(written on June 14th, 2012)
The great bell sounds, reverberating into the hearts and minds of all the laypeople and monastics in the upper hamlet dharma hall. The heart sutra is being chanted by the monks and nuns. Sister Chan Khong, with palms gathered and eyes closed, chants with such sweetness and energy (Sister Chan Khong was ordained by Thay in 1966 as one of the first six people of the Order of Interbeing and was ordained as a buddhist nun in 1988, she has been working closely with Thay since the 60’s). A few children are nestled in the audience with small zafus covered in kid friendly designs of Piglet, ladybugs and monkeys made by the sisters. The day is bright and sparkling through the skylights. Light tea colored bamboo floors spread out under the chocolate brown zabutans as the monastics sing in vietnamese. Two tall, bright lights flank the large video camera like telescoping eyes shining brightly. A most adorable little one year old with curls from Italy smiles knowingly from her mother’s lap playing with a tangerine, her father, brother and grandmother nearby.
Thay moves softly with great care and ease telling a story of the buddha, causing many laughs. His face alight with joy and love for all of us as his continuation. The following are some of the notes I took during his talk on June 14th:
“If we know how to breathe properly we can generate joy, when we breathe out we can generate happiness. This is not wishful thinking, it is a practice. To be alive is a miracle. When we sit we can enjoy our breathing and sitting, it is a pleasure. Joy while breathing, happiness while sitting. Joy is the breathing, happiness is the sitting.
When you walk you walk in such a way that joy and happiness are possible. When you look you look in such a way that compassion is possible. The dharma should be the living dharma. The capacity to handle pain we get from the living dharma. Sangha is a kind of body. What happens to the sangha happens to you. Sangha is like a beehive, all working together.
My dharma body is going to last very long. (There are) 66 sanghas in the U.K, 600-700 sanghas in the U.S, everywhere there are sanghas practicing breathing, smiling and cultivating peace.”
Today has been a day of celebration, Plum Village is 30 years old. All of the hamlets spent the day at Son Ha. We had a picnic lunch, a wonderful three-piece orchestra concert, a festive skit with an ornate and colorful chinese dragon, a gallery exhibit of Thay’s calligraphy that was for sale in a silent auction in order to raise money for lower hamlet’s large, required (to get it to code) renovation project and a warm, sunny day, the first one all week. It has been a good day. I just left Mike and it was quite sad for me to watch him waving goodbye through the window of the shuttle van knowing there is no program that will bring us together tomorrow. He and I spoke earlier about our notions of the practice, Plum Village, and sangha while on a sliver of island in a man made pond behind Son Ha. I shared about how I feel a little bit different from many others here, a kilter from Plum Village ways of being and how oftentimes my first thought is to think I’m doing something wrong and then I remember that it’s OK to bring who I am to the table, that in fact how I am different is what I do bring to the table sometimes. For me, a deep practice is to keep shining my light and not get caught in the inferiority complex.
The gallery exhibit that was set up for us today, in an area normally reserved for the brothers residing at Son Ha, was very lovingly prepared. Walking through I felt the joy and ease created. There were flower arrangements with candles, buddha statues and shapely pieces of wood in every room. Over the mantle of a white stone fireplace was a simple zen circle, it was my favorite of all the pieces. In front of the fireplace sat a small writing desk where Thay’s art brushes and some paper were on display. It was a very lovely scene. Simple and serene, like Thay himself.
At 3:00 we went to hear a presentation on the Seedling Project, a group started by a few members of the European Wake Up community who are working to set up a kindergarden school in Vietnam. And while I didn’t quite follow the motivation behind their undertaking it was inspiring to see people taking action and making things happen. Seeing the monks today once again confirmed that they are more free spirited, more laid back than the nuns. I’ve seen the brothers playing games and basketball, joking around with one another and sitting around casually and relaxed. I’ve never seen any of the sisters playing or joking around. Oftentimes the sisters seem much more serious and formal. I think I would like staying in upper hamlet where the atmosphere is not so constricted.
Due to a long day away there is working meditation in place of our regular evening program and sitting tonight, which I will regret missing. The last sitting period brings the day to such a gentle close. Everyone in cherry house has just left for dinner, the silence is so joyful. Since Mike and I won’t see each other tomorrow and we are both missing the lack of quietness in the retreat we decided that we would practice a day of silence in our hamlets.
Before I left on the shuttle to come back to lower hamlet I saw a young italian guy wearing a t-shirt I wanted to make sure I took note of. He was in his 30’s, I would guess, and in my opinion was in exceptionally bad form, being on a buddhist retreat and all, wearing a shirt depicting a thin, blonde musician that I did not recognize with a mini skirt on and the shirt read: Who needs panties? in large lettering. One part of me was amazed at his lack of awareness and another part admired his brazenness.
One week from today we will be leaving Plum Village on a train back to Paris. The retreat actually ends officially on the 22nd but like many others assumed that it ended on the 21st like it has in the years past and we made our arrangements as such. So we will leave after the last dharma talk on Thursday the 21st and beat the departing traffic heading out the next day. 2/3 down, 1/3 to go. I see the near future but do not feel swept away by it.
There is this evening, thick with sun thicker still with fresh greening grass and planted fields where I exist in this little slice of now. There is also this wide and small world where every piece of me is scattered to the wind whispering like crickets sure of the simple truth of there being no one place to point to and say there I am.