Confession from a faraway place

Update: 02/09/2021
 

Confession from a faraway place

 

Summer is over; the sunshine is no longer dazzling. At the porch, plants are going to turn partly yellow, some raindrops fall down and some sun lights get lost, which makes a little light rainbow but it cannot bother me…

This season makes us miss each other.

Feeling like the wind blowing in the heart unlimitedly.

Sunshine wandering,

Wildly,

Getting lost,

Finding his own happiness,

Leaving the town alone,

Leaving the town empty,

Clouds and breeze covered all the ways

So cold,

Beating beautifully,

People quiet…

Dreaming about a beautiful sunny day.

Time flies so fast, just like the blink of an eye, leaving the memory behind. August comes and goes so fast. It has been three months since the day I left Hoang Phap temple, where I grew up and nurtured wisdom, where love and compassion spread all over the place. Bodha seed was tiny, thanks to Guru and monks, it grew up better. I left Hoang Phap Temple like juniors. Following masters, I will propagate Buddha’s teachings and deliver lessons, in order to experience. The new place I come to is so strange, all weather, land, friendly and warm people. All Dharma in the world is from conditioning causes. Therefore, I am supposed to stay here to do my cultivation and meet other people.

Part 1: Leaving…

Is this life for pursuing happiness? Some people inattentively chase big dreams and forget things around them, some people miss their trips because they are obsessed with the missed ghost. Like others, I will go anytime -for experiencing, serving and fulfilling my dream.

The day I left was Saigon's lockdown day (May 31), but my mind was laden with grief, partly I worried about the community in the COVID pandemic; partly I was touched as this time was different from previous trips, I would leave the community and the temple.

Before the day I left, I came to say goodbye to my master and other monks – my brothers. Besides gratitude, I said, “If the condition was unfavorable, I would be back to Hoang Phap Temple to practice with the community”. But, for practice experience and propagation, my master encouraged me to overcome difficulties. He taught, “What you left at the temple is a good thing. I cannot keep you here as you are beneficial for the temple. I always hope the monks can experience and especially propagate Buddha’s teachings in life to help human beings reduce sufferings and bring bliss to people. More people know about Buddhism, your work to help people practice and follow the Buddha’s enlightenment will become more worthy. When you wish to leave, never think about the failure and you could come back here. The difficulty and challenge should be considered as motivation to strive better, this way or that way till you are successful”.

The master’s words are still in my mind and help me to be stronger to overcome challenge and temptation. No matter how hard it is, I will be strong. Be known that I came to a new place, my fellow monks usually called and cared for me, “Do you get along with the weather there?”, “How is your meal?”, “Anyone comes to the temple?”, “Do you feel sad, whenever you feel sad, please call me!”. From there, I felt the love from my monk-brothers to me. The companion of Dharma is more appreciable; just whoever follows this path could understand this.

Part 2: Adaption

Ha Tinh Province welcomed a young monk in hot sunshine, typically from the Central region on the first day I came to a new place. I was shocked by the temperature for the first time. My brown robe was sweaty. Other Buddhists were worried, “Are you tired? The weather is so hot these days, it becomes cooler soon, do not worry”. Oh how long I had not heard the accent that was typical of the Central region again. I smiled and did not reply yet, a Buddhist interrupted, “Do you understand what I mean?”. To eliminate all people’s doubt, I replied with the Central region’s accent genetic from my parents: “I do not feel tired”. They happily smiled and invited me to the room to take a rest.

The first meal I ate here was so boring. I missed the days eating with my masters and my fellow monks and Buddhist lay people in the temple. At least, there were 300 people for each meal, consisting of nearly 100 monks and 200 laypeople. After every breakfast, I would hear a short lecture from my master. Breakfast is the time everyone could feel happy, as we could take in food to fill energy for the whole practice and learning day as well as receiving Dharma lessons every morning to nurture our Bodhi-mind and perform better practices. At this time, I had the meal alone and memories were filled in my head.

