Two months ago I stayed at Berkeley Buddhist Monastery. That is a small daughter monastery of the monastic community where I now stay. The monks eat once a day at 11 a.m., and that one meal is provided by devoted lay families. At around 10:30 am the bell rings and someone, usually a woman past middle age, is at the door with a box full of pans. On one conscious morning, however, two ladies came to prepare the food on the spot. They were a bit late, so the 5 monks, another layman who also stayed there and myself, were quietly waiting at the table; we had already sung the prayer before the meal.
The fact that we were sitting there made the ladies a bit nervous. Soon, well-filled bowls of noodle soup came our way. One by one we were served. According to monastic etiquette, this was based on seniority: first the eldest monk, then the second eldest monk, and so on, and then we, the laity. The ladies were of course very respectful towards the monks. However, when they came to me, a youth with no special status other than my residence in the monastery, they were also respectful, slightly bowed their heads and handed me the soup.
Received as a gift, the soup got a special aftertaste. That same aftertaste gets more and more of life here in the monastery for me: gratitude, including the beneficial sense of duty that comes with it. My food, shelter, electricity and internet come from people who believe in what we do here, who believe it is worth giving to this community. That provides material for reflection: am I indeed going in the direction of awakening? Do my activities help the world?
This concrete sense of gratitude also extends to my spiritual teachers and friends who are always willing to advise me and correct me where necessary. I learn a lot from them and without them I could never walk this path of freedom. The more I think about this, the more people spring into my mind: family, teachers, friends, special people,
ordinary people - there are so many people who have worked for me over the years, helped me on my life path - what am I doing with that? This gratitude and the feeling of having to do something with it then fill me with a sense of belonging and trust, and at the same time with motivation to do good, to become a better person. The primary and secondary schools here in the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas just serve the kids three meals a day (and snacks!); no, it is not the asceticism they learn from monks and nuns with their one meal a day. Respect and gratitude for parents in particular, on the other hand, is essential in the education here. Maybe something for Leiden University too?