Happy New Year
January 22, 2004
Year of the Monkey
By Hope Lindsay
I came to the Ocean of Peace mediation hall early today, soon to be filled with monastics and lay retreatants for the Asian New Year celebration. I am drawn to the beauty of this new hall at Deer Park Monastery. I want to fill my spirit through my eyes before the festival begins.
The altar area is filled with living color. There are mums, tulips, bamboo, and several species of orchids. Large vases contain pussy willows and reeds tied with tiny red ribbons. Bright red gladiolas repeat the color of good fortune. On the central altar, candles and incense are burning. Here are towers of fruits: mangos, apples, oranges, pineapple, and papayas. Sky and earth cakes wrapped in banana leaves remind me of the patient monastic and lay hands which made them the day before.
But perhaps the loveliest arrangement is the “tree.” It is Zen symbolism at its finest. Rocks arranged in classic patterns of heaven and earth support the large oak limb which has clusters of yellow blossoms attached to complete the appearance of spring. Red kites with words of peace and wisdom dangle from the tree.
Now Thay has arrived and the hall has filled. We are awaiting the Chinese dragons (in lion form) to announce the beginning of the five days of fun and reverence. Here they come turning, and rearing! They are led by a paunchy red-faced figure representing the Earth. No one can resist laughing out loud as the lions blink their large eyelids and open their mouths in pretended ferocity, except Thay, who remains in meditation until the procession reaches him. Then he breaks into a sweet, almost twinkling smile.
Thay was presented with a collage of miniature photos shaped in the form of the single pillar pagoda which replicates the stained glass window in the hall and expresses the theme of Tiep Hien, interbeing. The monastics wished Thay a long life, filled with good health and loving kindness. I also wished him long life, motivated by attachment. I need this soft-spoken, wise being awhile longer to help me awaken. Long, long life in this form to you, dear teacher.
Thay’s New Year wish for us is for our health. For the Asians in residence, he requests remembrance of their ancestors, and to carry their memories into enlightenment. For Westerners, he wishes rest and mindfulness. Also, he wishes us mindful consuming, the single most important mission for the Western world. In consumerism lies the cause of poverty and war. Wise consuming is the key to world peace.
I am aware that I came to this ceremony to “fill up my senses.” My eyes were filled with the sight of the monastics, dressed in earth brown under their bright ceremonial robes, looking like mantles of sunshine. My ears were blessed with Vietnamese music sung by Sister Chan Khong, Ha Thanh, a visiting opera singer, and Sister Thi Nghiem. I hear this haunting music in my mind, even now. I can also feel the wonderful rhythmic challenge between the large brass bell and taiko drum speaking from opposite sides of the hall.
Blessings to us all in the year of the monkey. Play more, be joyfully spontaneous, and at the same time calm our monkey minds.
Hope Lindsay, True Flow of the Heart, spent the winter retreat at Deer Park. She is a founding member of the Umpqua Area Sangha in Roseberg, Oregon, and an aspirant to the Order of Interbeing.