On Saturday, January 21st, 2017, Dong Hung Temple facilitated its seasonal English language "A Day with the Sangha" Retreat. Many people from the temple spent all or part of the day in both seated and walking meditations, dharma discussions and enjoyed another wonderful silent lunch featuring Vietnamese vegetarian cuisine.
The Venerable Thich Chuc Thanh presided at the retreat. He made the following comments and observations throughout the day:
--When we take water from a well, the level will still remain the same and will actually become purer, because it replenishes itself with new, fresher water, instead of allowing the old water to remain stagnant and not utilizing it for good. Just like the water, we must give away our own internal and external resources to others, in order to replenish and purify for the good of others and ourselves. We do not have to fear that our "wells" will run dry, because giving begets receiving.
--One Sangha member expressed his own reflections on this topic, by sharing that many people love money and use people, but it is a beautiful thing when one can learn how to use money to love people instead.
--Another Sangha member shared the metaphor of the ocean and the waves. He stated that although at times it can seem as if we are all separately experiencing our own lives and struggles in isolation from each other, we are all actually just separate waves within one ocean-- we are all always interconnected through the same source, and therefore always come back together and are never truly separate in nature. Therefore, when we treat others with kindness, we treat ourselves with kindness; and when we treat others with neglect, we treat ourselves with neglect. I have read about this metaphor before in Jeff Foster's writings. So after the retreat I went home and watched this video again, where he encapsulates this concept, which I would like to share here:
-- Thich Chuc Thanh then spoke more of the ocean, as a metaphor for our lives. He described the way the ocean can oftentimes appear very rough and tumultuous on the surface, but deep below the surface, the water is always much calmer and still, with steady and purposeful under currents. He encouraged us all to continue to tap into that deep, calm center that we all have within us, even when life can become rough and difficult to swim through.
-- Thich Chuc Thanh also discussed with the Sangha about the conditions we create for ourselves to either be happy or suffering, and the things that we can do to help create conditions that are more conducive for happiness and peace in our lives. He used the metaphor of salt in water (the amount of salt in the water will change the experience of the taste for the drinker of the water, but it does not change the fact that it is still water), poison in a snake (the snake is not harmed by the poison inside of it, only the only bitten by the snake), and a wick with or without oil (a wick on a lantern cannot burn without any oil to make it catch fire, just like we cannot become angry without allowing the conditions of anger to affect us).
Sangha member, Mark Palamara, and Thich Chuc Thanh led the Sangha in a chanting of the Medicine Sutra. Thich Chuc Thanh also chanted the Medicine Sutra in Vietnamese for the Sangha to hear as well.
After the silent lunch (provided by the Vietnamese Sangha), the group went outside to help decorate the trees with the yellow flowers. At that point in time, Thich Chuc Do joined the group and asked us to contemplate the question, "Are these fabric flowers 'real' or 'fake'?" The group discussed their thoughts on this question, and remembered the teachings of: "Emptiness does not differ from form, and form does not differ from emptiness." So, the concept of form and reality was discussed (e.g., how do we know if something is real or fake? We cannot judge that simply based upon the form that we perceive with our eyes).
After the lunch and tree decorating was completed, Sangha member Dave Edmonds led the afternoon Dharma talk. He opened up his Dharma talk with a quote that is said to have come from the Buddha while he was leaving his body at the age of 80 (and represents the importance of balancing study and practice in order to develop insight): "I can die happily. I have not kept a single teaching hidden in a closed hand. Everything that is useful for you, I have already given. Be your own guiding light." He then facilitated a group discussion on several different Dharma themed topics, including: The importance of balancing Study, Practice, and Insight together; the ongoing development of "American Buddhism"; balancing the practice of both self-awareness/self-care and the awareness of taking care of the needs of others (e.g., setting healthy boundaries with others & ourselves, while still fully connecting with them and having full compassion and empathy for them); understanding that we are all one (e.g., different waves of one ocean) in interconnectedness; etc. He also referenced several of Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron's writings, particularly on how to recognize one's progress on their path of practice, and recognizing when we get caught into patterns that may be maladaptive for us ("Habit Energy") and instead recalibrating ourselves onto a Middle Path of balance, without feeling the need to "act out" or "internalize within" to the extremes.
Following the next silent seated meditation session, the Sangha went outside for a silent Mindful Walking Meditation around the temple grounds, which was led by Thich Chuc Thanh. Before the Walking Meditation began, Thich Chuc Thanh encouraged each member to reflect upon the question, "Who is walking?" (e.g., is it this body, this mind/memory/perception of walking, this name I call myself, my parents who helped teach me to walk and whose footsteps I am now walking in, etc.... Who is really walking right now?). After returning to a group discussion after the walk, everybody had the chance to share their own experiences and reflections that they had reached during the Walking Meditation.
The afternoon entertainment was provided by Kyle Carrigan (a member of the North Carolina Sangha) and some musician friends he brought along with him. They performed arrangements of several classic songs by artists such as The Beatles, as well as performing some of his own original music as well. The group then distributed musical instruments to everybody (provided by Sangha member Ruth), and the entire Sangha participated in a communal Drum Circle performance.
At the conclusion of the day, the entire Sangha sat back down together in a circle and had tea and cookies (provided by the Vietnamese Sangha), and each member took turns sharing about their experiences of the day and any meaningful and significant reflections that they may have had throughout the day in response to any of the activities. The Sangha thanked Thich Chuc Thanh for presiding and leading the retreat with us again, and also thanked the Vietnamese community for so generously providing lunch and tea service for us as well. It was unanimously and enthusiastically agreed upon that the Retreats are a well-received and much-appreciated event that the English Sangha very much enjoys having at the temple, and would like to continue to schedule on a regular basis.
Thich Chuc Thanh concluded our Day with the Sangha Retreat by leading us in sharing merit to all beings. May all beings be well. May all beings be happy. May all beings be peaceful. A Di Da Phat.