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Buddhadharma : Summer 2009
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 20 0 9 50 Living and Dying With Dignity It was only several months ago in the pages of this magazine, in my review of Chan master sheng yen’s autobiography, Footprints in the Snow, that I wrote: “I read the final paragraph and realized that in writing this book, shifu was saying goodbye.” he did so none too soon—mas- ter sheng yen passed away at Dharma Drum mountain in taiwan on February 3 at the age of 79. It was fifteen years ago that I first bowed to master sheng yen, took refuge with him, received the name guo ling from him, attended my first seven-day Chan retreat with him. on the third day of that retreat I had my first interview with him. “how’s it going?” he asked. “terrible leg pain.” he looked at my massive thighs and at his own noodle-thin legs and chuckled. “Big legs, big leg pain. no problem. sit higher. move when necessary. Use your method.” he didn’t take my pain away; he didn’t teach me in any tangible way what to do about it. But he gave me permission tobewhoIwasatthatmoment,andhegavemeawayto be different, and by the end of that retreat I was no longer living my pain, I was just sitting on it. on my next retreat, practicing silent Illumination for the first time, I got lost; I put down a wandering thought and couldn’t find my method to pick it up. shifu asked, “Do you know you’re sitting there? how do you know?” DaviD Berman is the editor-in-chief of Chan Magazine, published by the Chan meditation Center in new York, founded by master Sheng Yen. Introduction by David Berman Calligraphies by Chan master sheng yen With the death of Master Sheng Yen, Chan Buddhism lost a great teacher and its most prominent voice in the West. He left a substantial legacy, but his greatest gift was his ability to touch his students’ lives deeply and personally. Here he reminds us to approach life—and death—with a clear mind, without regret, anger, or pride. this is what shifu did, over and over again—he pulled down the curtain to reveal the wizard, the self cleverly operating behind every experience. at a series of lectures on the letters of master Dahui he told us a gong’an (koan) and asked us what it meant. hands shot up, and he happily accepted each exposition, declaring, “and that’s what you think!” Despite his tremendous responsibilities— master sheng yen carried the lineage of both the linji and Caodong schools of Chan, was the founder of Dharma Drum moun- tain in taiwan and the Chan meditation Center in new york, was a prolific author and a founding member of the world Council of religious leaders—his primary teach- ing activity was leading retreats. I read hundreds of reports from those retreats, and one experience is ubiquitous—every retreatant felt that shifu had tailored his teachings just for them. he gave three dharma talks a day to a room full of us, sometimes a hundred of us, and managed to touch each of our illusory selves intimately. now we are without him, as we were always destined to be, as we always were. shifu always made it clear that my practice was my problem. still, I always seemed to sit better, to be clearer under his steady eye. was it his qi? his exam- ple? my sense of shame? now that he’s gone, I only hope I allowed him to mark me deeply enough—that I allowed his great wisdom and compassion to kindle a small but critical mass of mine. providedBYdHarMadruMMountainCulturalandeduCationalfoundation,allrigHtSreServed