During the 2001 Summer Retreat in Plum Village, I found a way to put the Three Refuges to good use in a totally unexpected manner. I was staying in Lower Hamlet with my friend Carolyn, and we had asked Sister Jina, the Abbess of Lower Hamlet, to perform a wedding ceremony for us on July 21 – the same day as the Ancestors’ Festival. I was the family head of the Magic Sponges, a wonderful pot-washing team drawn from eighteen different nationalities. Carolyn was the family head of the Fresh Eyes cleaning up team, and we both had a wonderful time working with our respective families.
However, it was not always smooth sailing. One evening after the last sitting meditation in the Dharma Nectar Temple, I noticed that the work of another family—Carolyn’s—was not done, so I decided to do it. Only I had a totally wrong attitude. That particular day I was tired and became irritated with the incomplete work, as it made the work of the Magic Sponges a little bit difﬁcult. So I began to do the unﬁnished work, but with tiredness and irritation. I was not drawing on a happy, mindful heart, and I was certainly not present for the task at hand. The tiredness and irritation came out in unmindful speech to one member of the Fresh Eyes team who was turning up late to complete the work. As soon as these tired words came out, I knew they were unmindful and apologized, receiving generous forgiveness. My thoughts, however, did not become peaceful.
I knew that someone else would soon receive my irritation and tiredness through further unmindful speech on my part. I had to come to a stop and take care of the irritation and tiredness that was the root of my unmindful speech. I took off my apron and did slow walking meditation to the lotus pond, attaching my concentration and awareness to each in-breath and each out-breath. The slow walk from the kitchen to the lotus pond took about thirty minutes. Once there, I sat on a bench, became still and very present, and had a quiet talk with myself. During this conversation in my mind, I asked a question: Why am I here in Lower Hamlet?
There was a long silence. Then the answer came from deep within: To take deeper refuge in the Three Gems—Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. As I took notice of this voice within, all the irritation and heaviness lifted and I suddenly felt so free. Then I heard the lotus ﬂowers sing in Lower Hamlet for the second time that day.
Earlier that morning, Carolyn and I had spent some time by the lotus pond. Carolyn loved to take photographs and had a wonderful series of lotus ﬂowers in her camera. We were also completing our Beginning Anew prior to the wedding ceremony in a week’s time. As we sat by the lotus pond in the morning, rain clouds formed and heavy rain started to fall. I put up my big red umbrella and we stayed there while the rain grew stronger. It was so beautiful. We were dry and safe beneath the big red umbrella, totally silent, totally present. We felt one with the rain, the ground, and the lotus pond. There was nothing else. As the rainstorm softened and became a gentle shower, we heard the raindrops falling slowly and gently on the lotus ﬂowers. That was when we both heard the lotus ﬂowers sing.
In the evening, after hearing the lotus ﬂowers sing again, I returned to the unﬁnished work and went about it with a happy heart. My friend in the other work team and I smiled to one another. Before I fell asleep that night, two lines ﬂoated into my mind: In the Dharma rain I see lotus ﬂowers sing in Lower Hamlet.
Ian Prattis is the dharmacharya at Pine Gate Sangha in Ottawa, which is the nucleus of Friends for Peace Canada. He is also the author of The Essential Spiral; Failsafe; Earth My Body, Water My Blood; and Song of Silence, all available on Amazon Kindle.