or Not?" by Blaine Frierson
When our plane landed in Houston New Years 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 Blaines 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 Zhous 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!