(Helpful Info & Terminology: This is part of a series of blog posts written during my recent retreat stay at Deer Park Monastery, located in southern California, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Due to not having had Internet access I will be posting two days worth of my writing each day from while I was there on retreat.
Laypeople: Also called lay friends or laymen and laywomen, are all of us who come here to practice but are not monks or nuns.
Monastics: The collective group of both monks and nuns.
Clarity Hamlet: Where the nuns, also called Sisters, reside. Laywomen stay here as well.
Solidity Hamlet: Where the monks, also called Brothers, reside. Laymen and couples/families stay here as well. (Clarity and Solidity are just a short 10-15 minute walk in distance from each other).
Thay: Refers to Thich Nhat Hanh, meaning teacher in Vietnamese)
Sunday January 31st, 2016
The rains have come. This morning I awoke to the sound of raindrops tapping at the window. After breakfast the stream of falling water grew heavier and brought with it the winds. I could sense that this was much different than Montana, where our motto is: If you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes. Somehow I could tell that it was just the beginning and there would be no reprieve coming soon.
It has been raining all day and the winds have been blowing swiftly and with some force. Within the last couple of hours we’ve lost power, which leaves me trying to make the most of each key stroke since I don’t know when it will be restored in order to charge my laptop battery.
Today was a public day of mindfulness and a good sized crowd came despite the inclement weather. Some hearty souls even did outdoor walking meditation, while the rest of us simply sat in the large hall listening to the howling winds and swaying trees. When the walking meditation was over many people came in with their hair and clothes soaked through – I felt badly that they weren’t greeted with a nice warm space to dry out. None of the buildings are heated here, which can often leave a lingering chill in the air, mostly in the morning and evenings. Our huts have space heaters, which I’m very glad for, but of course everyone has a different internal temperature setting, which tends to leave some people either too hot or too cold depending on who assumes control of the unit.
There was a very good Dharma talk by one of the Brothers after the soggy bunch of walkers returned. The monastics don’t often use their name or introduce themselves so I was glad to hear him tell a story where he referred to himself in the third person in which he called himself Phap Hom (the spelling is a guess). While their names are often difficult for me to remember when I do find them out I still like to try. Some of the monastics will tell you their name in English, which for me is much easier to remember.
Here are some notes I took during the Brother’s talk:
Let’s keep mindfulness without the word ism on the end so we don’t get caught up in the indoctrination of it. When we add ism to a word it becomes heavier and more like dogma. The ideas of reincarnation and fate are not part of Buddhism. The Buddha came along and taught that suffering arises from the mind, not from external factors or some kind of fate. Mindfulness is the capacity to be awake from moment to moment without judgement or criticism. Plum Village practice is not a religion, just as it was not a religion in the Buddha’s time. By returning to our mindful breathing in and out we recognize what’s going on inside and outside of us and it will help us to act appropriately. The sutras on The Full Awareness of Breathing and The Four Establishments of MIndfulness are the handbook to mindfulness.
We have to be present in the here and now with out breathing in order to establish mindfulness. Without mindful breathing there is no mindfulness, this is very important. Just like there is MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction) there can be MBPH: mindfulness born peace and happiness. The moment we practice mindfulness, peace and happiness are born. Mindfulness is the mother of peace and happiness.
Life is impermanence. Growing older is a fact of life – we think it happens to others and not to me. It is our own perceptions that cause us to suffer. 70% of doctors visits are caused by perceptions, by stress. (And I think he then said 50% of stress is caused by wrong perceptions – though this % seems small to me). The Three Poisons are: greed, hatred, and illusion. In order to work with these poisons we look deeply into the Three Dharma Seals: impermanence, selflessness, and nirvana. Nirvana is a state of mind, of tranquility, of no notions and the absence of discriminative thoughts.
Having enough, knowing we have enough, is an element of living a happy and healthy life. There is no supreme being to follow, this is a way of life. Practice for yourself and decide if these teachings are authentic for you or not. Our capacity to transform suffering is already within us. We practice through mindful breathing, walking, eating, and stopping to listen to the sound of the bell. Liberation is a way of life.
Rains have come
Sifting through the trees like mist
On the flowing gowns of wind
Glad for shelter I take comfort amid wood and glass
Knowing it was the rain too
That created them
In the interest of preserving my battery I will sign off, earlier than I would like. Tomorrow is lazy day and if the rains and wind continue, along with our lack of power, I may want the battery power I have left to spend time tomorrow writing, for it may be a day spent indoors hunkered down.