This Is A Place Of Practice

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“C’était bien passé?”

People ask this question all the time: it went well? Most of the time I say yes. Sometimes I say definitively no. And periodically, I take the time to truly reflect and express the infinite shades of possibility between the one and the other. Having just returned from a week of retreat and facing this query frequently, I can safely say the experience engenders the latter.

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It went like this.

Bowled over by beauty and the strength of this place of practice. Equally bowled over by the strength of my own mind, both to accept its own nature and to flee in a frenzy from said nature. I’m no expert on the nature of mind, but the Buddha and his disciples said a few things about it, and the ones that stick out to me lately are these:

“The nature of the mind is clarity.”

“The nature of the mind is creativity.”

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At times my mind feels spacious, and I rejoice in the tranquility. At times my mind feels spacious, and I recoil from the openness, unsure what to do with all the empty space. At times my mind is active, and I revel in its dynamism without holding tight to what insights arise. At times my mind is active, and I flutter frantically through my thoughts, trying to gather them all before they pass, as a mouse gathers straw for warmth before the winter. At times I am wonderstruck by where I am in this journey, and at times I am desolate with my own limitations.

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To me, being well means being conscious, neither holding on when what we see is hopeful, nor minding overmuch when it is less than comfortable. I have experienced meditation retreats utterly replete with marvel and exhilaration. This trip was steadier, in some ways harder, but more clear. And not entirely lacking for marvel, either (ahem, the pictures…). It went well.

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And whatever wisdom arises, be it blissful or blindsiding, there’s always beauty to carry the day. The power of this place and the devotion of those who have wrought it, whose dedication permeates every stroke of paint in the nearly-finished temple, every stick of bamboo by the koi pond, which rolls in waves over the gate from the cloisters of long-term retreat—this wells confidence in what we can uncover through practice: our own untarnished wisdom, for the benefit of all beings.

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The Moon in Rippling Water

Evening in Delhi. Indian winter, still, which is no season I have ever known or thought of, nor particularly memorable. Foggy in the morning, chilly in the evening, sunny in the middle. The rain, though, the rain will hold you in place. And then let you go.

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Today was a perfect day. The sky hung low and dark with clouds and latent thunder. It felt as though the whole world slept and tossed in its sleep. Windows shed little light into rooms, leaving them silent and dormant even in the middle of morning. At midday, I sat alone on the marble stairs and watched water making pools and ripples in the courtyard.

In class, we are reading Chandrakirti’s Introduction to the Middle Way. He says,

“Beings are like the moon in rippling water, fitful, fleeting, empty in their nature.”

This morning's tree, reflected, seen through the pattern of the gate.

This morning’s tree, reflected, seen through the pattern of the gate. (Is this picture sort of tiny? Why WordPress, why?)

We appear, quite luminously even, and still we are empty of essence. If I were to stand and walk into the rain, I could see my reflection – fitful, fleeting, rippling in the stone tiles.