New Friends on the Mountain

Coming from New York City and Philadelphia, the three months spent in Dharma Drum Mountain was a complete 180 degree difference from city life. From the view of the morning sun hitting the mountains to the mists drifting over the trees, and the bright moon and stars out at night, the natural scenery has not ceased to fill me with wonder and awe. Since the tasty and nutritious food here is free, I do not usually carry around my wallet (not to mention my cell phone), which gives me a sense of freedom I’ve never tasted. City life forces tens of millions of people together to navigate around a sea of faceless strangers who do not have time to greet or even acknowledge each other because that would be overwhelming. On the other hand, in the small community of a few hundred on the mountain, I've developed the habit of greeting everyone I pass along the halls with either a “good morning,” "amituofo," or a slight nod and smile.

Some of the more memorable moments here include meditating with the monastics, having the privilege of joining the welcoming committee to greet the scholars from the Mind and Life Institute, hiking up the "Becoming a Buddha Trail" that overlooks Dharma Drum Mountain, and playing badminton with the teachers. Even more valuable than the wonderful opportunity for language and academic learning I've been given here, it is this community of warm and welcoming people whom I've developed strong bonds with that I most cherish. I treasure the conversations over tea and walks after meals, both planned and unplanned, with the nuns, monks, volunteers, staff, students, teachers, and other visiting scholars.

Reflecting on the connections I've made, it is pleasantly surprising to see that the network of new friends here has unexpected links to my past. While I was aware that people at Dharma Drum Buddhist College knew Marcus Bingenheimer of Temple University, and people at Dharma Drum Taiwan knew Chang Wen Fashi of Dharma Drum New York, I did not expect that Chen Xiu Lan, Guo Guang Fashi, Chang Yan Fashi and Chang Shen Fashi would know Hu Hsiao-lan, also from my home institution of Temple University, or that Kuopin Chuang is a good friend and colleague to Ven. Dhammadīpa. Additionally, it was serendipitous to bump into Chang Shun Fashi and Yan Qing Fashi, both of whom I met in New York last year, literally the first and second day I landed here. It was easy to feel at home in a new place when I began to make these connections between my old friends and my new ones. The people here have touched me deeply and there are too many to list. I foresee that the relationships forged on Dharma Drum Mountain will continue to benefit me well beyond my three month stay.

This is the fifth time I've been abroad for over two months either to study or to teach. For all four previous times, while I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in those places, when the two or three months were up, I felt ready to return home. The allotted time seemed just right and I missed home. However, as I'm writing this now with a week before I leave Dharma Drum Mountain, this readiness to return is not present. Instead, I’m lamenting how quickly the time has passed and making plans to return in the future. I will miss the spaces I’ve become accustomed to. While it took time to figure out how to navigate this labyrinthine complex, my increasing familiarity with Dharma Drum Mountain’s halls, sites and trails made me feel like I was introducing visitors to my home when I had the chance to show the place to guests from afar.