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noble friendship

December 10, 2012

This past weekend, I attended another meditation retreat at Wat Atam. This time, however, the retreat was led by Sakula (Mary Reinard), the spiritual director and teacher of Portland Friends of the Dhamma. The retreat itself was relatively similar to the one I attended at the end of September, but it was unique for me in that it was the first retreat I’ve been to that’s been led by a lay teacher instead of a monastic. It was also special in that it was the first retreat Sakula herself has led, and it was nice to be a part of that, especially because this particular retreat has helped to form a relationship between the communities of Wat Atam and Portland Friends of the Dhamma.

While Ajahn Ritthi, the abbot of Wat Atam, gave a couple of Dhamma talks during the retreat, Sakula ran the show, and this retreat was as fruitful for me as the previous one. Sakula is an experienced meditator who’s led Portland Friends of the Dhamma for a number of years, and I think that experience served all of the retreatants well. She created an atmosphere conducive to practicing meditation, and gave guidance that was simultaneously encouraging, gentle, strict, and applicable to all types of meditators. Some, for example, really benefited from her talks on having a friendly attitude towards ourselves and how that can impact our practice and those around us, while others (like myself) benefited from her suggestions to hold our posture as long as possible and resist the mind’s tendency to exaggerate and proliferate around painful sensations.

Being a somewhat regular member of Portland Friends of the Dhamma myself (I usually try to make it to the Friday night meditation session and Dhamma talk), I was happy to see that Ajahn Ritthi and the organizers of the retreat were impressed with the retreat and the conduct of the retreatants, many of which were also from Portland Friends of the Dhamma. Ajahn Ritthi said that it’s not just the job of monastics to teach the Dhamma, that it’s also the duty of lay followers to teach, and that he and Sakula were relatives in the Dhamma. It’s that kind of sentiment that I think will help further strengthen the growth of lay groups like Portland Friends of the Dhamma, as well as help breakdown the resistance of some to seeing lay teachers as legitimate Dhamma teachers.

In short, the retreat was a success on many levels, and I’m glad that I had the opportunity to attend. It was the first retreat led by Sakula and another step forward in her evolution as a Dhamma teacher. It acted as a bridge, connecting two Buddhist communities in the Pacific Northwest together and helping open up new opportunities for Portland Friends of the Dhamma by expanding their presence and giving them a well-organized venue for Sakula to possibly teach more retreats in the future. And on a personal level, it was successful in helping me learn more about what I need to do in order to improve my meditation practice while bringing me closer to the Portland Friends of the Dhamma community.

Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. (SN 45.2)

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