After a month, I was called to see my master and had my report of the situation to him. Hearing a class opened for young learners, he was so satisfied. I knew that my master wished to propagate Buddhism into life, especially into family and to educate young learners. He knew that they were the future of the nation, the ones who decide the development or the extinction of the nation, so that nurturing Buddhist teaching to them at a young stage can help their morality develop better in the future. In addition, the master also encouraged me to practice more for the hope that people here will rely on me. Just some words of the master, I was motivated and warm from a far-away place.

At the time I stayed at Hoang Phap Temple, I lived and worked with others in the protection of the community. But now, I had to plan everything. Fortunately, the master’s vision was for his disciples to leave the Sangha. He had the disciples take turns to do the temple’s Buddhist work. This year the monk could work at the kitchen, next year he would do the work of incense burning or alter lightening, visitors’ caretaker, Buddhist affairs, the Abbot’s assistant, etc. until the monk could lead the retreats, deliver lectures, and so on. Therefore, this helps the Sangha members grow up; they can manage all temple’s tasks.

Part 3: People’s warmth at a far-away place

Recognizing that I would come here, Buddhist layperson Khanh Toan prepared all things for me. He was the one representing his community to go to Hoang Phap Temple, inviting my master to his hometown for Buddhist propagation. In spite of his old age, his mind is so good. He is still his family  bread-winner and a successful businessman. In addition, he usually makes offerings, builds temples and leads charity activities in the country. He often frequents the temple and I could feel less alone at this place.

Every day, I cooked by myself. I had done it at Hoang Phap Temple, so it was not too difficult for me. Some days, ladies in the village brought vegetables, so I did not worry about food. The countryside people were simple– hearted, they gave me the vegetables they had planted. Food became so various like a food paradise: Ms. Tiu gave some kilos of rice, Ms. Nguyet gave some kinds of veggies, Ms. Loan gave some noodles; Ms. Huong gave some spices: soybean sauces, cooking oil, powder; Ms. Vy gave some cakes, Ms. Song Huong gave some limes, milk, some caches; Ms. Duoc, Ms. Xuan, Ms. Thao (Ms. Nguyet’s daughter) gave me milk, cakes and fruits as seeing me a little thin. And so many other people who were so nice to me -a young monk  coming to the countryside temple for the first time. Even little children loved me, too. Nam and Nguyen liked the temple the most, they always asked their mothers to bring me some food they had at home. They also asked their mothers to fill the food box in case I needed more food. Sometimes, their moms gave them some cash for breakfast, they bought food and shared it with me. They also brought some milk and we enjoyed breakfast together. They told me, “When I grow up, I will become a monk like you”. I smiled and rubbed their heads: “Yes, try to study hard and obey your parents, I will let you be the monk later”. Thao and Xuan, Ms. Xuan’s nieces were naïve and lovely. In mid-July of the Lunar Year, there was a chicken in their house. They asked their grandma to bring the whole chicken to the temple for me at all costs. Until the grandma explained that the monks ate vegan only, they stopped crying. Linh, Ms. Nguyet’s little daughter took her mom’s turn to bring food to me. She also asked her mother to buy a badminton set for us to play at the temple in the afternoon. I thought a thin person like me could gain weight thanks to the love of people here.

Part 4: Love connection

There are so many stories just about food topics. On every 15th and 30th on the days of the Lunar Year, Buddhist lay people come to the temple to pray for peace. I always cook some vegan food to serve them. The menu is quite varied: noodles, curry soup, many kinds of vegan meals, etc. This simple way is to help more people come to the temple. Otherwise, people could feel comfortable and warm at the village temple.

