The pilgrimage never stops, but the pace changes. In July, I was off the bicycle seat for a whole month (to the relief of my sit bones), and had the opportunity to dip into the Dharma ocean atop Turtle Mountain in Oregon, and to explore Spiritual Ecology on Whidbey Island in Washington state. These two study sessions mark "the end of the beginning" of the pilgrimage, and concludes the US portion of the journey. Here are some reflections.
"It's the turtle who took refuge. The rest of them just happened to be there."
("Which turtle?" "The turtle of the Turtle Island!")
This is how I feel about the precious opportunity of joining the Buddha Root Farm retreat. I was just lucky enough to be there. And for that, I am forever grateful.
It all started with a dream. Before dawn on July 1st, 2015 (the night before full moon), in the middle of a 11-day retreat studying with Joanna Macy, I had a dream of Master Hua, the teacher who brought Mahayana Buddhism to the West. I have never met Master Hua, who passed on two decades ago; nor did I know much about him at that time. But I woke up from that dream sobbing uncontrollably out of gratitude and awe. It was as if something was rekindled, reclaimed. Ever since then, the question has always been in the back of my mind: Who is Master Hua? What is his teaching? What does this dream "mean"?
Serendipitously, exactly one year later, on July 1st, 2016, I arrived at Buddha Root Farm, where, over 40 years ago, Master Hua led a historic Buddha Recitation Session. For the past dozen years, Rev. Heng Sure (abbot of Berkeley Buddhist Monastery and a chief disciple of Master Hua) has been leading annual sutra study retreat here. So, a year after that vivid dream, I had the luxury of studying Dharma in Master Hua's tradition for two weeks, at a place called "Turtle Mountain" nested in the pristine Oregon coast. The richness of this learning is beyond dreams :)
Here are some quotes from the Turtle Mountain.
I am deeply moved by the community's diligence in cultivation and the rigor in upholding precepts, by their kindness to all beings and joy in service, by the magnitude of the Bodhisattva vows and the lightness in treading the path, by the ongoing guidance of Master Hua to his disciples… The Dharma is well and growing in the West; history is being created in each humble moment.
During the weeklong retreat, I followed the monastics in eating one meal a day. It is a most freeing experience: I suddenly have three extra hours every day, and am saving much energy from digestion, walking to the dining hall, and meal-time socializing. Who thought that three meals a day was a good idea? :)
Throughout the retreat, the ego in me was having a hard time. The ego was constantly comparing himself to other cultivators of past and present, and was feeling quite inadequate in the "Dharma race". At one point, the ego even got jealous of the Buddha (!), recognizing that "poor me" would never (well, almost never) be as good as the fully enlightened one. I am reminded of an advice that Rev. Heng Sure once gave: when faced with difficult choices, choose the option that's harder on the ego.
Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu.
Destiny has led me to be part of the inaugural Spiritual Ecology Youth Fellowship. The Fellowship is an "incubator + boot camp + sangha" of young people dedicated to the healing of the inner and outer ecology. The program came into being in response to the overwhelming enthusiasm toward the anthology "Spiritual Ecology" -- an ideas whose time has come.
There is no orthodox definition of "spiritual ecology" -- perhaps for the better. The Dao De Jing forewarned in its opening stanza, "A name that could be named is not a true name." But "spiritual ecology" does serve as an apt approximation of what so many of us have felt/known for a long time, but have struggled to articulate. Think of "spiritual ecology" as a code name for a mission that is beyond words. Let it land in the gut, instead of getting stuck in the mind.
The first gathering of this year-long program is held on 35 acres of lovingly restored garden-forest on Whidbey Island, near Seattle.
Sarah, the care-taker of this land for 25 years (and a Sufi and Tai-Chi practitioner herself), reminds me very much of Fukuoka's do-nothing farming. With her matter-of-face modesty, (and only upon our insistent inquiries), she shared how she spent years hauling truckloads after truckloads of trash (including old fridges, tires) out of the land, and turned this former eyesore/dump into an oasis for many living beings. She does all the work without a "five-year plan" to "scale the impact", or to turn the place into an educational retreat center. In fact, very few people even know about this place. She simply does it out of love and joy. A powerful reminder to young overachievers hoping to "change the world" at exponential rate :)
Over the years, Sarah has built such deep trust with the animals on the land that us visitors could simple hold out our hands, and chickadees would land there in search for the customary (and organic) walnut pieces. The chickadees' sense of entitlement and relaxation tickles my heart, and gives me endless hope. We certainly feel that we are riding on Sarah's merit to enjoy such intimacy with these wild beings.
Sarah's quiet effort seems to be a great metaphor for the work for our generation, and those ahead. There will be much "hauling trash" out of riverbeds. There will be much repaying of the collective karma and ancestral debt. Sarah's presence gives me strength to not turn bitter/hostile while cleaning up "other people's trash". Indeed, all trash are mine, as my mind contains all the spiritual defilement that has invoked the physical pollution in the first place.
The week-long study/retreat was deeply moving and enriching. The mentors and organizers gifted us with such thorough attention that I feel forever and gladly indebted. The group of 11 young people whose lives converged at this point felt like long-lost siblings. To quote Casablanca, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship :)
Here are some study notes.
Wealth and Indebtedness
I did not know that one could feel so wealthy and so indebted at the same time.
I feel full of the true wealth of health and happiness, of noble friendships and blessings. I wish for nothing else in life.
At the same time, I feel totally indebted for all the gifts coming my way. I am indebted to my parents, mentors, and friends, to the Triple Jewels, Mother Nature, and Mystery. Nothing I enjoy now is mine, nor are they earned or deserved. It is Grace.
Only half-jokingly, I worry that my karmic debt is increasing along the pilgrimage :) I do not feel justified in receiving such richness, and struggle to keep up with "earning my keep". It nudges me to step up the service, and pay forward the gifts of life.
Feeling the wealth -- give thank and give praise.
Feeling the indebtedness -- serve, and pay forward.
A pilgrimage around the globe by bicycle, in service of the ecological and spiritual awakening of our time.