Prajna Guanyin Sagely Monastery in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia hosted a six-day Shurangama Retreat from October 27 to November 2, 2003. The main purpose of the retreat was to investigate the Four Clear and Unalterable Instructions on Purity in the Shurangama Sutra and also to teach the proper concepts of Buddhism. The classes, conducted in Chinese, were led by Dharma Master Heng Yang along with Dharma Masters Heng Ding and Jin Yi.
The 28 participants, mostly students from INTI College, stayed in the monastery and followed the monastic rules. Their vigorous daily schedule from 3:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. included morning and evening recitations, meal offering, four hours of lectures, one and a half hours of reciting the Shurangama Sutra and
Shurangama Mantra, meditation, and community work. Each day ended with a Developing Inherent Wisdom session in which students made presentations on assigned Sutra texts in the Buddha Hall.
Students reported for registration at 4:00 p.m. After dinner, they attended the evening ceremony and the ceremony for purifying the boundaries led by Dharma Masters Heng Zhang and Heng Xiang. After the evening recitation, the rules for the retreat were reviewed.
A Dharma Master first explained the causes for the Buddha’s speaking of the Shurangama Sutra, and selected texts related to the first Clear and Unalterable Instruction on Purity—to sever lust. The commentaries of Venerable Master Hua and Great Master Han Shan were used as reference material. Students were required to make a presentation on severing lust. Each presenter had 15 minutes to speak, and was evaluated on intonation, deportment, explanation of the text, revealing the principles, and any strengths and weaknesses.
Given the opportunity to ask questions, students asked about vegetarianism, abortion, predestination, and the practices of external sects. Students shared their experiences with the class. Dharma Masters also related their past experiences on becoming vegetarian. These questions were related to the second Clear and Unalterable Instruction on Purity—to cease killing. This section clearly explains the reason one should not kill or even harbor the thought of killing. Students also learned about the five kinds of pure meat when the Buddha was in the world.
The discussion focused on the third Clear and Unalterable Instruction on Purity—to cease stealing. The Dharma Master announced that starting that day, students had to memorize the Sutra text and explain it from memory. This was a great challenge to the students! However, all sincerely accepted this instruction, even though there was only a short time to prepare. They worked hard on memorizing the text and explaining it, especially during the evening presentations.
This day’s topic was the fourth Clear and Unalterable Instruction on Purity—to cease telling major lies. The Dharma Master explained in detail why one should not lie, as this will destroy the seed of Buddhahood and cause us to lose our knowledge and vision.
On the last day, some working adults joined the morning lecture, which focused on how the balance of emotions and rational thought directly affects one’s ascent or descent into the seven destinies. This explains how beings in the six paths come into existence.
Time really passed by fast! The retreat culminated with three recitations of the Shurangama Mantra in the morning. Although the retreat was short, students are grateful to the Dharma Masters of Prajna Guanyin Sagely Monastery for their compassionate teaching.
The retreat benefited the students in many ways: Everyone enjoyed reciting the entire
Shurangama Sutra and the Shurangama Mantra during the retreat. Many have resolved to become vegetarian. Some became clearer about the direction they are going to take in their cultivation. Students also developed their skill in speaking Dharma to the assembly—a rare opportunity. They now have a better understanding of how to differentiate the Proper Dharma from deviant teachings. The method of memorizing the Sutra text was a very good way to learn as it planted vajra seeds in their eighth consciousness. More importantly, many of them have now realized their past mistakes and have vowed to repent and reform.