Between A Monk, A Forest, And PG&E Workers

Posted by Trupti Pandya on Sep 28, 2020
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[A touching story that Buddhist monk, Jin Wei, shared, as 46 of us began a "Sacred Space" Laddership Pod yesterday!]

What's a time when you experienced the whole as greater than the sum of its parts?

I am sitting here in the courtyard of Redwood Vihara, in a redwood forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains. And what I want to share with you is something that happened yesterday in this very place and how we created a sacred space spontaneously where we felt, at that moment, some wholeness and deep connections with few strangers and with nature.

Some of you might have heard about the wildfires in California that have been happening in recent weeks. It was a very, very difficult time here. And this land was very affected. Seventy thousand people had to be evacuated from this area and, more than a thousand structures and homes were burned to ashes. People will have to stay outside their homes for a few weeks, which brings a lot of uncertainty, fear, loss, grief, and so forth.

I moved here on Friday with twelve other folks from our community, and we were trying to clean up the land and secure things here, in the forest. Meanwhile, a team of contractors from PG&E walked around, trying to notify the trees that are 'qualified' to be cut off because they can easily fall down and were dangerous for the electricity lines.

So one man, Antonio, came and briefed me about what they would do and their agenda here. I said, "Okay, no problem. Go ahead. But before you start chopping the trees, I want a few minutes to notify all the living beings around the ecosystem and that the trees would be cut off and that they can leave before this particular day and time. We don't want to create any difficulties and threats for them." Antonio said, "Okay, no problem, I will let you know once we decide which trees we want to remove."

While cleaning up the space, he came to us and said that he had found two trees, and he can show them to me. As I followed him, I saw six other guys standing near the trees that had to be cut. He showed me that these are two trees we have identified, and we want to cut them down tomorrow as they are dangerous.

As the situation was very spontaneous, I asked them, "Is it okay if I announce, for all living beings around here, what is going to happen?"

He says, "Fine, if you want, please go ahead."

So I started to announce and asked Antonio at what time will the trees be cut down. He said, 10:00 AM tomorrow. So I started notifying all living beings by saying, "I inform you that tomorrow, these two trees will be cut down. So you and your families, please leave safely and find a safe space somewhere else. We're very grateful for all the hard work that you have done here. We appreciate the trees that have stayed here for generations, that sheltered many living beings, the ecosystem, and so forth."

And the team of subcontracts was listening to me with surprise. Then, I asked them if I can chant a mantra, which we usually do in this kind of situation. They said, go ahead. So I started chanting the Great Compassion Mantra, and, you know, from the corner of my eyes, I saw one of the guys had put his palms together, in prayer position.

At the end of the chant, I also mentioned that we always share the goodness -- which has arisen from the chanting and our practice -- with all living beings here in the forest and with all the people affected by the fires, facing difficulties and suffering. I wish them well-being and that this land could be restored. So I asked again, could I do that, and they said okay, go ahead.

So I chanted the Transfer of Merit, and there was a moment of silence. Another guy told me later on, "I apologize. When you were chanting, I looked at my phone, but this was not to disrespect. I just wanted to keep your intimacy for you. But my heart was with you, brother."

I said, "Okay. [laughs] That's great. No problem. I felt that you and all of us here were together in this kind of spontaneous moment."

Antonio later asked me, "Can you please tell me, what did you chant?"

I told him that it was the Great Compassion Mantra.

He said, "You know, it was the best thing that I have heard in the last five months."

I said, "Oh, I appreciate that."

And he added, "You know, now I will be more caring and careful whenever I will cut the trees down."

I said, "Well, I deeply appreciate that."

So this was something that was, how to say, very interesting that happened between these strangers and me. It was somehow a very deep interaction and connection. And we created this kind of sacred space spontaneously with ourselves, the strangers, the trees, the ecosystem, and all the living beings around the trees. And, as we know that each tree is a small universe and that the trees are connected to other trees, we were sharing the merits and virtues with these and others.

At that moment, we were very deeply connected. We met as strangers, and I left feeling as though I met my family members there. They also felt that there was something unique that happened here. It was very unpredictable, you know. So this is my story from Redwood Vihara Forest.

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Comments (8)

  • Birju Pandya wrote ...

    so touched by this. particularly the non-antagonistic manner in which it happened. it raises lots to reflect on in a world where polarization continues to root in deeply. grateful

  • Swara Pandya wrote ...

    While bunch preparing for this pod, we heard about near and far enemies of virtues. For example the "near enemy" of Compassion is pity and the "far enemy" is cruelty, for Karuna on one side is self-love and on other side is ill-will. The near ones could be harder. This idea brought sharpness and clarity in my thoughts.

    When I heard the trees would be cut my first reaction was oh no and series of thoughts started running in my mind on good/bad of our doing. And as the story progressed I started tearing not because the trees would be cut but to see what a possible compassionate response feels like. I could also feel "enemies" in my mind. The "care" could come out in rage, feeling sad or blame.

    An invaluable moment of learning!

    I don't know what heart it takes to have a response like this, but I now know it is possible.

    Trupti, so happy you transcribed the story.

  • Richard Whittaker wrote ...

    Thank you Trupti for sharing Jin Wei's revealing and touching story and thank you Jin Wei.

  • Preeta wrote ...

    This is so deeply moving and touching, and a testament to the journey of cultivation. Thank you both. I have entered a sacred space just reading this again.

  • Trishna Shah wrote ...

    Such a beautiful interaction, thank you Jin Wei for holding space with perfect strangers in such a sacred way and Trupti for sharing the story.

  • Bradley Stoll wrote ...

    Thank you for sharing Tupti. And to Jin Wei, your ability to connect with the workers and share this sacred recognition of the trees with all is truly amazing.

  • Brinda Govindan wrote ...

    Thanks to Jin Wei for so beautifully recounting this experience in our orientation call, and to Trupti for lovingly transcribing and sharing this deeply moving story.

  • Nahelia wrote ...

    I think this is a good example of what a good-hearted person who lives with values and principles, just by living according to them, can make great changes