By Charmaine Oakley
“Many of us don’t have the time, enthusiasm, and drive to truly dedicate our whole life to practice as Milarepa did. Many of us don’t have the merit, we think that practicing our whole life is not within our reach. So we don’t even begin. There are small steps we can take though, for instance offering a day of service scrubbing the floor.” – Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche.
Sea to Sky Retreat Centre (SSRC) in British Columbia, Canada, is Rinpoche’s only retreat center in North America. It is surrounded by wilderness and environmentally “off the grid,” generating its own hydropower from the streams that flow year-round down the mountains. A commitment to sustainability guides every effort in living mindfully at SSRC, with limited natural resources and within unlimited natural beauty. Rinpoche has said that service at SSRC is a way to build a connection with the blessings of the Khyentse lineage.
Year-round, volunteers come to SSRC to engage in work as practice. Over the last 5 years, that inspiration has translated into more than 50,000 hours of offered effort. Volunteers fully staff retreat programs and carry out most of the building additions, infrastructure improvements, and grounds projects. Hundreds of hands have touched SSRC and left excellent improvements as testimony of heart-felt service. Recently Khyentse Foundation has established a Karma Yoga Fund to provide a small living allowance for those practitioners making a long-term commitment to volunteer service at SSRC.
SSRC volunteers begin every day with a brief group meditation that concludes with a recitation of a Work as Practice aspiration composed by DJKR, who advises, “As Shantideva said, look upon yourself as a utensil and think, ’I have offered my body to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha’. “
Ron Stewart, SSRC facilities coordinator, writes that the recitation “has served as a profound daily reminder of inherent good nature for innumerable volunteers.” Then they disperse for meal preparation, housekeeping, outdoor projects, and administrative tasks. During SSRC’s 3-month winter closure, volunteers organize, preserve, and archive audio and video teachings.