Immediately after the Colors of Compassion retreat, on the ﬁrst of April, ﬁfteen monks participated in an ancient ceremony of the Indigenous Peoples of this land—a Stone People Lodge ceremony. It was a historic event, in that we had the opportunity to experience ﬁrsthand the joining of Buddhist and Native spiritual traditions, from Vietnamese and Lakota lineages. Plus, it was a sacred meeting of representatives from several cultures: Vietnamese, French, English, Spanish, Swiss, Portuguese, Swedish, Filipino, African American, Canadian, American, Chinese, and Lakota. Truly, a United Nations meeting of the heart, a meeting of spirit.
Built on Kumeyaay land on the Viejas Reservation (east of San Diego), the lodge is a simple structure made from willow saplings. The Inipi (from the Lakota language) / Stone People Lodge ceremony is a means for purifying and renewing our mind, body, and spirit. This sacred Indigenous spiritual practice allows us to shed manifestations of ego as we sit inside the lodge—the womb of our Earth Mother, Maka Tizi—and pray for all beings. The prayer “Mitakuye Oyasin”—To All Relations/We Are All Related—encompasses this understanding of inter-being, inter-dependence and inter-connectedness with all life. Through all the preparations––covering the lodge, selecting the stones, building the ﬁre, making the prayer bundle offerings––every step, every action is part of the prayer of the ceremony.
The experience in the Stone People Lodge is an immersion into another realm of reality, into a realm beyond time and space, where our prayers for health, peace, and the planet have a particular potency. This ceremony feels as ancient as the red hot Stone People who are sitting with us in the center of the lodge. Sitting in the lodge, touching the Earth, we begin anew with our Earth Mother and with all our sisters and brothers of the Earth. The lodge ceremony reafﬁrms and strengthens our connection to the sacred hoop of life, to the Sacred Mystery, to all our ancestors, and to the ancestors of this land, Turtle Island (the American continents).
Once inside the lodge, embraced by the steam—the breath of Earth Mother—and enveloped in the sacred black light, we dissolve into the black light and the stillness, as ego, distinctions, deﬁnitions, discriminations, and thoughts fade. A shift from the visible to the invisible takes place. The sacredness all around us and within us, inter-connectedness, nondiscrimination, and non-separation are experienced very directly.
It was a great honor to facilitate this lodge ceremony for our brother monks. It was an amazing and deep experience which affected each of us profoundly, and sent ripples into the world and into the cosmos. In the days following the ceremony, the participants wrote about their experiences. With deep respect and gratitude we offer some of these writings to you.
Mitakuye Oyasin / To All Relations / We Are All Related, —Chan Tue Nang, Joseph Lam Medicine Robe
Hello to grandmother earth Hello to the stone people, my ancestors Hello to father sun Hello to the ﬁre, my ancestor Hello to the air that I breathe Hello to the steam and water I drink All of you are my relations I bow to you We are one Sitting in the beginning Looking at the black light I am in the womb of the earth Mother’s breath penetrating into me Spirit radiating out into the cosmos —Chan Phap Ngo
Stone People Lodge
Four hours cooking in a willow branch hut. Too small to stand, sitting close, no room to move, next to each other, sixteen brothers, in a circle, around the red hot stone people, embraced by the steam, breath of the earth, grandmother earth, mother’s love in this womb. Together in the heat, in love, in water, with brotherhood and grandfather spirit, in blackness—there we sat to renew, to purify, rebirthing, allowing ourselves to burn, to die, but not to sleep, not to dream.
Touching the Earth, we sat on the ground—a circle of brothers, a circle of life, a cycle of ages—heritage passed down to keep us in touch with all our relations—Mitakuye Oyasin. Offering our prayers for peace, for transformation, for healing. In preparation we gathered wood and placed so mindfully the stones one by one—one to the west, one to the north, then east, then south, in line with the colors black, red, yellow, white on poles on this ceremonial site, this land within a land within a land. An expanse of ﬂat land, with bare black burned trees, a circle of mountains made our horizon, and blue for above, green for below.
Lighting the ﬁre, a line of energy now alive between the ﬁre, altar and into the door through which we crouched to go inside a blacked out space—the willow branch lodge. In preparation we generated mindfulness, brotherhood, and more and more concentration. Aware, sensing, in touch with each other. Strings of prayer bundles for all beings in the entire cosmos and one for our own family and close ones. Circumambulating the lodge and the ﬁre with my string of seven prayer bundles, I brought to mind all those who have made me, shaped me, nurtured me, neglected me, hurt me, loved and supported me, taught and guided me—with my breath I brought them into my body and those ancestors I do not know and children of cousins and children not yet born—I took them all with me into this so small space.
