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HomeBuddhistEncounters with a Zen Master / Thay in my Heart

Encounters with a Zen Master / Thay in my Heart

Brother Phap Luu recollects impactful moments he has skilled with Thich Nhat Hanh since he first met Thay in 2001.

Like all of us writing right here, considering of Thay fills my coronary heart with pleasure and peace. I bear in mind the primary speak I listened to at Maple Forest Monastery in 2001, with Sister Chan Duc translating. Thay taught concerning the function of the Care-Taking Council in Sangha life; right here is a instructor considering deeply about group, I believed! Sister Susan let me know that the following yr, Thay was coming to Providence, Rhode Island. There, by the canal downtown, Thay appeared to burst out of a sea of brown monastics like a magician in the beginning of the strolling meditation. Later that night time, in the general public speak, I bear in mind listening to Thay whereas down on my knees in gratitude for his life and his capability to show the Dharma. I used to be blown away.

The following yr, 2003, I sneaked out of the Stonehill Retreat to take heed to Thay converse on the Boston Public Library. At the Q&A that adopted the launch of Creating True Peace, Thay left time for questions. I walked as much as the rostrum, and in entrance of tons of of individuals – together with my sister – requested Thay if I might turn out to be a novice. The viewers burst out in laughter from the unexpectedness of the query, however Thay checked out me with solemnity. Thay stated, “Thay only plays a ceremonial role in the novice ordination. The Sangha decides who ordains. To become a monk you should come to Plum Village, and live and practice in harmony with the community, and if the aspiration is correct…” At these phrases, Thay checked out me, and it felt as if my face have been pressed into the torrential move of a mountain waterfall, eroding away all my worries, anxiousness and worry. Thay’s look penetrated to my bones. “…and if the aspiration is correct, you can ordain as a novice.” In the following month, I despatched in my final paycheck to repay the rest of my debt from scholar loans, and boarded a aircraft to Paris.

A Group of Nuns in the Bookstore!

Thay liked telling the story of how I met the group, and informed it many occasions whereas I used to be an aspirant: I used to be working in a bookshop in my faculty city when 4 of the monks got here in, together with Thay Phap Lac. It was as if the monks in the sutras I had been studying all of the sudden leapt off the pages to manifest in entrance of me. The following day, Sr. Huong Nghiem and different nuns visited the bookstore as nicely. I had forgotten to run an errand on the financial institution earlier than opening the shop, and I used to be a bit caught about what to do. But I then realized – I’ve nothing to fret about! There’s a group of nuns in the bookstore! “I’ll be back in ten minutes,” I introduced, as I headed out the door. They smiled and have been content material to look at over issues till I returned.

“Just Look at Thay”

I felt so nervous the primary time I attended Thay, following Thay again to Sitting Still Hut after the Dharma speak, and I attempted to make myself – a tall Westerner – as small as attainable in the nook between the kitchen and principal room. Thay will need to have sensed my anxiousness; when he got here out from the kitchen, he laid the palm of his hand on the center of my again. My entire physique relaxed and felt comfortable. Many occasions since then, when I’ve felt overwhelmed by an emotion, I simply remembered Thay’s hand on my again and, I chill out straight away.

Once, once I accompanied an elder brother to therapeutic massage Thay on the Hermitage, Thay pulled a Sanskrit copy of the Buddhacarita by Asvagosha off the shelf for me to learn whereas the therapeutic massage was happening. It is a complicated poem, even for many who know a little bit of Sanskrit, however because of Thay’s gesture I’ve come again to it quite a few occasions by means of the years, studying from the passages on Siddhartha Gautama’s renunciation of sense pleasures.

I used to be the youngest monk to comply with Thay to Vietnam in 2005. In Hanoi, one of many elder brothers informed me to “just look at Thay” each time I didn’t know what to do. This labored wonders to a younger novice who had by no means been in Asia earlier than.

One night time, in the primary week, we received off the bus in a city close to the outskirts of Hanoi to go to a temple of a nun – a scholar of Thay who had been to Plum Village. The street was slender resulting in her temple, and the solar was setting; we must stroll about one kilometer to reach there. I felt anxious for Thay; every part was so new and strange for me in Vietnam, and I feared that somebody would possibly harm Thay. Walking near Thay, although, I felt no worry. Thay had been by means of a lot, and practiced so deeply, that he was not afraid of being harm or dying. Whenever worry or anxiousness comes up in me, I bear in mind Thay’s fearlessness in that second, as Thay led the delegation by means of the winding darkish roads, and my worry dissolves.

