The Temple is Done

I’ve heard a story – probably much embellished by this point – that once there was a new Dhamma Hall commissioned to be built at Wat Suan Mokh, the late Ajahn Buddhadasa’s monastery. The plans were drawn and materials ordered, but the construction itself dragged on and on. Workers would lose necessary tools, things would be done wrong and need to be re-done, and many times the monks themselves would barely get tools unpacked before the bell rang for the meal or evening pūjā.

Years passed this way. Finally, one day while sitting with the Ajahn, a lay follower complained. “Ajahn! When will the Dhamma Hall ever be finished?!”

“What do you mean?” Ajahn Buddhadasa responded. “It’s done!” When his followers gaped at him incredulously, he explained further. “Every evening when we pack the tools away, the hall is finished. Didn’t we start using it as soon as the floor was poured? We don’t carry our work into the next day like a burden. When the tools are away, the hall is finished.”

I feel much the same way about the camper in the Bamboo Grove. Sure, it’s rough. There’s insulation poking out and I recently put a hole in the ceiling to investigate a leak. It’s hot in the sun and cold at night. But, no matter how much work gets done, or how much seems to remain, all through the day I find myself sweeping the dust to one side, finding a place to sit, and settling. Ah, done at last.

The dhutaṇga’s, the austere practices, do cultivate this sort of contentment. After all, just try setting up in a forest grove and getting it FINISHED. There is no such thing. You’ll hardly get it swept (and good luck, there’s no flat ground in the forest) when a gust of wind will scatter the place in fresh leaves and pinecones.

On a deeper level, the task is already done precisely because it IS impermanent. This is not the first shrine room whose construction I’ve overseen, nor will it be the last. It’s not even the best or a stepping stone to something greater yet. Life, after all, doesn’t move in a linear progression. Fortunes come and go. I’ve lived in multi-million-dollar monasteries, and I’ve sheltered under a tarp in the woods. One didn’t lead to the other. I just woke up each morning and said, “Aha. This is where I’m at now.”

Likewise with the temple, there is no final phase of the project in which everything will be complete and everyone will be happy. In some ways it’s the things yet unfinished – the places where someone can be a part of the process – that draws people in. Happiness is not found in external conditions, it’s to be found within ourselves. In each moment, in each situation.

The real temple isn’t land or lumber – the bricks of the temple are the people. While each person is bringing their resources, skills, and artistic touches, they are also taking a moment to step out of the busy lives they lead to do something together. They lend a hand, they make a connection, they breathe easier after making an offering. The mortar that keeps it all together is the wholesome mindstates we bring.

“Even royal chariots wear out;

This body too wastes away.

But the dhamma of the good doesn’t age.

For the good pass it on to the good.” Dhp 152

It’s delightful to be on the side watching the physical temple and community take shape, bit by bit. There’s a beautiful new shrine, pots, pans, candles and incense; friends near and far have sent coffee and tea for cold mornings and every day my bowl has been filled. Meditators and friends are coming by ones and twos, and group sittings are just around the corner. Some will participate and others are happy just to support.

As for the hole in the ceiling – pay it no mind! It’s a good deed waiting to happen. 🙂 The temple is done.

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