The Zen Retreat

I spent this weekend in Glarus, where I attended a 3-day zen meditation retreat at Lambda Zen Temple. I accidentally discovered this retreat two weeks ago, and given my interest in meditation and how little I know about Zen, I was intrigued to sign up.

So, what is Zen, you might ask? I have no idea. Contrary to my expectation, there were no instructions on what to do. We did sitting meditations, a "hiking meditation", and various "work meditation" sessions, where we did various chores around the temple. Alain, the Zen Monk, asked us to focus on the tasks we were given, but apart from that, no instructions.

I realized, as the retreat went on, that Zen isn't meant to be taught by instruction. But, instead, one has to contemplate on certain questions, and by doing so they will start building their understanding of what Zen is.

In my interview with Alain, I asked him to explain to me what I am supposed to do in the various meditation sessions. He then narrated to me the following:

In 8th century China a student asked his Master.

Student: When a student didn't raise a thought, would it still be a sin or not?
Master: Mount Everest.

He then asked: what did the Master mean?

Ignoring the awkardness of the grammer in that short dialogue, I pondered. I made some wild guesses in terms of what this could mean, but none were considered. My task, then, is to contemplate on this question, and get back to Alain when I have the answer.

Of course, in this day and age I can simply look this up, but that would obviously defeat the purpose. I'll keep chewing on this question and maybe one day an answer will hit me.

Ironically, this retreat was the most Swiss experience I have ever had. We were a group of four students along with Alain, his wife Monika, and his mother-in-law. Everyone apart from me was Swiss*. The temple, which is also their house, is a classic Swiss home, situated in a small 6,500 person village in a valley between heavenly mountains. We dined together, worked together, hiked together, started a fire in the mountains together, and had great conversations during our breaks.

I was happy to notice that my German has improved quite a bit. I am not fluent by any means, but I was able to hold my own having some more-than-basic conversations. Normally, when a group sees that I am foreigner, they immediately switch to English, but they were kind enough to try to speak to me in German on many occasions, and listening to them chat amongst themselves in Swiss German was, while not fully comprehensible, quite enlightening.

It was a very short retreat, and I can't exactly materialize everything I got out of the retreat just yet, but I am definitely coming back feeling some form of inspiration.

* Well, except one person who was from Liechtenstein, but close enough.

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