Societal immersion calls for a letting go of old ways and embracing new culture with an open mind and heart. A Haole like me, learning to embody the spirit of Aloha, must first become aware of the conditioning from which I came in order to learn to live life differently. Likewise, an American assimilating to France can learn the language, but, the real transformation begins in our hearts. This is especially true for an Hawaiian Buddhist.
Several years ago, I attended a spiritual retreat in the mountains of Sumaco, Arizona. At the retreat, monks told us that to reach our highest state of spiritual realization, we had to elephant dance. But, I had never danced elephants, and no one from my family was old enough to do so. Still, the prospect of dancing with large, wild creatures seemed pretty scary to me.
But, I was curious, so I put down the sarong, the blanket, and purchased a pair of white shorts. Off we went to the neighbor’s house. I laid out flat on the heated gravel driveway, legs spread apart before me. Suddenly, I felt apprehensive, as if I wasaining keenly on the surface below. However, this was simply because I was discovering too much about myself.
A shrillnon popped up from between my feet, startling me. A couple of lazily swinging leis tied the ends of my leis to a tree at the edge of the yard. I offered a quick prayer to Mara, assure her that I was not a taipao (tiger) and that she was not a fox in her natural habitat. After several minutes, we scooped up my leis and tied them to a tree by the front door. We felt as if we were entering a cathedral, and our prayers were heard.
Several moments later, a woman in white robes asked us where we were going. We told her we were off to our hotel to get ahotepa(plate of noodles) and a drink. She applauded as we continued up the path to the hotel. When we got to the hotel, the front desk clerk greeted us and directed us to our room on the third floor overlooking the pool. When we all knocked on the door, a woman in her mid 50s came to the door. She wore a gorgeous white robe over a gorgeous set of leis and jewelry. The moment we were introduced to her, she embraced us, placed her hands on our shoulders, and firmly declared, “Welcome to Shandar.”
She gave us another twist of the tongue, as we proclaimed ourselves to be Buddhists and then quickly changed to Shandarans! We were then given leis as our new gift and new robe as our new everyday outfit. All of us were excited and looking forward to our first meeting.
The next morning, after taking the constant 20 minute walk to get to the monastery each morning, we all congregated in the hall and retired to our rooms for breakfast. There was a steady rain that stained the leis and robes as red as my ripe red tomatoes. I felt as if I’d stepped into another era. This was one of the first times in my life that I’d been excited at being in a new place.
I got a chance to spend a lot of time on and around the pool. After my first morning in the monastery, a young Shetland monk asked me to join him in the pool. He offered a glass of orange juice instead of water. I agreed, but only if I drank it from the provided pitcher and nothing more. I had another sauna visit in the afternoon and achini in the morning.
lunch was served in the large dining room. There was a regular menu, plus a separate vegetarian menu for those with special dietary needs. I decided on the vegetarian menu, but only washed my grub down with vegetarian broth. My portion consisted of a nice plate of sliced pickled vegetables with lemon or lime juice and toasted vegetable creamer. I thought theinary was great. My friend, NI39, decided on the traditional Spanish cuisine of fresh native vegetables in a fruit broth as well as her favorite – spaghetti with fresh tomatoes and wonderful views of the valley.
We had a second wonderful breakfast that morning and then several hours of peaceful hiking through the temple grounds. We came upon a new monastery in the afternoon, but regrettably, we had to leave and follow our guide to the hot springs so we could clock some brushing down. By evening, we were back at the hotel. Today, I had a chance to interview the experienced monks who’d been involved in setting up the new monastery.
Especially Anneliese, Devi and Herbert, have become personally involved in the preparation of the monastery and today, together with our guests, were the greeters at the vigil.