The Shurangama Retreat is almost over and we have one volume to go. Many people came and went; with three weeks left, new people are still joining. It feels like the retreat has just started.
There are six requirements for the Buddhadharma to be spoken: place, time, host, audience, faith, and hearing. In this retreat, these six are also fulfilled.
Fulfillment of Place: Gold Coast Dharma Realm (GCDR) is a perfect location for this retreat. Its 22 acres house a Buddha hall, a dining hall, a Chan hall, a library, and residences for monastics (Sangha House) and laity (Wisdom House). Behind the Sangha house, the Arhat trail with 18 Arhats surrounds the arena where Amitabha Buddha is located. Daily ceremonies, meditation and other ceremonies such as for Guanyin’s Enlightenment Day, Earth Store Bodhisattva’s Birthday, Ullambana, and the transmission of Three Refuges and Five Precepts are held in the Buddha Hall. The lectures started out in the dining hall, but later were moved to the Chan Hall due to number of participants and the cooler weather. When the weather is nice, we sit in meditation along the Arhat Trail. We do Three Steps One Bow while reciting Guanyin Bodhisattva’s name, and have our discussion in the arena. The first Transmission of the Precepts for the Deceased at GCDR was also held in the arena. We do morning exercises and Wu Dang Taiji Sword in a large garden shed.
GCDR is not far from the city and yet we don’t hear too much traffic. Kookaburras, lorikeets, and cuckoo birds sing day and night. On several occasions we were visited by several wallabies (kangaroo-like creatures).
Fulfillment of Time: This four-month intensive retreat from May 27 to September 27 gives us a chance to deeply study and investigate the Sutra, as well as to practice what we’ve learned and reflect upon our conduct.
Our day starts at 4:00 a.m. for morning recitation, followed by three recitations of the Shurangama Mantra at 5:00 a.m.; then it goes on until the end of the lecture at 9:00 p.m. Everyone does their best to follow the schedule and cultivate.
Fulfillment of Host: In the Buddha’s time, the Buddha was the host who spoke the Dharma. Under the guidance of Dharma Masters Heng Sure and Heng Chih, a total of eight speakers lectured on the
Shurangama Sutra. In addition, DRBA nuns came from all over the world to lead the daily recitations, meditation, and community work.
Fulfillment of Audience: A large number of people attended, but not all of them stayed the whole time; there were always at least 20+ regulars and at one point there were about 40 participants. Many people helped organize this retreat, including setting the place up beforehand, arranging quarters, airport pickups, cooking, cleaning, and buying all the things needed to keep this retreat going. This retreat would not have been possible without everyone’s support. The greatest contribution came from Rosaline Kang, who arrived in March and supervised miscellaneous matters throughout April.
Participants came from all over the world: Australia, Canada, US, Taiwan, New Zealand, Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore. Their ages range from 12 to 80+. Even though everyone is from a different country, background, ethnic group, and generation, our common goal is to study the
Shurangama Sutra at GCDR.
Since the Venerable Master advocated “developing inherent wisdom,” we had the opportunity to take turns presenting volume 3. We helped each other prepare the material, discussed among ourselves to increase our understanding, and supported each other to practice what we learned. The instructor supplemented or corrected our explanations.
Fulfillment of Faith: Faith is essential for participating in this retreat. Some quit their jobs or took a long holiday from work and family to attend the full session; others traveled from afar to attend a few days. Without faith, this couldn’t be done.
It is said that in the Dharma Ending Age, the
Shurangama Sutra will be the first to disappear—the Sutra will exist but one will not see any words. All the Dharma Masters who came to lecture urged everyone to memorize the Shurangama Mantra, and if possible, the
Shurangama Sutra. And so, to help us memorize the Shurangama Mantra, we recite the Shurangama Mantra five times a day with the assembly. Since the start of the retreat, 11 golden cups have been awarded to participants who memorized the mantra. Some are still diligently working to memorize the mantra and sutra.
After hearing the four aspects of purity and the ten habitual causes explained, people have grown in faith and are gradually trying to change their habits.
Fulfillment of Hearing: One must have planted good roots to encounter the
Shurangama Sutra and hear it lectured by many Dharma Masters. Everyone has sincerely listened to the lectures and tolerated the cold, darkness, rain and noise.
In the first three weeks, the lecture was held in the dining hall, close to the Buddha Hall and convenient for the elderly. However, since it was winter, on some nights it was really cold since there was no plastic covering on one side of the hall. After plastic coverings were put up, it was not as cold, but everyone still wore scarves, jackets and gloves on cold nights. The fans of two refrigerators in the dining hall turned on every so often, making it hard for those at the back to hear the speaker. However, everyone was patient and did not complain.
When the number of participants increased, the lecture was moved into the larger Chan Hall, which is further away from the Buddha Hall and has no washrooms. This was a problem for older participants and those who have difficulty walking. However, rain or shine, they always came to the lecture. Their determination to learn the Dharma inspired the younger students not to slack off. Whenever it rained hard, the noise of the rain pelting the metal roof drowned out everything else. Still, everyone patiently waited for the rain to stop and the lecture to continue.
There’s one special requirement for attending the Shurangama Retreat at Gold Coast Dharma Realm in Australia: singing the Kookaburra Song. Everyone who came to this retreat got to hear and sing the Kookaburra Song. It’s part of our “theme” here at Gold Coast Dharma Realm and it goes:
Kookaburra sits in an old gum tree
Merry merry king of the bush is he
Laugh Kookaburra, Laugh Kookaburra
Gay your life must be.
Conclusion: To be able to attend this retreat is the result of blessings and good roots planted during many past lives. We are forever grateful to the organizers, lecturers, supporters, and participants of this retreat. We will try our best to use what we’ve learned to perpetuate the Proper Dharma.