Chris Reiju Nelsen
When we set out our bowls for oryoki, after chanting the places of the Buddha, we intone:
Now we set out Buddha’s bowls;
may we, with all beings,
realize the emptiness of the three wheels:
giver, receiver and gift.
I’ve always loved this part of the chant and like to look for the emptiness of giver, receiver and gift. One place I’ve found it is the unique interconnection Dharma Rain has with the Blueprint Foundation. The Blueprint Foundation was started as a mentorship program for primarily Black and Brown students. They now work with a variety of different groups in the Portland area to develop career skills, especially in environmental fields. They’ve done a ton of work at Dharma Rain, including:
- Building the foundation of the Grass Hut
- Hazard tree removal
- A variety of projects for the duplexes, including vapor proofing the crawlspaces, pouring the back patios, removing a defunct mechanical system
- Building the shade structure, French drain, fence, and straw bale walls in the playground for Frog Song
- Creating and maintaining the path that goes through the plum grove, as well as planting and weeding in that area
- In the garden, they’ve built another French drain, mulched, built and repaired the raised beds, composting structure and greenhouse. They’ve done mycroremediation there as well.
- In the orchard, they’ve contributed to foliar treatments on trees, blackberry removal, more mulching and trench building, and more blackberry removal
Blueprint likes to choose places that have a lot of different projects so that they can keep coming back to learn new skills and develop relationships. Projects at Dharma Rain fit in well with those goals and they’ve been coming here for over four years.
A quick review of the list makes it obvious how Dharma Rain has benefitted from this relationship. I was amazed at how much I’ve personally benefited from their work when I interviewed them in early May. They were here to help develop the foundation for the Hojo and were doing so by plunging hot, sometimes flaming, machetes into huge blocks of styrofoam to cut it down to size. As I spoke with them, some of them who’d been coming to this site longer than I have, they pointed out the various projects they’d helped with.
“Why do you do it?” I asked the students. They told me: It’s cool, I like to be outside, learn new skills, come back and see what I’ve done before. It helps me with job skills and gives me insights into possible careers. “Why do they do it?” I asked the director, Jason. He told me it started as a mentorship program for primarily Black and Brown kids, but that it’s developed into a program that helps with jobs in environmental fields, particularly stewardship, green building, infrastructure, surveying, working with watersheds, and environmental science. These are fields in which Black and Brown folks are not proportionately represented, but the impacts of these fields on their communities is amongst the highest.
So, they benefit because they get to develop a relationship with an organization who welcomes their amateur but ardent project engagement, an opportunity to develop and learn about various fields that might benefit them, a line on their resumes, networking and possible references in job fields that are difficult to get into. We might think they also benefit from being adjacent to our practice, getting exposed to Zen, when many folks don’t, especially at their ages (middle school to early college).
Why do we, Dharma Rain, do it? Well, there’s the obvious benefits of extra hands to build things we need, like places to live and practice, food to eat, and safe and lovely outdoor spaces to enjoy. More subtly, it is also a means to realize our deep interconnectedness and our involvement with the larger, non-Zen, non-Buddhist, non-religious community. There is a joint benefit in the long list of projects that we work on together, which means we all develop rapport with a group very different from our own in terms of goals, projects, and backgrounds. Reflecting on our apparent differences might even remind us that our goals and projects are sometimes not at all different. We all yearn for interconnection, safety, a place to live, a satisfying livelihood. Regardless, we all benefit from a view to the wider world, land that has been worked by many loving hands, with many loud and laughing voices.
In this case, it’s easy to see the emptiness of the three wheels: We are all the giver, we are all the receiver and we are all the gift.
To learn more about The Blueprint Foundation or to make a donation, visit their website here