New Year’s Day at the Temple
The first day of the year brought delightful sunny weather as many of us begin to enter the grounds of the Temple for a special New Year’s Day celebration and potluck on Sunday afternoon. The event was scheduled to give host to joyful, peaceful and interactive activities starting one hour past noon.
The first scheduled activity began nearly one full hour past noon. Although late, I arrived just in time to witness some of the participants placing their food contributions for the potluck in the Dharma Hall, where I too would add my own vegan dish. Shortly afterward, I am told to hurry into the Meditation Hall so the celebration can begin.
Inside the Meditation Hall, as everyone started to file in and make place for themselves either atop the floor cushions or alongside the wall benches, Venerable Chuc Thanh awaited us with quiet, cheerful welcome. The first activity for the occasion got started with a harmonious group chanting of Namo A Di Da Phat and Om Mani Padma Hum, followed next by a twenty-minute silent group meditation. Upon ending the meditation, Venerable asked us to open up and introduce ourselves toward one another. After lastly introducing himself, he shared with us a Dharma talk seasoned with a few parables told with humor and wisdom; he spoke about the topic of mindfulness and being able to know how to “seize the moment” on our path by being in the present moment when things are happening; and on topic with this point, he shared a very thoughtful story about a donkey who once had fallen into a dry well. Although the well had been dry and the donkey had not drowned, he was nonetheless stuck and with no way out; the donkey cried and cried unable to gain escape. Up high on the ground above, there was a nearby farmer who had been angrily walking about. He ventured close to the dry well and heard a donkey crying out aloud. Upon seeing the donkey, the farmer’s anger inflamed as he now found the crook who had eaten his crops. Seeking reprisal, the farmer sought to bury the donkey alive. As the farmer started shoveling earth down into the well, the donkey began crying out in agony, unable to immediately know how to end this suffering. Then, within a moment’s passing, the donkey focused himself on the present moment and was then able to see that as the earth came shoveling down into the well, he could climb up onto the layers of falling earth. As the well grew nearly filled with earth by the farmer, the donkey was now able to free himself completely from the well and not be buried beneath. Because the donkey was able to “seize the moment” by acting in the present moment, he was able to find freedom from his present suffering.
This, along with a few other joyous stories and insights, the Venerable asked us to now share some of our very own thoughtful insights. By the end of the session, each person had offered their own words to the group. Upon ending the group session, Venerable entreated us to partake in a group walking meditation circumambulating the Temple grounds. By the end of the walking meditation, we returned to the Meditation Hall for a quick meditation, then took recess for lunch.
Lunch was a plentiful potluck of a colorful, tasty and creative variety of healthy vegetarian and vegan dishes fit for spiritual palates. Served in the adjacent Dharma Hall, the atmosphere was alive with eating, standing, sitting, conversation and loud joy.
After lunch, we were asked to return to the Meditation Hall to partake in lasting group activities. As we all filed back into the Hall and made place for ourselves again, we began a brief, yet very intimate, group discussion, with some among us sharing personal accounts of their struggles and triumphs of life. Following this, we were lead into an interactive activity: a melody melee of drums and music, lead by Ruth Peele and another Sangha member. To say that it was a consciousness-elevating experience of sound and group harmony, though indeed explaining summarily its experience, is an understatement. By the end of the drum session, Ruth passed around to everyone still present a bundle of pens and a small square of paper. We were instructed to write down in a single word or a short line “what we would like to work on or burn off from our habits this year”. We would later take this square of paper and burn it outside in a fire. The idea was to articulate to ourselves in a very brief way the qualities we would like to either develop or undo to generate happiness for this year and for the years/lifetimes hereafter.
Next, having written down our resolutions, we were entreated to exit the Hall and head toward the court just in front of the Kuan Yin Stupa where there was a portable ornate fire-making pit and a life-size game of jenga with Dharma inscriptions inked onto the blocks. Along with burning our resolutions into the fire to simmer away into the ether, the second purpose of the pit was for us to roast a sweet stick of s'mores to conclude the New Year’s Day of festivities.
After having spent an entire afternoon together harmoniously, everyone was gathered tightly and warmly around the fire, burning their squares and roasting their s’mores with loud peace and joy, and mindfulness.
By Jeffrey Butts
2017 New Years Day Festivities
By Ruth Peele
Wow ! What a wonderful time we all had celebrating the first day of 2017 ! There were about 25 of us in all who gathered for the 1st Annual New Year's Day Festivities held by the English speakers of Dong Hung Temple.
We started at 2:00 with chanting, and then with both sitting and walking meditations. Since it turned out to be a beautiful sunny afternoon, we were able to do our walking meditation around the parameter of the beautiful grounds. From there, we quietly went back into the Buddha Hall for a Dharma lesson and discussion. Here we heard a story about a donkey who fell into a well and used his worsening situation mindfully to his advantage. But we not only learned the lesson from the story, we also learned that Thay Thanh, our Dharma Teacher, can do awesome donkey imitations! Really!!
So with that in our hearts we took a break to enjoy some delicious foods brought in by those attending, some drum and percussion jamming, and also some games outdoors such as Hoola Hoop and Giant Jenga. As the day moved by quickly, we returned to the Buddha Hall for another brief session of sitting meditation, followed by more talking and sharing. We then each wrote on bits of paper something we were wishing to transform during the coming year.
Once these were written down, and sharing was done, we went back outside to where a fire was now blazing in the chimaera. We tossed our bits of paper into that fire for transformation , and then ... with that same fire, we started roasting marshmallows for S'mores.
That was planned to be the end of the day , at 6:00, but more fun continued as the towering Jenga structure got taller and taller, and more and more creative! And, as synchronicity happens, it was finally topped with a block that just happened to have "Buddha" and "Dharma" written on its two edges!
What a wonderful end to such a wonderful celebration of the first day of 2017. We say thanks to all of you who came, and to all of you who helped. And for those who couldn't make it, we missed you, but we will do this again, and again, and again. This will surely be fun tradition to follow!
May All be Well.
May All be Happy.
May All have Peace.
A Di Da Phat and Happy 2017!