The temple’s area is so broad, but it mostly consists of the sand so that farm products cannot be harvested. I intended to use the styrofoam box for planting. Knowing this, Ms. Trang helped me to look for it. In the morning, she came to help me set up the planting area. Planting vegetables for meals is just a secondary reason. Actually, my favorite activity is planting. Watching the seeds growing up gradually is to help me deeply understand Buddhism’s cause and effect. Cause and effect is not only two elements, it also contains karma (action). People (cause) do actions (karma) and actions will take effect. Cause contains actions, actions results in effect. The way to effect needs some conditions which are outside the connection: cause, action, and effect. Condition is the incidental element and there is no rule or pattern on it. The image of cause–condition–action–effect is considered to be the pyramid where the top is the condition, and the base contains other three elements. If there is a cause but without condition, actions cannot take place. If the condition does not come, the cause and action elements will stand still.  Action which does nothing cannot result in effect.

Planting makes me feel very cheerful. Firstly, I could do my favorite activity. Secondly, this experience makes me understand how hard farmers do and feel thankful. Thirdly, obviously there are vegetables for meals, especially sharing with the local people.

“Were a bird, or a leaf,

Bird singing, leaf green,

If borrowing but not returning,

Let’s give, do not only take”  (To Huu)

Nowadays monks not simply chant sutras, but they also have to gain true knowledge to build the foundation for the discernment. If practice is just done around the temple, it will not be peaceful; it will be outdated.

With the hope of propagating Buddhism, teaching all beings over and over, I deliver a 15-minute lecture to Buddhist laypeople after the ceremony. I wish it would help people to proceed on their enlightenment path.

Delivering Buddha’s teaching is a valuable opportunity to have a reflection on myself. It is not only extracting sutras or telling stories or society, but it also reflects on a monk’s life. When it is performed in spiritual and ultimate Bodhi practices, propagating is much more valuable. Buddhist propagation is not simply to deliver lectures or conduct ceremonies, daily activities can mirror a monk’s mind.

To contribute to education and show good souls nurtured to young learners, I opened a summer course for them at my temple with the hope that it would be a wholesome and interesting place. I focused on explicitly “filial” and “grateful” education. However, children can also learn life skills, how to heal the pains and how to live more peacefully and more meaningfully in their daily lives. My temple is a place where young learners can learn true value to the enlightenment way. Understanding the core value of the course, parents believe me and send more children to the course. At first, there were only ten children in the course. The number increased after each session. During the last 10 minutes of the course, children had a chance to show their singing talent of  singing. They sang the songs they had learned from the previous sessions. The temple was more cheerful after the course began. Before finishing the session, the course participants gathered to play traditional games. Some quiet girls liked playing rope jumping or rock games.

Sometimes, we went to paddy fields to relax. Sea-breeze mixed with countryside smells made us feel more peaceful and tranquil. Some children chased on the fields, some fell down making us all laugh out loud.

There is only me in the temple, so Buddhist lay people took turns to do the temple cleaning. Moreover, some ladies prepared meals for the noon and afternoon ceremonies. Therefore, the temple became cleaner, warmer and quieter. Sometimes, I invited ladies and children who had attended the course to help me in cleaning the temple. Watching people working together, I felt so happy. “As bamboos grow old, young shoots spring up”. Building-up, transmitting, supporting, inheriting and developing is the spirit people should have to propagate Buddhism throughout the years.

At first, I slept alone at the temple. Buddhists were afraid that I would be lonely and scared of ghosts. In reality, I did not afraid of this as I expected these things and I was ready to struggle with difficulties. For a while, the course for the children was more stable. Nam and Minh, the oldest students aged 16 in class, were closer to me. Nam looked bright and smart. Minh was rustic and honest. The first time I met Minh, I had thought he was shy, but he was open later.

They also liked the temple. Whenever I needed help, they always came to support me right away. Some nights, they asked parents’ permission to sleep at the temple. When coming to the temple, they greeted me and then went back to the guest room. Gathering together, we talked about the future and young people’s issues today. Based on my experiences and my Buddha’s teachings, I could help them solve the problems in life. In addition, they liked listening to the story of my life when I was young with wrong deeds, failure before becoming a Buddhist monk. They also liked to listen to the story of Buddha which helps them follow the Buddha’s step. In the past, I myself also listened to a story of a young monk, and since then my Bodhi seed has grown gradually. Thanks to this condition, perhaps they could be in the same situation…

