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"Enlightened or Not?" by Blaine Frierson

When our plane landed in Houston New Year’s Eve, 2010, I could never have understood the affect the retreat would have on my religious life. If you have never attended an “overnight” retreat, stop what you are doing, and go to one at your earliest convenience. The weather was warm and humid when we landed. Our sweaters we had worn from Oklahoma were not appropriate dress. Even though our retreat did not officially begin until January 1, we started sitting with the 7 day retreat participants. Before we took the vow of silence, Richard from Buddha Mind, had warned me about the rules: no talking, not even sign language, no cell phones, no internet and follow the Zen rules of eating. Could I make it for 72 hours? I was very nervous. It has been years since I have gone 24 hours without reading. Then, the silent retreat started.

I started following my breath. At some point I forgot I was even breathing. I started meditating on “What am I”? The mood was ecstatic as I felt I was getting somewhere. Then, the pain in your legs starts; the numbing sensation from your knees to the end of your toes. I would peek across the room at my wife, and if her legs were not down, then neither would mine be! Later, she told me that she was thinking if Blaine’s legs are still crossed, then so will mine be! You strained listening for the gentle sound of the first bell. When it rang, the fast walking started. I did not think I would be able to meditate while fast walking, but, often my mind would continue on the same path it was on during zazen, and my thoughts were clear as a bell. Who is sitting? What am I? Count breaths. The bell rings. Do it all over again. Even though I enjoyed Zhao Zhou’s tea between sittings, I found myself anxious to get back to sitting. This feeling did not subside until the end of the retreat.

The retreat for me was exhilarating. I cannot say I ever had the Great Doubt in my mind. At times I believe I experienced the “I behind the I”, or how the “I” fuses with the Buddha. At times the I would disappear. I am not sure. Then the last day the Abbott at lunch said, “If you have not experienced enlightenment on this retreat by now, then, take the teabag on the table, and put it in the hot water…” For a brief and shining moment I felt that “I” could experience enlightenment, just like the masters of old. My body tingled and I got cold chills down my spine. Now I am plotting how I can get away for my next Chan retreat.

This retreat confirmed to me that the path I started three years ago, when I started reading dozens of Zen books, and continued, when I attended my Beginning Meditation Class at Buddha Mind, then committed myself to last October 10 with the Grand Master, when I took the Three Refuges, is the right path for me. Now, I plan to practice even harder, read less and strive to lose the “I” and find emptiness.

Thank you Buddha Mind for the opportunity to come and learn, and meditate. We are extremely fortunate to have a Chan monastery in Oklahoma.

The three day retreat was a great experience. Now, I am ready to go on a 7-day!



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