Deer Park, Day Fifteen
(written on Saturday January 25th)
I just returned from the brothers’ hamlet where large pots full of earth cakes cushioned atop bamboo leaves continue to cook over an open fire. I would call today earth cake day here in Deer Park :) For working meditation we had a few other tasks to attend to but mostly it was all hands on deck in the main dining hall to put together the earth cakes. There was no outdoor walking meditation and what was scheduled in the afternoon in Solidity Hamlet was optional and very few people attended. Many Vietnamese families came to help today so the monastery has been abuzz with energy. Children were running and playing all day, and in fact are still full of steam around the fire as I type. Throughout the day banana leaves were being dried and cut, rice and beans were blended and wrapped in the leaves, and the bundles were all tied neatly to keep them together. It was a sea of activity in the main dining hall with leaf scraps and plastic ribbon covering the floor.
It was a very enjoyable community day of working together, hearing the laughter of children, seeing the monastics visiting with friends, and taking part in the Vietnamese tradition of making earth cakes. Around mid-afternoon the large metal pots were filled with bamboo, earth cakes, and water and the fires were started. A man who came to help told me that they cook for 8-10 hours. Chairs were placed outside and some lights were set up so that we could all sit and visit and watch the fire. We had a picnic style dinner (which means we can go outside to eat and the meal is not in silence) and I took my bowl of rice noodles, vegetables, and soup to sit by the fire and the steaming pots.
After dinner one of the sisters gathered the children around to tell them the traditional story of the earth cakes. I was very interested to hear her so I sat down behind the young ones. The basic gist was: The first king of Vietnam was getting ready to retire. He had many sons to choose from to be the next king so he designed the task of having them each create a special offering to the ancestors. Whoever put together the best offering would become the next king. Most of his sons lived in the palace but one son lived in the country and was very poor. This son was very unsure of what to prepare given that he had so few resources. After a dream in which his departed mother spoke to him he decided to use basic ingredients that grew well in Vietnam and were very inexpensive. He chose rice, mung beans, and banana leaves because they came from the earth and represented Vietnam. When the son presented the earth cake to his father, the king, he told him how the earth cake came from the land and how we too come from the land. The king chose his offering and the son became the second king of Vietnam and from that point on the people of Vietnam made earth cakes to celebrate the lunar new year.
The night sky is full of stars tonight and the air is gently warm. A lot of the families that came to help are staying over night. One man brought his telescope. He pointed it towards Jupiter and we could see its moons and even closer up the clouds around the planet. We took turns looking through to the bigger universe and saw the bright beauty of Jupiter shining like a jewel in the sky. And while I was waiting to look through the scope with some friends we saw a shooting star streaking overhead, its trail un-commonly long and elegant.
I wrote this while sitting around the fire:
Nothing as it is right now will be this way tomorrow,
I will be a little bit different too –
The sun’s light, the waves on the ocean, the heartbeat of the city
Will all sing new melodies come dawn’s calling
Please don’t get caught, dear one,
In the sweetness of this moment
Then let it go
Like our precious in breath and out breath
Children are playing
Sisters and brothers are tending to the fire
Friends are sipping tea
And I am absorbing, smiling, full of joy