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View in the garden.

Who am I? Who was I? Buddhist philosophy can answer both of these questions. Who am I? This question is a walkway to the ultimate goal of enlightenment. Who was I? Not a few years ago, not a few minutes ago, but in past lives the Buddhist idea of rebirth suggests I used to be a different person in the past. Whether I lived well, accumulated good or bad karma, determined whether I would be born higher, as a monk, or lower as an animal. In a past life, I could have been a gecko in the garden cared for by the Venerable Dhammananda, and her disciples in Wat Songdhammakalyani.

I wake from my sleep in the early morning as the Venerable and the Mai ji's leave for their biweekly alms round. I look around and find myself in the middle of two ponds, and looking at a blooming bush right in front of me. I pick up my gecko body and climb its short branches to the mouth of a flower. I smell a sweet and elegant perfume. I feel relaxed and refreshed. The flower's scent is strong and pleasant. I stretch and admire my tail to start the day. I look to the east and am intrigued by the pond I find. I arrive at the corner and see the sunrise shine across the surface of the water scattered with lily pads I spot a bird above me and scatter to the bushes for protection. I think about those I have loved who were taken from me, and I wish I could have them back. A tale from the garden A woman's baby was. all she had, but her child died young. The mother found a man who would bring the baby back to life, all she needed to find was a house without the experience of death. In her quest, she, found every ho use had a dreadful experience with the death of those they love. Everyone experiences death, it is common and must be treated so.

The bird finds no food and moves on. I walk out of the bushes and walk along the garden's east wall. I remind myself I am in an all female monastery. My mind wanders to applaud the first Thai female monk. The Buddha's aunt gave women in Buddhism the first step to having a voice in the male dominated society. Uh oh, the Venerable's grouchy dog spotted me, and charges at me. I see only one way out. The lily pads in the pond are close enough together, I can make it across. I jump in and wait for the dog to leave, and scurry, across to the other side.

I climb onto the gazebo at the pond's edge, and hear students inside talking about the extraordinary learning experience they are enjoying, One of them asks the other how this is related to our lives, and the other responds: "If you do good things, good things will happen to you, and there is so much we still have to learn; about ourselves, about other cultures, and about other people." I climb down as they leave for afternoon chanting. and relax under another blooming bush. I am confused. The beautiful flowers are missing something a scent. I feel cheated, but move on.

A well constructed wooden bridge enables me to cross the stream connecting the two ponds. I turn right, towards the west. The wall and pond are lined with beautiful green leaves, and a shrubbery with brilliant white flowers catches my gecko eye. The smell is different than the first, more bitter, but brisk enough to give me the energy to sustain myself longer. I walk along the west side of the garden admiring the stunning ponds which landscape my home. I feel alone, I wish I had a family to share this with. I am reminded of a the Buddhist story about a woman who lost her whole family in one tragic day. Everyone she cared for gone, at no mistake of her own. She felt lost and hopeless, but was able to find new life and release in teaching and helping others cope with loss.

I continue south as I hear the mae ji's walking intot the garden and across the bridge to start their daily work. A makeshift dam is not quite finished at the corner of the large pond in the back of the garden: Hard work put in by a team is evident. It is hard to imagine the amount of work which has gone into the majority of this garden by just a few devote women. It is remarkable what has been accomplished in this garden, my home.

I walk along the pond's edge, and whip a rock in with my tail. The rock causes a circular ripple in the still, quiet pond. I have disrupted the peaceful scene. I recall a meditation I heard as I was listening on the temple window. The ripple of the water is sent to those around me in an effort to give them my good feeling, my good thoughts and my good actions. I in turn receive their good feeling, thoughts, and actions. Is this a lesson to keep in mind as I interact with others? Can I give my good feelings in other ways? Kind expressions, actions, and ideas are a part of my being, but can it be more. Am I am being with material needs or are my needs for knowledge, wisdom, and good character?

I come to the base of edge of the pond on the west and think to my last idea. A beautiful queen did not want to believe our body is not real. The Buddha explained to her through a miracle everyone will grow old and withered. Beauty does not matter, it is the mind. I take care of myself, I am in good shape, but is this going to help me achieve happiness, or the ultimate goal? I will grow old I will wither, and I will die.

I walk to the foot of a mae ji's she looks down, and smiles. It is almost as if she knew I was thinking about what a remarkable life she lives. The devotion and hard work with little reward is a challenge and she should be admired for her effort. She calmly bends down and. offers her hand. I walk onto it in trust, as she walks to the previously scentless flower it is different now. The sunset has brought about a magnificent odor I can smell even as we approach. The day and night are different, and as the flower, I have also changed in a day's time. I am at peace with myself, with my body, and with my soul though, I am still alone.

I notice another gecko in the distance. She is on the other side of the bridge. I scamper across to meet her, and in her eyes, a look of deep compassion for all life. The same compassion I see in the mae ji's and the Venerable. She leads me to the base of a gigantic tree, much larger than any in the' garden. She climbs higher, and higher, until we arrive at the utmost point of the tree, and I look over the wall, to see another view, not of a gecko, but of a bird. Maybe' this will be my view in the future, or maybe my good, works. will enable me to earn the place of a man working along side the Venerable in an equal Buddhist culture. I look at my home, the garden my mind is at peace.
COPYRIGHT 2003 NIBWA-Newsletter on International Buddhist Women
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Author:Rataj, Charlie
Publication:Yasodhara-Newsletter on International Buddhist Women's Activities
Date:Jul 1, 2003
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