The Pengerang Korean Zen Retreat is organized by Kwan Yin Chan Lin (KYCL - 观音禅林), which is a Korean Zen Centre based in Singapore. It is affiliated with the Kwan Um School of Zen, which is founded by Zen Master Seung Sahn (1927 - 2004) and is the 78th patriarch of the Chogye order of Korean Buddhism, tracing it's lineage to the Sixth Patriarch of Chinese Zen Buddhism, Zen Master Hui Neng. There are more than 100 Zen centres all over the world.
This post is dedicated to all the teachers, retreat participants, the friendly volunteers/staffs of KYCL and beloved AJ. It is through AJ that I got to join this retreat. Due to work commitments, we can only join in the first 4 days of the retreat.
On the 18th May (Tuesday), I dropped by KYCL in Lavender for the first time to sign up for the retreat. The Centre closes at 6pm on normal weekdays without evening activities, but thankfully, the staff remained around to allow me sign up for the retreat. I was briefed on the plan to rendezvous with Lionel at Changi Village Ferry Terminal at 2pm.
The Gathering and Getting There
On the 29th May (Saturday), we arrived at the Changi Village Ferry Terminal at exactly 2pm. There are actually two different departures from the terminal, on one side is to Pengerang, at the other side is to Pulau Ubin. We saw a big group hanging around and could recognized Lionel straight away. There is a leadership stature around him, so we were able to identify him. Here we are sitting at the bench waiting for 13 members of the departure party to arrive.
We left shortly after and boarded the bum boat towards Pengerang terminal. The ride cost $9 and takes around an hour long. Everyone is pretty excited about it. Below in the photo we have Izrin (left-most) and Frank (second from right). There are also many first-timers to the retreat and to the Korean zen culture. It's my first time too~
The bum boat departed and everyone's eyes were affixed on the clear blue sky and beautiful seas, with cool sea breezes brushing against us. It felt like a holiday getaway!
With no high-rise buildings blocking our distant view, we can see rain clouds forming in a distant, which is in stark contrast to the sunny skies around.
Along the way just south of Pulau Tekong, we noticed many large heavy machinery ships. One of the retreat veteran member, Mr Ng, shared with me that these are actually land reclamation machines. He said more than 10 years ago, these machines and barriers were not in placed, but with works going on these few years, the waters have become more choppy and detours have to be made by the bum boat.
The size of the land reclamation is astounding! There is actually a large sea barrier spanning kilometers long in this region. I called this the 'Great Sea Wall of Singapore'. After witnessing this technological engineering feat, I was really very impressed with Singapore foresight and determination to shape nature to our national interests.
We arrived at the quiet and beautiful Pengerang Ferry Terminal. It felt like a luxurious yacht dock and is a great place to just chill out for the day.
We walked into the Ferry Terminal. It looks very new and well designed.
Kwan Yin Chan Lin International Zen Centre at Pengerang
After passing through the customs, we hopped on a cab which takes us to the Kwan Yin Chan Lin International Zen Centre at Pengerang. The ride costs RM$25. A large sign greeted us when we arrived to the main gates.
The retreat center is designed with the beauty and aesthetic of zen.
There are the zen stone sculptures.
And beautiful flowers lining the paths around.
And also a fountain pond. It resembles a pure land hidden in the midst of the forest.
We entered the main building and here is the main hall. Standing in the middle is a representation of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva.
There are many benches around where visitors can sit and relax. It's all designed in natural zen style.
At the back of the building is a beautifully landscaped garden.
Let's take a peak into the sleeping quarters. We have the ladies quarters below.
And the male quarters below. (Notice there are no mattresses for guys). We used meditation mats which is similar to the mattresses. 3 mats = 1 mattress.
After settling down, we had a small tea break and began chatting. We shared on how we came to know the retreat and on the culture of zen tradition.
It's 4.30pm and Lionel assembled everyone. We were briefed on the protocols and schedule of the retreat.
Here is how a typical day timetable looks like. It will be something like the Groundhog Day movie for the next 7 days. Everyday will be the same, but we will try our best to make each day better than the next. There are many rest sessions, one in the morning after the Work Period, another after Lunch and third is after Dinner. Each sitting is only 40mins long so actually I have not felt any pain on my legs during this retreat (my threshold is 45mins). Many people considered the 108 prostrations to be the most intensive as they have to prostrate non-stop for 20mins. The Breathing Exercise in the afternoon consists of Yoga, Qigong and Taiji type exercises.
This will be a healthy mind-body retreat!
We settled back in our room. Directly in front of the male quarters is a balcony which overlooks Mother Nature.
Since it is next to the forest, we have many friends around too. Izrin informed me straight away when he saw a chipmunk running along below. I took my camera for one shot one snap.
After a while, I noticed all the guys are all standing at the balcony and I decided to join them too. They were observing the mass migration of monkeys from one part of the forest to another part via our retreat center perimeter. Here is one of the monkeys.
This is the Meditation Hall. Notice the long wooden stick in the picture below (in front of the Buddha), it is actually a zen stick. For each sitting, the leader will walk around with the zen stick. If you would like to have a therapeutic massage, you just have to put your palms together and he will come in from behind! Contrary to popular beliefs, it actually feels great. I had a go for it once a day. :P
Everyone meditating in the hall.
One of the most memorable and unforgettable experience of the retreat is having our meals. They follow the Korean Zen tradition and I heard from AJ that it was shown on free-to-air Singapore TV once on the Korean Zen dining protocols to follow. I am going to walk through them now.
Below are all our dining utensils placed in order at the start of the retreat.
For each meals, the guys will have to setup the tables in a certain arrangement and lay the plates and dishes (below).
Here is mine.
We will have to gently unwrapped the white cloth surrounding our bowls and placed the cloth onto our thigh. Please note that they advised us to be in the Japanese seiza sitting position during the entire meal session. But I think most don't do it anyway.
Thereafter we have to place our chopsticks in a parallel position. While the bowls are nicely laid from left to right in descending order of size. (shown below).
The cleaning up part is the best. There will be no washing of bowls for 7 days! We will try our best to finish all the food in our bowls/plate and at the end of the meal, they will pass a hot water flask around. We will have to use the hot water to wash our bowls and plate. Finally the cloth accompanying our set will be used to clean it up.
Every evening and before breakfast/dinner, we will all be gathered at the main hall for chanting sessions.
Since this is the Korean tradition, all the chantings are in Korean! I love the rhythm for the Heart Sutra and it sounds similar to Chinese, but it's in Korean~
Here we have the Zen Master Dae Kwang/Chong An Sunim leading us in the chanting. It's being chanted beautifully and there is a melodious rhythm to it.
Here is Zen Master Chong An Sunim sharing with us.
We left the retreat on the 1st June (the rest of the participants will be leaving 4 days after us on the 5th June). I bid farewell to all my retreat buddies. Though we were not allow to speak during the retreat, we really enjoy the communal feeling together. It is said that non-verbal communication makes up 93% of a person's communication. There were almost 30 over participants when we left on the last day.
We hitched the taxi back to the ferry terminal and was lucky that the bum boat is departing immediately after. The return ride cost RM$15. We got back to Singapore at 1.30pm.