At the Foot of the Mountain

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Brother Dao Bi at the Bhikshu Ordination during the Great Ordination Ceremony in February 2019

By Brother Dao Bi

At the foot of the mountain,
there is a stream.
Take the water from the stream and wash yourself,
and you will be cured.

I live at the foot of the mountain (Son Ha in Vietnamese). Son Ha is one of the two residences for monks in Upper Hamlet and is located downhill of the other residence. Nearby the Son Ha residence, there is a stream that flows down to the small lake. Last year, some brothers made a platform not far from the stream, where we can enjoy a cup of tea while enjoying the beauty of the lake. The trees around the platform give shade; in the summer, it is a place to take refuge because the trees protect us from the heat and provide fresh air.

Some hammocks around the platform are available for those who would like to enjoy hammock meditation. On the way uphill, there is a small tower with the calligraphy “The Pure Land of the South.” I think Thay would like to remind us that the Pure Land of the Buddha is not only in the west, but the Pure Land can be found in the south too.

At the beginning of the Rains Retreat last year, I was fasting together with some brothers in Son Ha. I see the fasting as a Beginning Anew with myself, in particular with my body, because I was able to begin anew with my body. I have been able to release a great deal of toxin and tension. On the last day of my fasting, I did the Beginning Anew Ceremony with one of the brothers who was fasting. I felt inspired to do the ceremony because of the story “The Giant Pines” from Thay in the book Stone Boy. It’s the story Thay retells the origin of the Beginning Anew ceremony traditionally used in Vietnam. The words above the first paragraph are taken from that ceremony.

I was doing water fasting, and I saw that water helps heal my body. Every time I didn’t feel well when I was fasting, I drank a lot of water and then I felt much better. Thay explains about the practice of Beginning Anew and the lines about the foot of the mountain in the book Touching the Earth. Thay said that beginning anew means expressing our regret for mistakes we have made in the past, coupled with a deep and transforming determination to act differently from now on, because we know that we can act differently—we do not need to feel guilt.

I used to consume a lot of toxins throughout my body and mind, and it made me sick. When I received the Five Mindfulness Trainings from Thay in 2010, I made a vow to become a vegetarian. I stopped playing unwholesome games, watching unwholesome movies, and listening to unwholesome songs. My Wake Up Sangha supported me in this way, and we carefully selected wholesome movies, songs, and food to enjoy together. This is my deep and transforming determination to act differently. My Son Ha brothers and the Sangha help me to nourish this determination.

Before I lead the walking meditation in Son Ha, I like to invite everybody to sing “At the Foot of the Mountain,” which is kind of Son Ha’s anthem song. One time before I started walking, I invited everybody to take the water from the stream and wash themselves. We walked around the stream and enjoyed the beauty of the foot of the mountain surrounding us. After we finished walking, a brother came to me and said, “Oh, we don’t take the water from the stream. So we are not cured.” I smiled to him, and I didn’t say anything. We didn’t take water from the stream physically, but I know that walking meditation helps to cure myself. In the song, the lines continue:

Under the soles of your feet,
there is the Earth.
Take a step, touch the Earth, don’t you feel the stream?
And you’ll be free, you are free.

These lines help me to see that the stream is not only located nearby the lake, but also under the soles of my feet. Whenever I am able to touch this stream, I feel I am cured. Walking around the lake and the small pond is my favorite practice. When the weather is not chilly, I like to have picnic meal outside and enjoy the beauty of Son Ha. The brothers, sisters, and lay friends enjoy this beauty and feel the coziness and conviviality of Son Ha; they feel at home whenever they come here. I like the word “gezellig” in Dutch very much because it seems to be representing the coziness and warmth of true home. Son Ha is a gezellig home for me and for many of us.

I remember Sister Chan Khong sharing that when Thay first came to the Princeton University in the US, Thay was able to heal himself with the beauty of nature. Thay has a wound that comes from the war in Vietnam. He experienced the beauty of the four seasons for the first time in Princeton University. Then Sister Chan Khong shared this is why Thay always teaches us that nature has the capacity to heal us. I experienced the four seasons for the first time here in Plum Village. The warmth and togetherness of the brotherhood in Son Ha are very healing. I have a lot of wounds I still need to heal. Throughout the sharing, be it formal or informal, we can learn from each other how to heal and transform on this path.

One time, Thay shared that the wounds of war in him are still not all healed. There are nights Thay lie awake and embrace the people, his country, and the whole planet with his mindful breathing. I was deeply moved to tears when I learned about this because I imagined that, as a Zen Master, Thay should have healed all of his wounds. But then I admire Thay’s humility and his willingness to show his vulnerabilities. Thay is also a human being, and we can learn a lot from Thay on how to heal our wounds in our heart. Thay has shown us the way in this life, how to understand our wounds and suffering, and how to generate love and compassion out of it. The Beginning Anew ceremony comes from the text of a repentance ceremony “The Water of Compassion That Washes Away All Wrongdoing.” When we are able to produce the water of compassion from the stream in our heart, healing takes place.

In the heart of great beings,
there is a stream.
Let it flow, let it be the ground of your being.
And you’ll be loved, you are loved.

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