Travel+Leisure India & South Asia reader Gargi Guha experienced a day of mindfulness at the Lotus Pond Monastery on Lantau Island, Hong Kong. By Gargi Guha
The early morning quietude that gently wakes me up seems quite surreal. Unlike the stirrings of a busy urban locality, there is a silence here that is impregnable. I shed off last night’s sleep like a thin blanket draped around my shoulders. The morning air is crisp and still; daylight is still a distant possibility on the horizon.
A faint rhythm reaches my ears, like someone humming softly. As I walk out of the room, I see a brown-robed figure, bent and slowly sweeping away dry leaves from the courtyard. The unwavering attention of the person speaks of firm intent. Slowly, with each stroke of the broom, clumps of dry leaves are pushed to one side. There is a repetitive meditative rhythm to this activity, and I stand transfixed watching for some time.
The soft fog is a white curtain of velvet, which slowly slithers away to the nearby bamboo grove. It adds an unreal dimension to the scene. The light greens of the garden merge with the darker shades of the trees, leading my gaze to the colossal Tian Tan Buddha atop Ngong Ping on Lantau Island. The thin mist that envelops the landscape makes me feel that I may have died and gone to heaven.
I am at the Lotus Pond Temple on Lantau Island, Hong Kong, which draws from Thich Nhaht Hanh’s Plum Village Order based in Southern France.
Plum Village Hong Kong was founded in November 2008 as a non-profit educational organisation to promote the teachings and practice of Zen Buddhism in the tradition of the venerated Vietnamese monk, now aged 93. This is also the headquarters of the Asian Institute of Applied Buddhism (pvfhk.org), which promotes the modern teachings and practices of Buddhism that help people get in touch with the source of joy within themselves. Through the practice of mindfulness, Thich Nhaht Hanh has revolutionised the practice of Applied Buddhism in the West for the last few decades. It’s almost unimaginable that in bustling Hong Kong, a city that sprints at giddying speeds, Plum Village Foundation came up in a small practice center in Tsim Sha Tsui in February 2009. It moved to this serene locale in 2011 and has been drawing a steady stream of practitioners every Sunday.
The Day of Mindfulness (DOM) is held every Sunday and is free of charge, welcoming all who arrive at the Lantau monastery. The programme of a typical DOM is as follows:
9.30 am: Orientation
10 am: Walking meditation
11 am: Dharma talk
12.30 pm: Lunch in noble silence
1.45 pm: Total relaxation
3 pm: Dharma sharing (experiences/stories)
4.30 pm: Farewell
Since I am here on a Sunday, and soon there will be other guests arriving at the monastery, I head to the kitchen, one of my favourite spots. Here, two nuns prepare lunch for around 50 persons, who will eat together with the monastics. It’s a beautiful meal where everyone sits together in the hall in perfect silence, eating simple but nourishing food. Vegetarian and mostly Vietnamese, the lunch is always delicious with a mix of salads, tofu, soy, glass noodles, and mushrooms, which are all tied together with some exotic dressing like sesame paste, soy sauce, or light mustard and olive oil, and accompanied by fruits and chocolates donated by the guests.
I am assigned a huge platter of sea plants, and the nuns tell me that these are a rich source of collagen. My job is to cut the branches of the plants into small bite-sized pieces and then mix the dressing—a delicious mix of mustard and nutty tahini like sesame seed mix. When I am done snipping the pieces, I inquire about the right amount of dressing. I am offered a simple answer by one of the monastics, “Mix only as much as would taste right to you.”
The day scuds by in a soft flurry leaves crunching beneath the feet of walkers as they walk around the hills, the click-click of chopsticks punctuating the silence, a languid afternoon meandering through the greens, and the bell of mindfulness reminding everyone to return to themselves. Time, they say, is an illusion, and I haven’t the slightest clue how the day has slinked away from me.
As the bus from Ngong Ping trundles down towards the metropolis of Hong Kong, the neon lights across Victoria Harbour come on blinking. Reluctantly, I emerge from my reverie.
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