Deer Park, Day Twenty-Three
(written on Sunday February 2nd)
Today is the last day of TET and was the arrival day for the Temple hopping tour buses. Every year during TET many Vietnamese people hire tour buses to take them from Temple to Temple in order to gain merit, start the new year with good energy, and to help carry forward their spiritual aspirations. The people don’t stay very long. When a bus pulls up to the big meditation hall firecrackers are set up, a dragon dance is performed, there is a chance to go inside the hall to bow in front of the alter, and then the guests are offered tea and a tangerine. I overheard from one of the brothers that we were expecting 9 tour buses today. Next Sunday the same thing will happen and a lay friend even told me that for weeks pilgrims will continue to come to Temple hop.
We had breakfast at 8:00 and then at 10:00 we met for walking meditation up at the brothers’ small meditation hall. Even though we didn’t have a formal day of mindfulness there were other friends who joined us for the early afternoon. There were around 30 or so visitors who joined in for the walking, which was set up for those of us who spoke English, while the bus loads of people were being greeted and taken care of at the big hall. Brother Phap Ho led us in some walking meditation up to Yen Tu Mountain, where the big white statue of the Buddha sits, and then down to the Stupa. He shared with us that the stupa is offered in dedication to the first Abbot of Deer Park (Thay Giac Thanh).
After we returned from walking we had another Oracle Reading in the brothers’ small hall. It was nice to have the whole reading done in English, since it only involved us English-speaking friends. The other two have had English translations but it can still be a little challenging to follow along when it’s going back and forth alternating between languages. I also really enjoyed the fact that upon entering the brothers’ meditation hall that it had been heated up! It was nice and warm, a luxury we don’t see here in the sisters’ hamlet. Nothing is heated here in our hamlet except our own rooms. It has remained mostly chilly during the day for the past few days so a warm meditation hall was a welcomed surprise. I have been enjoying, however, the practice that Thay has been speaking of lately which is about not getting caught in small comforts. Although at times I’ve been quite cold I have been able to use my practice to not cause myself to suffer due to the small discomfort of coldness. And with mindful breathing and sitting I completely forget about being cold altogether! Mindfulness is miraculous!
I’ve also noticed during my stay here how with the practice of mindful walking I’ve been able to rest in each step more deeply than I have in the past. So although we are oftentimes walking up steep hills or over uneven terrain I don’t find myself worn out or sore. When we practice walking meditation I feel each step rolling gently on the earth, imprinting ease and solidity. Did I mention? Mindfulness is miraculous!
We had a picnic lunch in the brothers’ dining hall at 12:30 and then I headed back to my cabin to lie down. The rest of the day was for greeting guests and did not involve the lay friends, although I’m sure we would’ve been welcome. Tomorrow is a lazy day and I’m hoping that on Tuesday we will resume our more regular practice schedule of morning sitting, chanting, silent meals, and so on. It has been over a week now of very few practice oriented programs, many visitors coming and going, little silence, and a lot of activity. I’ve been appreciating still having the cabin to myself so that in the morning and in the evening I am able to sit in meditation on my own. We are also welcome to sit in our small meditation hall but with the windows always being left open it is very cold in there.
I am opting to skip dinner again tonight, which is being served in the brothers’ dining hall. I simply am not feeling hungry. Sister Harmony asked if she could come and visit with the lay friends tonight, since she did not have time to do so yesterday due to welcoming guests in her own room. So we will be meeting in the Baby Elephant cabin at 7:00pm, which is the same cabin we decorated and opened up yesterday for guests. Right now it houses my friend Llora, her roommate having left today. After breakfast a few of us helped to clean up the food and dishes and put away the mats and cushions from yesterday’s festivities in the cabin. So while there won’t be anything left in the cabin by way of food or tea for Sister Harmony’s visit tonight we will have each other and that is more than enough :)
Thay says that sangha (community) building is the most important work we can do and my stay here is really solidifying that teaching. I am absorbing it in a deeper way and understanding just how crucial it is for support, nourishment, and transformation.