Eight-Precept Retreat @ Malacca

During the first weekend of April, I attended the eight-precept retreat with two Dharma sisters from the Clementi Lamrim class. We left Singapore on Friday afternoon and made our way to Bayou Lagoon Park resort outside Malacca. The retreat was held at this resort and lasted two days and one night, commencing on Saturday morning officially. Venerable Jing Yuan presided over this retreat and I was excited to learn from him. Of particular interest to me is how to relate the learning from this retreat to my classroom studies of the Lamrim.

This retreat was organized by fellow virtuous sisters and brothers from Malaysia. More than four hundred participants attended with about a quarter from Singapore. After the vow taking ceremony on Saturday morning, there were two sessions of Dharma discourse in the afternoon and a question and answer session in the evening. There was also a partitioned room temporarily set up minimally to allow participants to make light and flower offerings. The observance of the precepts is considered completed by Sunday morning. We had one more session of Dharma discourse before concluding the retreat with an open feedback session and a short update of the building of the monastery in Malaysia. In the evening, we left for Singapore.

Venerable Jing Yuan patiently took us through the eight vows that one had to observe during the retreat; explaining the reasons for each vow, and sharing examples of common situations where the vows might be violated. The differences between observing a vow versus making a virtuous deed were also specifically highlighted.Should one observe the eightprecepts with the purest intention and motivation, one will experience the eight benefits, one of which is to be re-born into the human or heavenly realms. If one is re-born as a human, it is one that is of leisure and opportunity.

In order to help us develop a deeper understanding of the preciousness of not just the human life, but one that is of leisure and opportunity, Venerable Jing Yuan skillfully posed a question to all participants: “What kind of human are you?” Most of us stumbled on this question. It left an indelible imprint on most of us at the end of the retreat. The preciousness of a human life of leisure and opportunity is to be further understood by relating to the causes and effects. The eight causes will result in eight defining representations found in a human in the mundane world, such as long life, having a good family, having personal wealth and so on.

A second key area of learning was the four steps that one should take to prepare oneself mentally before offering the Thirty-Five Buddha Repentance Prayer or other related prayers. It is about seeking refuge in the Triple Gem, recognizing the wrong doings in the past, and seeking help to stop making these mistakes again from the enlightened beings. In the process, it will help us to develop a virtuous mind stream so as to be able to contemplate Dharma teachings in depth. This was my first time offering the prayer with a group of virtuous friends. I was grateful to have the guidance of Venerable Jing Yuan to point out the right way to conduct the prayer at this early phase of my spiritual practice.

One final reflection of this retreat was the idea of carpe diem - “seize the day”. To me, this was a kind of personal mantra of life before studying the Lamrim. Although I was conscious about trying to live as if there is no tomorrow, making use of each moment efficiently, I was not fully satisfied with my own answer of why it was really that necessary.  Post retreat, it became clear that one should not just seize the day or moment, but specifically seize every moment with a continuous virtuous mind stream so as to plant virtuous seeds all the time.  Once the causes are planted properly, the desired fruits will appear naturally. Thus, emphasis should be on planting the right seeds and it starts with a thought.

However, even if we know about contemplating about a human life of leisure and opportunity, impermanence or chanting mantras to fill each flicker of a thought with virtuousness, the toughest bit would be to truly inculcate this habit of virtuous thinking. It is tough as it will be taking place in the midst of the poisonous trio of greed, hostility and ignorance. This, I suppose, will be the fundamental basis of my spiritual practice and would only occur in stages.

Written by Leow Pei Shan (15G023E)

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