By Cheryl Beth Diamond
I first visited Deer Park Monastery when it was more of an idea than a reality: clumps of buildings shot through with bullet holes, shell casings and old motors in raggedy meadows. Yet there was also the energy of the several hundred retreat attendees following Thay in a mindful walk up the hill to express gratitude for a possibility and to listen to his wise words in the oak grove below. There the gnarled majestic old trees served as reminders of the ancestors back to the days of Shakyamuni who gathered in the same way centuries ago—and there we were!
Now, four years later at the fall Order of Interbeing retreat, I stayed in a welcoming hut. I watched the sun come up and the stars emerge —a blessing come true. I witnessed the skeleton of the new Dharma hall, a graceful ship’s hull built to carry present and future generations to distant shores.
The hummingbirds, kinglets, deer, and squirrels play gleefully among the lovingly planted and cared for trees and flowers; the peaceful ponds and walking paths invite misty morning strolls and evening contemplation. The tearoom is home to warmth, conversation and quiet moments, the kitchen miraculously turns out symphonies of tastes, textures, and colors.
For me, during our weekend together, there was a wonderful opportunity to spend relaxed time with monastic brothers and sisters, to soak up their joy and graceful mindfulness. It was an opportunity to understand better the road to the monastic life: the twists and turns, the hopes and doubts, the consummation. There was also the opportunity to visit with newly aspiring practitioners searching for their own path in the O.I. and eager to hear about its many opportunities for learning, relationship, and service.
Through transformation of land and Sangha the future of the Dharma is assured, fostered by the oaks, the squirrels, human determination and relationship and song.
Cheryl Beth Diamond, True Opening to Insight, lives in Tucson, Arizona and practices with the Singing Bird Sangha.