More times than I could ever count, I’ve recited “my wish”…

“May I become, at times both now and forever, a protector for those without protection, a guide for those who have lost their way, a ship for those with an ocean to cross, a sanctuary for those in danger, a lamp for those without light, a place of refuge for those who lack shelter, and a servant to all in need”

Monks working on construction project– Aug 2014

As with all spiritual practices, prayers, noble words, rituals affirmations and intentions, follow-up action and practice in real life is what really matters.  Pomp and circumstance helps no one.   Prayer, meditation wisdom study..  it’s meant to be boot camp, a training ground for us to then use the practice to go out into the real world and make a difference.

Monks and me standing in kitchen of the newly donated house in Kanthale, Sri Lanka, Aug 2014

I have a friend who once traveled to a remote village in Africa to teach scripture and when she got there she ended up staying 5 years and never once got around to talking about the Bible…. she discovered they had little food to eat and no fresh water and she began digging wells and teaching people how to grow a garden.  I asked her if she thought they were finally ready to hear what she had to preach.  She said she waited years hoping but eventually realized that her hands were black from the dirt and grime of solid noble effort and that she’d been preaching all along by showing up and doing the real work, serving where they needed it most.

Her callused hands proved to me that words alone never suffice.

I think about “my wish” and her callused hands often and am determined to make sure I’m practicing in the world, doing what I say and living a life of noble service.   I ask my self if I am the servant to all in need, if I’m doing enough.. I want my wish to be a description of who I was at the end of my days not just a poem I repeated over and over again.

Transportation around Kanthale, Sri Lanka Aug 2014

I’m always looking for ways to integrate the practice into my daily action… “a place of refuge for those who lack shelter..”…  am I really doing that?

My dear friend Bhante Sumana is a buddhist monk from Kanthale, Sri Lanka.   He grew up in a war-torn village with dirt floors, a straw roof and constant fear of violence.   He tells stories often of his father hiding his whole family in the jungle while terrorists raided his village and returning to find his community dead.   The war’s ended 5+ years ago and we came to the village to be with his family and see first hand what influenced this incredible man and pay tribute to his family who gave an incredible gift to the world thru the love they poured into him.

dirt floored mud and metal “house” for a growing family with young children…. Kanthale, Sri Lanka 2014

I’ve been all over the world and was in the 9th ward after Katrina, I thought I knew poverty up close however I was totally unprepared for what we found.  Poverty in America is a luxury in many ways… I don’t suggest it doesn’t cause enormous suffering or that overwhelming need doesn’t exist… however this is a level of raw that you must feel at a cellular level to really appreciate.

Bhante’s family welcomed us, along with the rest of the village who came out to greet us, many seeing the first white people ever.   They stood under a grass-thatched roof with bare feet and radiant smiles… children singing to us in their language as well as ours.  They had been working for days to prepare for our arrival, the village coming together to cook and build a small gazebo for us to gather in…. I looked around and recognized the resources and the love it took to welcome us was far more than they had to offer and yet I knew that offering us this meant the world to them.  They believe “guests in the house, Gods in the house” and it felt like they lived that literally.

The original home of the family we donated the new home to. Just imagine raising children here. Kanthale, Sri Lanka, 2014

We drove thru the village to a families “home” that Bhante Sumana had known was in great need.   Their original home was made of mud walls and a grass roof; it looked like parts from a junkyard woven together to create the most basic shelter.    Flooding had been a constant problem and the beautiful children who lived here were in constant danger of the elements.. weather and cobra and wild elephants and mold… life is on the brink around here all the time and each day they are grateful to have just survived.

looking from the new kitchen and donated house into the old original house… Kanthale, Sri Lanka, 2014

The heat is so thick you can’t help but look for shade even though there is none.  This is a level of raw exposure like none other.  Even growing food here seems impossible, clean water and electricity are equivalent to jewels.

We walk a dirt path down to the bank of the lake and gather around the most grateful family I’ve ever seen.  They are greeting us on the front porch of their new home that we are donating to them and I witness the most extreme gratitude of my life.

monks preparing to chant for house donation / blessing ceremony , Kanthale Sri Lanka 2014

Monks have gathered to chant and do a house blessing ceremony.  We all clamor to watch a pot of milk boil over on the porch.. when the milk boils over it symbolizes prosperity for the family and is a sacred tradition around these parts.

lighting the milk and waiting for it to boil over on the new porch, a tradition that symbolizes prosperity.  Kanthale, Sri Lanka 2014

As the monks chant the family gathers at their feet I can’t help but stare at them with their eyes closed and hands folded in prayer.

The family receiving their new home and blessing from the monks. The most grateful exchange I have ever witnessed. Kanthale, Sri Lanka, 2014

I look at the father and try to feel what he must feel as he finally has a roof to protect his children.

I look at the Grandma, she’s ancient.  I notice her feet and think of all the hard she’s endured, what she’s seen and how she’s carried on anyway.  I observe her moved to tears with respect and unspeakable gratitude.

The ribbon getting ready to be cut and new home offered to this amazing family. Kanthale, Sri Lanka 2014


First meal in their new home! 🙂 Kanthale, Sri Lanka 2014

We cut the ribbon and as they enter their new home I notice the mother.. she does not have tears nor is she overwhelmed in any way..   She is focused on serving her guests and setting up her home to receive us.

A celebration beyond words…. The whole family entering their new donated home.. Kanthale, Sri Lanka 2014

Before they move a single item in, they quickly assemble an alter and shrine to the Buddha.  By the time I turn around, a table is set and food is everywhere and the joy in the room is finally thicker than the heat.

The new home is so significant and sturdy in comparison, painted with the bright colors and shades of happiness.  I walk around looking at how these people live; they have less than I take out to the trash on an average week and yet have more joy and radiant gratitude than most the people I’ve ever known.

I’m humbled at deeply moved by this moment and again think of “my wish”

“a place of refuge for those who lack shelter………”

Actions > Words.