Letter to friends of the IBS Prison Visitation Program

On Sunday, May 21, 2017 the Karuna Valley Sangha brothers gathered in the chapel meditation hall with Venerable Xian Zhong and Shirley Tam from International Bodhisattva Sangha (IBS) to celebrate the festival commemoration of Vesak together. This was a very auspicious occasion for us as we had a whole day – eight hours – to receive Dharma teachings from Venerable Xian Zhong!

As an added blessing, we received permission to have photographs taken with our IBS sponsors. We took some in front of the altar in the meditation hall and some in the chapel garden. It was a beautiful, sunny day and we were all in the festive spirit. Venerable, of course, was in his robes but Shirley wore here ceremonial robes as well, which only added to the significance of the occasion.

Venerable Xian Zhong welcomed everyone and asked if there were any questions. For many of us, this is our favorite part of the program because Venerable always has the perfect answer to fit the person, the environment, and the occasion. His teaching is pristine – like a fresh breeze – there are no wasted words and he speaks directly to the heart. Karuna Valley was established as a refuge, a place where we can go and be ourselves and feel safe; where we support one another as a community – a Sangha. At no time is this more evident than when the teachers from IBS are present. Yes they come to teach but they are so much a part of our community that when they are here it is truly “just us”.

Venerable led us in a Metta meditation that was truly divine. His voice is so soothing and seems to come from the inner recesses of the heart/ mind. There is no effort when he leads this meditation; it is a natural progression of blessing for self, family, friends, sangha, the community, country and world, and for all sentient beings everywhere. One feels deep within and into expansive space all in the cycle of one breath.

Next, Venerable explained the Bathing of the Buddha ceremony and demonstrated how to perform it. He and Shirley led the chanting, first in Chinese. It was exhilarating to hear Shirley’s traditional and well-trained voice. The ceremony is so touching.

Compassion has no limits just as the wind blows freely with no obstacles

It was both a very private moment and a community bonding. When a Dharma brother approaches the Buddha you can feel his sincerity, his turning inward in a deeply intimate moment. But within this private space, this hushed moment, the whole of our community resides. It is a wonder and one wants to laugh and cry all at once. The chanting filled the room and all of space and time. We were sitting in a grove with the Buddha and his disciples, we were sitting together in a transformed prison; we were simply residing in this perfect moment. This is metta, this is serendipity.

After the ceremony, Venerable Xian Zhong took more questions which led to instruction on emptiness and the Twelve Links of Interdependent Origination. Again, the teachings were fresh and completely relevant to us and our environment. Venerable always has this uncanny way of showing us the profound sacredness of life but in a way that is very relaxed and natural.

One of the brothers read a merit prayer he had prepared for the occasion then Venerable led us in a meal blessing. We shared a Vesak meal of fried rice, vegetables, egg rolls, and salad. This informal time with our teachers is precious and the relaxed atmosphere provides bonding time for our community. We continued in this comfortable mood until it was time to depart. The mood was buoyant and much gratitude was expressed, both for our teachers and for one another.

Karuna Valley is a strong community, one that we have intentionally cultivated over the past four-plus years. We are committed, active and engaged but nothing takes the place of visits from our teachers. They provide wisdom and guidance, energy and encouragement and a strong re-focusing on the Dharma Path, which we all need on a regular basis. We offer the deepest gratitude imaginable for this very special Vesak visit.  We thank Venerable Xian Zhong, Shirley, and all Dharma brothers and sisters at International Bodhisattva Sangha who are cultivating the prison visitation program.

With a Deep Bow

Chuck Foley (Guan Zhi)

 

 

 

 

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