Part 5: A special 15th day of July (Lunar Year)

Due to the COVID pandemic, the Ullambana ceremony (on 15th July, Lunar Year) became dull and quiet. My place was safer than other places in southern provinces, so the activity for this festival was carried out normally. I intended to hold the ceremony on 14th day. The flow of the ceremony was planned from the beginning of the month. The ceremony was supposed to be held successfully. Unexpectedly, there were some COVID cases in the neighborhood, the people living nearby were scared, too. I was afraid that the ceremony could not be carried out as planned. I decided to hold the ceremony on the 11th day of July. The authorities did not allow us to have big gatherings. So I just invited some intimate Buddhist laypeople and some children. The ceremony was carried out solemnly, gratefully devoted to parents. The flow of the ceremony was planned simply for the present situation. In the afternoon of the ceremony, Ms. Nguyet luckily had a chance to buy some flowers and fruits. She was glad to show me, “Dear master, I fortunately could buy some flowers and fruits. So I could offer them to Buddha. I was afraid that the market would be closed, and there was nothing to buy. How lucky I am!”. I felt happy, too. The days before, she was worried about that. I encouraged her, “It’s OK, the most important thing is our heart, and Buddha never blows us up about these things. We can offer Buddha the flowers of your hard-working practice, your firm Bodhi-mind, your Three-Jewels firm belief. We can offer Buddha fruits of our greed, anger, and ignorance transformation. Buddha really would like to see these kinds of flowers and fruits”. Despite unfavorable conditions, the Ullambana ambience was around here, the time to show filial respect to parents, to feel the ultimate love and warmth of parents.

This time, I missed my mom more. I missed the previous Ullambana ceremony, my master and the monks wore flower chains for their mothers. I hoped to do this for my mom, too. I wished my mom was protected by the Three Jewels. “Mom, I will be back on the sunny day…”

The Ullambana season coming to us is also the day Buddhas from ten directions are happy to get together. I expressed my thanks to my master from this far-away place. We wish time goes slowly so that Guru can stay with us longer. Buddha, please protect him! Even though everything would change, the gratitude of Buddhist practitioners would be the same forever…

“The master is like a small boat,

Taking me over ignorance station

I am not a person

If I forget your master’s merit”.

Part 6: Conclusion -Some Thoughts

Sometimes it takes a long time to understand the story, and when I have to leave, I realise many things. “Broad strange land seems to be narrow, a corner of my hometown being boundlessly missed”. Far from my hometown, I really feel homesick and the love of my master, my fellow monks, and my friends. In this busy track of life, while we are trying to keep track of modern life, suddenly we miss the lullaby of our mothers; we want to freely run on the paddy fields.

“The people here are simple and lovely, not luxurious and sparkling. Life though hard, they still wholeheartedly enjoy”. Being loved in this place and following my master’s footsteps, I strive my best to practice. Whether I could stay here for a long time or not, because of “the mendicity”, I think I can stay everywhere. I will bear in mind the “loving and missing” spirit for this place. Che Lan Vien (a Vietnamese poet) once said,

“While I’m staying here, it’s just land,

When I leave, land turns to my soul!”

This afternoon, at the end of August, there is some breeze which makes me touched. It seems like fall still does not come yet as there are some sun lights shining a little far. August in which no floating cloud, no north-eastern wind blows lightly.

August in which a person stands and waits, but just a dry summer and some cold breezes freeze the poems of the quiet seasonal transition. August in which a person waits…a waning leaf nearly falling down…like a fall crying! Sunshine on dried lips mixed with a cup of bitter tea, around with mysterious incense which makes us rolled up to this world of nothingness. Wishing the world to be peaceful, the COVID pandemic stops. I can come back to my old home where my mom is waiting, to the beloved temple echoed with the afternoon sutra chanting.

August in which I miss my mom, my beloved Hoang Phap Temple.

 

Thich Tam Luc
Translated into English by Nguyen Hoang Thoai

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