Another round of seasons at Tisarana. The quiet, open space of the previous winter retreat is long past; subsequent seasons have been filled with regular pujas and Sangha gatherings, daily chores, needed kuti repairs, cabinetry, and numerous planning meetings for our prospective Dhamma Hall. Especially since mid-August (when a public ceremony marked the Hall’s formal site clearing) more folks have arrived for visits. It’s been a pleasure to see people’s full faces again and to share in their appreciation for rejoining the Tisarana Sangha, and one another, in person.
Now it’s December 25th. My day has begun by sitting with the community, as Luang Por Viradhammo leads a meditation session, and responds to questions over Zoom from students in distant Singapore. While listening to Luang Por, from time to time my awareness gathers elsewhere. The theme of my delinquent morning attention? Ingmar Bergman’s production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Watching the film in lay life for many years on Boxing Day has rendered it, seemingly indelibly, into the mood of the season for me. After all, this is a season redolent with perception and memory, even within our rich Buddhist environment. (As further demonstrations, a festive little tree stands near the food-offering area; today’s meal will include shortbread and fruit cake.)
Although hardly a novel observation, the morning scene speaks to me in part of the heterogeneity of our times: ancient and contemporary Dhamma teachings communicated (‘real time’) via satellite on Christmas Day to South East Asians, and in-person to a Tisarana community composed, today, of several Canadians, a Mexican, two South Indians, and an Englishman. All of this being accompanied (for me, at least) by vivid snatches of German opera sung in Swedish.
I notice that a continuing impression over the past year has been the ongoing value of the regular Zoom meetings with which Luang Por and I have been engaged. Singapore, Canada, Malaysia, America, Thailand, Australia, Ireland – the virtual gatherings have been geographically diverse. Many of our monasteries around the world have been similarly occupied. The meetings convey a curious combination of impersonal intimacy: scenes neatly divided across the flat-screen display dozens of familiar and new faces in their domestic environments. Some are in special meditation rooms, others, in wood-panelled studies or living rooms across from a kitchen. Diverse people, with shrines or books or sundry furnishings in the background, sitting on a personal meditation cushion, a chair, or sunk into a couch. Maybe a cat strolls through the scene with deliberate ease.
Whatever the setting, practitioners have frequently reported the effects of such gatherings: on how, while unable to attend retreats or weekly sessions with a monastic and one another, these regular digital meetings have inspired (sometimes for the first time) the cultivation of a consistent meditation practice right at home. For people discouraged from seeing one another in person, it’s provided a way to be restored by the nourishing freshness and stillness of our practice, as well as to renew a vital sense of friendship and shared purpose. Speaking personally, last year this phenomenon registered as a surprise. And even if it’s no longer news, I still find my appreciation returning rather often to the manner in which the agency of Dhamma has been expressed during these abnormal times, through the creative resilience and goodwill of far-flung supporters and friends.
Later, now, I’m back at my warm kuti on this grey, chilly Christmas afternoon. With my attention no longer echoing with Mozart, I notice a lone deer nearby: carefully walking … pausing … watching … momentarily nibbling (on what, I cannot see) … listening … then resuming her course through the icy, denuded woods. For a moment I’m struck – and not for the first time – by the little I comprehend of the life (whether physical or ‘internal’) of a creature that is able to live through a bleak winter with only dwindling food and its thickened fur for support. Does she ever despair? Does her survival involve – perhaps require – patience, trust? It humbles me to compare my daily, met needs with this deer’s inner resources. True, governed by an alert, wordless intelligence, it’s been the way of this fine animal since the tender days of her birth and maternal rearing. Yet there is a hinge, or spring, or pivot to such lapidary moments that bring me (again) out of my preoccupations into a deeper current of contemplation – one thankfully free of my questions, daydreams and concerns. Just a few moments full of an appreciation for the quiet wisdom and beauty of the forest. Just this.