Full moon viewing deck
Deer Park, Day Sixteen
(written on Sunday January 26th)
Today’s day of mindfulness was attended by around 50 or 60 people. I was expecting more with TET just around the corner. Due to the holiday there will not be a day of mindfulness this coming Thursday or Sunday. But we will be expecting lots of people coming to celebrate starting on New Year’s Eve on Thursday and going through until Sunday.
One of the sisters led our outdoor walking meditation this morning to start off the day of mindfulness at 9:00am. We tend to take a different path every day and today she led us up to the full moon viewing deck, which sits beneath the large stupa. There are a few ways to get there and she took us all meandering through the brush on a narrow trail. On our way back down from the deck we continued on another trail that led us into a camping area off the main road. With a mix of ages and abilities of the people attending the day of mindfulness I had some concern for certain folks on our wilderness hike. The way up to the deck was steep and rocky and the way down was slippery with loose dry dirt. At one point on the way down our single file line came to a halt for a few minutes and once we got moving it didn’t take me long to understand why. Around a corner I suddenly saw a large rope hanging down along our path. My friend Llora was behind me and when we caught sight of it we both began to laugh quietly. What were we in for, we both wondered? I pictured us having to Tarzan it down a cliff face and I imagined that the sister leading the way had scaled the steep terrain with grace and ease. It turned out that the rope served as a handhold to help traverse a few really steep steps. We all made it down safely but I noticed I felt that it was unfair not to have taken into account the older attendees and those with trouble walking, or at the least have announced the type of hike we were embarking on so people would know what they were getting into.
Earth cake preparation
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.
My friend Llora and another layfriend wrapping earth cakes
Freshly washed banana leaves
Deer Park, Day Fourteen
(written on Friday January 24th)
After morning sitting meditation the monastic that has been leading the stick exercise didn’t offer them so I took the lead. The exercises are usually attended by only a few of us lay friends. Today there were three of us. Our working meditation assignment after breakfast was to wash banana leaves in preparation to make earth cakes, a traditional food item especially made around TET (Vietnamese New Year). I have not yet learned of the significance or origin of the earth cakes but perhaps will find out more tomorrow, when much of the day will be spent wrapping and cooking the earth cakes. Seven or eight of us spent over two hours today alone just unpacking, cutting, and washing the banana leaves, which are used as the exterior wrapping. And there were many other leaves and cakes that have already been prepared.
I was part of a group of three at one of the washing stations for the leaves that was set up outside of the brothers dining hall. There were different sizes (from different parts of the banana leaves) and each one got washed in three separate bins of warm water and then arranged around a large strainer. The fresh gentle fragrance of the banana leaves enhanced by soaking them in water was simply lovely.
Chinese Dragon Heads (preparations for TET)
Deer Park, Day Thirteen
(written on Thursday January 23rd)
We had our weekly Thursday community day of mindfulness today. Around 20 or 30 friends attended I would guess. During meditation this morning there was a cricket that began chirping 20 or 30 minutes into our sitting. He was inside of the large hall. When I heard his call I smiled, it was a bell of mindfulness bringing me back to my in breath and out breath. Then I felt badly for the poor trapped cricket. I felt that he might be confused, scared, and lonely. I hoped that he would be able to find his way back outside and be able to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. I hoped that, once outside, his lovely chirping sound would unite him with his friends.
At 9:00am the day of mindfulness starts, both on Thursday and Sunday. On Thursdays we start by listening to a dharma talk. Today we watched a video of Thay giving a talk from January 9th, 2014. Here are some notes I wrote down:
What is the dharma body? There is the physical body and the dharma body. The physical body can be destroyed, the dharma body cannot. The teaching body = the dharma body. There is the living dharma and the dharma that has been recorded or spoken. When we walk with peace and joy that is the living dharma. We practice so our dharma body shines brightly. Everything around is giving a dharma talk – on impermanence, non-self, and interbeing. The dharma body is the beauty of the whole universe.
Pepper tree by the main dining hall
Deer Park, Day Twelve
(written on Wednesday January 22nd)
Today was Monastic Day (every Wednesday), which meant that it was also layperson day too, as I like to call it. At 5:45am we met our lay friends for sitting meditation in the brothers small hall. All of us lay friends then ate breakfast together in the main dining hall. We went back to our own hamlets for working meditation where Llora and I were assigned the task of filling in the holes for the septic lids we had dug last week. We used recently chipped mulch to fill in the holes from some of the downed oak trees to allow for the lids to be uncovered much more easily next time when the tank needs emptying. Some of the trees in the oak grove have been infested with an insect called the oak bore. Apparently if left untreated they will damage the other healthy trees so professionals have been coming in to help remove some of the affected wood.
Oak wood affected by the oak bore
After working we met with our lay friends from Solidity Hamlet for outdoor walking meditation followed by lunch together in the main dining hall. At 3:00 there was a video dharma talk by Thay in the Clarity Hamlet tearoom for the laywomen. Then at 4:30 we had sitting meditation and at 5:30 we had dinner.
Deer Park, Day Eleven
(written on Tuesday January 21st)
When I entered the meditation hall this morning there were new decorations in preparation for TET (Vietnamese New Year) adorning the hall that must’ve been arranged yesterday. What I have learned through second hand knowledge about TET is that during the days of celebration no work is to be done, which is why preparations must start early. This year TET falls on January 31st, the 30th being New Year’s Eve, and ends I think on February 3rd. It is a time for collecting good energy to bring into the new year.
New decorations in the big hall
Clarity Hamlet Meditation Hall Alter
Deer Park, Day Ten
(written on Monday January 20th)
Ah, lazy day :) The sun is shining and the birds are singing cheerfully. I woke up naturally at 4:30am, which has been pretty common for me the last few days. After getting dressed and moving quietly around the room, so as not to wake up my roommate, I headed to our small meditation hall here in Clarity Hamlet. The light by the alter was on but no one was in there. I grabbed a cushion and pad and put it down by the front of the room. I practice sitting meditation for 30 minutes and then in backwards progression I sang the morning chant. It was quite lovely to sing in the dharma hall and to sit by myself in the dark of the early morning.
After sitting I went to the dining hall to read and to write. It is a good place to go in order to have space to journal or to sit with a book, especially when your roommate is sleeping. I enjoyed a cup of tea as I sat and read from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh and took some notes. Around 7:00am I went out to the dirt parking lot in order to do some stick exercise. I found a lightweight good-sized PVC pipe by the dining hall to use as my stick. The length of the stick that seems to work best should be about the same size as your height. It was cold this morning and in between sets of exercises I rubbed my hands together briskly to warm them up.
Deer Park sign at the front gate