The newly ordained order members have been asked to share their ordination experience, and I am happy to do so. But in reality the experience was much less about me than about those around me. My experience was about the Deer Park staff family with whom I worked during the late summer. It was about my blood family and how they supported me. And it was about having my home sangha, Organic Garden, there with me and with the other brothers and sisters from our sangha who were also ordained.
I did not expect any of these things to be so important next to the joy of receiving the
fourteen directly from Thay. My greatest aspiration is to continue Thay; to embody
whatever small piece of him I can for others. But these parallel experiences taught me
lessons that might support that aspiration, so I am going to share them with you. And I
am also going to tell you a little about a lesson I learned during my year as an aspirant.After writing my letter to Thay and being accepted as an aspirant, many wonderful things happened! In the next months, a lifelong burden of guilt lifted from me, gone forever. Happiness sprouted and I found that it is possible to water the happiness inside and make it grow. The more I took the practice seriously, the better it worked for me. I had experienced a lot of positive changes in my life due to the practice before becoming an aspirant, but this series of changes amazed me. After all, I am 65 now. I never expected my life to change so much at this late date.
What Mary Learned: Don’t bother predicting what turn my life will take, because I have no idea. I just need to practice as best I can in every moment.
Staff Experience: Prior to being told that I was to be ordained, I signed up to be a staff member before and during the English retreat. I was so happy because I would be
spending two weeks at Deer Park while Thay was in residence! I arrived at Deer Park a
week before the retreat and joined a few dozen other staffers who had come from all over
the country. These people became my heroes. Only a few were OI members, but all were
wonderful practitioners. Most were seasoned volunteers who knew the monastery and
what needed to be done. Many brought their own tool kits and cleaning materials. They
worked hard and knew when to relax and shared their expertise without hesitation. My 65
year old bones tried to keep up, but I was no where near as useful as these veterans.
The staff family cleaned rooms that were covered with construction debris and dust (it
was a mess from installing new electrical). They snaked plumbing and fixed broken
doors. When the retreat opened, they took care of the practitioners under some difficult
circumstances – the extreme heat, the breakdown of the drinking water system on
Tuesday, the electricity failure in southern California on Wednesday. And after everyone
had left on Sunday, they cleaned the whole place again. My experience of serving with
this wonderful staff family has a lot to do with how I now perceive my role in the Order
What Mary Learned: Putting on the brown robe is the same as putting on the staff tee shirt. Either way, I am here to smile, welcome, and serve.
My Blood Family: None of my extended family members are practitioners, but they
support me wholeheartedly. When I learned that I was to be ordained I shared my
happiness with them, and five announced that they would come for the ordination! These
family members included my husband, children/step-children, and grand children. I could
not say no to them. After all, I had wished for years that they would join me at Deer Park
and enjoy the practice and the culture first hand.
My one daughter had been to Deer Park before and was attending the retreat with me.
She would help me manage the family. But the experience would be very new, and
probably strange to the others. I worried about how I could take care of them while
getting ready for ordination, and carrying out my staff duties. If you want to know what
was on my mind the day leading up to ordination, it was: “How will they react to Deer
Park? Will they hate it? Will they love it? Will they understand what Nana is doing?
They began arriving on Friday, flying in and driving in. My daughter and I sneaked out
of the retreat (sorry about that) and got a few of them situated. Then we hurried back
in time for my ordination rehearsal. Then I spent a lot of time on the cell (sorry about
that too) making sure my step-daughter and grandson would make it to a local hotel that
night, and all would be brought into the monastery in time for the 6am ceremony. By
Friday evening I can safely say that holding on to my mindfulness was the only hope I
had of surviving the ordination and the weekend . Nobel silence arrived like a blessing,
and I took a sleeping pill to get some rest.
I awoke at 4am on the morning of ordination. Leaving my tent, I went to the dining hall
and made a cup of tea. The silence was wonderful. I realized how fortunate I was to be
here, and how right it was to take the path laid out before me. Everything was going to be
OK. Entering the meditation hall, emotions began to arise, and when I took my place on
the center row I was very grateful to have a brother on each side to steady me. My hips
were severely inflamed from going up and down the hills, and I was not sure how I would
get through the prostrations and kneeling.
The ceremony began and my main memory is of the energy of the monks and nuns
chanting in Vietnamese and English, sending us their strength and love. And the soft
voice of Thay as he transmitted the 14, always with a blessing. I remember rising to
receive my certificate and true name. Then it was over and my family was there, crying
and hugging me. And my home sangha was there, and my loving mentors were there. I
felt more love and support than I have ever received in my lifetime. It was wonderful. I
was now True Ever Lasting Ocean.
The rest of the morning is like a dream. I saw my husband cry and laugh and enjoy
everything around us. I listened to my 15 year-old grandson tell us how much he liked
the silence after the sound of the bells. And I heard my stepdaughter suggest that we all
attend the family retreat next summer. (I had been suggesting this for years to no avail).
We all listened to Thay’s dharma talk. It made me so happy that they saw my teacher whom I love so much. As we were moving towards the parking lot to see the family off, my daughter announced that all members of my family, including those that could not come, had talked that week on the phone. They wanted to show their support by giving me the gift of one of Thay’s calligraphies. I could pick any one I wanted to. I started to cry. My family, every one of them, had accepted my choice and wanted to support me. I felt that they were freeing me to follow my aspiration; they loved me enough to let me go.
What Mary Learned: Even if I have known someone for a lifetime, I do not know the depths of love they contain or how they might transform. Never underestimate the potential of others, or of myself.
Sitting here now and writing, I remember those two weeks at Deer Park, all that I
experienced, the joy of my family, the fellowship of the staff family, the love of my
sangha, the dearness of the monks and nuns, and the presence of Thay with such
gratitude. All I can say is thank you, dear brothers and sisters, for allowing me to make
this commitment and practice with you. I promise that I will practice with all my heart.