Our spiritual journey is a long one and we have to contend with difficult times along with the good. The story of the wild geese has a special message for us as it symbolises the way the members of our Sangha family try to care for one another. Mutual support benefits us all.
Wild geese always fly in a ‘V’ formation and travel as a community. As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an ‘uplift’ for the birds that follow. People who share a common direction reach their destination more quickly and with less effort than those who travel alone. That’s because they are travelling with the support of one another.
When a goose falls out of formation, it feels the drag and resistance of flying alone and promptly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it. When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position.
In our Sangha, we benefit from staying “in formation” with those who are heading in our direction. Sometimes we accept their help and at other times we offer help in return.
As the geese fly, they also offer their support by that characteristic honking that can be heard. In our Sangha, we need to make sure our communication is encouraging in nature.
When a goose gets sick or wounded, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it, until it dies or is able to fly again. Then, they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock. In our Sangha, we also aim to stand by one another in both good and bad times.
Calligraphy kindly created by Thây
Ani (mother goose) Mavericka, whose energy and vision manifested as the Wild Geese Sangha.
“Building a Sangha is like planting a sunflower. We need to be aware of which conditions will support the flower’s growth and which conditions will obstruct its growth. We need healthy seeds, skilled gardeners, and plenty of sunshine and room to grow. When we engage in Sangha building, the most important thing to remember is that we are doing it together. The more we embrace the Sangha, the more we can let go of the feeling of a separate self. We can relax into the collective wisdom and insights of the Sangha. We can see clearly that the Sangha eyes and hands and heart are greater than that of any individual member of the Sangha.
We have the opportunity to help build our Sangha in every moment, by participating in activities of the Sangha and contributing our energy and insights. To sustain our own practice when we leave the practice centre, we need to know how to build a Sangha. Let us be active in establishing connections with those around us. When we realize our true nature of interbeing, we naturally seek to connect with others by sharing our practice and seeking the support and guidance of our fellow practitioners.
Thây urges us to be energetic in the practice of mindfulness. The past is finished and the future is uncertain, only in the present can we discover the miracle of life. Living in this spirit, we are already valuable members of our Sangha. We will know how to engage in the continuous process of building a refuge for many beings.
Thây encourages us all to be Sangha builders, following the footsteps of the Buddha, who was a great Sangha builder. When we are able to live and practice in harmony in a small community, we can then share this harmony with the larger Sangha, our family and friends, our co-workers, and our co-practitioners. When there is joy in the practice of Sangha building, then we know that we doing it correctly.”
Thây leading Peace Walk in Edinburgh 2003.
Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh
A retreat is an opportunity to spend time in quiet surroundings at a residential location (other than day retreats). They can be weekend, five-day, week-long or longer, and held locally, nationally (see COI UK website) or internationally – for instance at Plum Village, in France – see the Plum Village website for details. The format of retreats will always include meditation, and usually Dharma teachings, but they will vary according to theme.
Martin and Murray with retreatants, mostly from Scottish Sanghas, on the “Transforming Compost into a Rose Retreat”, 19-21 October 2007, Wiston Lodge, near Biggar, Lanarkshire, Scotland.
February 2009: Wild Geese facilitators Retreat, near Oban. Left to right – Suzanne, Pete, Kate and Gill (with Paul behind the camera)
Plum Village (Làng Mai) is the Community of Interbeing’s main practice and meditation centre in the Dordogne, in southern France. It was founded by Thây and Sister Chân Không in 1982. Today, Plum Village is made up of four major residential hamlets.
Retreats, open to everyone, are held regularly. See www.plumvillage.org for more information.
by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
by Mary Oliver
I see or hear
that more or less
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
It was what I was born for –
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world –
to instruct myself
over and over
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant –
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar, I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings
as these –
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?
Sometimes, I am Startled Out of Myself,
by Barbara Crooker
like this morning, when the wild geese came squawking,
flapping their rusty hinges, and something about their trek
across the sky made me think about my life, the places
of brokenness, the places of sorrow, the places where grief
has strung me out to dry. And then the geese come calling,
the leader falling back when tired, another taking her place.
Hope is borne on wings. Look at the trees. They turn to gold
for a brief while, then lose it all each November.
Through the cold months, they stand, take the worst weather has to offer. And still, they put out shy green leaves
come April, come May. The geese glide over the cornfields,
land on the pond with its sedges and reeds.
You do not have to be wise. Even a goose knows how to find
shelter, where the corn still lies in the stubble and dried stalks.
All we do is pass through here, the best way we can.
They stitch up the sky, and it is whole again.
The Buddha’s Last Instruction
By Mary Oliver
“Make of yourself a light ”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal – a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire-
clearly I’m not needed
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.