Working at the Way Place

The Mind  |  The Monastery  |  The Tribe   |   James Roberts  |   May 5, 2011, 7:53 pm

Raking leaves during Autumn in the monastic grounds

[Admin’s note: This post is out of sequence due to Admin error. Much apologies!]

Today marks the beginning of my second week as a volunteer and student at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. I’m just starting to feel settled in, having found some work to do so that I can make a contribution to the community. One of the monastic trainees tells me that the City is like a jigsaw puzzle: every person has their own contributions to make, and like the pieces of a puzzle, all the gifts fit together to form the working community.

Then we compost the piles of leafs for the organic farm

The dorm teacher here helped me find a little yard at one of the houses by the farm, where I can work in the morning. So for the past three days after morning ceremony, I’ve been raking up the leaves in the yard and piling them on one of the fallow fields at the farm. I see the work itself is an integral part of my practice and study here. Much like meditation, raking is simple, useful work that calms the mind and helps me focus. Also like meditation, it can either be terribly boring, or it can be very peaceful and pleasant, depending on what your attitude is like. I also find that the exercise in the morning helps me keep my energy up later in the day while I’m studying. Raking the leaves also contributes to the community. The leaves will be folded into the soil on the farm to provide aeration and carbon for the vegetables to grow. And of course, it’s nice to keep someone’s yard a little less cluttered.

In the afternoons I’ve been helping one of the monks here edit his English translations of sutras. I find this to be a particularly humbling experience.

In the afternoons I’ve been helping one of the monks here edit his English translations of sutras. I find this to be a particularly humbling experience. I’ve encountered sutras before in classes on Buddhism, but I’ve been astounded by the depth of understanding of Dharma that some of the practitioners have here. It’s such a precious opportunity to be able to sit down with someone who has devoted his life to the practice and study of the Buddhist tradition, and get to have such a detailed conversation about the importance of various ideas and how they might be communicated in English. Again, I am guessing I will find this work to be as important to my learning and development here as my formal practice and study.

Sometimes I wonder about what Buddhist practice was like in other ages. I imagine that at some time in the past history of Buddhist practice, before most people’s lives became so busy and scattered, before so much of the population was collected in cities, and before we became so attached to various machines and media, there was a sense of connection to the earth that was close to most people’s lives. I imagine that this connection to the earth, sustained over time, was a stabilizing force to practice that has become very difficult to find in this age. Just another reason, I think, to keep up with the raking.

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