Thanks to the hospitality of dear friends, I am now writing from a balcony on the Asian side of Istanbul, looking across the Bosphorus Strait toward Europe. It's so close that one could swim over. Some say, "East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet". Here, the twins are not only meeting, but have also been learning to live together for centuries, through low and high, in grief and praise. It is quite a fitting and striking setting to reflect upon the past three months of journeying through continental Europe.
There have been people who have asked us: “Who are you to change the monastic codes made by the Buddha?” Our answer is always: “We are the children of the Buddha. We are his continuation, and we are practicing to carry out his wishes." […] For Buddhism to remain a living tradition, the teaching and practice should remain relevant. […] We are certain that the Buddha counts on the insight, intelligence, and courage of his descendants to continue making the path of liberation accessible and open to our current generation. Therefore, revising the teaching and the practice is truly necessary.
-- "Freedom Wherever We Go: A Buddhist Monastic Code for the Twenty-first Century", by Thich Nhat Hanh
I never expected that I would feel so disoriented and uncomfortable in a Buddhist monastery -- much more so than during a previous week in Taize, a Christian monastic community. After all, I have spent months in meditation centers and Buddhist monasteries, and have been feeling increasingly at home.
But that's exactly how I felt when I first arrived at Plum Village, a monastery founded by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (called "Thay" by his students) in southern France, and the largest monastery in Europe. I stayed for one week there during the Summer Opening Retreat -- the "largest and most festive retreat" of the year. My discomfort lasted -- and evolved -- throughout the week :)
Seeking reconciliation and peace involves a struggle within oneself. It does not mean taking the line of least resistance. Nothing lasting is created when things are too easy.
-- Brother Roger’s unfinished letter
It was Sunday again in Taize. That time of the week when some people come, and some people go. Actually, it is thousands who come to spend a whole week in this small "village" in rural France. During peak summer months, up to six thousands people -- mostly youth -- come from all over the world to Taize each week. That’s over 100,000 pilgrims every year. They've been coming for over half a century -- and are still growing.
People -- from the Pope to politicians wishing to capture young hearts -- have been wondering for decades why the youths keep coming to Taize. Nobody really knows. In fact, materially, Taize has little to recommend itself. The food is famously bland. The church looks like a self-storage warehouse. The housing has the feel of a temporary summer camp. There's nothing noteworthy to "see" for tourists, or to "do" for entertainment.
Yet, the youths keep coming.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…
-- A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Well, it was also a summer in England. What Dickens wrote over 150 years ago applies too aptly to our current time.
Judging from the headlines, the past month was certainly among "the worst of times" for England. Multiple terrorist attacks, horrific high-rise fire, ugly election… There were no shortage of "foolishness, incredulity, darkness and despair".
However, when we tune out of the internet and tune into the inner-net, there is a totally different story unfolding in ordinary living rooms and in many open hearts. I feel fortunate to join in half a dozen ServiceSpace circles around London, delving into themes like "songs, stories, and stillness", "self-trust in an uncertain world", "Compassion Quotient", "power of prayer", "systems transformation", and "reconnection".
Twelve days of cycling has also taken me to sacred places like Amaravati Buddhist Monastery, Glastonbury Tor, and Schumacher College -- "acupuncture points" on the collective body of human consciousness.
I departed the UK on Summer Solstice, heart filled with much "wisdom, belief, light, and hope". It was a "best of times", no doubt. Would like to share some impressions from one month in England.
All of these ten realms—a single thought--
Are not apart from your present thought.
If you can awaken to that thought,
You'll arrive immediately at the other shore.
-- Master Hua
This past month, the journey has taken me three quarters around the globe, from US to China to UK. But somehow, it feels like home everywhere. I have to look at each "stranger" doubly, because they seem so familiar. Perhaps, with open and reverent heart (I'm trying), one would belong anywhere in the Dharma realm, and encounter "familiar strangers" at every turn. Below are some stories along the way.
A pilgrimage around the globe by bicycle, in service of the ecological and spiritual awakening of our time.
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