|Forest Sangha Newsletter||October 1996|
Sharing the Blessings
As we walk across the Ashdown forest, with the familiar views of my home countryside, memories arise of walking my dog; now I walk beside brown robes, a new friend - wearing sandals, feeling tired, feet hot.
Approaching the town, we pause to adjust our robes and take out our almsbowls. The main street is busy - mostly cars and lorries, belching out fumes. Shop keepers stand and stare from their windows. We find a spot with space for people to pass by, away from motorists. Standing there, with eyes down, bowls open and lidless held lightly in our hands, we feel very small and vulnerable. I brace myself for contact with strangers - ready or not, it's bound to come soon.
Many people feel that the best way to express this gratitude is with acts of generosity and kindness to others, and then to dedicate the happiness and joy created by doing these things to those they've loved.
An elderly lady makes a bee line straight for us, her purse in one hand and some coins partly concealed in the other. I respond quickly - catching the money, I step forward and press it back into her hand: "Thank you, a very kind offer but we are not trying to collect money; just food for our daily meal."
"You don't want money?" She said, with a look of disbelief, surprise and confusion.
"Thank you, no. We don't use money you see..."
"We are collecting food for our daily meal..."
"We are monks on a pilgrimage..."
"We don't carry a cooker or pots and pans, so anything you want to offer us that we can eat right away will be fine..." All stock answers by now.
"OK wait there, I'll be back."
The elderly lady returned; she had lots of energy: "Monks! Real monks, oh bless you, bless you!", she said, as she offered us sandwiches and two ice cold cans of coke: "It's hot, you'll need these..."
"Oh bless you, bless you... monks!?"
Other people gathered around now, "...just collecting food," said Tan Tissaro to a couple of ladies. Someone else came by and gave us a carrier bag full of groceries. I thought to myself, "My goodness, we'll get swamped!", and heard my companion whisper, "Venerable, I think we'd better move off soon."
The old lady was still with us standing to our side. "Oh bless you, bless you," she went on, "You know, I'm 82", she said" ...Just lost my husband a few months ago... after 53 years... Don't know what to do with myself... I miss him so much ...I sit on our sofa, with his favourite sweater beside me, and put the arm around my shoulder ...Do you think it's OK to do that? Am I going funny or something? What do you think?'
My heart breaks open. She had a tear in her eye.
"Am I crazy or what, what should I do?"
I say to her, "No, not at all, that sounds perfectly understandable" What else can be said?
Looking into my heart, remarkably, the words came out as if by magic, effortless and clear: "Grief is very painful, isn't it. It's having lots of love and devotion for someone who isn't around to receive it any more. So much gratitude, but no obvious way of expressing it in any way that means anything."
"Many people feel that the best way to express this gratitude is with acts of generosity and kindness to others, and then to dedicate the happiness and joy created by doing these things to those they've loved. We call it the dedication of merit. It's said that these blessings reach beyond the realms of life and death, as we know them, out into the heavenly realms of existence - that they can be received by our departed loved ones and help them in their next life, whatever form that takes. Really there is no better way that you could express your gratitude to your husband than by what you have done today."
"So when we sit down for our meal, we'll do some blessing chanting for the people who have helped us today. We'll dedicate this very special occasion to your husband."
"That is the most beautiful thing I've ever heard," she blurted out, almost losing control. "Bless you, bless you. Oh, bless you!" She moved a short distance away. I could see her sitting on a wall, watching us as she dried her eyes.
"Let's go", said Tan Tissaro.
I followed in his footsteps, eyes lowered, knowing that if I looked anyone in the eyes, I'd probably fall apart.
Bless you, Crowborough.
Bless you, Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha.