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Retreats

Our Style of Retreats

Retreat Types

Beginner Retreats

Beginner's Mind Retreat

Young People's Retreat

Western Zen Retreat

Novice Retreats

A Day of Stillness

Foundation Retreat

Intermediate Retreats

Gateway to Chan Retreat

Intensive Retreats

Silent Illumination Chan Retreat

Huatou Chan Retreat

Applying for Retreats

Retreat Etiquette


Our Style of Retreats

Dharma Drum Retreat Center (DDRC) offers meditation retreats in the style of the Dharma Drum Lineage of Chan Buddhism. While maintaining the spirit of traditional retreats held in Chan monasteries of ancient China, these retreats also incorporate a variety of activities suited to contemporary Westerners' needs.

We also offer retreats by the Western Chan Fellowship (WCF), founded by the late Dr. John Crook, an English Dharma heir of Master Sheng Yen. They are currently led by Dr. Simon Child and the WCF faculty. http://www.westernchanfellowship.org/

"I took a different approach to teaching Chan in the West, adapting it to the lives of my followers, laypeople who could only stay in retreat for a few days. [...] My approach is different from the approach used in China's Chan Halls. In Chinese Chan, there is no exercise other than periods of fast walking to break up longer periods of still, silent sitting meditation. I have combined in my teaching this Chinese technique of fast walking with the Theravada practice of slow walking. I also use yoga from India and Taiji and massage from China in my teaching. Westerners seem to like and respond well to this variety and the mix of stillness and motion."
-- from
Footprints in the Snow by Chan Master Sheng Yen

Retreat Types

We provide a variety of retreats to suit the various needs of participants:

Participants should apply to those retreats which suit their current level of experience. However, note that experienced practitioners are welcome to attend any level of retreat, as each retreat is a new beginning and an opportunity to learn. Retreat applications are reviewed by DDRC staff and teachers to ensure applicants are suitable for the designated retreat.

Beginner Retreats

Beginner's Mind Retreat

Young People's Retreat

Western Zen Retreat

Beginner retreats are designed for people who have:

  • little or no experience of sitting meditation
  • little or no experience of working with a qualified teacher or sitting in a group

These retreats are also suitable for practitioners of all levels.

Beginner's Mind Retreat

(Length: weekend)

A "Beginner's mind" is a mind open to experiencing life in the present moment, free from preconceived notions and expectations -- a mind open to genuine understanding and self-realization. If you are new to meditation practice, or have never participated in a retreat, this is an ideal way to begin your spiritual journey.

In addition to sessions of seated meditation, this retreat features the following workshops: The Art of Sitting, The Art of Walking, The Art of Questioning, The Art of Self-Massage, The Art of Perception, and The Art of Listening. These optional workshops and a flexible daily schedule allow you to determine the intensity of your own retreat experience.

Young People's Retreat

(Length: weekend)

Take a meditation vacation, and make an appointment with yourself. Engage in a simple routine of Chan meditation, free from the distractions and information-overload of daily life. Cultivate a clearer understanding of yourself through silent self-reflection. Learn to apply Chan meditation methods to all activities, whether sitting, walking, or working, whereby every moment becomes a chance to cultivate joy and freedom within yourself. Find strength and motivation from practicing in a group of like-minded fellow young people.

The retreat program consists of meditation instruction and practice for young people (ages 18-35). The teacher will give talks related to practice on retreat and in daily life, using Buddhist concepts to address issues that young people are facing. The program is flexible and varied, including indoor and outdoor activities suitable for beginners as well as experienced practitioners.

To learn more about the Young People's Retreat, please see participant retreat reports

Western Zen Retreat

(Length: 5 days)

Developed by the Western Chan Fellowship (Europe) for individuals who have received a Western education, this retreat is suitable for both beginners and established practitioners. Over the course of five days you will investigate the huatou "Who am I?" within a standard retreat framework, using silent meditation in conjunction with a method of verbal --but non-conversational-- inquiry. This is a way of making use of words to go beyond words and thereby enter the main gate of Chan.

The intensive nature of this process of inquiry drives each practitioner into a self-presentation that is diffcult to experience in other ways. To guide and support you, personal interviews with the teachers are offered regularly throughout the retreat--sometimes more than once per day. A profound journey through the unity of self, this retreat may lead to the acceptance of self, the experience of "self at ease," and even provide an opportunity for direct insight into the ground of being.

Because numerous private interviews are included in the design of this retreat and the teachers want to ensure that each participant receives adequate attention, admission is limited to twenty people, so please apply early.

