As an event the Easter bush Dharma retreat was small in number, never more than 12 participants mostly 5 or 6; but it was perfect in joy. A jewel within a jewel.
We were a bunch of friends at ease, with clear minds and a good teacher, sitting in the bush, breathing in the beauty, singing up the country, delighting in lantern lit sunrises and sunsets, breezes and bird song, blessed by monks and served abundantly with food generously provided by Lao lay people.
On the last evening together evening we sat in our candle lit bush temple in geomantric formation, three women making a triangle in the centre, four men a square about them, and chanted together, two monks, the Venerable Santitthito and a novice, our witness.
Then we went in procession bearing gongs and lanterns to the nearby meditation cave. Acharn Witij led us and when we approached the cane he invoked the guardian spirits. "This is Wititj," he called into the darkness. "We have come to do ceremony here, healing ceremony." The night became very still.
The Venererable Santi and Phra Phom Phet took their seats either side of the candle lit Buddha shrine. On one side hung the Wandjina figure that we had painted during the day backlit by candle light. In that sacred place Acharn Wititj explained the "standing up alive" mystic symbolism of the Wandjina and came to us each in turn and gave us a blessing looking into our eyes and blowing gently upon them. Jennifer dog too.
Santi blessed us with a chant and a teaching: "Don't blame the darkness for being dark. Light a candle of truth. Just one candle dispels the darkness."
Then one at a time we knelt at the shrine, lit a candle and, in the witness of friends and devas, said how we would be standing up alive till next we meet. Sacred affirmations. In the darkness behind us a wallaby thumping by, a koala grunting. Then back to our bush temple.
Acharn Witij had been saying how in both Aboriginal and Buddhist lore, a certain kind of rain, a light (Witij) shower, was sign of divine blessing. And so it was that as we sank into the meditation together, there came a shower no longer than 90 seconds in duration and as if from some passing angel holding a watering can over the tarp. Ah so. How sweet the chanting that followed: "Jewel in the lotus, jewel in the heart."
Next day sweet too the companionship. The Lao lay people excelled themselves with food
offerings including special sweets and a bunch came sat with us in the final meditation session. Together we carried the Buddha images in procession back to the temple, Santi on the veranda greeting us with broad smile, shining eyes, and open hearted happiness.
That happiness was common to all participants. This is where following the sacred thread of friendship leads: to inspiration, rejuvenation, refreshment and and re strengthening to carry on. To a deep sense of satisfaction and joy.
Many stories to tell. More stories and insights will be added as they are written and received.
Here are some impressions recorded by "Bodha" Gwen Gould, 29 April 2004. That's Bodha getting her wrist tied with a sacred thread of friendship by Bhogiyogi Graemeji. These photos courtesy of Cally.
Sacred Threads - How apt!
As I sat on the beach at Byron Bay yesterday I found myself in deep
meditation, such a clear free space since our Easter Retreat.
Memories flooded back: waking to the sound of the pre dawn gong and the joy of the first sight of our camp; fire burning, tea brewing and soft lantern light surrounding our sacred space.
How special to sit in the early morning mist and listen to the day awaken. The chill of the early morning adding to the awareness of the birth of a new day, occasionally peeping out from my meditation to see the smoky misty sunrays start to sparkle on the dew drops.
Sitting, walking, Jennifer scratching a little bird twittering, crow calling, maggies singing, distant Kookaburas laughing and the day awakens.
For me there were many moments of really stopping, looking, feeling and observing nature in its simple splendour. The grey gum next to our space with mottled trunk of cream and violet, blue and white always changing with the time of day.
Then there are memories of the food. A few of us had brought snacks in case we needed something between noon and midnight. We need not have worried. There was so much food being offered. For breakfast of special noodle soup; for lunch mounds of chicken, vegetable dishes, rice, potato mornay and even Lao deserts to finish us off.
The Lao ladies, lay supporters of the forest monastery, spared no effort to please us. It was feast after feast of delectable abundance.
We started by take the Budha to our sacred space in a parade of lanterns, Jennifer dog leading the way. We shared many meditations, discussions, teachings from Santitito and John and group discussions.
Our visit to the cave temple at night was very special. Starting with a meditation with the women in the centre and men surrounding us chanting, Jennifer led the lantern parade to the cave where we all lit candles and honoured each other.
There is always some moment in the discussions which catches your attention and for me it was the last day. I had been doing battle with myself before I came and giving myself a hard time. And here was John telling us about effort. Effort in our practice.
I was thinking: "O God No! Not more effort". With much discussion the message finally got to me. If its too hard then maybe we are't doing it right. It is with skillful effort that we move forward.
Thank you John and thank you Santitthito for your insightful talks.
Thank you Graeme for putting it all together and encouraging me to come.
Thank you to our Lao hosts who made us so welcome and offered an insight into their culture.
And thank you also to the other participants, Willhem, Catherine, Kel, Kieran, Irenn and Greg.
We have shared a special time and place which I know I will carry in my heart and in the way I walk through the world and hopefully in doing so will spread love and compassion a little further in this troubled world.
Our weekend finished perfectly with the Lao people coming to share a final meditation and carry the Budha in procession back to the Lao temple beating thje gongs as went. And of course Jennifer led the parade.