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40 Years of Plum Village / Celebrating Life: Recollections of the Early Days

On this article from the Plum Village E-newsletter, Sister Chân Diệu Nghiêm (Sister Jina) & Sister Chân Từ Nghiêm (Sister Eleni) share about reside within the early days of Plum Village.

Sister Dieu Nghiem (often known as Sr. Jina) arrived in Plum Village in 1990. She ordained as a monastic in Japan within the Soto Zen custom. Sr. Jina was the abbess of Decrease Hamlet from 1998 to 2014. Sister Tu Nghiem (often known as Sr. Eleni) first got here from America as a lay pal in 1990 and ordained in 1991.

We requested our beloved elders to share a few of their reminiscences of the early days of Plum Village with us, and in regards to the beginnings of the Plum Village primary practices, and their lives within the fledgling group.

Inter-faith “nuns retreat,” Decrease Hamlet, 1995

Life in group

Sr. Tu Nghiem: It was such an eye-opening expertise for me (to reside in a Vietnamese group in rural France), coming from Manhattan–a metropolis with huge concrete residence buildings. It was a very totally different expertise, and I appreciated a lot the way in which the Vietnamese moms and dads, the kids, have been completely happy and harmonious collectively.

My mother and father have been each kids of immigrants, so that they had the expertise of talking their mother and father’ native language and studying English afterward, so perhaps they transmitted to me a way of feeling comfy with different cultures. I used to be used to this double tradition. The changes weren’t so tough, and the Vietnamese tradition I discovered was mild and really respectful. I bear in mind how Thay greeted the daddy of Brother Phap Ung. Thay stood up from the desk, and when (Br. Phap Ung’s) father got here into the room, Thay went as much as him, (as he was older than Thay in age), and greeted him within the applicable method. I used to be simply so touched by Thay persevering with to maintain the worth of addressing the mother and father of his disciples in a respectful method.

Thay all the time beloved to listen to Vietnamese songs, so after a Dharma discuss or earlier than strolling meditation he’d invite one of many brothers or sisters to come back up and sing. One other time for singing collectively was after our meals. There have been simply two lengthy tables the place the entire sangha sat. Thay was on the head, Sr. Chan Khong subsequent to him, after which the attendants. We ate our meal mindfully in silence, after which after the meal, it was time for singing and the plates have been left on the desk. It was actually relaxed. Thay actually inspired music and singing as a part of our monastic life.

As I take a look at the title Plum Village, I see it was actually a village. Once I had the chance to go to Vietnam, I acknowledged that that is what a village is. Thay introduced this way of life, the sensation of household, this spirit, to Plum Village. We known as one another Su Chi (older sister) and Su Em (youthful sister/brother) and Su Ong (father).

Sr. Jina: Once I simply arrived in Plum Village, all the things appeared to be roughly organised. When there was working meditation there was a gathering and so they mentioned, “Oh the bogs should be cleaned, who desires to scrub the bogs? Sure, I’ll clear the bogs! The meditation corridor must be arrange…Sure!” All people simply volunteered to do the work. I didn’t thoughts that it was not organised in each element, I believed it was very good to have this natural sort of feeling.

One of many issues in Plum Village that I actually admire is that each time there’s something to rejoice, we rejoice it. Even when we’ve by no means heard of that celebration earlier than, however you will have, you inform us what it’s about and the way we do it and we’ll do it. So I hope that we hold this Plum Village custom. Thay was actually encouraging of that. Have fun life! That’s why we now have the Daffodil Competition, Plum Blossom Competition, Full Moon Competition, all these issues.

The teacher-student relationship

Sr. Tu Nghiem: Within the early days we have been all freshmen within the follow, model new, one yr to 2 years outdated. There was no mentoring. Thay had his room in Decrease Hamlet and he would name individuals into his room. His attendant would say, “Thay desires to see you,” and also you’d go into his room. In order that’s how he would practice us.

In these days he was coaching the abbess and abbot. They have been known as into Thay’s room, and the remainder of us have been left with freedom. Some have been being educated to be his attendant, so that they went into his room and realized to arrange tea. I’ve a lot respect for Thay beginning a monastic sangha with freshmen. We have been virtually lay individuals, and Thay was instructing us learn how to be attendants, learn how to be abbots and abbesses. When Thay would study in regards to the difficulties within the sangha, he would give the following Dharma discuss based mostly on these difficulties.

I used to be accepted, and for me that was sufficient. Within the yr 2001, I used to be in a position to be Thay’s attendant for sooner or later at Deer Park Monastery (in america). The expertise was so humorous! “You could be Thay’s attendant this night,” they advised me. I had no coaching so that they advised me what to do carry Thay’s bag, the place to put his sneakers within the meditation corridor, and so on. Whereas attending Thay I left my sneakers there within the mudroom through the Dharma discuss, however when it ended, Thay left by the alternative door. Thay left in his slippers, and I needed to comply with Thay in my naked ft! After which I believe the brothers and sisters got here to rescue me.

