Disciples of Xi Fang Temple, being here at Xi Fang Temple during the Chinese New Year has helped me really understand the relationship between laity and Sangha. Your kindness and helpful assitance when my body failed me during my stay was deeply appreciated. Being here, seeing Buddhists come together in community, receiving red envelops and seeing people donate to the temple: money, time, effort and practice has renewed my faith in the strength of good men and women. Especially after 4 yeaers in isolation not having a Chinese temple nearby (or even in our state), not receiving dana (donations) has been very, very hard to bear.
To sustain me during these 4 years I kept pure according to Vinaya by retreating from public when it was obvious that curious western people while familiar with some Buddhist writers were not supportive of establishing a temple here, expecting me to pay for it and everything else. I begain my strongest efforts in translations during these 4 years, completing the standard liturgy book (6 years), then moving on to the Leng Yan Zhou (2 1/2 years) study and eventual translation, then moving to Yogcara Flam Mouth Food Offering Service (3 months).
Although I refined my dharma studies in translations gaining many new insights and skills. I did so at the loss of other skills like the morning and evening services, the mudras for food offering, the use of dharma instruments in the Chinese service. While it’s true i read the services it was also true that they were being read for translation purposes rather than a form of practice.
Horrifically bad at doing the simple food offering upon my arrival at Xi Fang Temple, even forgetting parts of it on the first time I participated in the morning offering service. Aaagh! How embarassed I was when my turn came at noon, evening and the rest of the days there! I got better. Beleive me I’ll get it right rather quicklly once I move back to the temple.
I am very happy to rejoin Xi Fang Temple. While the interior and exterior are really stunningly beautiful, the really good draw is the abbot, my master Kuan Neng fashi and the senior nuns Kai Xin Shifu, and Rong Rui Shi. Their calmness and good personalities have helped me confidently regain my practice.
They have gone well above their comfort levels in helping me adjust to life at the temple during this busy holiday time. Even my body weak as it is, even a bout of sciatic causing me major pain and them a loss of a helper for a few days during this very busy time.
I’ve never known anyone from Xi Fang Temple to avoid hardship in bringing about their goals for the temple or for themselves. That is one thing people who want to succeed do. Embracing hardship for training, joining in rebuilding, renovating, and constuction of the temple they indeed had harship, much more than mine in Iowa. They kept their goals and practices and put in their combined effort to create a new building and extrodinary feat given they are only 10 years open!
Unlike most Americans who seek to avoid hardship as they move up the economic ladder, the Buddhists I know use hardship as a training tool. I’m not talking about ascetic practice, too much of that is discouraging without lots of support. But what I am talking about is reducing creature comforts as a means to reduce distractions and to keep in focus the major goals.
Embracing hardship or reducing distractions means that at home you may choose the comforts like a bed versus camp cot, shared accomodations instead of privacy in single room, stairs without elevator access for exercise, keeping heat low in winter so fresh air can come in from windows or doors, living out of a small suitcase with a few changes of clothes instead of a large wardrobe.
Xi Fang Temple opened in 2000. It was a converted store front with a basement that had a low ceiling. The one room upstairs was remodeled to have 2 side rooms and 1 room by the Buddha altar for the abbot. The rooms were just big enough for a sheet of masonite that was raised off floor to accomodate luggage and dharma items, then layered with sleeping bags and 3 shelves for books and temple items. No air condition just windows, no windows to outside since the iron gate covered the front entirely. Infested wtih cockroaches and mice, due to apartments above and the dirty building conditions at the time. They were all skinny when I walked through their doors in Sept 2001, I wondered at their harships. They were happy to see me. And spared no effort at making me feel welcome. Of that group only the abbot remains and is very healthy and strong.
Well living there was a challenge, due to the bugs and mice cleaning was constant to avoid disease. The kitchen was scoured daily to keep it santised, and constantly rewashed dishes and tools. I walked down to eat breakfast congee and literally had to fight a handful of large cockroaches for it, I briefly wondered it they already had gottin in it as the nun had not covered it. But I was too hungry to not eat it. Then the plumbing…aaagh…would frequentlly flood the kitchen or the upstairs bathroom would leak on our Buddha altar, in streams until the landlord arrived to fix it. once using my bath towel to wrap the pipe. Oh, I bought another one BTW. When it flooded it meant all night mopping, scrubbing and reviewing all the food items that could be contaminated. Pitching the spoiled stuff in the garbage and hoping it was trash day to throw it on the side of the street.
What kept it going was our little community of Sangha members and our lay people who often spoke words of encouragement. It was fun when we gathered in the night to watch the occasional movie or chatted or even practiced chants in different styles. We sometimes would buy American food, like the pizza from that little family place a few blocks down 8th ave from us or 4th ave mcdonalds. A special treat it was. I loved temple food, the abbot can cook too!
I was moved to Flushing when they decided to open a small temple in a comercial space in the basement. I didn’t mind it at first because the nighttime was peaceful but later the man who opened a martial arts place in our shared space decided to make more money by offering a karaoke bar all night until 5:30am and we opened our doors at 7:30am! So it meant smoke filled our little temple and we shared one bathroom which darn it I had to get up in the night to use (facing drunks, men & women using the facilities was just awful. Then later I’d open the gate to find couples doing it in full view having to retreat hastily back inside our temple to complain to our abbott. He would rush out angry and scold them. I had to deal with mice who had babies constantly there. Oh we had our fun moments tho’ when watching the kungfu students suddently leap like ballerinas to avoid the baby mice swarm running madly across their practice area back n forth, back n forth….little cute gray puffballs they were.
We had hotpot once in while there, yuummy. I tried to cook noodles for the abbott but never got it right, always chewy. He likes it softer I think. I had a hotplate and wok with a full size frig. It was quite an experience! We were right next door to a fruit and vegetable seller. It was good! We had the famous blackout during that time, no cell towers were working. Water was 5 dollars per bottle, batteries were sold out by 10am! It was crazy. Our security gate was up and someone had to watch for security all night. Wow! When I was tired of that situation, people would try to lift me up by saying it’s a wonderful way to practice full of harships, so later it will be better for us, because we all had our moments of being sick of the karaoke and smoke and extreme sleep deprevation! 2 hours is not enough!
Well it turns out they were right, when they closed Flushing, I left for Iowa. And this year I returned to Xi Fang Temple.