In the afternoon sunlight, daisies sway in the breeze; nearby you can hear the tinkling of wind chimes.
It’s beautiful, and even a little bit magical. Somehow, you feel possibility in the air.
The scene played out at our “home” monastery, Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, during the holy month of Saka Dawa – the month commemorating the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death. During this month, grass is allowed to grow on the KTD grounds without being cut, as monks try to reduce the number of sentient beings killed (even accidentally) on monastery grounds during Saka Dawa.
This year, the days after Saka Dawa brought a special visitor to KTD – His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa, who made a low-key private visit to his monastery after his successful public visit to Canada. In a visit that lasted less than 48 hours, His Holiness toured the campus of KTD, went to visit the Karme Ling Three-Year Retreat Center (where he blessed retreatants including our own Jinpa, Adam Berner) and blessed the site of 8 reliquaries (stupas) set to be assembled on the KTD grounds.
As far as I can figure, that’s a three-fold blessing for our home monastery – the time (just after Saka Dawa), the person (His Holiness), and the holy objects (the Buddha statues, texts and reliquaries). A trifecta of goodness!
One might wonder what makes holy places holy, and capable of bestowing blessing. And, one might understandably ask, what is a blessing?
The way I’ve heard it, blessing occurs when we prayerfully turn toward the sacred. According to the teachings of the Buddha, each being possesses Buddha Nature – a mind that has the potential to awaken to enlightenment, or Buddhahood – and when we draw near to people and places that embody awakening, our own Buddha Nature resonates, much like a tuning fork resounds to the exact same note struck in its viscinity.
In other words, people who have practiced meditation and opened their minds to compassion for themselves and others have the potential to “pass along” an inspiration to others whose minds are open to it.
The Buddha himself said that whoever thought of him would experience his presence in front of them. When we think prayerfully of the Buddha, even if we open our eyes and cannot see his form, his blessing – his essence – is present in our hearts. For that moment, one could say we reflect the Buddha, we embody the Buddha, we share sacred space with the Buddha.
And being inspired by this, we may be able to embody the Buddha to others – to carry to others some small bit of his wisdom and compassion.
I was thinking of this on a recent Sunday, when a group of us traveled to the corner of West Rich and South Grubb streets in Franklinton for a whimsical photo opportunity that I felt could connect our community both to its future and its past.
In a warm breeze and bright sunlight, a group of about 20 of us piled into cars and drove from our temporary shrine room at Congregation Tifereth Israel on East Broad Street to our old property at Rich and Grubb streets, where we lined up on the empty embankment to smile for the camera and celebrate our community.
There we were, squinting into the sunlight, enjoying being together in our “old” home, and smiling for people of the future to show them we had been there – on the vacant lot that had once been our shrine building, and, with good fortune and hard work, will one day be our shrine building again.
It felt to me as though I had one foot in each time – past, and future – but what grounded me was the place, the place where we had heard so many teachings, offered so many prayers, sat in meditation so many times, and – yes – received so many blessings.
It was a strange request, I suppose, but I couldn’t help but feel we were making a promise to the place, a promise to the land and to the Franklinton neighborhood, that we would be back someday, and that they should hold our place open for us.
As I turned toward the parking lot to go to our Sangha Lunch, I noticed a neighbor across the street sitting on her porch, watching the unfolding scene. As others were waiting on me, I didn’t have time to go over and speak to her, but I tried to give her a positive assurance in the only way I knew how in that moment.
I made a motion like a person digging the earth with a shovel, and said, “Next year! Next year. We will be back next year.”
With the Buddha’s blessings, and everyone’s hard work …