Lately at Red Cedar Dharma Hall we’ve been enjoying the enthusiasm of a full zendo on Wednesday nights for our practice period study of the 8th century sage Shantideva’s great work The Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way. We’ve been contemplating Shantideva’s verses, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s commentary on the text (beloved in the Tibetan Buddhist schools), and most importantly considering deeply how we can practice with this ancient wisdom in our lives.
This text and the thoughtful, sincere practitioners coming to study it have been reminding me in a powerful way that we are offering something important in Bellingham. I was telling a visiting group of college students last week that our city is full of buildings and groups devoted to doing things – producing things, enjoying things, solving the various problems of the day. But our Dharma Hall is not about that. It’s a space not for doing and producing but for non-doing. A place for being. A place for contemplation. It’s an island of calm; a place to pause; a kind of island in a very busy sea.
Those of us who are lucky enough to be there regularly could easily take this for granted. I know I do sometimes. It becomes routine. Ordinary. In a deep way it is very ordinary – just to sit, just to be, to pay attention to our minds and bodies, to practice kindness and support with each other. What could be more ordinary and basic for human beings? And yet, as we all know, in this world what should be ordinary is far from it. It’s rare and important.
Shantideva says is well:
May I be an isle for those who yearn for landfall
and a lamp for those who long for light.
For as long as the great Earth and the elements
endure as the sky itself endures
for the boundless multitude of living beings
May I be the ground and vessel for their life.
This sounds a little grand but I think Red Cedar Dharma Hall and our wonderful Zen Community are an island for those who yearn for landfall. The world is only becoming more busy, more stressful, more hyper-engaged and so connected in some ways that the connections that really matter get lost. When we make time to come together in this sacred space we make that island vital and real.
The reality of our economy is such that production, entertainment, and services get the support. Non-doing, contemplation and the practice of kindness…not so much. That’s why we need to work together to keep islands like the Dharma Hall alive and thriving. We have no financial and human support other than what our members and those who come to our programs choose to give us.
This last year has been a formative one as attendance has grown and we’ve completed important tasks like the completion of our Practicing with Difficulty guidelines for ethics and clear communication. And 2015 proves to be all the more so as we work on revising and clarifying our organization, updating our website technology, and clarify our programs, practice and curriculum.
I hope you’ll join us in becoming a member, or renewing your membership, in 2015. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve as Spiritual Director and it is you that I serve. Wonderful!
As Shantideva concludes:
For every single thing that lives,
in number like the boundless reaches of the sky,
may I be their sustenance and nourishment
until they pass beyond the bounds of suffering.
Nomon Tim Burnett