Deer Park Monastery
I’m going to continue my non-library trend of late and talk about the Stick Ceremony. This past weekend I had the opportunity to return to Deer Park Monastery, one of my favorite places on earth, to celebrate the start of the Rains Retreat. This 90-day retreat occurs annually and is a time for us to look deeply and focus our practice and energy. The retreat begins with a ceremony that identifies those who are participating in the entire 90-day retreat and to set the boundries of the monastery. We enter the mediation hall, the monastics are sitting in their sangati robes surrounded by the lay community of practitioners. After a bit, we stand for an incense offering and some touching the earth paying respects to the Bodhisattvas, and for me, to honor those characteristics and aspirations in myself. We sit again and chant together.
At this point four of the monastics stand and process to the front – each holding a tray. Update: Two of the monastics, one monk and one nun, each have a tray full of sticks to distribute. The other two monastics will collect the sticks after they have been distributed to each participant. Thank you Caleb for seeking this clarification. A bit more touching the earth and bowing before the tray is brought to the front and a stick is offered to the Buddha present for the retreat. This is done by the first monastics, followed by the second monastic who then picks up the small stick and places it on his tray. The next person to receive a stick is a place held for our Teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. Again, the second monastic picks up the stick left by the first monk. This continues through the entire row of monks and nuns. Each picking up a stick and then returning it. Thus the process of taking a stick occurs.
Today I am struggling. In fact, I have been struggling since before the national election. I don’t understand the opposition to gay marriage and how Proposition 8 passed in California.
Growing up, as a Mennonite, I was taught that love was of the highest nature. I see Christ as a true revolutionary who reached out to the poor, the destitute, and the outcasts and he did so without judgment and with pure love in his heart. In the past, I have written that I am a potential Christian and a practicing Buddhist. Today, after the election season in California, much of my bitterness and unhappiness with my Christian roots have been watered and I am not so positive about this potentiality. This is my struggle today. In fact, it is so powerful that I am experiencing resistance to attending another marriage ceremony between two people who may have voted in favor of Proposition 8. This is difficult.
As a practicing Buddhist, I aim to seek understanding and to have compassion. Writing here I am trying to reach some understanding and compassion for my Christian brothers and sisters who have taken the stand to discriminate against a group of people for their sexuality. I know good Christians, people right here in my town, and they are good people. And yet, they have taken the stand of not embracing, not loving. It seems fundamentally wrong, and in opposition to the teachings of Christ, to not allow two people who love each other the right to join in marriage. When I married Leslie in 1995, we did so to share our love with our friends and family, to give the relationship a bit more sanctity, more seriousness, and make a lifetime commitment. Why wouldn’t we want this for gay couples? Aside from the high divorce rate in marriages, I see nothing but positive outcomes to allowing marriage between two people who love each other. It recognizes and honors the love between two people.