And so this lodge becomes a house with many mansions containing past, present, and future. We all shared deeply of our aspirations and fear and suffering—we gave thanks for this ceremony and expressed regret for past wrongs of peoples to peoples. I shared of being in touch with the suffering of my father and his brothers when one of them took his own life, and of a brother or sister who was lost before birth. We chanted in the intense heat and in the blackness. I saw a nothingness to my personality and life—what did my fear mean in that black?—and yet a sense of trust was also there.
In gratitude, Mitakuye Oyasin —Chan Phap Lai
Black Light Night
It was a night in which the sun disappeared and, then, reappeared in the blazing wood people who transmitted their red hot energy into the stone people so that the earth men could be puriﬁed.
It was a night in which mother earth embraced all her sons, collecting them into the half sphere lodge, all her sons from all around the globe.
It was a night in which brothers huddled together, bundled their prayers for all beings in the universe as well their own individual blood families, sharing their aspirations and gratitude.
It was a night in which brothers from all over mother earth gathered to chant and send energy of the Native American and Buddhist bodhisattvas to all beings.
It was a night in which the Lakota Shaman guided his young bald headed brothers, plus one not so young, through their anxiety, uncertainty, unknowing—in the Black Light Heat—to a deeper realization and consciousness of their oneness, their interbeing with each other and all beings.
It was a night that ended with the brothers being soaked with the blessings of the cosmos, sopping wet and dripping gratitude.
—Chan Phap De
A hut made of willow branches, like a mother’s belly directed to each planet, in the center, a hole in the ground. An altar, made of soil and stones, the moon. The sun of ﬁre embraced by a half-circle, a wall protecting from the winds. Simple blankets cover us up, the brothers sitting in the hut are listening to the ﬁre, the air, the steam. In the belly of our Mother Earth, listening to the Mystery. Dear Grandfather, in gratitude for that love that surrounds us, for this opening and the little more abandoning, I thank you for teaching me the conﬁdence of being in the here and in the now, enriched by love and at the same time even more poor. I thank you for being more conscious too. On the path of celebration in gratitude for our teacher Thay. Discovering the Eye who sees simple joy of being together. Time has disappeared. The rain is blessing the earth. The stars are joining us. Fire, master ﬁre, Thay ﬁre, who shows us how to love, how to respect the right distance, without fear. The red stones in the center of the earth ﬁlled with the light of the stars. The clear water perfumed with sage, the steam which envelopes us and penetrates us. A chant from the Buddhist tradition, A chant from the Native Indian tradition, one breath, one heart. A deeper and more subtle release. Joy of being here and now, in the Mother’s arms, in the Father’s arms. Mystery of an invisible Presence, Free hands offered, each cell offered as ﬂowers. In gratitude —Chan Phap Tap The hot air brought me close to my fear, my panic of losing it totally. Let me meet with courage the most difﬁcult state of mind, so I can live freely, without shadows of doubt and fear. May we all be free from our mind shadows. May we come out to the light and stand freely there. May compassion embrace the whole of our minds and hearts. —Chan Phap Son
Stone Presence Lodge
There is a grace to stone that weathers centuries. Infused with the heat of joy ﬁre we offer this stone to the womb of the willow. Imbued with the tumult of sky we offer this grace to the womb of our body. The moon at the zenith, waxing our limbs we offer what is to the womb of the awakened. In time unborn we rest here Enfolded by vapors The sweat runs unchecked off the bulk of our baggage To ﬂay bare the unspoken To fuel this still yearning To release the stuck remnants of past altercations For the call of the eagle, The caress of the soil, For the presence of stone heat enlodged in our membranes. For the space where all going and coming is done for and rest poised in vision subdues all desire. Mitakuye oyasin. For the current which guides us from known to unknowing and blesses the soil it carries with laughter. Mitakuye oyasin. For the clan of the spirit that moves us as one mind and perfumes our abode with fragrance of silence. Mitakuye oyasin. Let the oceans bring rain. Let the charred stems bear branches to bear witness to rumor, this ﬁne simple offer. Let this kinship of blood, sweat and steam forge a vision of the exotic here, of unprecedented now Casting down what with measure would ream the unbroken And take him to the view we of old have forecasted. Let the holy ﬁnd ground In the temple of the wishless. —Chan Phap Luu