A moment of meditation – By Julia M. Hayes

Abbey nuns hold up the merit robe for all to see

Recently, I had the privilege of visiting Sravasti Abbey in Newport, Washington for a once a month ‘Sharing the Dharma Day.’ During the time between tidying up from community luncheon and the afternoon session, I was given a tour of the area that will one day become The Buddha Hall. I was warned, “It’s a giant hole.”

We walked by Ven. Thubten Chodron’s cottage and then I made my way up two cement block steps, set slightly askew in a small hillside landscape marked by dry grasses and prairie weeds. I wandered a short distance and then gasped at a gigantic hole.

After a short uphill walk along a dry dusty path, breathing smoke-filled air from fires burning hundreds of miles away, I allowed a childhood image to be unlocked from my sanctuary of memory. I used to play in the excavated areas of new housing developments. Those digs always had enormous mountains of dirt to climb. Rock piles to scrape my knees on and mud puddles into which my feet and shoes would sometimes sink and stick. For a piggy kid like me, unafraid of dirt and grime, this was my idea of an earthen Eden.

A vision beyond my capacity

The scale of this imagining is staggering. As a highly creative person and visionary, I stood before that open space feeling profoundly humbled. This is a vision beyond my capacity.

Our tour guide, Stephen, shared, with great thoughtfulness and care, about the number of trees that had to be felled to clear the space and to create enough distance in the surrounding area to minimize the risks of fire. I saw and wondered about those trees piled neatly at the bottom of the property when we first drove up to the Abbey. He told us about the mountains of dirt piled to the south of the site just to level the landscape in order for the construction crew to work. My inner child twirled with delight peering at them.

He showed us where the entrance to The Buddha Hall was going to be. He mentioned the enormous wrap around porch that would allow people to take in the breathtaking views. He gave us a general idea of the layout and then his voice sort of faded in my mind and joined the chirping crickets in reverent chorus for this holy place.

Imagine the possibilites

My mind was quiet. I could see the teeth marks of the excavator leaving its impression in the dirt. I noticed the layers of earth like an evolutionary time capsule surrounding the enormity of this hole with its prayers of possibility.

Abbey nuns hold up the merit robe for all to see

Instantly another image flooded my senses. More than twenty years ago, I visited the prehistoric Greek site, Akrotiri on the crescent shaped island of Santorini. This nearly 4,000 year old settlement had roads, plumbing, cement-like stairs, extraordinary clay vessels, and some of the world’s finest frescoes all buried under volcanic ash, until it was discovered in the 1960’s. It has been slowly excavated since then with much of it still preserved and buried.

I doubt those Bronze Age people could ever have imagined the possibilities of life that would evolve over the centuries while their history lay quietly entombed.

Why I stood before such a vast open space in this contemporary time entertaining the arising of a memory of ancient buried treasure is a poetic mystery of my mind.

Abbey nuns hold up the merit robe for all to see

Why do we dig?

I smiled and realized that we dig holes and fill them all the time. We dig holes and bury treasure and woe too. We dig holes for trees in the hope that our nurturance will allow their maturity to offer us shade and relief. We watch dogs dig holes to bury bones knowing the likelihood of them rediscovering them is minimal.

This time of year, squirrels are frantic in their effort to bury acorn treasures. I think about all the people who bury thoughts and feelings, memories and hurts. Treasures of possible awakening awaiting the conditions to be unearthed.

These were the thoughts and images arising as I stood at this clay threshold staring into the reality of inspiration. Countless people involved in helping the Master Visionary Ven. Chodron dig a colossal hole that will slowly be filled back up with possibility.

The possibility of immeasurable treasures in countless intentions and motivations walked and prayed into this place. The infinite roots of the Dharma, to which she has dedicated her life, will continue to be securely planted here in order to spread and grow, anchoring deeper into the landscape while expanding outward into the air.

The thousands of people who will spend time at the Abbey and in the Buddha Hall. All of them touched and healed by the reminder that the core of their nature is limitless in the qualities of loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. The vastness of which need space to be explored and safety in refuge to fully embody and become. This giant hole and the Buddha Hall that will be built upon it is this spacious refuge.
Abbey nuns hold up the merit robe for all to see
I’m positively certain of this vision and I believe Ven. Chodron is too, otherwise she would not have risked creating such a large incision in the land she loves. The enormity of this hole reflects the longing and empty belonging so many are feeling these days.

Ven. Chodron, all the monastics at the Abbey, and the Friends of Sravasti Abbey around the world are exercising extraordinary courage with an endeavor requiring such Wise Hope. A phrase I recently learned and it means participating in realizing a desire or dream and then surrendering to the outcome. So many have already come together and yet more are needed to invest talent, time, money, wishes, hopes, prayers, motivations and more for the possibility of Peace in a Chaotic World for now and generations to come.