them to go back to how the body feels at the moment.
Incorporating Multiple Assistive Methods
Based on past experiences, progress is built on continuous practice. Therefore we encourage practitioners to set their “minimum daily requirements” for meditation and exercises. For example, they can use the “Insight Timer” app to check their cumulative time of dharma practice. It not only helps them build discipline, but also allows them to see who else are meditating at the same time, creating a sense of being in the same group practice session.
In order to create more opportunities for Chan practitioners to discuss with and learn from each other, we have set up a group on Facebook. In addition to Buddhist sutras, Chan and Dharma, and teachings of other traditions, we also discussed history, philosophy, and health related topics, maintaining a lively atmosphere for our learning. We also found that those who exercised more and have a healthy body can make faster progression in meditation. Therefore we encourage Chan practitioners to build up their interest in exercises.
Meditation Activities in Collaboration
The Yogyakarta Department of Religions continuously also sponsors Buddhist activities, such as practice activities designed for the youths or for teachers. Because our group has regular and comprehensive courses, the Bureau selected and invited us to lead meditation classes.
When we teach Chan, we don’t ask about the participants’ religious beliefs. We just put the emphasis on pragmatic issues, such as how to resolve the difficulties encountered in life, and how to be aware of our own body and mind, etc. While we only use basic Chan methods and seldom touch on huatou or silent illumination, with solid practice, our participants can clearly feel their own progress regardless of their tradition or religion.
Yogyakarta Chan Meditation Center
Translation: Yeh, Shujen (葉姝蓁)
Editors: DDM Editorial Team