Return to the Mountain
Reverend Master Koten
The following article is a transcript of a Dharma Talk offered by Rev. Master Koten at the Priory on August 26, 2021. It has been lightly edited. Transcribed by Rev. Aurelian
Homage to the Buddha. Homage to the Dharma. Homage to the Sangha.
As most of you know, we were evacuated from our land at the end of June, and we returned home yesterday, which is the 25th of August, Wednesday. So, for almost two months, we have been evacuated away from the temple, not knowing whether or not there would be a temple to come back to, given the fierceness of the fires in the area. And, as most of you would have heard, the town, which is our town, burned to the ground, along with all amenities and support services. Stores, schools, libraries, museums, etc, all gone.
For the past almost two months we have lived out of hotels and people’s houses, for which we are very grateful; and we are grateful to have survived the fire with ourselves and our pets (two dogs and a cat) intact, because many of our friends and neighbours lost everything in this fire.
Trying to maintain religious life in the middle of what we went through has been very difficult. It is a bit different even than the wandering from place to place that they did in early Buddhist times. We were very much stuck on the cusp of not knowing what will happen at all, or, as I say, whether or not there was something to go back to. We experienced this before when we had to evacuate Botanie Valley in 2014. We were evacuated then for about a week, so at least we had some idea of what to prepare for. And also, while we were in Lillooet, there was an evacuation alert there as well, so we had to prepare to leave at a moment’s notice. Through all of this we, as well as everybody else, have relied upon the kindness of friends and neighbours and the support of strangers. Numerous people have been very helpful.
When training is stripped down to the bare essentials, as I think it often is with people who are very, very busy with jobs or with their children, then it has to come down to one’s intention, and to not forget or neglect one’s intention to train oneself and to turn towards that, and not become discouraged. Because, of course, discouragement is a common feature of being in the type of circumstances we have been in.
In the middle of all of this, one of our members had to be taken to the hospital to check for a possible stroke. It turned out not to be a full-blown stroke, but a minor transient one, for which we are very grateful. While he was being taken to the hospital, I was sitting in Lillooet, when suddenly there came a phone call and email to let me know that Lillooet was on evacuation alert. So, I went about gathering up the things that we could take with us. I phoned one of our neighbours from the Botanie Valley, and they said they would take us, because I can’t drive. And as I went about trying to get together those things that were essential — I also had the dog and the cat — and, not wishing to obviously overburden somebody who is about to take you, your belongings, dog and cat with them in an evacuation, I was trying to get everything down to the minimum of what is necessary for continuing the Priory. Never mind personal things, which often are, or I found, were not my priority. As I was doing this, knowing that one person was in the helicopter on the way to Lions Gate Hospital and another person was on their way through the bucketing rain on a four-hour-drive to Vancouver to be with them, and here I am in Lillooet under evacuation alert, the sheer ridiculousness of the situation struck me, and I burst out laughing. Ridiculous, in the sense of the law of the universe which says that the universe is beyond our personal control, really came home. And how much the situation was totally beyond my control. And how much we were relying upon the kindness of strangers, the support of people.
As it turned out, Lillooet was not evacuated, but it was on alert for quite a long time, until we had heavy rains, and in the Botanie Valley as well, which has dampened down the fire danger, at least in this area.
t was important during that period of time to not allow oneself to get into apocalyptic mode; that is: everything is going wrong and just succumb to that state of mind. Perspective under those circumstances helps. As I said, support from friends and neighbours and strangers helps. Also, that having other people with you — or a pet — helps, as we have proved true for ourselves.
The monk Ryokan used to say, “When you are someone who is encountering an earthquake, be that person, be the person who is encountering an earthquake.” I think one aspect of this means that such an encounter produces an effect on body and mind independent of one’s will, in the same way as if one were to receive a physical injury. Knowing that is so, to be that person, and not attempt to be somebody else or somewhere else.
Too often, when we think of our lives — our bodies and minds and lives — we think that the purpose of our lives is to preserve these intact; but that isn’t really so. Our bodies and minds will wear out in the course of things. The question is whether we wear them out in training; whether we wear them out in the most useful way: in the cleansing of karma, in the being of benefit to others, in giving, in cultivating a generous frame of mind. Then, when we do this, our lives become worthwhile. And then, when we pass away, there will remain the scent of incense.
Homage to all the Buddhas in all worlds. Homage to all the Bodhisattvas in all worlds. Homage to the Scripture of Great Wisdom.