2017 Deer Park Daily Musings
Written during a retreat I attended from January 6th-27th (though was unable to post until the Internet became available once I returned home)
Background Info & Terminology: Deer Park Monastery is rooted in the mindfulness tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and is situated in Escondido, CA, north of San Diego. Mike and I choose to voluntarily lodge separately when we go to Deer Park during the winter retreat, which affords us the best of both worlds: having our own retreat experiences and able to spend time together 2 or 3 days a week. Mike stays with the brothers in Solidity Hamlet and I stay with the sisters in Clarity Hamlet, which are a short 10-minute walk from each other but do operate quite independently.
Laypeople: Also called lay friends or laymen and laywomen; those of us who practice in this tradition 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.
Thay: Refers to Thich Nhat Hanh, meaning “teacher” in Vietnamese
Monday January 23rd, 2017
Lazy Day. No schedule other than meals, and an evening program after dinner, which tonight is Beginning Anew practice.
While waiting for Mike in the big hall this morning after breakfast I devoted some time to thumbing through what’s called: The New Sangha Handbook, put together, in part, by the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation. It’s a packet of information pertaining to sangha building, sort of a how-to guidebook for starting and facilitating a sangha. I hadn’t recalled seeing it before, and I appreciated knowing that such a resource had been put together.
In the handbook was a reading I’d never heard of before, called “The Seven Trainings in Diversity,” which were adapted from Larry Yang’s chapter in Friends on the Path, compiled by Jack Lawlor, published in 2002. The Seven Trainings tied directly into what Brother Phap Hai was sharing with us about in his Dharma talk yesterday, so I found it interesting timing to stumble upon this reading today. It’s a reading that I think my home sangha (Be Here Now) might greatly appreciate incorporating into our rotation of readings, and is especially fitting during this time of our political changing-of-the-guard.
The Seven Trainings in Diversity
1. Aware of the suffering caused by imposing one’s own opinions or cultural beliefs upon another human being, I undertake the training to refrain from forcing others, in any way – through authority, threat, financial incentive, or indoctrination – to adopt my own belief system. I commit to respecting every human being’s right to be different, while working towards the elimination of sufferings of all beings.
2. Aware of the suffering caused by invalidating or denying another person’s experience, I undertake the trainings to refrain from making assumptions or judging harshly any beliefs and attitudes that are different or not understandable from my own. I commit to being open minded and accepting of other points of view, and I commit to meeting each perceived difference in another person with kindness, respect, and a willingness to learn more about their worldview.
3. Aware of the suffering caused by the violence of treating someone as inferior or superior to one’s own self, I undertake the training to refrain from diminishing or idealizing the work, integrity, and happiness of any human being. Recognizing that my true nature is not separate from others, I commit to teaching each person that comes into my consciousness with the same loving kindness, care, and equanimity that I would bestow upon a beloved benefactor or dear friend.
4. Aware of the suffering caused by intentional or unintentional acts of rejection, exclusion, avoidance, or indifference towards people who are culturally, physically, sexually, or economically different from me, I undertake the training to refrain from isolating myself to people of similar backgrounds as myself and from being only with people who make me feel comfortable. I commit to searching out ways to diversify my relationships and increase my sensitivity towards people of different cultures, ethnicities, sexual orientations, ages, physical abilities, genders, and economic means.
5. Aware of the suffering caused by the often unseen nature of privilege, and the ability of privilege to benefit a select population over others, I undertake the training to refrain from exploiting any person or group, in any way including economically, sexually, intellectually, or culturally. I commit to examine with wisdom and clear comprehension the ways that I have privilege in order to determine skillful ways of using privilege for the benefit of all beings, and I commit to the practice of generosity in all aspects of my life and towards all human beings, regardless of cultural, ethnic, racial, sexual age, physical, or economic differences.
6. Aware of the suffering caused to myself and others by fear and anger during conflict or disagreement, I undertake the training to refrain from reacting defensively, using harmful speech because I feel injured, or using language or cognitive argument to justify my sense of rightness. I commit to communicate and express myself mindfully, speaking truthfully from my heart with patience and compassion. I commit to practice genuine and deep listening to all sides of a dispute, and to remain in contact with my highest intentions of recognizing the Buddha nature within all beings.
