Inspirations from 2018 Gak Su Temple Winter Kyol Che in Hong Kong

Shin Jai

For my first ever winter kyol che in Hong Kong, I arrived at the beautiful Gak Su Temple with a beginner’s mind, readying myself for a nine-week retreat to harmonise my body and mind and to explore the true nature of life.

In the midst of nature with chirping birds and blossoming flowers, green mountains and white clouds, my grasping mind began to calm down. Zen Master Seung Sahn's famous teaching suddently appeared in my mind: “If you want anything, you will get nothing; if you don’t want anything, you will get everything”. This teaching hit me like a stick on the head, stopping my mind from chasing after this or that. All I had to do was return to the present and practise sincerely.

ABCDE (attention, breath, center, don’t make anything, and effort and enjoy), as Zen Master Dae Kwan taught us, may sound simple, but for someone with a complicated mind like me, it was hard to relate to. Practice makes perfect. I gradually did better, and my complicated mind became simpler. Just as Sifu said: “Always return to the present and focus on your breathing. Keep a “don’t know” mind, do nothing else and just enjoy -- practice can be as simple as that”. It took me several weeks of training before I could understand this teaching. So we have a chance, it’s good to attend longer retreats because often it takes time for us to attain a teaching.

Kong-an interview was another method for fast progress. Every entry into the interview room was a chance to get close to great teachers, who answered all my questions with compassion and patience while telling me what I needed to do to improve. For instance, my hotheadedness and my tendency of not living entirely in the present have affected me in many ways. My mind-wandering has also created bad karma without me knowing it. Looking back, my ignorance is almost laughable! Thanks to all the great teachers who reminded me tirelessly, I finally managed to wake up.

With a single hit, go back to “don’t know” mind - this core teaching reminds me to reset my mind in every fleeting moment. “Just do it” and only “don't know” to stay clear so that we may observe “correct situation, correct relationship and correct function” in our daily lives. And this is the Bodhisattva path of Great Compassion. I have yet to master it but have gained a taste of its importance. Zen Master Seung Sahn’s teaching really left me in awe, and the meticulous attention from Sifu and all the guiding teachers filled me with gratitude. I will certainly practice harder in the days to come.

Sifu’s speech and action show the virtues of respecting one’s teachers and teaching by example. Moment to moment, she bears in mind what her teachers and parents have taught her, making every effort to repay their kindness. This touches me deeply. I hope I can follow Sifu’s example and fulfil my duties sincerely to show my gratitude.

Sifu’s utter fearlessness in the face of hardships is an absolute rarity. She is a perfect embodiment of the Buddhist saying: “Bear the unbearable and do the undoable”. For Sifu, there is no such word as “difficult”; whatever happens just happens, be it physical ailments, illusions or attachments. I still remember one day while sitting in the Dharma hall, my legs were in so much pain I found myself in a cold sweat. When it was becoming unbearable, Sifu’s teaching sprang to mind: It is the body, not me, that’s in pain. If my body is not me, neither are my thinking nor feelings, then who am I? What am I? As these Big Questions appeared, my pain was nothing more than pain itself, and it all quieted down. What a fascinating experience! I have yet to find the answer to these questions, but I will keep trying.

“Shin Jai” is the Dharma name Sifu gave me. In Mandarin it sounds like “Xian Zai" (the present), a reminder for me to treasure the present and live in the present.

May we all be able to live in the present peacefully. Let us always cultivate inner peace to bring peace to the outside world and this whole universe.

Homage to Kwanseum Bosal,

Shin Jai
Written on February 4, 2019, in Pahang, Malaysia