Vietnamese New Year’s Eve (TET), big meditation hall
Deer Park, Day Twenty
(written on Thursday January 30th)
I just woke up from a long nap in preparation for staying up late tonight. In half an hour there will be a special video dharma talk from Thay recorded earlier today from Plum Village for TET. We will be away from our hamlet for the rest of the afternoon and evening but I didn’t want to miss a day of writing.
Alter in the big hall on New Year’s Eve
Deer Park, Day Nineteen
(written on Wednesday January 29th)
Today was much like yesterday in that it was an open schedule in order to continue preparing for TET. New Year’s Eve is tomorrow night. After breakfast there was optional working meditation where I volunteered to clean a few bathrooms. When I was done cleaning I put a few finishing touches on the tearoom. My lay friends have been telling me how much they enjoy the new look and I am so happy that everyone is benefiting from the fresh atmosphere.
I saw Llora as I was on my way to clean the bathroom behind the dining hall and she told me that my roommate Lorna had left. She was intending to stay until Sunday so I was very surprised. Right away I figured something must’ve been wrong to cause her to leave so suddenly. I asked Llora if everything was OK, because she happened to run into her as she was leaving, and she said that Lorna was doing well and it was simply time for her to go. Lorna left a note on the board in the dining hall saying good-bye and she left me a note in our room next to some art supplies she left for me as a gift, which included calligraphy brushes, ink, paper, and some watercolors. The note said that she was terrible at good-byes and then thanked me for my presence and my smile. Sometimes, despite our best-laid plans, it is simply time to leave.
Deer Park, Day Eighteen
(written on Tuesday January 28th)
Today was essentially another lazy day for the most part. We had no program or activity after breakfast and then after lunch we were simply asked to clean our own cabin and decorate for TET. The laywomen were asked to choose one of the three lay cabins here in Clarity Hamlet to decorate so that on Saturday we can host guests who stop by. On Saturday there will be an opportunity for people to come to Clarity Hamlet (the sisters hamlet) for the one day a year that friends are invited into the nun’s quarters (on Friday the same happens in Solidity Hamlet with the brothers). I’ve been told that tea and snacks will be offered in every room. I’ve also heard that bus loads of people will be arriving to temple hop, which means to visit many temples over TET in order to earn merit. It should be quite the experience!
Baby Elephant Cabin
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.
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