Saturday, May 10, 2014

Why here?

It's a breezy, sunny day here on the Sonoma Coast. Cool in the shade, but lovely in the sun or in a sun-warmed space. I've been here two days now, have put my kuti into proper shape for long-term occupancy, although we are still going to install a coat rack and a small shelf. Like everything else, it's at the top of the hill from where I sit now, typing this, but from day one I've forced myself to walk the hills, not drive up out of laziness. The only way to get my walking legs and lungs back is to walk the hills, so I'm doing that a couple of times a day, at least. And they are not small hills. They are steep. My lungs are improving rapidly, but I admit to some sore lower-body muscles that are used in climbing hills! That will pass, the muscles will strengthen and harden, and hopefully, the fat will melt away. I can only hope!

Before I drove down here I had several people ask me in a short time-span why I like to come here, or to other Buddhist monastic locations. I've had simple answers to offer to that question, which is not an uncommon one, but one person pushed me to think a bit deeper and I did that on the drive south. Two days ago I had wonderful words on the subject. Today, those words are no longer part of the present, but I'll try to answer the question anyway.

Aside from the physical beauty of these hundreds of acres of redwoods, the sight of the blue Pacific that looms when we drive out to the highway, as we did this morning, and the peaceful sounds of nature and the forest, I think the real answer is the people. Particularly monastics, since we lay people are generally less accomplished in our practice, less skillful at moderating our actions and words. I also want to help, to give back in some small way for all that has been given to me in terms of teaching. I love being able to ease some small part of their burden, to do a simple task that they may not be allowed to do, such as drive a car, spend money or even prepare their own meals. The two go together. The people are wonderful, and that brings out a better part of me that wants to give of myself to them, in terms of my labor, and to please them in such a way to bring happiness to all of us.

The monastics, as well as some of the other lay people who might visit here, are generally wrapped in such things as metta (loving-kindness), compassion, generosity, joy in the happiness of others, contentment with just what they have at the moment even if what's present is painful to them. Rarely are voices raised, and when they are it's generally due to an egregious display of unacceptable behavior on the part of a lay person and even then, it's only a reprimand. Anger, along with all its little subtitles such as impatience, irritation, resentment, intolerance, hostility, sarcasm and thoughtless words and general mean ill-will, is almost unknown from both monastics and long-time lay practitioners.

Our world in general is not like that. Does your world lack anger, snippiness, hostile words, mean words? Are you part of a world that has no violence, no hatred, no rude or unfriendly behavior even from your loved ones? If so, you are lucky. Few of us live in that world, and some of us are willing to give up some 'normal' comforts of life in order to find that kind of existence, that kind of world, even temporarily. That doesn't totally separate us from the reality of world events, from the violence and anger and brutality that exist in this world and that frequently enter into our 'entertainment'.  We read the news. We aren't hiding from that reality, or sticking our head into the ground to escape, to pretend it doesn't exist. We are simply choosing to live a different kind of life, amongst others with similar feelings. A place where we are not confronted with anger in daily life -- whether on newscasts, TV shows, movies, road rage, or even a loved one who is having a bad day or a series of bad days.

Lay visitors come with differing backgrounds and issues, differing levels of accomplishment. Some are difficult, some are easy. My first visit here was very difficult. I struggled with the terrain (had just had about 10 stitches removed from a skin cancer excision on my calf), with sleep, with energy, with the entire environment. I was less skillful then in my practice, and it showed. We are all still people and generally people with issues of one kind or another. Still, good behavior and getting along with others is encouraged and even necessary, for a peaceful existence for all concerned.

I use the universal 'we' here, but these are my thoughts. Others have their own reasons and I can't speak for them. I can only say that this is the atmosphere that's created here, and at other monastic residences, and that being around people like this is a wonderful influence on me, a true gift in terms of helping me grow in my own practice, to ferret out whatever bits of anger remain in me, and help me to cultivate qualities such as love, compassion, peace, harmony, generosity and good-will. These are the kind of people I like to be around, and the kind of person I'm working to become. These are happy people, and I'm a happy person most of the time. Why choose to surround myself with unhappy, angry people? I need smiles, laughter, a good sense of humor, and most of all -- kindness. So I find it here, then when I return home there's more of all that in me, and it lasts, becomes part of who I am and becomes more and more the type of person I want to be around. I learn and grow here, and all that brings happiness. The hardships of living on the land melt away and become unimportant.

What's not to like about that?

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