Recollections and Reflections – March 4, 2016
by Rachel Rampil, Sangha member and occasional facilitator, Wake Up New York
On the first Friday of March, Wake Up Sangha was honored with a visit from four Monks who reside at Blue Cliff Monastery in Pine Bush, New York. Blue Cliff Monastery is a Plum Village tradition Monastery and practice center, which hosts retreats and Day of Mindfulness events year round on its beautiful grounds nestled near the southern foothills of the Catskills. Brothers Phap Man (Br. Man), Linh Quang (Br. LQ), Quan Chieu (Br. QC), and Bo De (Br. Bodhi), having just wrapped up the three month Winter Retreat at Blue Cliff, generously opted to spend their personal days in New York City, connecting with area Sanghas and lay mindfulness practitioners.
With about forty people in attendance, Wake Up Sangha packed tightly into our usual yoga studio venue to sit and walk mindfully together. Facilitators Luis, Dion and James artfully introduced our practices to the newcomers. After Dharma sharing, the Monastics offered to answer questions from the Sangha about Buddhism, about the practice and about themselves.
The best way to motivate a loved one to try meditating is to speak from the heart about how the practice has changed your life…
One person had asked, “How can I convince a friend or loved one to meditate?” Br. Bodhi remarked that the best way to motivate a loved one to try meditating is to speak from the heart about how the practice has changed your life, and to show others how you have grown and been nurtured by mindfulness through example. I, personally, was reminded of my own success in motivating my mother to meditate. She noticed over time that I developed more contentment and serenity in my daily life as a result of meditation. She did not need much convincing.
Another Sangha member asked the Monastics what brought them to the tradition, and if they ever had regrets about joining monastic life. Br. LQ spoke about what drew him to the Plum Village tradition, which was the balance between practice and other work, be it work for the monastery or public outreach. He shared with us that he had previously been a monastic in another tradition, a yogic tradition, and it seemed that he did not feel his personal practice was being nurtured there. He was compelled to leave one monastic lifestyle for another, and he found his home in the Plum Village tradition. In lay life too, I think many of us face similar pivotal choices. I have made decisions in my life that were influenced by my personal practice – to change careers, to change my habits and views, to end or begin relationships, all toward cultivating harmony in my life or the lives close to me. The practice helped me come to many right conclusions, and to make peace with my decisions. May we all practice looking deeply to understand clearly.
It takes courage to admit we are suffering, or that there is discord in our relationships, but ultimately the honest communication brings people closer together and ushers in healing.
Br. Man was asked how he interprets the Five Mantras of Relationships, particularly mantra #4, Darling, I am suffering and I need your help. He shared from his own experience that it takes courage to admit we are suffering, or that there is discord in our relationships, but ultimately the honest communication brings people closer together and ushers in healing. This question hit home for me particularly, because for so many years of my life I masked my suffering from others. I did not know how to ask for help. I did not wish to burden others. And yet, I prided myself on always being available and present for others’ suffering. It took me a long time to realize I was worthy of care, and that others wanted to be present for my suffering – to support my healing. My relationships deepened when I started sharing my struggles and asking for help, because those around me started to see a more complete, more honest me.
Br. QC fielded the most abstract question of the night – “What is the nature of the self and of suffering?”, which brought about a chorus of laughter in our Sangha circle. After all, wouldn’t we all like to know! Rather than offering us a lecture on Buddhist philosophy, he opted to share with us how he works with self and suffering in his own mindfulness practice. Most of us are familiar with the Buddhist tenet that craving is the origin of suffering (see: Four Noble Truths), and the Five Skandhas, or Aggregates of Existence that make up our concept of self. Self and suffering are deeply connected not just to our physiology but our collective human society. Central to the mindfulness practice is to notice, contemplate and work with craving and notions of self, so as to cease being overcome by suffering. In my own practice, this has proven the most challenging. Like many others, I turn to the writings of Thay and other Dharma teachers while looking inward. I harbor no illusions – my struggle with self and craving will be life long, so I have learned to appreciate the journey I am on to manage them more than coveting the destination.
Central to the mindfulness practice is to notice, contemplate and work with craving and notions of self, so as to cease being overcome by suffering.
After we closed out the circle, the Monastics joined many of us for tea and snacks at our social hour, where they could hear from us about how we navigate our own lives mindfully. It was deeply meaningful and encouraging to hear from the Monks, in their own words, about their practice, and to discover that their inspirations and challenges are not so far removed from the lay community. They shared their own individual relationships with the Dharma, which a generous gift of insight to our Sangha. I also trust that spending time with us proved illuminating to them as well. Their visit was a wonderful opportunity to learn from each other.
Wake Up New York meets every Friday night from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM at Atmananda Yoga Studio, 67 Irving Place (South entrance, 2nd Floor) New York, NY 10003. Connect with us or learn more at http://www.wakeupnewyork.org