2005 Pilgrimage to
Chung Tai Chan Monastery

It was our first visit to Taiwan. Growing up in Russia, we didn't know about a country called "Taiwan". Once in the 1980s, I noticed an electronics label "Made in Taiwan" and wondered about it. "It's just an island"——I was told. Islands fascinate me, because as a child I read a lot about treasures and travels in adventure stories of Jules Verne. Now as devoted disciples of Chung Tai Zen Center of Sunnyvale, we recognize different treasures. We were fortunate to join a group of disciples from Sunnyvale led by Jian Hu Shifu on the annual pilgrimage trip to Taiwan. On the plane from Bangkok to Taipei, I experienced quiet and joyful anticipation of a long-awaited reunion. It seemed that I was to be reunited with something I got separated from very long time ago, much longer than my life.

  From the very first moment in Taipei, we received great attention and care. Each meeting or visit could be a subject of a separate story, and I have to be brief.

  Day 1. The moment I stepped out of the bus in Puli, I felt the aroma in the air. I know that aroma very well from Russian Churches, where they burn so-called ladan for purification. In Chung Tai, the aroma was everywhere, which told how sacred the place was. One immediately understands that in Chung Tai everything exceeds expectations. Every job is done with great dedication and love. As we toured the building, I wondered what kind of mind it took to create a building like this, and what kind of spirit was necessary to raise it.

  That afternoon, we attended a ceremony that was presided by the Grandmaster and it was very joyful to be there.

  Day 2. After waking up at 4:30, I attended a ceremony. I was supposed to do chanting from a booklet but I would get lost all the time. I could observe how mind was clinging to the text as I thought—— "Wait. Stop it. I'll find that syllable." For me, it was a lesson in letting go——of course the service would not stop and neither would life.

  That afternoon we took the Three Refuges with the Grandmaster. Despite the huge crowd, it was a very personal experience for me——as the rows were distributed for people to come in front of him, I went exactly in the middle on the front row and he looked into my eyes. I felt very happy.

  Later that night, we attended a 3-hour service for hungry ghosts. It felt solemn but I didn't feel 3 hours. My thoughts were about my elderly parents.

  Day 3. At a local paper factory, we learned how the paper is made. The paper is made with sweat. Just like 5 contemplations about food in Buddhism, we need to contemplate where the paper comes from——a lot of hard work and we waste it so easily.

  We also visited Pu Tai Elementary and Junior High School. It was obvious that great world leadership is soon to come up from the place like that. We hoped that one day we could contribute to setting up a program to allow some students from Russia to study here and bring the teaching to Russia.

  Day 4. We left Chung Tai and set out for Taipei. On the bus, I had a lot of vexations. But instead of turning away from them, I could observe them and question them rationally.

  In Taipei, we visited the Zen Center and one of the volunteers accompanied us to the National Museum. My strongest impression was from looking at wooden Buddha statues. Looking at the statues made me connect to those old times, I thought those perhaps were the times when more people used to get enlightened in front of these statutes.

  Day 5. That night we spent in a monastery where the Grandmaster was ordained. The monastery seemed to be situated above the clouds. It was a very compact and old structure. My sleep was very deep and peaceful there. In the morning, we had a service and a meditation at the Chan Hall. We toured the monastery and observed the statue of the Master Empty Cloud. His image looked very familiar. I might have read about him in a book about Chan Buddhism in Russia at the end of the eighties.

  Just a couple of hours later, we went to a beautiful small monastery in the forest. It was the first one that Grandmaster built himself. We walked around, listened to the sound of the creeks. The place felt very warm and cozy. The Buddha in the Zen Hall was reclining. For some reason the moment of Buddha's nirvana was very easy to feel here. That day I was inside a Chan hall for the first time and experienced a walking meditation.

  Jian Hu Shifu led a walking meditation. I discovered that the mind didn't need to rush even though the pace was getting faster and faster——a very useful secret for the Silicon Valley. But most importantly, I could come to an absolute stop when the stop signal came in. I discovered the emptiness. It seemed almost too easy and it lasted for several minutes. And it was very joyful.

  Day 6-9. The trip to Thailand provided an overview of a very old and very new Theravadin Buddhism. We visited some very special places, and received many blessings including little threads that came from the clothing offered to the Buddha and especially how fortunate we were to meet with the Deputy Sangha King, one of the spiritual leaders of Thailand and to receive his blessing as well.

  Although the pilgrimage trip was over, my future, a new trip, suddenly became clear.



  第一天初抵埔里,踏出車外的剎那,一陣清香撲鼻而來。熟悉的味道,正如同俄國教堂娷燒ladan淨化殿堂的香味。中台處處瀰漫著這股氣味,像在訴說著這塊淨地多麼的神聖。身歷其中,立即感受到中台的一切無一不令人驚喜,大大小小的成就,皆源自於大眾的發心與愛心。參訪殿堂時,不禁想著:是什麼樣的心念創造了這樣一座建築?又是什麼樣的信念使它屹立不墜?下午,參加了 老和尚主持的法會,內心法喜充滿。


  下午,皈依了 老和尚。儘管置身於一片擁擠的人群,卻獨有如此深刻的經驗──輪到我們向前排班時,剛好就站在前排正中央,一抬頭見到 老和尚正看著自己,感到分外高興。 晚上,參加大蒙山法會,莊嚴肅穆,全程專注想著年邁的雙親,倒不覺得有三小時這麼久。



  這一天, 我們在 老和尚受具足戒的大覺寺裡度過了一晚。寺院像是一座矗立於雲端上的古剎。那晚睡得特別安詳。隔天在禪堂上早課、靜坐。之後四處參觀,見到 虛雲老和尚的雕像時倍覺親切,大概是因為曾在俄國一本禪宗書上讀過 虛雲老和尚的事蹟吧!

  幾個小時後,我們進入了森林裡一座小而幽雅的寺院。這是 老和尚親手建造的第一間寺院。漫步其中,聆聽潺潺的溪水聲流,令人心曠神怡。看著禪堂裡的臥佛,似乎自然而然地就能意會佛陀的涅槃寂靜。