Human Beings Who Need the Practice

In the autumn of 2006, as I labored with Brother Phap Thanh from Germany to prepare the primary Neuroscience Retreat in Plum Village, we stopped on the Hermitage after arranging for the retreat flyer to be printed. Thay was in his brief gown exterior, strolling in meditation amidst the fruit bushes. When Thay checked out us – two tall Western monks – I noticed him austere as the overall of nice armies. I had the notion that Thay was in deep contemplation on tips on how to rework the struggling of the world – and right here we have been all of the sudden disturbing Thay’s contemplation! But Thay was so compassionate. We needed to ask Thay if it was all proper to ask scientists to return and current in the retreat. Thay stated, “The scientists can come and practice with us, but they should not expect to present the papers they have already written. After a few days of practice, they can speak to us about the insight they have received during the retreat.” It was an essential instructing for me: to not get caught up in somebody’s renown as an essential scientist or information, however fairly to see them as human beings who additionally want the follow.

Engaged Practice and Contemplative Life Are Not Two

The Dharma academics of Upper Hamlet determined to ship Br. Phap Ho and I to Deer Park Monastery that spring, and we stated goodbye to Thay earlier than leaving. Thay informed us, “Do not try to find the balance between engaged practice and contemplative life. They are one.” In that second, an obstruction in my considering broke open, like a dam bursting. Since then I haven’t as soon as fallen into the entice of considering that my follow must be extra engaged, or extra contemplative. Thay revealed it for me because the dualistic considering it’s.

Proof of this got here in the US Tour the next yr – 2007 – when Br. Phap Dung and I introduced the textual content of an Ecological Initiative that we had written for all of our facilities. Deer Park was making ready to get photo voltaic panels, beginning to drive vehicles that run off used vegetable oil, and had made the dedication to have a Car-Free Day as soon as a week. When we learn the textual content to Thay, Thay introduced the Earth Peace Treaty – a dedication that individuals might make to themselves to scale back their influence on the atmosphere. That night time I drafted the primary model of the Earth Peace Treaty Commitment Sheet, and Thay known as me up after nearly each speak and retreat in that tour to current it to the attendees and practitioners. Hundreds of individuals made commitments. I felt nervous to be getting a lot consideration from Thay on that tour, however I quickly realized that, increasingly more, I used to be simply an extension of the Sangha physique. Thay was coaching me to see myself like that. Even now, once I give a speak and am up in entrance of individuals, I don’t really feel nervous as a result of I see that I’m not separate from the Sangha physique. I belief in Thay’s teachings, and let the ancestors do their work.

In 2008, on Thay’s final journey to India, sooner or later Thay requested me to return with him to Motilal Banarsidass—a famend Sanskrit bookstore in Delhi. I used to be touched by how joyful Thay was to stroll with us amidst the traditional Buddhist texts in their authentic language. We made fairly a pile of books for Dharmacarya Shantum Seth to assist us purchase on the register! Later on that journey, Thay was invited to be the visitor editor of sooner or later’s version of the Times of India. Sister Pine, myself and others arrange an impromptu editorial workplace in the enterprise lounge of a Delhi resort – one we had an occasion in however weren’t staying in – and labored all day to edit articles from lay pals on tips on how to write a love letter to a terrorist. At that point there was rising violence between Muslims and Hindus, and a temple had been attacked. We went with Thay to the places of work of the primary editors of the Times, they usually listened attentively to Thay as he taught them how journalists can deliver peace to the world by means of their follow and writing.

When I returned to Plum Village in 2009, our younger brothers and sisters had been expulsed from our Prajna Monastery in Vietnam, and I discovered myself thrust into the group working to get the phrase out concerning the state of affairs. One day we have been working in the Hermitage and Thay, with compassion for all of us, ordered us to sit down on the kitchen desk whereas he ready scrambled tofu for us. Thay wouldn’t allow us to assist him, and served us every individually. We have been so moved at Thay’s humility. I understand now that Thay knew that we have been doing issues Thay couldn’t do – and what he might do was supply us his love in a concrete approach.

