The Birth of Nhap Luu Monastery By Ian Roberts
In southern Australia, it takes time for winter’s wilder energies to let go. The powerful forces of wind and rain often dominate the youthful spring. Every now and then, spring bursts through with its brilliant blue sky and warming sun, but within minutes a wave of hail breaks overhead again, sending everyone running for refuge. If the sun is our heart, as our teacher wrote so beautifully, then so are the rain and wind and hail.
These were the conditions for the first retreat at Nhap Luu (Entering the Stream) Monastery since the arrival of Sisters Thuan Tien, Luong Nghiem, Sinh Nghiem, and Can Nghiem as the first permanent monastic presence of the Or-der of Interbeing in Australia. Part of the energy of our mindfulness weekend was the arrival of Brothers Phap Kham, Phap Dung, and Phap Hai. They came to help create a new master plan for the monastery site, which was gifted in January 2010 by the Green Bamboo Sangha, after ten years of slow, steady development.
Nhap Luu is about 160 kilometres west of Melbourne—part of the state of Victoria’s Central Highlands, the location of a great gold rush in the 1850s, when Asian populations began to settle in Australia. Occasional hobby prospectors still fossick through the old gold diggings and mine shafts near Nhap Luu. But in the little, emerging, bush monastery, with its meditation hall and simple huts, searching has started to stop. We’ve started to realise that however basic the current conditions are, this practice centre is here, now, and it is full of all the gifts that can be found in the most established of monasteries.
The raw nature of the practice environment challenges and inspires us. Electricity only arrived a month ago, after the sisters and lay friends dug nearly half a kilometre of trenches. Some say that “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” and neither was Plum Village. We enjoy each step of the process. It’s easy to see at any moment that it will never be exactly like this again.
About sixty practitioners attended the mindfulness weekend—half of them Vietnamese Australians and half Westerners. Many had intended to camp, but wind and rain soon drove them into the meditation hall to unroll their sleeping bags. Some slept in their cars. Twenty of them covered the floor of the little twobedroom house next door, owned by a lay OI member. All slept easy with the rain beating on the old tin roof, even if the queue to the single toilet got a bit lengthy at times. But good-humoured mindfulness carried the Sangha throughout the weekend—even inspiring a poem:
This Morning This morning can not possibly be any colder than death. My heart can not possibly burn any brighter than the sun.
The continuing growth of Nhap Luu seemed to be assured by the mindfulness weekend. Many retreatants have continued to return, including a number of the young people who warmed the hearts of everyone when they took the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Now the summer approaches with abundant wild flowers and warm days and sunny breezes bringing bountiful crops to the farmers … and hay fever to most of the Sangha. That’s just the way it is in Australia—wild flowers and hay fever, or as our teacher says, lotus and mud.
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