by: Joshua Crouch
Marici Fellowship, the new social outreach arm of Sakya Monastery in Seattle, had its inaugural “big event” the weekend of July 20-21, 2018. The first ever Day of Caring by Sharing was presided over by the founder of the Fellowship and our Head Lama, H.E. Sakya Khöndung Avikrita Rinpoche. This first large-scale event was preceded by two smaller functions to work on the dynamic power of our driving motto: “Putting the Dharma into action for the benefit of all.”
So… What does that motto mean exactly? Avikrita Rinpoche explains:
“When I first came up with that slogan, “putting the Dharma into action for the benefit of all,” some friends came to me and said, “Rinpoche, don’t you mean putting Bodhicitta into action, putting compassion into action, and so on?” I had to say, “I understand what you are trying to say, but the way my grandfather taught us, there is no Dharma without compassion.” It means the same thing. This is because we recognize that we need the Dharma to awaken our own complete Buddha nature in order to be at optimum capacity to benefit other sentient beings. And yes sure this is, first and foremost, a practice of internal development through meditation, morality, development of wisdom and so forth. But in helping those who need it, [while] in fellowship with other walkers of the way of wisdom and compassion, it does not distract us from that process. No, in fact it actually enhances it. It actually enhances the merit toward our ultimate goal. So therefore when we in the Fellowship work together and have motivation of bodhicitta, and then act out of bodhicitta, and then dedicate the virtues of such actions to the bodhi of all sentient beings, this is no ordinary act of charity. But an extraordinary act, an extraordinary way of developing bodhicitta that helps others.”
These were the initial words said to a room of about 30 volunteers, all intent on working throughout the day to best exemplify how that quality of compassion might benefit our community. As one volunteer put it: “Three words for the day: Connection, compassion and miracle.”
The months leading up to that Saturday were filled with discussions over ways to have the most impact, how and which items to source for distribution, the ways we could be most supportive and provide a sense of authentic and sincere connection for everyone we would encounter throughout the day, and even which kinds of foods might be the most comforting and nourishing. The culmination of that planning saw no lessening in activity or devotion to uplifting those most in need. On Friday night the Cultural Hall became an assembly line to rivaling any great factory with tables filled with backpacks and care items. Through the joyful rigor of those Sangha members working that night and the following day, we were able to distribute over 200 backpacks with water bottles, socks, first aid items, feminine care products, and a few other daily necessities we can so often take for granted! Friday night also saw the transformation of the kitchen into a restaurant-scale prepping of food to be cooked the following day (Saturday) for lunch. A total of three encampments were served a hot lunch of vegetarian shepherd’s pie, steamed vegetables, and fruit salad made from fresh and mainly organic ingredients.
The actual Day of Sharing by Caring not only made an impact in a population of Seattle most in need – one that struggles through each day with too little compassion shown to them, yet somehow always ripe with compassion themselves to share – it also expounded a great many moments of inspiration and teaching. This impact was felt by lay and ordained members of the community alike. As Venerable Lekshay Sangpo writes: “I have waited all my Buddhist life for something like this to happen in my Sangha. I am so proud of everybody involved with this!… a wonderful new addition to our Monastery, in Seattle. Whatever you want to call it, it’s Buddhists taking action to help others. This is the best – Compassionate Action.”
One of the Marici Fellowship co-chairs, Michael Lekas, summarized the unfolding of the entire day so well:
“I was at the Monastery for the whole day, so I saw Sangha volunteers coming and going… What was so cool to witness was the change in all the volunteers who went out to serve others, either serving food or handing out backpacks. When they left there were smiles, energy and enthusiasm, along with some nervousness and confusion. But when they returned, each person came back transformed into beaming visions of joyful serenity. The smiles were bigger, the bodies more relaxed and emanating an emotional warmth. People looked satiated, not from food but from spiritual fulfillment. Even the monks and Rinpoche had this aura of happiness, of deep contentment.”
Another volunteer, Nicole, relates in a personal encounter:
“Being able to be of service really put my heart’s compassion into action. Sometimes I have so much compassion for others without the knowledge of how to put it into action, and the Marici Fellowship let me do just that.
So, for backpack distribution, we stopped on a corner near the Union Gospel Mission. As soon as we handed out one backpack, people were coming up and asking if they could have one. They have so much humility, and every single one said “Bless you” and was so grateful. The moment that sticks out to me, was giving a backpack to a young man in a tent, to which he replied, “Is this a miracle?”. My response was simple, “you are the miracle.” He had a huge smile and almost tears. These people have a hard life with so much suffering, so even knowing I affected his day even in the slightest was profound for me.”
There were these little miracles throughout the day like that of a 13 year-old girl living in one of the Tiny Cabin/Home communities who had painted all of the doors in the encampment to help bring joy into her community’s life. Or that of the man in another encampment who had taken all of his food assistance money to procure the seeds and starters for a vegetable garden that now provides for his neighbors and himself because, as he put it, “we all gotta help each other out.”
So much more happened, so many stories from sangha members – Rui from Beijing who had an injured ankle but kept working, Donna, who did energy healing to support others throughout the day; two new practitioners John and Carol, who had only been to the Monastery for the first time the week prior, yet enjoyed the people and event so deeply that they wanted to come that Sunday for Refuge…. Being able to have a human connection and interaction while engaging with our practice was a truly humbling and fulfilling experience for all those involved in any capacity.
One of the most impactful of these moments for us as practitioners of the Vajrayana path came about during the distribution of backpacks taking place under the highway alongside Project Sack Lunch. H.E. Sakya Khöndung Avikrita Rinpoche, along with several volunteers and lamas, was handing out backpacks among this assembly of those who have fallen on the most difficult of circumstances. After a little time, a man came up to him, got down to his knees, and cried joining his palms together staring at Rinpoche. The young man said that he did in fact know Rinpoche, and went on to explain that just last year he had taken refuge with Rinpoche. He then reached into his pocket, took out some small paper and tissues… and his refuge card with a picture of HE Avikrita Rinpoche on it. Rinpoche recollected that “he said that he was so happy to be able to meet me like this. We spent some time together and he walked me to the car. (I) hugged him as he cried so much that it made his day.” Of all days and moments for this precious human to arrive for aid, to have had held so tightly to his faith in the face of difficulty for some time, and here he was in the midst of what many might call a desperate circumstance still yet beholding the face of the guru!
If you are interested in helping the Marici Fellowship practice in the community, please contact the facilitators by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find a sign-up sheet on the display in the lower hall of the Monastery next to the coat closet.
We are working on adding many new programs and events to our calendar; please check back often for announcements of new programs, events, and offerings.
Editing by Alyssa McFarland, Laura Ellis, and Gillian Teichert.