notes from the workshop

The profound ability within me
is awakened not by words
but by the determination
to save all beings
– from The Great Compassion Dharani

Phra Pandit Bhikku, who so kindly supported the workshop through Littlebang in the weeks leading up to it, had warned me that some people who sign up for retreats don’t turn up on the day for one reason or another, but my fear was greater than that, I was worried that almost nobody would come at all.

And I was worried when nine o’clock came and went and nothing had started. I was worried about the fact I don’t have a camera and so wouldn’t be able to put up a picture for this post. I was worried about writing this post. About how the chants would work, about the tea and coffe, about a million things.

But after the first sitting meditation I opened my eyes and saw that all my worries were groundless. As we were sitting, Dr Lee Bhikkuni and two other Bhikkunis in their Thai orange robes had come in and taken seats, here from their centre in Rayong to support the event. And behind them sat some 25 to 30 participants, all enjoying that first deep restful sit.

Then Chong Go Sunim spoke about just what we do when we practice. I didn’t take notes, rather I listened intently. The hall was silent and Chong Go was unhurried, he didn’t use a microphone and that helped establish a calm and concentrated atmosphere. I became at ease. I smiled, glad of this chance to hear the Dharma.

“My own teacher” Chong Go Sunim said, talking about Seon Master Daehaeng Sunim, “describes it as having something like a furnace within yourself. But don’t just let go of problems, you can go even further. Let go of your whole self. Let go completely of even what you think you are. And then you can move beyond any limitations.”

There was a short time for questions and then we stopped for lunch – and more questions. Chong Go Sunim talked to everyone, was available to everyone, and spent time listening to everyone. And we all asked questions. About practice, about Karma, about the name and nature of this inner essence, about all aspects of the teachings.

One of the best features of the day was, for me, this encouragement for everyone to talk and to share their experiences. Rather than just a series of lectures, this was a true group workshop. After lunch Chong Go split everyone into groups to discuss how, in our daily lives, we strengthen the light within us and develop our spiritual muscles.

In my group George talked about climbing the steps of the BTS and reciting “here” and “now” with each footstep. Someone else talked about the walking meditation she does around her bed morning and night. Lynn talked about her relationships with friends and family and how, ultimately, no one can carry out spiritual practice for you.

After the feedback session we practiced some walking meditation in the Korean style, which is very different from the slow individual style usually taught here in Thailand. Walking around the Dharma hall in a large circle, each time I passed the window, the red flowers on the trees outside became more and more intensely beautiful. An experience I shared later in the afternoon.

After some tea we split into a singing group (Joe, the Seonwon’s music teacher, kindly came by for this) and a Sutra copying group led by Chong Go Sunim. I joined the writing group with the others afraid of singing, Don, Ralph, Nat, Paul. We copied, in English, from the Great Compassion Dharani. A wonderful way to allow the teachings to sink deep.

Hyedan Sunim then led us in some bowing, and explained the spiritual as well as physical aspects of the practice, and a small choir from the Seonwon sang a Dharma song which Chong Go Sunim introduced by giving us the translation and meaning. The day ended with a small closing ceremony of bows, refuges, vows, and the the Great Compassion Dharani.

It was, for me, the most nourishing English-language Dharma event I’ve ever attended. The atmosphere throughout was quiet but light, there was a closeness between everyone that was almost intimate. Chong Go Sunim led us, but we all seemed to move as one body anyway. And I came away both nourished and refreshed. It was beautiful.

Thank you.


(And thank you to Nat for the image!)

3 thoughts on “notes from the workshop”

  1. Thanks for the description, Marcus.

    I had a touch of even imagining the red flowers through the window! ^_^

    Still a few weeks away from blossoms here!

  2. The retreat was the “first” in many senses to me: My first temple retreat and my first walking meditation experience. At the same time it was the first opportunity for me to be one of the organizers of the event that is held at Hanmaum Seonwon!

    So far I have always been a rather lazy and passive participant who had turned up at the last minute just to attend and disappear. This time as one of the organizers I had devoted myself in planning, preparing and also facilitating the whole event from morning till the end. It was quite an experience, as it required quite a physical and mental efforts. All in all it was a pleasant and meaningful experience thanks to Chong go sunim, Marcus, and Paul being together as a team.

    A valuable lesson I learned is that I started to see how much efforts and devotions are being made behind and secretly every time some event is opened for us and for everybody. It is so easy to forget about the silent devotions and unconditional efforts that are being paid by others but without them it is not possible for any event to happen.

    This made me reflect my life so far- once I was pretty much like an activist- being a leader of student union in university, I had been quite active planning, organizing and mobilizing events and group activities. Life after graduation gradually made me more skeptical person about collective actions for common purpose and I became a cynic for almost everything. My career was also a half-hearted project that was inevitable to sustain my life. What has happened to me at all?

    At the end of the event, I found myself completely soaked with sweat and a profound satisfaction. A dim memory of the smell I used to wear when I was on the street for some kind of demonstrations or some union activities years and years ago.. Devotions for the sake of devotions and meaning, without attached strings of self-interest of any kind…Since when I have forgotten about the value of this?

    Familiar to the dazzles of the gigantic shopping malls with buzzing air cons that chills me and giving me a peculiar satisfaction and dissatisfaction at the same time, pop corns, movies and unlimited channels of Pratinum cable package, I have been getting more and more dull and passive, incapable of starting and making a genuine effort for what I truly believe in, on my own. Transcending the state of consumer is so difficult in this world,,,becoming a creator, initiator, motivator, a somebody who is willing to take action simply to do something meaningful. Discerning what is important and what is not important in our life…

    Marcus & Chong go Sunim: I just wanted to share with you what I gained through the retreat event. Once again thank you very much.

    Best regards,

    The retreat was my first retreat with an extensive meditation session. And I also had a walking meditation for the first time.

    I remember having been soaked with sweat at the end of the day. Accustomed to full time air conditioning in the office and at small malls in Bangkok, I must have long forgotten what it means to be fully engaged in myself in my mind.

    Meditation was not too easy and after twenty something minutes’ I barely felt that I managed to find somewhat a calmer mind…All those thoughts, ideas and sensations were swirling inside me like a big whirlpool.

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