It was about 7 p.m. on a summer evening in June 2002. I walked into a room that was lit up partly by light streaming in from some quarter-raised window shades, and partly by a dozen or so burning candles scattered about. The smell of burning incense, foreign to me at that point and time, worked swiftly to calm my mind after a busy day. I was greeted by a couple of people that helped me settle in on a meditation cushion. The group leader read aloud “Listen, listen. The sound of this bell leads me back to my true home”, as he invited the bell. For the very first time in my life, I sat and listened to the sound of the temple bell, beginning with its louder resonance at the start, and following through to its very last trailing off at the end. Even though I was a novice meditator, a deep peace ensued in the minutes that followed, and I knew I had found my spiritual home.
These days Slowly Ripening Sangha has a solid core group of five practitioners, and numerous other regulars that together comprise a magical community so supportive of each other’s practices. The Sangha practices in the tradition of Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, who is well-known both for working diligently to save lives during the Vietnam War and also for an impressive array of social programs that benefit a variety of underprivileged peoples. Thich Nhat Hanh has written 75 or more books that deal with the subjects of peace, Buddhism, activism, personal transformation, and more recently, in the area of deep ecology. The Sangha meets Monday evenings at 6 p.m. for a vegetarian potluck that is followed by meditation at 7:15 p.m. The typical evening consists of about an hour of sitting and walking meditation with a short tea break and dharma discussion afterwards. The Buddhist precepts, which deal with such topics as non-violence, tolerance, speech, deep listening, and mindful consumption, are formally read aloud and discussed once per month.
The Sangha is fortunate to have a serene space at the Sky Creek Dharma Center in Chico. The Sky Creek Dharma Center is out near the airport, just off Marauder. A residential center houses the meditation hall, a large kitchen suitable for gatherings, a library, and space for the live-in caretaker. The grounds have a pond, and the stream running behind the residential center provides peaceful background noise for outside walking meditation.
Seven years later, the practice has become an integral part of my life, and its importance cannot be overstated. I have begun, at least, to be able to look at myself and those around me with the eyes of understanding and compassion. The practice has led to a deeper awareness in relationships, and thus had a positive impact on how I parent and interact with friends and family. It has changed what’s on the dinner table, as I tend more and more to incorporate vegan dishes. I have learned the value of the present, as being the only moment we truly have, without focusing on regrets about the past or nagging worries about the future. I encourage anyone looking for peace and an amazingly supportive spiritual community to check out the Slowly Ripening Sangha. It brings one back to their true home.