Abbey trainee Christina Manriquez shares her thoughts in a morning motivation during the Vajrasattva meditation retreat. 

Each winter the Abbey community has the precious opportunity to do a three-month retreat. In this year’s Vajrsattva purification retreat, we are focusing on completing the preliminary practice of 111,111 recitations of Vajrasattva’s 100-syllable mantra.

About halfway into the retreat, I found myself feeling a bit cut off from the outside world and wondered about what affect our practice was having on broader society. To maintain a sense of connection with those outside the Abbey, it’s been helpful to rejoice in our amazing fortune to purify our minds in a such beautiful setting and to wish that others will have the same opportunity.

I also found reassurance regarding the value of our practice in the book, Friends on the Path: Living in Spiritual Communities, by Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Naht Hanh and some of his followers. The book contains an inspiring essay about the healing role the Sangha can play for humanity in the 21stCentury that reminded me of the reason I left my previous life and set down the monastic path. Talking about the impact that individual practitioners within a sangha can have on each other, Thich Naht Hanh writes:

“Don’t think that we sit for ourselves. You don’t sit for yourself alone, you sit for the whole Sangha – and not only the Sangha, but also for the people in your city, because when one person in the city is less angry, is smiling more, the whole city profits. If we practice looking deeply, our understanding of interbeing will grow, and we will see that every smile, every step, every breath is for everybody. It is for our country, for the future, for our ancestors.”

He goes on to say,

“Whether we live in Amsterdam, London, Munich, or New York, it is our role to build a Sangha. We need each other to practice solidity, freedom, and compassion, and with our practice we can remind people in our society that there is always hope, the blue sky is always there. We should walk and breathe in such a way that the Kingdom of Heaven, the Pure Land of the Buddha, is available in every step, in every breath. This is what we should do.”

As our silent retreat draws to a close in the coming weeks, I’m encouraged to reflect that transformation of society takes place one person at a time, and that the practice of just one individual can have a crucial impact on the lives of numberless sentient beings. This fact is undeniable when we see the examples set by Shakyamuni Buddha and the innumerable bodhisattvas who have dedicated their lives to the welfare of all beings.