Sr. Jina: I used to be very impressed by the calmness that Thay radiated. He was not in any method affected by no matter was taking place round him. Within the 21-Day Retreat it was all very organised and the Summer time Retreat was very natural and Thay moved so naturally via each. I believed, that is very stunning to see, within the midst of a really vigorous group of individuals, there was Thay, so naturally shifting round, completely happy. So my first impression was of his stability and readability.

Dharma talks

Sr. Tu Nghiem: What’s now the Decrease Hamlet eating room was very small again then. Thay would are available and provides the Dharma discuss. Behind this room there was a ceramic divider, not fully to the ceiling however midway, like a little bit wall, after which ceramic tiles. Behind this have been range burners to prepare dinner! So in the direction of the tip of Thay’s Dharma discuss we’d sniff, sniff, scent that the sisters had began to prepare dinner. What was so stunning about Thay in these days and our easy lives was that it was pure.

We already had the chiming clock within the eating corridor. It will chime each fifteen minutes. Thay would cease, we’d all breathe, and it was very peaceable. Then Thay would proceed with the Dharma discuss. In these days it was Br. Nguyen Hai who was the cameraman. It’s wonderful how they’ve preserved these early teachings. In these days Thay used a cassette recorder, and so they’d must cease and put in a brand new cassette and proceed.

Sr. Jina: Thay’s teachings have been very clear. With sure teachings that one can say in a specific method, Thay simply mentioned, “That is it.” We listened to Thay, we tried to know and even when we didn’t perceive, it was simply being in Thay’s presence. That was sufficient and I had already been so nourished by the 21 Day Retreat (after my arrival) I believed, I’ve no less than three years materials (to follow with).

(When the talks have been in Vietnamese), Sr. Chan Khong used to translate and I loved listening to Sr. Chan Khong very a lot since you additionally get facet data, then you will have a greater context! It was very alive, I actually loved that.

Within the 21 Day Retreat and the Summer time Retreat, Thay was addressing quite a lot of points that have been taking place within the sangha, like within the lay sangha, household points, and in addition from the questions of the retreatants. Throughout my first Winter Retreat, I believed, oh now we actually hear the scholar talking, and that’s additionally what I used to be in search of. Within the winter it was actually examine time.

From left: Srs. Lien Chieu, Khuong Y, Dieu Nghiem, Trien N.

Care packages for Vietnam

Sr. Tu Nghiem: We wrapped care packages to ship to Vietnam through the early days of the Hungry Youngsters’s Program, within the early Nineteen Nineties. We’d go to the pharmacy and purchase over-the-counter medicines like paracetamol or Tylenol, basic medicines that didn’t want a prescription. We put them into little bins with a letter. The letter could be written in a method like somebody from Plum Village was writing to a pal in Vietnam. Our identification was by no means revealed as a result of in these days you would not present data to the federal government that it was coming from Thich Nhat Hanh or Plum Village. So these little care packages contained a gorgeous letter, saying, “I hope your loved ones is effectively,” encouraging them to be inventive and to obtain the present that we, as their pal, have been providing. Now I realized that they’d promote the medicines on the black market to purchase rice. The care packages have been despatched fairly often, perhaps each week. It was such an vital a part of the early historical past of Plum Village engaged Buddhism – to assist Vietnam after the conflict, as a result of there was quite a lot of poverty.


Sr. Tu Nghiem: At Christmas we’d go to the Hermitage and collect in Thay’s library. There was a little bit Christmas tree on Thay’s desk, and beneath there have been a few packages. When Thay obtained Christmas presents, he would open them very mindfully, and if it was a field of cookies or dried fruit, Thay would all the time share it with us. This was his follow, that he shared with the sangha. That actually moved me, how he wished to have all his kids get pleasure from his present.

Typically we have been allowed to deliver meals to Thay on a tray. And as soon as I bear in mind Thay was cooking scrambled tofu for us. You already know, it was so fantastic to see Thay cooking. He had on his winter sweater, a thick woollen sweater from Denmark, and he could be there on the range cooking for all of us. It was so fantastic, so very caring for his disciples. I sat there in silence as a result of I by no means knew what to say. On the desk, Thay would share his meals, and the plates have been so small, simply two, three items of tofu. He would take one after which share it with everybody. I believed, how can he survive, taking such little meals?

