This evening after sitting meditation the whole of Upper Hamlet was covered with fog. It made a halo around the lights along the paths. The bell tower was once again sending beams of light from its four corners towards earth and sky. Nevertheless the sky was clear and black and adorned with numerous stars.
Walking from the meditation hall towards the monk's residence, I met my dear friend the old pear tree, and stopped some meters before him. From time to time a brother would enter the residence and the automatic light would switch on. I stood there in a straight line with the light and the tree, so that my eyes were sheltered from direct contact with the light. From there I could enjoy the contrast of the black silhouette of the tree, sharply cut against the brightness of the fog.
A few days ago some brothers had trimmed our trees, including this old friend. I usually feel uneasy about pruning and trimming trees, thinking it makes them suffer. As I came closer, the scenery with the shinning fog in the black of night, the fresh wind on my face, and the cut branches lying at the foot of the tree, became in my mind a desolate scene of dead animal bones left on desert ground a few months after a pack of lions had devoured them.
But then, looking at the tree, I was struck by a feeling: He seemed happy and fresh! Standing before the tree I asked him: “Are you happy that we’ve trimmed you ?” I was moved by the answer I received, and I would like to share it with you. I heard: “If you are happy, I am happy.”
It felt like a mantra.
I was touched, I felt deep respect and gratitude, and as I hugged my old friend I asked him to help me cultivate such virtue in my heart. I feel happy because I can see this spirit is alive in the Sangha*.
I can see it in the way that as individuals we take care of ourselves and of each other, and in the way that as a community we relate with people and society, learning to embrace the lotus as well as the mud** in their natural relationship and to allow spiritual growth. When anger or suffering comes up in me I learn to be there without running away from it or suppressing it, and to see it as a part of me, caring for it.
If someone is suffering and acting out in the Sangha, we try not to blame him or her but to look deeply until we find what we can do to help everyone without discrimination, and when we see clearly, we act with compassion, even though it might involve some hardship at first.
The brothers and sisters from Bat Na Monastery, Vietnam, had stood as still as the pear tree while they were threatened and intimidated almost nine years ago, rooted in the Dharma and in togetherness, they did not need to react out of anger and fear.
I felt that the pear tree, in his stillness, was also simply reflecting my mind in the present moment. As if he was telling me:
“The way you look at me depends on what is happening in your mind. What you are doing to me is what you are doing to yourself. You need to know what you are doing and why you are doing it, because the fruit of your action depends on the energy that motivates it. If you choose not to trim the tree out of fear or anger, the fruit you will harvest will be fear or anger. If you choose to trim out of habit or confusion, you will pick habit or confusion from my branches. If you choose to trim or not to trim from a place of true presence out of understanding and love, then these are the seeds you are sowing right now and the fruit you will reap in the future.”
Br. Chân Trời Đức Định
Br. Đức Định (Virtue of Concentration) is French and lives in the Upper Hamlet in Plum Village. He was ordained in the Plum Tree Family*** in 2016.
*Sangha means 'a community of monastics' in Sanskrit and Pali. In Plum Village we use it to the describe the whole community of monastics and friends.
**"No mud, no lotus" is a popular Plum Village saying meaning no suffering, no happiness, and speaks to the interrelatedness of happiness and suffering.
***When aspirants are ordained as novices they become part of an "ordination family", which includes everyone ordained at that time wherever in the world they may be. each ordination family has their own name such as Plum Tree, Golden Lotus, Redwood etc.