Reflections on 2020
December at Tisarana. Each day we walk by the deer in their thickened fur – the does with their observant young, foraging on grass and congregating at the salt lick near our main buildings. The Canada geese have now flown South with their happy racket. Only a few hardy species of birdlife remain, like the chickadees with their pinprick eyes, darting between the low bushes to feeders we fill for the simple pleasure of seeing them thrive.
I’ve now been at Tisarana for half a year; it’s my first Canadian winter after living in Thailand for nine years. Each morning’s community meeting contains a brief weather update – seldom a pressing matter in S.E. Asia. Since returning my supply of clothing and footwear has tripled. Snow has come and gone… and come and gone, and come. Almost without noticing, my acquaintance has returned with the crackle of ice underfoot, the moods of a wood stove, and the uncanny compaction of sound in dense cold.
Yet for all the differences, living as a bhikkhu in this tradition ensures a fair continuity of purpose and practice, something that differing weather, and alterations of flora and fauna, do not disrupt. After all, regular bowing and Patimokkha observance, blessing chants and respect for seniority, are rather durable forms of this life. Even if my wooden kuti now overlooks Canadian Shield instead of bamboo and guava (and even if I sometimes miss the astonishing variety of Thai birdsong, not to speak of dear teachers and friends), my practice continues to comprise familiar energies of distraction, clarity, resistance, enthusiasm, and the rest.
Part of my return to ‘O Canada’ has inevitably been coloured by the phenomenon of Covid, which has made much of the normal coming-and-going at Tisarana unfeasible. Our formal gatherings have been much restricted. Our reduced numbers of visitors have donned masks to drop off food or supplies, and met with monks at a deliberate distance.
Even so, friends of the monastery have come. Also, a worthy (and unanticipated) response has taken life through frequent talks and retreats presented over Zoom. In such ways an incurable spirit – enlivened by an economy of mutual respect and care – has still managed to flourish. It’s a spirit seemingly written into the source code of monastic and lay life since the Buddha’s time and which continues to offer radiance and vigour to our connection with Dhamma. At Tisarana we are appreciative recipients of this ongoing generosity and well-wishing. In such ways, and wherever I am, I have observed that a wellspring of gratitude bears me along in this life. Like any conditioned thing it can be inconstant, even delicate, and so both deserves and rewards whatever reverence I’m able to offer.