By Jay Larbalestier
Recently, I had the privilege to spend some time at the new Plum Village affiliated meditation centre in Canoelands, New South Wales. The centre is now the second of its kind in Australia. Situated alongside Marramarra National Park, it rests on a 35-acre stretch of land at one of the highest points in northern Sydney, affording splendid views of the Hawkesbury River.
Two working bees were organised to prepare the site for the stay of two monastics, Sisters Trung Chinh and Tri Duyen, who arrived in advance of the centre’s opening. The work included clearing out both a building and a shipping container, which will be transformed into dormitories for women and men, respectively.
I had begun attending my local Sangha, Wake Up Sydney, only the week before the first working bee. Being a somewhat shy and introspective sort, I’d had yet neither the opportunity nor inclination to get to know anybody. The working bee, by immersing one in various kinds of interactive and cooperative work, is therefore a rather effective remedy for social aloofness. By the end of the first day, I’d made impressive progress: from morning handshakes and introductions, to afternoon farewell hugs between friends, some of whom, given my neglect to bring certain necessary items, provided me with lunch and protective gear.
It would be nice to give the impression that we worked feverishly from dawn to dusk. In truth, however, work took no more than a few hours each Sunday; we spent the remainder of the time touring the grounds, sharing lunch, and admiring the view. Indeed, the working bees were just a very small part of the overall efforts on behalf of a great many volunteers in the lead up to the centre’s opening. We had the pleasure of working under the guidance of a volunteer, Minh, who said he had initially arrived intending to help out for just one day. However on observing how much work needed to be done, he had returned every day thereafter.
On Sunday, 9 September, two weeks after the final working bee, the centre had its ceremonial opening. After two days of rain, the dark clouds lifted just in time, bestowing on the occasion a warm and sunny day. The familiar sound of the bell began the proceedings, led by the monastic sisters, which included chanting, meditation, and talk pertaining to the centre’s development. The development was a process that had evolved out of many years of talks, after Sangha members in Sydney expressed a desire for a centre in which to practice.
It was a privilege to see the result of the collective efforts of so many volunteers come to fruition, and a great joy to feel involved in the development of what will no doubt become a spiritual refuge for the Sangha and the wider community. The hard work remains ongoing. The centre’s opening, after all, commemorates only the manifestation of continuous processes of formation and change. At this moment, the centre’s transition from bud to bloom has merely begun.
Jay Larbalestier is a lay practitioner and student living in Sydney. Since completing his an Arts degree earlier this year, Jay is currently studying film history at the University of Sydney. Jay has been enjoying his practice with the Sangha’s support since joining Wake Up Sydney in August.
Reprinted with permission from the Spring 2018 edition of Nhap Luu Monastery Newsletter