When I was 11 or 12 years old, before I'd seen it, I could tell by the way my father got when he talked about The Dharma Centre of Canada that it was unlike any place I'd been. We had visited Buddhist monasteries in use and in ruin in North America and also in Asia, where we'd lived and traveled extensively for three years. I knew- I could feel- that this one would be special. The Dharma Centre is in the woods and there is a beautiful lake, I was told, and a new stupa, and even in the sticky summer days, we would be wearing long sleeves, tall boots and mosquito hats. I was given my own hat before the trip.
We drove for days to reach this place, which I knew to be important- sacred- for my father, and so I decided it would be for me, too. I was going to receive various teachings, including from Namgyal Rinpoche, I would take long walks, share space, and assist in the kitchen. This was big for me, I loved to cook and now I'd be cooking for a group of about 20 people.
Our first day we unpacked, I had my own room in the lower level of the Temple Building, just below our primary gathering space. I was then introduced to the other people working in the kitchen and I was initiated in to service. A dish towel and an upside-down stainless steel mixing bowl (the largest I'd ever seen) were propped on my head, and a loving GONG tapped out around the bowl (with a wooden spoon or a carrot, I can't remember which). The sound filled my head with sweet and silly vibrations- the understanding that this would be joyful service and learning.
As days of my first retreat passed, I felt, among other things, useful and free. I walked in the woods by myself for hours at a time, I had never been able to do that before. I learned how to make stuffed cabbage, humous, and I had my first cup of hot tea with milk and sugar, a very adult-seeming beverage. I can remember my first sip- how sweet and comforting- and I still feel that way when I stop to be present with (and perhaps for) my tea.
That summer I learned to identify more constellations, I learned how to meditate, and I tried to be still. I learned that some people did not swat at mosquitos- ever. It was a place where people unwound and got grounded, and although I felt very restless at times, people were (in retrospect) totally gracious and glad of my young company.
I would like to return to the Dharma Centre, arriving after the long drive through the woods. I want to smell it again, sit there again, confront my restlessness again. The leader and spiritual head, "Sir", as people addressed him has gone beyond, but now has become more prominent in our lives through this recently released book. I have been trying to rediscover my wonder with Namgyal Rinpoche, and with my father's clear love for this place as I designed the cover of the book.
The intention of the story-gatherers is that by the students retelling their experiences, a shared transcendence can happen.
Please enjoy in joy.