Sr. Tu Nghiem – heart proper

Evolution of the fundamental Plum Village practices–Tea meditation

Sr. Tu Nghiem: In 1990-91, we lived in Decrease Hamlet. Each Sunday afternoon, there could be a tea meditation (for everybody, lay and monastic) within the Crimson Candle Meditation Corridor. Thay and Sr. Chan Khong would come typically, and through the years when Br. Giac Thanh was in Higher Hamlet, he would come and be the tea grasp. It was a really zen expertise. Br. Giac Thanh would deliver poems from the Vietnamese poets. It was a time for sharing poetry, a really inventive time, very relaxed.

Br. Giac Thanh was, I consider, the grasp of rest. He spoke very slowly and gently. He learn poetry with quite a lot of feeling and that means, after which he would translate it into English if it was a Vietnamese poem. There was a chance to share songs. In these days we sang Vietnamese songs from the gathering of Vietnamese songs within the ebook. There was additionally sharing about how we have been doing.

Persevering with our instructor and reinventing the follow

Sr. Tu Nghiem: One thing I valued a lot in Thay and I wish to proceed is the trail of the Bodhisattva Sadaparibhuta, which is all the time discovering the most effective in individuals and letting them know they’ve these good qualities. Thay all the time believed on this. He as soon as talked about a sutra from the Buddha that claims if somebody has just one eye, you defend that one eye. Meaning the practitioner is weak however nonetheless has an aspiration. Shield that aspiration – don’t be so harsh. Thay all the time had a lot compassion. His understanding was immense.

Folks got here with so-called psychological diseases and Thay would say allow them to keep and follow. No stress was placed on them. We simply requested them to come back to sitting if they may, or strolling meditation, and eat with us. And they’d keep round every week. I bear in mind Thay mentioned the collective vitality of mindfulness, compassion, and kindness, and the tradition of gentleness would assist that individual. That was Thay’s method within the early days of letting the sangha be a village the place everybody might come and be right here. I bear in mind Thay’s qualities of deep trying, nice compassion and understanding, and all the time in search of the most effective in individuals, giving them an opportunity.

Now we now have additionally turn out to be a coaching heart for monastics. We’ve turn out to be the Institute of Larger Buddhist Research and we’re in a digital world. However I believe it’s good to keep up the values of early Vietnam, the tradition, the meals, the poetry, the Lunar New 12 months celebrations. There are brothers and sisters additionally excited about neuroscience, deep ecology, and that’s Thay’s Engaged Buddhism. I believe all of it may be a part of Plum Village.

Sr. Jina: Thay was all the time reinventing, renewing. Are we additionally renewing? Is there any follow that we predict could possibly be renewed? There could also be some sort of practices which have misplaced their shine a little bit bit.

Thay was all the time working towards strolling meditation, from the very starting, even earlier than there was a sangha. (I bear in mind sooner or later) I used to be attending Thay, within the sense that if Thay wanted something I might do it, Thay didn’t have an attendant as such. I might stroll behind Thay from the meditation corridor within the Higher Hamlet to Thay’s hut to see if Thay wanted something, and Thay mentioned one thing to me as we have been strolling and I simply saved quiet. It was not a query however I didn’t give a counter comment or begin a dialog or proceed the dialog as a result of I used to be strolling and I believed effectively, we’re strolling, why ought to I say one thing? And Thay stopped and mentioned, “Do you wish to cease whereas we’re speaking?”, “Sure, Thay.” So we walked after which we talked within the hut, and from then on once you walked, you walked, once you wished to speak, you stopped. That was a brand new follow that got here in.

Protecting the essence of Plum Village

Sr. Tu Nghiem: I believe there are a number of ranges and facets to this. Thay wished to create a monastic sangha, and a world fourfold sangha. So I believe that is so vital for the way forward for Plum Village, to maintain the stability, that it stay worldwide and fourfold – meaning the nuns and laywomen and the monks and laymen are all a part of the Plum Village group.

The essence of Plum Village is to proceed to share the practices of mindfulness in as easy a kind as doable, to fulfill the wants of individuals world wide, of various cultures, of various religions, and to current it in a method that’s comprehensible and acceptable by individuals wherever. We hold the simplicity of the teachings, the fundamental teachings of the 4 Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, and hold them accessible to freshmen within the follow.

Additionally, we hold our custom, we don’t dilute it. We hold the Vietnamese heritage, the lineage, the tradition, to study from. We wish to study from the great thing about Vietnamese tradition, its gentleness, friendliness, and acceptance of newcomers. That’s what impressed me within the early days, the great thing about the flower preparations, the tea meditations. And the Western bands, the monastics with their drums, their electrical guitars, we will have all that. I believe it’s vital as a result of it displays the world now.

The Plum Village E-newsletter

This text initially appeared within the Plum Village E-newsletter, if you need to order a bodily or pdf copy, they’re accessible by donation on the Parallax Press web site.


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