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Mitakuye Oyasin
Monks’ Experiences of the Ancient Stone People Lodge Ceremony
By Joseph Lam

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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 first-hand 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, European-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 re-affirms 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, non-discrimination, 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 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 ..
.continued

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