Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spent the weekend at a Vietnamese Buddhist Monastery

The above sign is how I feel every time I visit or stay at a Buddhist monastery. I shared that with a nun and she asked why do I leave?

Deer Park Monastery is in Escondido, CA. I hit epic traffic that started at noon. I checked in late to the monastery at 5pm. Good thing they are so understanding here. I tried to get here on time. 

I arrived a little frazzled at Deer Park. Not the mindset that I wanted to be in, but there you go. I'd been on the road from 10am until 5pm, facing my fear of riding through LA. I made a quick detour in Oceanside to visit my late Great Grandparent's trailer park for a quick "hello," and then couldnt figure out where to check in at the monastery. Nor could I find the bathroom. I was going to pee my pants, so out of desperation, I popped a squat in the bushes. What a way to start my stay at a holy place. 

The hammocks were the hangout for the monastics. 

I was curious as to what monks and nuns swim in, so I asked. Ends up the swimming pool isnt for people. Some lucky fish a and a turtle live here. As apart of my stay, I worked four hours a day. I was in the orchid. While I was working in the orchid that's next to the pool, two fellow guests were trying in vain to catch and relocate the fish. It was a tad funny watching them try for four hours in vain.

I think I had an easier job than the fishermen. I got to shovel sand! I worked with two other guests, plus a nun who I later learned is the Abbotess. The Abbotess is Vietname and doesnt speak much English. She was all smiles. I was told she's the oldest, but she cant be that old, because her skin looked great and she was using a pick ax for hours in the hot sun. I want to be amazing like her when I'm older. 

When I met the Abbotess, she handed me a shovel and 5 gallon bucket. Then showed me the sand pile and laid out a tarp about 20 feet down hill, indicating that's where the sand should be relocated to. There wasnt tools for the other ladies, so I got to work. I was completely fine moving the sand by myself. I enjoy manual labor. I had no idea why the sand needed to be moved. For all I knew I'd move it back up hill the next day. 

Ends up more tools appeared and the three of us lady guests, plus an English speaking nun, moved the sand. We needed to move it so that we could dig a hole for a plastic swimming pool. The pool liner was going to be a veggie garden and the plastic liner was to catch the water from running down the hill. 

It was a pretty toasty day and we all got quiet gross and hot. The Abbotess squeezed blood oranges and brought us Vietnamese cookies. She let us leave a little early so we could shower. It was such a treat getting to work with such wonderful ladies. And it was also a treat to take a hot shower that didnt take quarters. 

Monastic life follows a strict schedule that starts at 5am and ends at 9pm. Mondays are the Lazy Days, with a lax schedule and Sundays there's a different schedule of events for the public. I was there Fri-Sunday, so I got a taste of the regular days and the public session on Sunday. 

On Sunday we stood outside in the lovely sun and sang songs with hand motions lead by an adorable, older monk. There was about 100 people there. Then a guest monk from France explained how to practice Walking Meditation and led us up the mountain on a meditation walk.

At the top of the mountain, I was so excited to see a labyrinth. I've made many art installations featuring this mediation tool.  

Then we silently walked down the hill together to the temple.

The view was stunning from the top of the mountain. It over looked Escondido. The roof that you see in the distance is the Ocean of Peace temple, also pictured below.

To keep everyone on schedule, this and many other bells were invited to sound (which is another way of saying ringing the bell). In my tent, I'd wake up to the sound of this bell, sounding far off in the distance. It was such a lovely way to wake up.

Before entering any building, expect for the dining room, shoes were removed. I love this tradition. It keeps things nice and clean. Plus I prefer to be barefoot. This kid is wondering why I am taking his photo.

Another bell. They're all over the place and all sound a little different.  I'd hear one sound and I'd think I was late, but no clue for what. I'm so glad I brought a watch.

This is the Bell Master, sitting by the bell. She invited the bell several times when prompted by the speaker, Sister Harmony. Sister Harmony talked about fasting, not just from food and drink, but fasting from technology (using the Internet as a tool instead of a mindless exercise that eats up hours), and fasting from the environment (talking about what you can do during this drought). 

The Sister gave lots of practical advice. It was the first Dharma talk that I've understood, because she used everyday language. Previous talks I've attended I've left wondering what was wrong with me. Everyone else seemed to get something out of the talk. I'm college educated and can sit and listen for hours. I dont understand the Buddhist jargon. It's a whole nother language.

For me, staying at Monasteries is more about the search for good posture and focusing on building healthy habits like being relaxed and taking deep breaths. I already have so much to learn about my body, that I'm focusing my efforts there.

After the sermon and a quick break, the congregation broke into groups each led by a monk, for folks to share what they felt during the sermon. We circled up and sat on the meditation pillows and introduced ourselves and shared why we were there. Then in a Popcorn style, people could share if they wanted about their reaction to the sermon. I really enjoy connecting with folks this way, hearing briefly about what they're going through, talking about feelings and hearing practical ideas on how to apply what was taught.

At the Soto Zen monasteries I've stayed at, there are always statues in the temple. Not here at Deer Park. They decorated with orchids and lanterns. This is the prettiest alter that I've seen. It is so simple and stunning. For me nature does me in. 

When you're inside of the temple, you are surrounded by glass doors that are covered in animal window decals. I was so surprised to see them in such a serious place, that I almost laughed. The quail stickers made me smile. They are so cute. This is a photo from the outside looking in. 

One misconception of bowing all the way to the ground at Buddhist temples, is that it's a form of worship to Buddha. Really it's a sign of respect. It's like putting your hands at your heart after a yoga practice and saying Namaste, which literally means, "The spirit in me, salutes the spirit in you." So for me, I'm not worshiping an statue. I'm giving a salute to a real person's teachings.

A couple of statues in the orchid. 

It was the cutest thing watching the nuns drive around in the golf car. It was used for shuttling the older nuns up the hill to the big meditation hall. I definitely want to visit again. I could of stayed a week, but I knew I'd leave depressed from not wanting to leave. Best to get a taste of the monastic lifestyle and move on.

I'm looking for a monastery that incorporates several hours a day of martial arts. At the Soto Zen temples I've visited, there isnt any martial arts going on. At Deer Park we did about 1/2 hour of Stick Qi Gong, led by a monk. I was all sorts of giddy and excited to workout at a holy place with monks. It felt so good to workout in a group. I've missed working out with my martial arts friends. Perhaps the next temple I visit will be a Shaolin temple, where I can meditate and practice Kong Fu. 

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