Dear Thay, dear Sangha In March, my partner and I were fortunate to spend five days at Deer Park Monastery. One evening after dinner we noticed a group of nuns, monks, and lay friends playing volleyball. My partner, who played on a college team, wanted to join them. I agreed—in spite of my aversion to team sports and perception of myself as uncoordinated. Stepping onto the court, I was horrified to feel like my gangly junior high school self, terrified of the ball and my teammates’ mockery and derision.
Yet as we played, I noticed that the sisters and brothers on “my team” didn’t react at all when I avoided the ball or hit it askew. There were no shouts of judgment or praise, no competition, no ambition. Instead, I noticed laughter, silence, relaxed ease, and neutrality. The monastics were practicing equanimity in volleyball. Whatever happened, they genuinely didn’t mind. In their presence, I was able to acknowledge my fears, gently set them aside, and wake up to the present moment. I watched the ball fly back and forth. I responded naturally when it came to me. After the game I knew a very old wound had begun to heal.
“Live in joy and in peace even among the troubled,” the Buddha said. “Live in joy and in freedom as the shining ones.” Monks and nuns make a commitment to do just that. In a world overrun with trouble, they dedicate their lives to embodying and teaching peace and compassion. It’s no wonder their very presence fosters spontaneous healing.
In this issue on Monastic Life, ten sisters and brothers share candid and compelling personal stories. They speak of obstacles, epiphanies, and aspirations. Authentic and insightful, these writings are precious gifts from the vibrant heart of the Sangha body. If you are inspired by these stories and interested in monastic life, be sure to read the invitation to “Step into Freedom and Taste True Happiness” through the new Five-Year Monastic Training and Service Program (page 45).
In his beautiful Dharma talk, our teacher says that “to practice as a monk is easiest; to practice as a layperson is much more difficult.” Yet he offers wisdom for laypeople to build a warm, safe home within ourselves and to create relationships rooted in mutual understanding and love. Articles by lay friends show us that the joy of practice can blossom beautifully even in Auschwitz and within prison walls. In Thay’s eloquent words: “It is on the very ground of suffering that we can contemplate well-being. It is exactly in the muddy water that the lotus grows and blooms.”
May this issue be a dear companion and guide on your path of peace.
With love and gratitude,
Natascha Bruckner Benevolent Respect of the Heart