A Retreat at Maple Village
By Nguyen Duy Vinh and Miriam van Husan
We left the city of Montreal behind and drove past the still bare fields. The blue-gray mountains drew us ever onwards. Once in the small village of Saint Etienne de Bolton we were completely surrounded and embraced by these ancient hills. Soon we came to the turnoff to Maple Village a short drive up the lane and we saw the sign "We have arrived, we are home in the here and in the now." We were ready for the Victoria Day weekend retreat called, "Living the Simple Life."
We have been to Maple Village before but again we were touched by the simple, unaffected kindness and gentleness of the Vietnamese Sangha which had organized the event. We were welcomed into a loving extended family with aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters, a novel experience for those who have grown up in the nuclear family of mainstream North American society.
Maple Village consists of a main house and several small cabins nestled in a clearing in the forest. From the windows of the meditation hall one can see the imposing mountains and the multiple valleys surrounding us. The weather teased us, as often happens in Canada, and on Sunday morning we awoke to find the Village covered in a soft blanket of snow! It was a landscape that inspired and reinforced the serenity of spiritual practice. In fact, after only four days the transformation experienced by many people was obvious.
The monks from Maple Forest Monastery, Thay Vo Ngai, Thay Phap Tru, Thay Phap Ung, Thay Phap Hung, and Sramenera Phap Chuyen, brought a special joie de vivre to all the activities. Each of the teachers spoke of their own experiences of their life before meeting Thay Nhat Hanh, which demonstrated how they had grown with Thay's teachings and practice. Especially touching was Thay Vo Ngai 's experiences in Vancouver: figuring out how to cook; feeding his lunch to the schoolyard sea gulls; scattering rice outside his window for the birds and leaving none for his brother! This unconscious emulation of St. Francis was very moving. Thay Phap Ung spoke of his adventure (perhaps misadventure would be a better word) trying to escape from Vietnam with his father how they were captured by the police and how he was able to distract the police, allowing his father to escape while he himself ended up in prison for a month. Such presence of mind in so young a boy! All the Dharma talks were about the "simple life": What do we really need? What is truly necessary for a happy life?
As in a monastery the day was structured, with the wonderful sound of the bell reminding us of the various activities. The day began at 5:45 a.m. with our brother Chan Huu inviting us to wake up and greet the new day. The daily program was nicely balanced with sitting and walking meditation, Dharma talks and discussions, physical exercise and various other special practices such as Total Relaxation and the Five Touchings of the Earth.
The question and answer period ending the retreat gave everyone the opportunity to explore further the theme of the simple life. How does a layperson live a simple life? The monks' responses were apt: To examine our patterns of consumption. To look deeply into our Lifestyles and see what is a necessity and what is a luxury. What do we really need in order to live and function in our society? Our aspirations, our volitional forces have a profound impact on our life by rendering it more complicated or more simple. Our acceptance of ourselves and our acceptance of others can make our lives simpler. We aspire not to have more power, more money, more material possessions, but to have more time more time for ourselves and more time to offer to those we hold in our hearts.
Dharma Teacher Nguyen Duy Vinh, True Awakening, and Miriam van Husan, True Protection, practice with the Pagoda Sangha in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.