To learn more about the Western Zen Retreat, please download the audio files of Simon Child's talks and participant retreat reports

Novice Retreats

A Day of Stillness

Foundation Retreat

Novice retreats are designed for those who:

  • have received basic instruction in sitting meditation
  • are interested in establishing a routine personal practice

Whether you are new to the practice, or have years of experience, our novice retreats provide you an opportunity to renew your sense of stability and enhance your clarity of mind.

A Day of Stillness

(Length: one day, 9-5pm)

Give your self one day for meditation-- a day to still the mind. Learn how to apply methods of meditation and mindfulness while sitting, walking, exercising, working, eating, and during all other activities. The simple and relaxed schedule allows you to settle your mind while at the same time allowing you to maintain a constant silent awareness of your every activity. Most people find that by attending these retreats regularly, they renew the strength of their daily practice. Retreats are held once almost every month.

This retreat also includes brief Dharma talks, guided meditations, and review of basic meditation methods such as breath awareness and total mind-body relaxation.

Our Children's Program is scheduled to coincide with our 1-Day retreats. If you have children, you can bring them for the day while you attend the retreat.

Foundation Retreat

Dedicate your weekend to practice. On this retreat, you have the chance to engage in a relaxing schedule of mindful activity from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon.

Harmonize your body and mind, by engaging in healthy living and Chan meditation--balancing all of the five aspects of diet, sleep, body, breath, and mind. Either in stillness or in motion, cultivate a clear and stable mind amidst all that you do. This is the very essence of Chan practice. Settling into the weekend routine, you will experience greater relaxation of body and calmness of mind. Hear Dharma talks about meditation methods as well as basic principles of Buddhadharma and the unique approach of the Chan school. In this way, you'll be able to establish a solid foundation of understanding both methods and concepts of practice.

The Foundation Retreat is the next step in deepening your daily practice, and also provides you with the preparation you need to take part in the Gateway to Chan Retreat.

Intermediate Level Retreats

Gateway to Chan Retreat

Intermediate Level Retreats are designed for people who:

  • have received basic instruction in sitting meditation
  • have established a routine personal practice
  • preferably have attended a three-day or longer retreat

Gateway to Chan Retreat

(Length: 5-7 days)

Take a week to familiarize yourself with a Chan method. The Gateway to Retreat is your introduction to the main methods taught in the Dharma Drum Lineage. Although similar in format to our intensive retreats, this retreat has a more easy-going pace and flexible schedule. In addition, more explanation and instruction is given, so that you will be able to fully understand and comfortably follow the various practices unique to our Chan retreats.

Learn fundamental methods of relaxation and concentration, and fully settle your body and mind. Then, become introduced to more advanced methods of Chan practice, such as Silent Illumination and Huatou. Discover which one you have the greatest affinity with. Afterwards, it can become your core practice in daily life. Guidance in using these methods will be provided during interviews with the instructor.

Upon completion of the Gateway to Chan Retreat, you will be prepared to advance to our intensive Chan retreats.

Intensive Retreats

Silent Illumination Chan Retreat

Huatou Chan Retreat

Intensive retreats are intended for practitioners who:

  • have established a routine personal practice
  • have prior retreat experience (3-day or longer meditation retreat)

"Intensive" retreats are the entry point for serious Chan practice and study. They follow the traditional Chan monastery retreat schedule, which makes the most efficient use of time. They are designed to allow you to wholeheartedly devote your energies to using the method. For those whose conditions are ripe, intensive retreat is the opportunity to develop genuine insight, or see one's self-nature. However, practice is most important. Intensive retreats are usually 7-10 days long, with numerous sitting periods each day. Daily interviews with the teacher are available for you to receive direct guidance, and Dharma talks are given daily to elucidate on the details of investigating one's mind.

Deepen your experience and understanding of yourself and your method through sustained practice. Return home fully prepared to carry on daily practice with confidence and consistence.

Silent Illumination Chan Retreat

(Length: 7-10 days)

"Silently and serenely, one forgets all words,
Clearly and vividly everything appears before you."

The above comes from the poem "Silent Illumination," composed by Master Hongzhi Zhengjue, a 12th century lineage holder of the Caodong (Jap. Soto) school of Chan Buddhism. They describe the mind of someone who has left behind all attachment to thought and conceptualization. Doing this, they clearly know the nature of things through the direct experience of enlightenment. Master Hongzhi wrote many beautiful poems describing his deep insight. While today we can read these poems for inspiration and encouragement in our practice, they also function as guidelines for a method known as Silent Illumination. With this method, the aim is to develop and maintain relaxation, clarity and openness of mind. Ultimately, the goal is to see into the nature of the mind. One who has achieved this insight establishes a solid understanding and confidence of how to cultivate freedom and ease in dealing with all situations. Naturally, they know how to resolve their remaining vexations, and use wisdom and compassion in their daily lives.

