by William Stahl
Bill Stahl from central California has been following the Abbey online and joined us for the one-month Shakymuni Buddha retreat in January. This is his end-of-retreat reflection.
My first retreat ever. I had many questions, especially about the health and robustness of lay spiritual communities. My concerns centered on the difficulties facing the Earth and living beings as a result of humankind’s insistence on making the Earth and all living beings serve humanity. I wondered if the situation would be different if lay spiritual communities were imbued with a deeper connection to the Earth, realizing that our bodies and the Earth are interdependent.
Many thoughts and feeling came together the last full day of the retreat. In the afternoon, we sat in a circle of lay retreatants and monastics—about 30 in all. We shared our experiences and insights from meditating 6+ hours a day for the past month. Each retreatant’s experience informed and wove into mine.
Then it was my turn. I likened the four-fold assembly of the Buddha’s followers—monks, nuns, and male and female lay practitioners—to a tree. The above-ground parts of the tree are the visible monastic sangha. Below ground, the lay followers are like the roots and fine, hair-like fibers of the root system that interact with all the living micro-organisms in the soil.
Like the tree’s branches and leaves that reach into the sky to catch sunlight and transform it into energy and sugars, the monastic community transforms the teachings from the Buddha and other realized masters into guidance that benefits the lives of the lay community.
The sweetness of the Dharma then practiced by the lay followers is like the sugars in the sap that are exchanged with living beings in the soil. Here a miracle of transformation takes place. The living beings in the soil use the sugars to change the water and minerals of the soil into nourishing gifts that are absorbed back into the tree’s roots and allow it to grow.
In a similar way, the lay Buddhist followers are inspired to share Dharma teachings with friends and coworkers, who, in turn, return to the monastic community with gifts of food and dana. This enables the monastic community to thrive and actualize the Dharma teachings.
In this way, wider society, lay Buddhist followers, and the monastic community all contribute to a cycle of benefit that creates a healthy environment and enriches the lives of all.