I partially went to a retreat called Sacred Space about how to find the sanctuary within, made a cameo appearance at the Wheeling Farmer’s Market, sat in an impromptu blue grass style kirtan, all good and uplifting things, and both the local sports teams I root for won, so even my lower self got to enjoy vicariously.
It started Friday night at the opening session of the retreat. I won’t give a comprehensive account, just bits of what I got out of it. The story that stuck in my mind that evening was a variation of this Zen koan:
In some regions of Japan it was the tradition that a traveler could request lodgings overnight at a Buddhist temple. The only condition was that the traveler should have a debate with one of the monk and show skill at the art of debate.
It so happens that at one small temple there were two monks. One was fast-witted, the other, who only has one eye, was much slower than his brother.
Late one evening they hear a knock at the door. The quick-witted monk was feeling tired and so asked the other to deal with the stranger. The one eyed monk said, “But brother, I cannot defeat the traveler as you could. Tell me what I should say”. “That is easy, if you do not know what to say, tell the traveler that he must debate in silence and that he must start the debate. That way, whatever happens, the traveler will have to think hard and almost certainly will lose”.
The newcomer is admitted and goes off to a private area with the one-eyed monk. A short while later, he is at the door, ready to depart. As he is leaving the other monk stops him and asks, “Why are you leaving?”.
The reply comes, “I was asked to debate in silence, so I thought for a while and held up one finger, to represent the oneness of Buddha. The monk frowned as he thought hard and held up two fingers, representing the division between Buddha and the material world. I considered for a moment before holding up three fingers, to show that between Buddha and the material world stands the third of humanity that can bridge the gap. Instantly, the monk grasped the concept and held up no fingers, showing that all these differences are of no significance. Defeated, I leave”.
The bright monk was impressed until his brother reappeared, asking where the visitor might be. The obvious question was asked to which the debating monk replied, “First the traveler tried to provoke me by holding up on finger, to indicate that he felt I was inferior because I only have one eye. I responded by holding up two fingers to compliment him on still having both of his. His response was to hold up three fingers to say that we still only have three eyes between us. I am afraid I lost my temper and raised my fist to hit him, but he ran away. Where is he? He has defeated me in debate and I must apologize to him for my loss of control.”
I didn’t go to any of the Saturday sessions because I went out to the Wheeling Farmer’s Market to sell Vidya’s crafted gourds. I did the market for many years until end stage liver disease pinned me to the couch and this was the first time since my liver transplant that I had asked if I could come to the market. I was assured I was a lifetime member so I went out.
I set benchmarks of sales and did hit the “it’s worth it to go again” one. As in general I only have half the energy I used to have I don’t really have a surplus of veggies to sell, but Vidya was kind enough to let me take her stuff, a lot of which was discontinued items I was able to sell cheap.
Besides the money, it was fun to be back doing what I used to be able to do routinely. I am friends with all the older vendors so it was almost like going to a reunion. I go to the market all the time anyway but being a customer isn’t the same as being set up.
After I got home I hoped to attend the later sessions of the retreat but was too exhausted and spent the rest of the day lying on the couch, a not unfamiliar routine for me.
Sunday between retreat sessions naturally I was drawn to the yajnashalla between the Temple and the lodge because Tapahpunjah was selling his garden produce there. Devananda Pandit had his guitar and a visiting devotee had a homemade string instrument and they were jamming bluegrass style kirtans. Soon a ukelele player appeared and joined in.
The yajnashalla has a bit of an elevated platform so there are slight ramps going up into it. Remember when you would lean back in a chair and your mother and/or wife would chastise you for being hard on the chair? I sat on the ramp so I had the comfort zone of being leaned back and no guilt. :-) The ambient temperature was a little cool but the black knit cap I was wearing was absorbing the rays of the unclouded sun so I was feeling literally warm and fuzzy physically plus the retreat buzz was still in hand.
Kirtan with physical and mental comfort as side dishes, what more could you want?
The last session the swami reiterated his three key points with more lecture and exercises.
1. I am not this body
2. Practice the role of being an observer
3. Practice (Krishna consciousness) with taste.
Another random bit from the retreat is that at one time he was talking about if your mind is agitated or disturbed, spend time with people who are serene. He then suggested that if you were in such a state, go spend some time with cows as cows are extremely serene.
The the last question was how to maintain the space we had entered during the retreat as we return to our daily lives. He acknowledged that this is a great challenge as we tend to revert to our habits.
He suggested that we consciously decide to develop one new habit that will help us retain that inner peace. We will see how that works out.