Greetings from cool, green Wat Buddha Dhamma, 10 Mile Hollow, Wisemans Ferry, NSW 2775, Australia; www.wbd.org.au
Yes, Wat Buddha Dhamma is green again!
It is quite a surprise for those not familiar with the Australian flora to see the bush so quickly sprout back to life. Most of the trees have sent out bunches of fresh leaves through the blackened trunks, while others, more severely burned, have sent up new shoots from the roots. However, the scene is quite surreal as all the shiny, new growth appears too perfect to be real – no withered leaves or even signs of insect damage. And all this brilliant greenery is framed against blackened tree trunks and barren, skeletal tree tops!
On general observation it looks like at least 90% of the native trees have come back to life out of the blackened desolation. In fact, on our first visit following the fire, with trees still smouldering, I noticed that the native grasses were already sending up new shoots, not to mentioned the more fire-resistant gammia lilies and grass trees. As long as one does not look up to the tree tops it is hard to recognize that a devastating fire has swept through here only a few months ago.
The main long-term effect of the fire was the destruction of about 10 of the largest trees in the valley. Most of these were Engopheras, which appear to have a suicide gene. During the hot weather, the prime fire season, they drop flammable bark around their trunk and many of them are rotten inside, leaving openings for the fire to enter and burn them from the inside out. However, the curvaceous smooth exterior is quite fire-resistant and quickly sprouts leaf blooms, even when the interior is still burning!
Much of the regrowth is due to the return of regular rainfall. Three days of heavy rain in early February sent the creek into flood mode, and it has been flowing ever since. Now we have started to hope for sunny days to replenish the solar power.
Towards the end of January the Sangha was invited to Tasmania by one of our devoted supporters who had opened a restaurant at Kingston, near Hobart. The small number of local supporters were exceptionally generous during our short stay with bountiful meal offerings at Yom O's restaurant and for picnics on our travels, as well as very comfortable accommodation and energetic transport. We thus packed many things into our five-day visit with a restaurant opening ceremony, Dhamma talks and meditation sessions, together with a number of excursions to some of the scenic wonders of the island.
The Tasmania meditation group.
Tasmania reminded me a lot like New Zealand with sparse population and abundant natural vegetation. Also, surprisingly, Hobart is quite similar to Wellington, being surrounded by hills and situated on a superb harbour. In fact, the hill overlooking the city is called Mount Wellington.
Hobart city and harbour from Mt. Wellington.
And similar to New Zealand, the west coast of Tasmania is wet and mountainous while the east coast is drier and hilly. For our first two excursions we thus headed west, first into the alpine regions of the Harz Mountains and the second day to Mount Field National Park to the alpine regions on top (but not too the ski resort), and then we descended through a glade of some of the largest trees in Tasmania to the 32 meter Russell Waterfall. On our third day the rain caught us up so we journeyed to the drier east coast to the Tasman Peninsula, the site of the old penal colony of Port Arthur. No one was interested in visiting the ruined site as we have had enough convict history through living on the convict-built Old Great North Road. We rather opted to visit a number of the many natural sites. Our first stop was the Tessellated Pavement, where fault lines have fractured a sandstone plateau in such a way as to create natural paving stone patterns on the sea shore. Next we drove and trekked to the Remarkable Cave where the wild waves of the Southern Ocean has carved a 40 meter cave through the rocky coastline to an open-air beach. Our last stop was through the sand dunes to remote Roaring Beach, one of those typical spectacular, pristine antipodean beaches.
Our short but eventful stay in Tasmania soon drew to a close. With heartfelt invitations to return we made our way back to Wat Buddha Dhamma and the continuing tasks of post-fire clean-up and re-building, but much refreshed from the relaxing break.
Present Past and Future
The Buddha's teaching on the development of mindfulness encourages us to live more in the present moment. Most people, however, also need to relate to past and future. While writing this blog, for example, I must delve into the misty realms of memory. Fortunately, the Buddha pointed out that memory or thoughts of the future are not problems in themselves. Rather, the main issue is with the delighting in or seeking pleasure in memories or future plans.
We all have memories and sometimes need to plan or imagine what the future may present. However, we usually imagine that the past is back there and the future is up ahead – then we go travelling! When we know that the past is already gone and the future is just a fantasy, then we no longer get lost in trying to seek pleasure in them. We just acknowledge memory or plans as particular forms of mental activity in the present moment, and do not try to create more pleasure (or pain) out of them then they already have.
As an exercise just try to observe how you relate to memories or thoughts of the future. Do you see memories as a record of past events or do you go into fantasy mode – 'if only I did that', 'maybe if I hadn't done …', etc.
Unfortunately, we usually think that we simply recall buried memories. However, modern research has discovered that what we actually do is recollect certain key elements and then build a plausible new story around it. The new version then overwrites the old version and becomes the new 'old memory'. Have you noticed how the details of old memories are quite hazy and often doubtful?
In a positive sense memories can be a source of wisdom. If we are willing, we can see where we have gone astray at certain times and what has helped us to realign. Rather than moan over mistakes we can try to be more vigilant in future to not keep falling into the same old habits.
Thoughts of the future can open up possibilities, but they are only possibilities and not actualities. And, at what point do these possibilities lead you into unnecessary worry – about mere possibilities!
The past is a memory,
The future a mere thought.
Only in the here and now are we alive.
Wishing everyone good health and well-being.