Lost to the Chan tradition for generations, this method was neither being taught in monasteries nor was it being openly taught to lay practitioners elsewhere. Only recently was it revived by Chan Master Sheng Yen (Shifu), who has systematized its use by drawing on the writings of Chan Master Hongzhi and the teachings of the Caodong school (traceable back to the Sixth Patriarch, Bodhidharma, and ultimately to the Buddha himself). Although Silent Illumination is similar to the Zen practice of "just sitting" (Jap. Shikantaza), there are subtle differences between the two. During this retreat you will learn how to practice Silent Illumination, starting with foundational methods to stabilize the mind, and gradually entering into what is known as the "method of no method".

(click here for more information about Silent Illumination practice)

Huatou Chan Retreat

(Length: 7-10 days)

"Don't worry about whether or not you become enlightened--simply pick up the huatou."

"Huatou" in Chinese, literally means "the origin of words," or that which precedes words and language. This refers to the state of the mind before the arising of conceptualization or, more precisely, before the arising of a single thought. Thus, huatou is the source of all words and of all thoughts, the fundamental nature of the mind. But, it is also a method that we use to point directly at this mind while putting aside all other concerns. When we investigate huatou, we utilize questions such as: "What is my original face?" and "What is Wu?" These puzzling, seemingly illogical questions produce a deep sense of self-questioning which is called "the doubt sensation." If you can succeed in penetrating this doubt, you will discover that which you have always had. As a result you'll find real peace and ease within yourself and together with others, generating wisdom and compassion.

Widely in use since the 12th century, Huatou is a method unique to the Chan school, popularized by Chan Master Dahui Zonggao of the Linji Sect and advocated in the last century by the great Chan Masters Xuyun (Empty Cloud) and Laiguo. In more recent times, Chan Master Sheng Yen made a unique contribution to Chan by systematizing the application of this method, making it clearly comprehensible even to the beginning practitioner. During this retreat you will receive guidance from the teacher that will enable you to practice in a manner most suitable to your current condition. Instruction in this method may be gentle or vigorous--depending on the style of the teacher and the causes and conditions of the student. Thus you are encouraged to attend this retreat with no expectations and "simply pick up the huatou."

(Click here for more information about Huatou practice)

Applying for Retreats

For your convenience and to better enable us to prepare the most comfortable retreat environment for all participants, please use our online registration process.

Retreat Etiquette

Observing these practices creates and illuminates inner and outer peace and harmony:

  • Silence is golden during a retreat. So as not to distract ourselves and others from the practice, we refrain from talking, reading, writing, or using various electronic devices. If we need to communicate with someone during working meditation, we may use gestures or write a note. Otherwise, communication such as friendly gestures, silent greetings, and even eye contact are distractions, and thus prohibited.
  • During retreat, we isolate ourselves and focus solely on our method of practice. Therefore, we refrain from communicating with the outside world, and do not receive guests, make phone calls, or check email during retreat. All mobile phones should be turned off.
  • Community spirit is important. We support one another by being together at all times during formal practice. If we need to excuse ourselves, we notify the person in charge. Participants must all stay on the Retreat Center premises for the duration of the retreat.
  • Our working meditation is a form of meditation that is important in our practice. By engaging in working meditation, we keep our retreat environment clean for the sake of all participants' convenience. Also, we train ourselves to be able to use our meditation method in the midst of daily activity. Everyone is given simple tasks to be responsible for Please wholeheartedly carry out your tasks in mindfulness.
  • So as to maintain a peaceful and quiet atmosphere, please do not shower before the morning wake-up call or after the evening lights-out signal. Monitors will sound the boards to wake you in the morning; please do not use an alarm clock.
  • We all have a part to play in keeping the environment clean and orderly. In the Chan Hall, fold your towel each time you stand and keep your personal belongings tidy, to the left of your cushion. Keep your room, bed, and personal belongings tidy.
  • Please be on time for all activities, as when we are late we disturb others. Signals are given to remind everyone to return to the Chan hall; please heed them promptly.
  • Practice illumination during walking. Walk in a manner that is calm, mindful, light, unhurried, peaceful, and quiet.
  • Wear appropriate clothing, namely loose and comfortable clothes with neutral colors. In order not to distract ourselves and others, please do not wear bright-colored clothes, tank tops, shorts, tight-fitting pants or leggings, cosmetics, perfumes or colognes.

Be aware that for those who do not follow the above Retreat Etiquette to a minor degree will be given a warning. For those who seriously violate these guidelines will be asked to leave the retreat.


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