MA to DC – Day 1 at the Dojo

<<Why I’m in DC>>
A few days ago I got a phone call from Tim asking if I would be able to come to DC for a week to help him, George and Lewis with some repairs on the temple in Washington D.C. before the annual Vesak* ceremony. I agreed almost immediately, and Saturday Tim picked me up from my home in Fitchburg and brought me to Leverett, where I spent the night with Mira in her studio before going to the Pagoda the next day to drive with George and Tim to DC.

Cambodian New Year & Leaving MA

Yesterday morning Mira dropped me off at the Pagoda around 7:30 am. I was early enough to make it in time for the end of puja with Towbee Shonin.

After prayers and breakfast Towbee went back up to the top to wait for volunteers to show up to do work on the temple (it was a work day and there is still much construction to be done)

I heard the Cambodian monks praying into the microphone, and so, around 9:30 walked down the hill to see what everyone was doing for Cambodian New Year.

I didn’t stay for too long (partly because I don’t speak Khmer, mostly because Tim was on his way to get me). After a few minutes inside the temple I walked outside and went to go pay my respects to the big Buddha before going back up to the Pagoda.

Many of the people were still arriving and setting up food, so when I entered the path guarded by stone lions, I entered alone.

It was beautiful, I could hear the monks chanting in the background but no one was on the path with me.
The last time I came up into the Cambodian section to see their Buddhas was over three years ago when I first came to the Pagoda with Seeds of Solidarity.

I walked up and saw the Buddha guarded by the snakes, and then moved on to the Buddha on his side. I didn’t stay for too long because I knew Tim was coming soon, so I walked out and back up to the dojo.

It was really nice to see the Buddhas again, and especially on a day of celebration. The first time I walked up that hill I had no idea I would ever be back to the Pagoda, and now it has become such an important place in my life.

Sister Clare and Kato Shonin got back and had to rush out the door to go to the Cambodian New Year celebrations, and George and Tim arrived shortly after.
Finally, around 10:30 am, the three of us left the Pagoda and started driving to DC. We took George’s big construction truck in order to fit tools & supplies, but it only has two seats. George didn’t want anyone sitting in the back – he thought it was too unsafe, so he built this really cute, surprisingly comfortable  small wooden seat that he placed on the floor in between the two seats. We covered with cushions and that was my spot along the road to DC.

It seemed like an incredibly long drive, but it was a nice day.

Saturday, before I left, Yusuf and I stopped at the library in Fitchburg and I picked up a few books so I would have material to read along the journey. These books have been on my reading list for a while, so I figured it would be a great opportunity to read them.

I started Aung San Suu Kyi’s Freedom from Fear, an incredible documentation of her life during the first six years under house arrest, and how revolution came to Burma.

It’s an amazing book that gives good insight into how Burma came to be under military rule and presents stories of violent overthrow (her father, the Revolutionary General Aung San) and her own practice of non-violent revolution. I’ve already learned so much about Burma that I didn’t know and I’m only on the first chapter. I learned that Aung San Suu Kyi received her Nobel Peace Prize the month I was born. Pretty cool.

Philly Cheesesteaks & Tim’s Mom

I’ve traveled through Philadelphia several times en route to DC, but never really gone into the city. We drove through the museums district where we saw a few of the flags of countries from all over the world, and arrived at the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see the steps that Sylvester Stallone ran up for training in the movie Rocky.

“They used to have a Rocky statue.” Tim said as we were driving by, “Yeah, it’s still there.” He pointed out the right window and chuckled, “I don’t know why they have a statue of him when he’s not even real.”

I stopped singing Eye of the Tiger long enough to tell Tim him he was crazy and that Rocky’s rise to the top represented an eternal class struggle, and that Rocky was like a Jay-Z only instead of selling drugs he trained and used his physical body to generate fame and wealth and rose to the top! (I do realize he wasn’t real, but seriously how many times have you seen the Rocky movies in your life? Well – I was excited.)

I quickly snapped a picture with my phone to show my brother Evan, and we moved on down to Allegro’s where I finally ordered my first Philly Cheesesteak. We drove to Tim’s mother’s house and stayed for about a half hour, long enough to eat and say hello, and then we continued on for about three more hours until we arrived at the DC dojo.

DC dojo

We arrived around 8:30 and were met by Marilyn who is currently maintaining the temple.

I think she was happy to see us and talked to us about the state of the house briefly, before launching into an explanation of her job at USAID.

I’ve personally never really heard of them, so if anyone has any information I’d be glad to hear it.

This building – the DC dojo used to be the Embassy for Chad. Maybe 30 years ago? It’s an incredibly beautiful building, but needs a lot of repairs. For the next week we will be working on the portico, and sanding and painting the pillars in the entrance of the house.

The DC dojo

Today’s schedule was not too strict, and after sleeping in late (8am) we bought some groceries and the wood we would need to re-build a portion of the portico.

After lunch Tim and George went out to meet with Helen, a neighbor and friend of Nipponzan Myohoji, to go pick up the scaffolding.

We set up one tower and after a more thorough inspection, figured out where we would start working tomorrow.

Scaffolding Success!
Helen and Tim talk about tomorrow and George poses for the camera

It was in the high 70s today, so the weather will most likely be equally beautiful tomorrow. I’m a little sad I won’t be home tomorrow for Tax Day as there are several incredible events taking place all over.

I believe tomorrow is the day Khader Adnan, the man to do the longest ever Palestinian hunger strike, is to be released. It has also been deemed, “Palestinian Political Prisoner’s Day” and there will be actions happening globally in solidarity with people being held under administrative attention, hunger strikers and all political prisoners of Palestine. Tomorrow is also tax day, so the War Tax Resistors will be leafleting all across the country, telling people exactly how their tax dollars are supporting the military & endless war.

Maybe if we go into town for something tomorrow I’ll get a chance to do some guerilla advertising?
Anyways, I will be doing important work tomorrow also. But if anyone is reading this tonight, then you should definitely take the Iran Pledge of Resistance and sign up for updates from the Electronic Intifada to find out more about the daily work that activists all around the world are doing to put an end to the illegal Israeli occupation, and this militaristic way of living at large.


Kato Shonin might come down Wednesday to help with the repairs, and Sister Clare & everyone else should arrive Friday or Saturday evening.

I am excited to have the opportunity to help out at this dojo, and celebrate the Vesak ceremony* here.

The last time I was at the DC dojo was for the end of the Longest Walk 3 and it was filled with walkers who had just spent the last 6 months on the road. It was a totally amazing group of people, and I hope that this Vesak will bring a similar energy.

Hermm… Long day tomorrow so I should head up.
Iyi gecelar everyone!

The Vesak is an important ceremony in Buddhist practice. It commemorates the birth of the Buddha and is also called the Flower Festival. People come and read aloud verses from the Lotus Sutra, say prayers and enjoy the beauty of spring – the rebirth of the earth (I suppose).

Nipponzan Myohojo monks & nuns also chant and everyone has a chance to offer incense and prayers. Then people usually share a meal together and the day is finished!

More info on Vesak ceremonies & pictures from 2011 Hana Matsuri at the New England Peace Pagoda

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