By Joan Halifax
Every weekday at 5:30 p.m., the Cerro Gordo Temple provides a cool and quiet space for meditation practice: two sitting periods, walking meditation, and chanting the Heart Sutra. Once a week, when I am in town, I give a talk.
When I first moved to Santa Fe, I decided to wait for someone to ask for practice, and after six months, someone did. We started with sitting once a week. A year later, we began our work with dying people, and we decided to have another sit and offer council practice to dying people, caregivers, and others. Our community solidified around this work. We were not only sitting with dying people; by providing care and practice, we were also learning to practice in one of the most powerful situations of living-being with dying. Last year, we began to practice five days a week. This caIIed for a more real commitment on the part of Sangha members. In December of 1996, I ordained six members into the Tiep Hien Order.
We are blessed with a beautiful setting for this Buddhist center. We find ourselves in the Valley of Holy Faith, a valley that runs east/west with the Santa Fe River flowing through it. Directly behind us is Cerro Gordo Mountain; to the east is Atalaya Peak. Our adobe buildings, wetlands, and Southwest gardens gather into the mandala of mountain, valley, and river. Through the strong change of seasons-the monsoons of summer, the cool of shade, the heat of sun-we open ourselves to a landscape within and without that is constantly unfolding and enclosing. The sky is big here: big mind, big heart. The valley is intimate: abiding in ultimate closeness.
Mr. Laurance RockefeIIer and Richard Baker-roshi gifted me with the house on Cerro Gordo Road on my fiftieth birthday. Then Mr. RockefeIIer generously provided the funding for the renovation of this extraordinary building, which took a year. Two years ago, we bought the River House next to the temple, which we are currently expanding and renovating to give us more dining and housing space.
Also last year, Meg Heydt gave us land in the Pecos Mountains, and we are hoping to build a hermitage there in the near future.
We have had a powerful retreat program over the past several years, but it has taken a huge amount of energy and funds to support it, so we have decided to simplify our palette in 1998 and offer only six retreats: two eight-day professional trainings for teachers of contemplative care of dying people; two Landmark Programs (a mountain walking retreat in July and Wilderness Practice in August); and two sesshins (in June and December). We are concentrating our work on our Partners Program, a model for contemplative care for dying people. We are also doing a research project on the efficacy of spirituaIIy assisted dying that wiII bring this work to the eyes and hearts of those in mainstream medicine.
The main emphasis of our Sangha is on sitting, study, and service. Our commitment to sitting practice is strong, and the zendo rings with the strength of silence as we sit every day. We also bring our practice into the world in every way that we can. Our environmental programs and work with dying people are two ways that Upaya directly contributes to the great experiment in engaged Buddhism. We are also now a village in the Interfaith Peacemaker Assembly and accepting people who wish to "plunge" into a new vision of service.
Thay has often talked about Zen corners, and I love that vision. Isn't this practice about intimacy? Every day that I am here, I feel the welling of generosity and realize that there is no difference between giver, gift, and the one who receives. Please join us for the gift of practice and study. Enter into this experiment in engaged spirituality.
Joan Halifax, True Continuation, was ordained by Thich Nhat Hanh as a Dharma teacher in 1990. She is an anthropologist and the author of several books including The Fruitful Darkness.