How wonderful it is to be able to host our first retreat at Lotus Pond Temple and Bamboo Forest Monastery with the four-fold Sangha all present. The land ancestors were so kind to provide us with such superb weather - beautiful blue skies, cool breeze and warm sunhine to welcome all 145 retreatants. Such conditions of happiness made our collective practice flow with ease and harmony. Right from the time of registration on Friday afternoon there was an atmosphere of stillness, tranquil like the lotus pond at the temple, and reflected people’s deep desire for peace in the midst of their hectic and stresful life. Bright colourful tents dotted the front lawn made the temple ground come alive with the joyful energy of a family camp. The children climbed KiteFlying Hill and met with the local wildlife – a cow that joined in their snack meditation! Meanwhile the adults contemplated the Discourse on Youth and Happiness – reflecting on how the 3 complexes and the 5 kinds of sensual desires when in excess can create much suffering for themselves and in the world. One retreatant shared that if she had known this teaching from the Buddha in such simple everyday language in her youth it would have saved her so much pain and distress. Another retreatant had an “A-ha!” moment when she realised that she couldn’t stop eating junk food because she really wasn’t happy and didn’t find any meaning in her job. She resolved to review her life situation and try to put in some positive changes.

The theme of this retreat was “Be Happy, Be Ourselves” and everyone was oriented to take this weekend as an opportunity to return to ourselves. Being aware of our breathing and reconnecting with our bodies is like meeting a dearest friend after a long time. We smile and greet with gladdened hearts to see our good old friend again. With love and genuine care we listen in order to understand what is going on with our bodies and mind. Understanding is the basis for love and happiness to grow. Although the retreat was only two days, but it was amazing how total strangers could feel safe and trust in the collective energy of the Sangha. Friendship and a true sense of community support was immediately felt as people yearned for these qualities which are so lacking in our developed and high tech Hong Kong society. Deep listening created a holding environment that embraced each person as they shared their struggles in life. Many recognized how they were pulled along by the desire for wealth, fame/status, and the endless pursuit of success. “What was it all for?” one retreatant asked herself. When she had attained her goal of “success” she had to pay a very high cost – a total breakdown in her health, and had witnessed her boss and colleagues collapse and die of a heart attack. It was a powerful bell of mindfulness for her and she put into application the practice of stopping immediately. Stopping and reconnecting with herself to find healing and true happiness.

DSC_0978-edited-largeOne of the many highlights of the retreat was the formal lunch in the Quan Yin Hall, also a first at Lotus Pond Temple. Everyone practiced noble silence so serenely that it was as if Thay was there sharing our meal together. Eating in such a way we nourished our bodies, our blood as well as spiritual ancestors. The children, having been confined in concrete walls all week were allowed to be themselves and reconnect with Mother Earth. The sounds of their footsteps and laughter were as natural as the wildlife on Lantau Island.

From the beginning to the end of the retreat, Thay’s presence was felt through the collective energy of harmony as the four-fold Sangha worked together. A week before the retreat, we had a Community Working Bee day to prepare, and at the end of the retreat everyone put in a hand to clean and pack everything up. It is so true that “many hands make light work”, but with such a wonderful mahasangha, there is an added dimension of mindfulness and joy in each of our contribution. As a monastic sangha, our hearts are filled with such love and gratitude for the hearts and hands that have made this retreat flow so beautifully, bringing much relief from stress and tension for everyone.