In a one-on-one assembly with Thay, Thay requested me to assist him to put in writing an opinion letter – on tips on how to write a love letter to a terrorist – for the New York Times, by translating a part of his speak on the Sutra on Fear and Terror. I felt so intimidated and reluctant to do it – how would I discover a lay good friend to assist me translate? How would the New York Times comply with print such a letter? Now I see how my doubts didn’t give justice to Thay’s imaginative and prescient and perception. Although this letter didn’t occur in 2010, it did manifest in 2012 in a new kind, when a younger disturbed man in my hometown in the US killed 26 individuals in an elementary college – the Sandy Hook shootings. I felt that the horror of these shootings – taking place in a place so pricey to me – introduced all of Thay’s teachings on non-violence collectively for me as I wrote the younger man a love letter. Thay additionally requested me to work on the e-book Fear, however I didn’t but really feel able to tackle such a accountability. Now, in 2022, having labored on a variety of Thay’s books, I really feel I’m starting to pay again my debt to Thay.

Guiding With Love and Care

I continually obtained a lot love and care from Thay, even when Thay corrected me – just like the time I guided a meditation by means of all the sixteen workout routines of conscious respiration in one sitting session (and Thay stated it was an excessive amount of), or once we began streaming Thay’s talks and filmed pan pictures of the viewers (Thay stated it was distracting individuals who needed to focus on the speak). I’m nonetheless studying tips on how to give steerage to my youthful brothers with as a lot care and love that Thay gave me.

In 2013, when the President of the World Bank Jim Kim invited Thay to talk there, I joined Thay to fulfill with Jim Kim, and was impressed at how Thay was thought-about a instructor even by such an essential individual. Jim Kim requested Thay for one hour of one-on-one instructing earlier than the primary occasions; I noticed that it was troublesome for a individual just like the President of the World Bank – in such a high-profile position- to get steerage from somebody with knowledge he can completely belief. Afterwards, he put into follow what Thay taught him, and Thay informed me to put in writing to him to inform him that he was a superb scholar.

One final story: For years the Spanish sangha had wished to ask Thay on a full tour in Spain, and at last, with Sister Thoai Nghiem’s assist, Thay agreed to return in the spring of 2014. I used to be the primary monastic organizer, collectively with Br. Phap Lieu; we didn’t think about but that it will be Thay’s final instructing tour.

Before going, I met with Thay to debate a minor problem in organizing one of many public talks, and Thay stated that the general public talks weren’t essential. “Thay only goes there to offer retreats, so that people can practice and get transformation and healing.”

Thay gave the primary public speak in a theater on Gran Via, one of many principal arteries of Madrid. The attendees have been deeply moved by the speak, which was adopted by Sister Chan Khong’s singing and a presentation of Thay’s calligraphies and books – a few of which had been written in Spanish particularly for this tour and have been on the market.

A number of days later, an article appeared in the most important newspaper, El Pais, titled The Lotus and the Euro, criticizing the business nature of this “spiritual enterprise” round Thay. The sangha in Spain, and I, have been harm by the article, which didn’t point out in any respect the charity work Thay and Sister Chan Khong had executed all through their lives. They additionally didn’t point out the general public stroll that Sister Chan Khong led, instantly following the speak, from the Royal Palace in Madrid to a close by park. To reply we organized, alongside with journalist pals in the sangha, a coordinated response, which included an interview with Thay on the “contra” or again web page of essentially the most distinguished paper in Barcelona, La Vanguardia.

When I got here to Thay to debate the state of affairs, Thay was resting in his hammock in the Catholic nunnery the place we stayed in Barcelona. Thay noticed my concern concerning the unfavourable article as I defined to him why we had organized for an interview. Thay checked out me with compassion from the hammock and stated, “Thay doesn’t care about these things.” Suddenly, I felt a enormous weight come off my shoulders. If Thay doesn’t care about unfavourable press, why ought to I care about it?

I’ve continued to make use of this instructing and follow to assist me handle my feelings, and to not be too involved about unsuitable perceptions others could have. Thay teaches me to return again to myself, and to do my finest to follow. That is what I do till right this moment.


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