7. Aware of the suffering caused by the ignorance of misinformation and the lack of information that aggravate fixed views, stereotypes, the stigmatizing of a human being as ‘other’, and the marginalization of cultural groups, I undertake the training to educate myself about other cultural attitudes, worldviews, ethnic traditions, and life experiences outside of my own. I commit to be curious with humility and openness, to recognize with compassion the experience of suffering in all beings, and to practice sympathetic joy when encountering the many different cultural expressions of happiness and celebration around the world.
Today, Mike and I wandered around in search of dry places to sit and be joyfully together. As I hadn’t thought to talk to the Sister who serves as my mentor, to see about gaining permission to spend time with Mike in Solidity Hamlet (in the tearoom or the dining hall), we eventually took solace in the partially covered wood shed situated in the oak grove. There’s been so much rain that the nearby waterfall is running, along with all of the previously dry creek beds. One of the Sisters shared on Saturday about how they haven’t been able to hear the creek flow in 6 years. Water abounds in areas I didn’t even realize it was “supposed” to.
Since my attempts at finding the correct Sister in which to gain permission from were unsuccessful, we hop-scotched around, in-between bursts of rain and cloudiness. It’s a cold day, and I was happy for the warmth of my hut when we parted ways, just a short while ago.
It seems the common way of things for me here to feel at least one bout of: Gosh, next time we come here, I’m totally staying with Mike up with the Brothers. Today was that day for me. Having such strict boundaries during the winter retreat time is sometimes challenging. Having only one Sister that can grant permission can also be problematic, as it is often hard to catch any one of them in particular. The Sisters are often absent from meals and other programs as well. And their nunnery lodging is in an area off-limits to laypeople.
It is such a different feel up in Solidity Hamlet. There are no weekly regulations that get read, no boundaries discussed, and far less “politics” and cultural differences at play. The lay friends have a greater sense of freedom and relaxed atmosphere staying in Solidity. There’s also far less self-appointed “sculpting” that takes place on part of the monastics, whereas here, it seems that once you’ve been around for a little while, certain elder nuns take it upon themselves to start offering you guidance and advice, which I’ve experienced every time I’ve stayed longer than 2 weeks.
I currently started reading Thay’s book Stepping into Freedom, An Introduction to Buddhist Monastic Training. In it, the book is broken into sections: Gathas, Precepts, Mindful Manners, Encouraging Words from Master Guishan (which I really enjoyed), A Talk for Young Monks and Nuns (from Thay), Precepts Ceremony, and a concluding chapter entitled: Opening the Road Wider. In the Mindful Manners section, it talks about not complaining or criticizing other temples or people. And I’m aware that some of what I’m typing here today could be viewed as such. But it is not my intention to be rude or disrespectful. I do, however, want to be truthful and honest about relaying my experience. So I hope that my words can be taken in the spirit in which they are offered: through the lens of my own perceptions.
I just got finished with dinner and rather rushed back to my hut, to get warm and layer up with additional clothing. The coldness is just seeping into my bones today. Spending the day outside in the cool and rainy weather is kicking up a sore throat. Once again, I give great thanks to the fact that we at least have heat in our cabins! If it weren’t for that, I would find it almost intolerable to stay here right now, with all of this rain and dipping temperatures.
When I got to the dining hall for dinner, a local layperson was delivering a car load full of flowers for Tet (Lunar New Year). After helping he and two Sisters unload them, he stuck around for dinner. Before the meal bell sounded, though, he was munching on BBQ potato chips, the kind I sometimes get at my organic market back home. They looked so good! I’ve gotten so wonderfully used to the food here that I had sort of forgotten about the delicious lures of outside-of-the-monastery foods. Ah, the things we can miss, when suddenly we are faced with making do without them – AND, how funny it is all the things we can get used to so quickly, when we have no other choice but to simply go with the flow.