In mid-May, we hosted a wedding at the monastery. We only host weddings for community members and their immediate families. The parents of the groom, Carl, had been practicing with Shinge Roshi since the early 90s. Carl and Shinge Roshi’s son grew up as buddies with Buddhist parents. Kasa is Japanese, and her family are lay Zen practitioners. From their childhoods, the couple was influenced by a philosophy that points to the wisdom of the heart, and practices that bring the wisdom forth in deeds and interactions imbued with compassion.
I did not know the couple prior to the wedding. Few of us residents did. We did our usual guest preparations and services as family members and friends gradually arrived over a three-day period. We had no particular anticipation about the weekend other than to be of service and enjoy the ceremony and celebration with everyone.
With any group that arrives, there is a shift in the ambiance in the monastery. Each group has its own energetic, or resonant, quality. The qualities cannot necessarily be named, but general descriptors such as “relaxed” or “dynamic” come up. However, with this wedding and its participants, a very distinct vibe gradually filled, or even surrounded in embrace, the monastery and its environs. It grew as people arrived, and became palpable as the ceremony approached. It was a literal atmosphere one could feel as we moved about in preparation through the morning and early afternoon leading up to the ceremony.
When the couple first arrived, I did not get a chance to meet them. Everyone was bustling about. Yet the movement of greeting guests and ceremony preparation had a smoothness, a dancer’s grace, to it. Movement, sometimes quick and concise, was without any frenetic energy to it, as I am sure is often felt at weddings. There was a roundedness to the energy of people as they moved through spaces, among and past each other. It felt quietly yet vibrantly awake, even aware. It coaxed my attention into focusing on this feeling throughout the weekend.
As I was approaching the food storage area in the basement, heading upstairs for some task or other, Kasa and Carl were there, and Kasa called me over. “How should I address you?” is the first thing she said. I was pleasantly taken aback, feeling the surprise in being spoken to with a tone of respect one would use with clergy. At once I could sense the quality of consciousness about respect in Japanese culture, and have more deeply rooted in my mind the notion that I am clergy. It is not a moniker I identify with; I am just living the life I must. It is for the spirit of the path, not the ornamentation (more on this in another post). I was also instantly at peace, recognizing her seeing me, an American, taking on an element of her culture, her reality, and appreciating my entering her world in that way. There was a quality of rapport that I had not experienced before.
I told her my dharma name, “Tozan,” smiling with an energy thankful for the respect, and conveying that I walk the path of being a “true person of no rank.” She then said she already knew me. “How?” From this blog. She was searching for some photos of Dai Bosatsu, which brought up A Modern Monk. Kasa was so appreciative that the blog made the pictures available to her, and I felt grateful to have the joy I put in to this writing reflected back to me. Our meeting was the gateless gateway in to what I would experience as an extraordinary sense of community-centered love, even though not many of us knew each other. We all became a temporary tribe gathered to affirm and celebrate a genuine heart connection between two people, across nations, cultures and languages, and it connected us all quite naturally. It is important not to be naive as well. Not all of us would necessarily have had common interests in another setting. But there was an irrefutable energy in the monastery the whole weekend, one of harmony like I had never experienced anywhere.
The room was packed for the ceremony that was officiated by Shinge Roshi. It began with Buddhist rituals including lighting of incense and candles, bows and chanting. Shinge Roshi then spoke about knowing Carl and his parents, of Kasa and he meeting and becoming a couple, and how love brought them and their families together in such an inimitable way. Carl and Kasa each spoke of each other and their relationship with a touching simplicity and depth. A similar grace infused their exchange of vows and rings. The energy of the ceremony had a quiet strength to it, also unlike any wedding I had been to.
The next morning, after breakfast, Kasa’s father got up to speak. I did not know anything about him, but somehow got the perception he was a successful business man. Seeing him throughout the weekend, one could tell immediately he was a respectable gentleman. He spoke slowly and softly and Kasa translated for him. Not just by his words, but by the presence he emitted as he spoke, the whole room was moved by the depth of his gratitude, which really transmitted a heart full of love.
Most of the guests left the day after the wedding. The newlyweds and their families lingered another day. The feelings of equanimity, clarity, and love were still palpable as we gradually tended to cleaning up. To be sure my perception of the communal vibe was not just in my mind, I asked around, “Did you feel that?” “Yes!” was the answer every time. Each person I spoke to had their own way of describing the same thing: there was a sweet vibe of love enveloping us all weekend, truly sacred love. A week later this experience was further confirmed by an email the groom’s mother shared with the residents.
“That was the best wedding we’ve ever attended. Better than ours, better than Erica’s, better than my sister’s, other relatives, etc and friends. Seriously. It wasn’t just because it was the novelty of the monastery…but the addition of the very earnest, thoughtful words imbued with love that were part of the festivities.”
So what made this experience possible, and real, for so many people? How is it a group of people, many who have never met before, could find themselves in a shared ambiance of love so naturally? And have it last for days? And that people from diverse backgrounds all felt it? My best assessment is that it started with the depth of love the bride and groom and their families have within and between them. For these few days, we were all drawn in to it and contributed our own. This was likely further enhanced by so many of those present having sustained meditation practices, which is all about heart-mind. And naturally, the energy and ambiance of the monastery, cultivated over forty years, certainly contributed to the experience.
The experience has me realizing that the power of love and meditation are very real. This power is not naive idealism or new age woo-woo. When hearts are open, and minds are able to rest in them, a way of living together as humans manifest, one that most of us only dream of. It visible in our actions and interactions, it is palpable in the air, it supports and informs and guides us. What if more and more of us gave the time to develop or deepen a meditation practice? What if more and more us gave the time to open our hearts to one another? We cannot wait on the peaceful world we so yearn for, and it certainly will not be provided by governments or corporations. It is up to us to open and unite our hearts and minds. Today.
As Torei Enji’s “Awakened One’s Vow” says, “All of our minds will now reveal a true Awakened One: a Christ, a Buddha, a Tara, compassionately aware and ready, fearless and wise, acting skillfully and appropriately. Then, all of our combined actions will create a new world, a world of love and caring, defended and ordered. May we awaken and recognize this Mind throughout the whole universe, so that we and all beings together may experience maturity in Awakened Mind wisdom!” (From the Hollow Bones Sutra Book)
Everywhere we go, there are reminders to be open, fully open, in heart and mind. They can show up anywhere. In fact they do all the time. They may command our attention like the wedding did, or be quiet and subtle, asking to be revealed by our recognition of them. How we pay attention to our surroundings, and how we respond to them, makes the difference. Maintaining a meditation practice, and keeping our hearts open and aware, and sharing them freely, makes the difference real. It makes love sacred.
And of course, it is essential to keep a sense of play in our daily lives….