Ch'an Newsletter - No. 1 November 1979

A Brief History of the Ch'an Center

The Ch'an Center, which is a part of The Institute of Chung-Hwa Buddhist Culture, is a meditation group that was begun in May 1976 at the Temple of Enlightenment in Bronx, New York when the Buddhist Association of the United States invited Ch'an Master Sheng-Yen to come to the United States to spread the Buddha Dharma. The first class consisted of four students, meeting weekly for fourteen weeks. This and two subsequent classes were called the special classes wherein the Master taught a sequence of meditation methods, starting from the elementary methods up to the more advanced Ch'an methods.

Among the earliest students was Paul Kennedy, who, two years later, took the vows to leave home and became a monk in 1978, taking the Dharma name of Kuo-Jen. After the first three special classes, the Master changed the format and gave a beginning class -- lasting four to five weeks -- for new students, followed by an intermediate class of about ten weeks. After finishing the intermediate class, if the student wished, he could then go to the Temple every weekend and during this period the Master emphasized the psychological guidance of the student. This new format allowed many more students to come and learn from the Master for a length of time that the student would find appropriate. In over two years more than two hundred students had learned from the Master.

In May 1977 Master Sheng-Yen held the first seven-day intensive Ch'an retreat. It was held at Bodhi House, on Long Island, a place that had been generously lent to the group by Mr. C. T. Shen. Another seven-day retreat was held in June 1978, followed by two more in April and May of 1979. The retreats were invaluable in strengthening the students further in their practice and the Master planned to hold more of these retreats as often as possible.

Shortly after the first retreat, the group published the first issue of Ch'an Magazine. It was hoped to be a publication that would communicate to the people who hadn't had the opportunity of meeting the Master the benefit that one could reap from the practice of meditation. Up to 1979 a total of seven issues of Ch'an Magazine had been published.

In addition to teaching the methods of Ch'an meditation, the Master lectured to his students every week. The lectures were not merely for theoretical interest but rather to help the students realize directly the relevance of the teachings to their own practice. Also, for two summers he gave a sequence of lectures on the Platform Sutra at the Temple of Enlightenment and has given lectures in various places in both the United States and Canada. As a follow-up to those given at Columbia University, several classes in meditation have been held there by the Master, mainly for Columbia students. Similar activities will be planned for other universities.

An important aid to Master Sheng-Yen has been the presence of one of his students, Ming-Yee Wang, who has been serving as translator almost from the beginning of the Master's work here in the United States.

In 1978 it was decided that the time was right for the group to have a place of its own dedicated completely to the practice of Ch'an meditation. So discussions were held and plans made for a new center. During this time, however, Master Sheng-Yen also had to return for a period to Taiwan to carry on the work of the Dharma there. So it was not unitl the spring of 1979 that the group seriously looked for a new place. They moved from the Temple of Enlightenment in March 1979, held their weekly meetings at Ernest Heau's (one of the students) residence for two months and then moved to an apartment in Queens in May of 1979.

The Ch'an Center is now looking to purchase its own place and hopes to accomplish this endeavor before the Master's return again to Taiwan sometime in February of 1980.

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