I began teaching abroad in 2008 when I led seven-day intensive Chan retreats in America and Europe. In June of that year, I also returned to Taiwan and went back to the mountain (Dharma Drum Mountain) to teach in Chan retreats.
I visited Shifu (Master Sheng Yen) in 2007 while he was ill, and accepted the invitation from the monk in charge to lead Chan retreats in 2008, which was confirmed and blessed by Shifu. It had been more than ten years since I left Taiwan, and I was completely out of contact during the period of building the monastery at Dharma Drum Mountain (DDM), as Shifu was busy with this project and I was occupied with my responsibilities in Malaysia. So, I had lost touch with Shifu for quite some time. I reconnected with Shifu when he came to propagate the Dharma in Malaysia and also when I went to America and participated in his retreat. When Shifu was no longer able to travel abroad due to his health, I would go to Taiwan to meet with him and attend his retreats. What took place after our reconnection was a deeply moving experience and I feel deeply grateful.
In June 2008, Shifu called for a meeting of key DDM monastic leaders to discuss the “Dharma Drum lineage of Chinese Chan”. I was also invited to attend. The meeting was followed by a ten-day monastic retreat. The second day after the Chan Hall was closed to the public, Shifu gave a Dharma talk in person. After a second ten-day monastic retreat, I stayed with DDM Sangha for several days. Two days before I left for Malaysia, during his Dharma talks at breakfast, Shifu mentioned about my “returning to DDM to lead Chan retreats”. He gave some important guidance during the talks, and clearly established my role at DDM.
I was the first lineage holder to whom Shifu gave “Dharma Transmission” (in 1985). After that, Shifu gave Transmission to other five Westerner lay disciples, and the last one who received Dharma Transmission was Venerable Guo Jun (of Singapore). This is the so-called “lineage transmission” in Chan. Later, when Shifu was critically ill, a ceremony of Dharma Transmission to his disciples within the Sangha at DDM took place. Therefore, my being part of DDM was of the “Chan lineage”, not within the DDM system of administration. When I received Dharma Transmission, there was not yet the plan and development of Dharma Drum Mountain. This is why I sometimes joked that I was from a “transmission outside of the mountain”.
In fact, I was simply returning to the mountain to take the responsibility for Chan teaching. What I learned from Shifu was his teaching methods from the early years, and therefore I teach Shifu’s newer generations of disciples his methods and style, which emphasize basic practice as a solid foundation. In a way, this complements and can assist in the completion of Shifu’s teaching of Chan. As the monastics of DDM Sangha and students of Dharma Drum Sangha University are the main audience, it is mutually beneficial to complete our learning of Shifu’s Chan teaching.
(2013/12/27 published in Chinese on “Oriental Daily News” in Malaysia. Photo from Facebook “繼程法師” posting. )