(NOTES: Here is some lingo info that may be helpful in reading these posts. Deer Park Monastery is in the tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, who is often referred to as Thay. The monks who reside at Deer Park are called Brothers and the nuns are called Sisters. The sisters reside in Clarity Hamlet and the brothers reside in Solidity Hamlet, about a 5-10 minute walk apart. The word hamlet comes from the french and means small village. While they are not really villages they are self-containing communities. The visitors who come to stay at the monastery, like myself and Mike, are often called lay friends.)
Thursday January 15th, 2015
Every Sunday and Thursday are open days of mindfulness here at Deer Park so today was another day of mindfulness. Not nearly as many people attend as on a Sunday since it is a weekday but still there were around maybe 25 people or so that came. After morning sitting practice and stick exercise the brothers and lay friends from Solidity Hamlet joined us in our hamlet for breakfast. At 9:00am the day of mindfulness started and we met in the big hall to watch a video of Thay giving a dharma talk from the 21-day retreat in Plum Village last June. Before I include some notes I took from that talk let me include some notes I took at the Venerable’s class last night:
There is no such thing as the coming together of elements without the disintegration of those elements. There cannot be birth without death. Sometimes we think nirvana is outside of self but it is really within us, in our own mind. Nirvana is a state of mind. There comes a time where we need to return our physical body back to the earth.
Our sadness, worries, anxieties are a role we play in life, they are not our true nature. Our true nature is an observer. Sometimes we have wholesome thoughts and sometimes we scheme and we think that those thoughts are us but they are not our true self. Nirvana is the way we sit, walk, stand. It is very simple. All we need to do is practice mere recognition.
We can realize impermanence in our own body – if we cannot we will not realize our practice fully. Looking deeply into impermanence can alleviate a great deal of suffering and put an end to our afflictions. Everything comes and goes.
If we cannot sacrifice a bit of our health, a bit of our time for the benefit of others we cannot speak about living in mindfulness. What more conditions do we need to practice? None. We have all of the conditions. We don’t need anything else.
The Venerable’s class was very enjoyable last night. Mid-way through I was getting tired and by the time it ended around 9:00pm I was quite ready for bed but it was still a very good class. The Venerable has sharp, kind eyes, the sign of a skilled teacher I think. I’ve only been to one other of his classes but in both cases he packed in a lot of information.
The talk we watched today of Thay was given on June 19th, 2014. This talk in particular was quite full. It was also two hours long. In the last 30-45 minutes of the talk I noticed people starting to exit the dharma hall. Their cup of learning was full I think. Mine was full too. For the last part of the talk I stopped taking notes and simply listened and enjoyed seeing Thay. I smiled at my cup being full and let go of needing to follow exactly what he was teaching. It was a good practice. And I was also very glad when seeing the brother come forward that ran the computer and projector, because I knew by his presence the talk would soon be over :)
Here are some notes I took during the talk:
Not many of us understand what right diligence is. It is not fighting or pushing, it’s about choosing the wholesome seeds and planting and watering them, that is the practice of right diligence. We repeat watering the wholesome seeds so it becomes a habit.
We are not only our body and senses, we are also our environment. We have to water the wholesome seeds in us everyday, everyday, everyday. We have the habit of suffering. We react like a machine, on autopilot, and we continue to suffer. Happiness is the same. The first few times we practice to water the seeds of happiness we may hesitate a little bit but a new pathway will be created if we practice. To practice means to bring what we want to cultivate into being – to manifest it in our lives. We learn and rehearse watering the wholesome seeds.
The buddha said that there is one thing that if left uncultivated will bring a lot of suffering: the mind. We need to know what to cultivate and what not to cultivate (for our health and well being). Environment helps a lot. That’s why transformation and healing are possible on retreat. Because we’re all practicing together, it is easier with community and support. We have to choose an environment that supports our practice.
We should eat, walk, sit, and breathe in such a way that cultivates wholesome seeds. It is not about doing a lot of sitting or a lot of walking to see results. Mindfulness is not an instrument, it is a path and every step should provide happiness. Happiness is not a destination, you don’t need to arrive anywhere to be happy, happiness is in every step. There is no way to nirvana, nirvana is the way, please remember. With mindfulness and concentration we can touch nirvana in every step. There is no way to healing, healing is the way. Every step, every breath should be the healing.
After the talk we had outdoor walking meditation together followed by dharma sharing and lunch. I tend to join in for lunch during the days of mindfulness and then head right to my hut for a nap, as I am quite tired by then. It is often difficult for me to stick around after lunch during days of mindfulness anyway because noble silence ends after 20 minutes or so of eating and I find the talking that immediately ensues challenging to be around. I found myself craving more silence in general today. I joined in on a hike that one of the sisters organized and invited us lay friends to at 4:00pm. She wound up being the only sister among 6 of us lay friends. We also had a male lay friend join us after we had set off who just happened upon us. We hiked up to the water tower nearby and then looped around the mountain to see the sunset and then came down the fire road. The sunset was lovely. It was an open, clear sky and the sun went gracefully down over the mountain just after 5:00pm. Our walk was quite full of talking. Talking also sifted in as I was finishing my dinner meal in the dining hall. And talking continues now in my hut with my roommates conversing. It’s not that it is a bad thing to have the talking but I am feeling the call of more silence and quiet and finding it difficult to embrace it fully because there is so much talking. Our nobel silence, the time in which we make every effort to not talk, only extends from around 9:00pm until after we wash our dishes after breakfast, around 7:30am or so. On days like today I wish it were longer.
It is just after 7:00pm and I am off to bed. I will read for a while and then drift to sleep, where the silence will meet me in my lovely slumber.