Day 21: The Last Day of the Retreat

Packed up for the trip home

(written on June 21st, 2012)

Riding the rails bound for Paris under blue slate bellied clouds Plum Village becomes a memory I will begin sifting through.  On the shuttle ride to Sainte Foy, where we boarded our train to Paris, the wind blew against rows and rows of ripening vineyards in the direction we were headed and the little grape trees were waving farewell.  Pulling out of lower hamlet I watched as the bell tower melted into the trees and disappeared.  I am not sad to depart, nor am I happy.  I rest someplace in between where the combination comes together beautifully inseparable.

Thay gave his last dharma talk of the 21-day retreat in upper hamlet and ended with the song No Coming, No Going.  He invited us all to visit his little hut, which was just a short walk from the meditation hall.  You could not go into his abode but we lined up single file and were able to look through the windows and see his simple hermitage overlooking the green french countryside.  We could see his bed on the floor, his writing desk where he translates sutras, his alter and his small kitchen where he told us he makes his breakfast.  A nice large wooden deck surrounded the small house which Thay sat on drinking tea as people came down the short path to visit.  To see where Thay dwells is to see him as a real person, not just as a Zen Master.  For him to open up his home to 850 lay practitioners is really quite something.

Thay on the deck of his little hut

Here are some notes that I took from Thay’s talk on June 21st:

“We should improve our way of thinking, learning, and practice in order to have insights into the ultimate (dimension), in order to increase our mindfulness.  We are a cell in the body of the sangha (community).  You are my sangha body.  Our duty as a cell is to practice in such a way that nourishes mindfulness, concentration, insight and compassion.  The sangha is the masterpiece of the buddha.  With the practice we can transform our afflictions and habit energies.  

To recognize suffering is first, look deeply into its nature.  Understanding and compassion go in pairs.  If we cannot understand ourselves we cannot love ourselves.  Suffering and happiness go together.  We can know how to transform our suffering into happiness.  

The beloved and the lover are one, they are the same.  There is no more individual happiness or individual suffering in true love.

Samsara is the realm of birth and death.  Nirvana is the realm of no birth, no death.  They are within each other.  Like the wave she does not need to search for water, she is already water.  You are already what you want to become.  The wave is water.  

So please my dear friends, we are a sangha.  We can learn always to stay with the sangha wherever we are.”

Thay’s little hut

Thay’s little kitchen

The outside of Thay’s hut

Mike and I with the head of Mike’s dharma family
Brother Phap Young

The temptation to return to old habits is strong as Mike has already bought a candy bar and Coke at the train station and the smell of chocolate perfumes the air.  I noticed myself instantly take back the role of caretaker when he told me he hadn’t eaten breakfast and was very tired before the dharma talk, at the start of our reunited path.  I wish he knew how to better care for himself, which is also to say I wish I didn’t have to worry so much.

Mike with his friends Wilfred & Han

Me with my friend & roommate Clara

Out the train window bound for Paris


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