Tuesday, February 27, 2007
It is awe inspiring to be with Thich Nhat Hanh as he is greeted by, and offers his presence to people of his homeland. On Feb. 23 we were witness and participants in a most dramatic performance by Thay at Vinh Nghiem temple in Ho Chi Minh City. As we got off the busses our lay sangha of about 75, along with about 100 monastics followed along in procession into this huge temple, past neary 1000 in the audience. They stood and bowed to the sangha as it proceeded through the middle of the attendees, up the temple's stone steps, perhaps 3 stories high above the audience, to the booming of a huge temple drum's beat, with colorful lighting off the flags, dragons, Buddhas and bodhistavvas and others designs adorning pagodas and temple buildings. We sat behind and above Thay as the monastics and lay friends chanted then listened to an inspiring talk.
We witnessed Thay putting this mission of transforming and healing the wounds of war buried deep in the consciousness of the people into further action. Thay made it clear during this and subsequent talks that the international sangha representing Plum Village is living proof that these mindfulness practices based on Buddhist psychology have healing and nurturing energy that westerners, who don't necessarilly have Buddhism as their religion, benefit from. Our presence is quite a powerful statement for this tour.
Thay spoke of how true love requires our presence; we must first love ourselves to truly love and be present for others. Skillfully reminding the crowd of how their ancestors are present with them, in each cell of their body. How relationships can be healed using the breathing and other meditation exercises. The upcoming ceremonies to chant and pray for all victims of injustice during the war; whether they were heroes or lost without a trace in a battle or on a boat. This collective spiritual energy will help their wandering spirits, which continue to suffer, heal. Thay suggested that without healing the continued suffering that lingers in the consciousness of the Vietnamese people is transmitted to future generations. The audience became aware that the prime minister and president were invited to these ceremonies, as Thay said, because this healing is of national significance. If people are unable to attend the ceremony they are urged to set up an alter and offering during the ceremony time in solidarity. It was a masterful talk of compassion and truth.
Our lay sangha friends are on the move a lot which has been a test of body and mind. Long bus rides, big crowds, looking for the translation boxes for our earphones (they have been working quite well), different hotels and roommates, and well, I can go on later. Many have been sick with gi distress. Public health advice is offered to be mindful of eating fresh produce which is not pealed or cooked, as well as dairy products and drinking only bottled water. Lets not forget to also wash or disinfect hands. I have felt a bit sick, but it didn't last long. I've been providing medicine to those with problems. Fortunately, most everyone has been better within a few days. Overall the sangha is lovingly supporting and caring for each other. The hotels are pretty nice and in Dalat it was quite deluxe, with a special treat of dinner at the Dalat Palace. We are quite honored to be supporting Thay in this amazing journey accross the country. We have been welcomed to a half dozen different monasteries with great fanfare. One commented that we are temple hopping, but the truth is this schedule is drawing social, political as well as spiritula support for what is to come.
In Dalat Thay spoke of how westerners don't bring fruit and flowers to the centers, but rather they come with their hearts open to learn mindfulness practices of breathing, sitting, working and everyday living meditations based on the Buddha's teachings. He asks why can't Vietnamese people who have had Buddhism in their country for over 2000 years learn to practice and find inner peace and happiness too? Crowds are told how hundreds of sanghas all over the world are practicing his teaching and finding joy in the present moment. They are warned that westerners suffer much because of their great attachment to materialism, money, greed, fame, power and sex. And as there is economic developement in his country, despair is increasing from a new focus on these western vices of desire. Encouragement is given so that the children can be brought back into a loving family. That fathers, mothers and siblings can be present for each other and live in their 5 star homes of happiness. Next is a retreat at Prajna temple for lay people; 3000 are registered.
Friday, February 23, 2007
Since arriving in Ho Chi Ming City my senses have been warmly greeted by New Year’s wishes of great happiness and peace, through sites, sounds and generous hearts of the Vietnamese people. I feel immense gratitude to the universe, relatives and all who have helped conditions be sufficient for me to accompany Thich Nhat Hanh and an international monastic and lay delegation on his historic mission of reconciliation, healing and peace across Vietnam. The noble purpose of this trip involves providing support to the growing Plum Village-style monastic community. Also, conduct retreats and great praying/chanting ceremonies for the dead and those still suffering from the wounds of the war that ended here in 1975. More can be read about the trips purpose and itinary at www.plumvillage.org . In HCMC the streets are crowded; bustling with the flow of motorbikes, busses, cars, peddle carts, bicycles and pedestrians. Along boulevards, through intersections with or without lights, or the roundabouts, the pulsating flow moves along cooperatively accommodating the merging, turning, stopping, driving against traffic and getting on and off the road. To date I have enjoyed greeting Thay at the airport along with hundred of others. Photos have been posted on the site www.langmai.org. It was moving to listen to Sister Chong Khong at Phap Van temple describe how she joined Thay at that location where many of his engaged Buddhism social welfare and school programs for the local peasants began. Many of the early workers in those programs who still survive were there to orient and welcome us, also with their strong smiles and compassionate hearts.At the Quang Duc Temple was a great welcoming ceremony for Thay and the sangha. After a long formal procession in, touching the earth was offered to the temple’s venerable for a long life to the patriarch that may continue to benefit many in the community. The most venerable offered warm greetings and wishes for a successful trip. Next we were bussed to An Quang temple. Thay shared that at this temple he became a dharma teacher and gave hundreds of dharma talks in that hall. Afterwards our procession slowly passed by smiling and bowing crowds and made its way to a most delicious Vietnamese feast. We dined to the sounds of up-beat popular-style music. That night at Phap Van Thay gave his first talk of the trip. The lay sangha was fortunate to witness the talk from directly behind him and see the audience. The talk encouraged the practice of coming back to the breath as taught by the Buddha in the Annapasati Sutra on mindful breathing. An emphasis was placed on practicing for oneself and also family members and ancestors. The pure land can be found here and now and not have to be postponed until later. He reminded that Buddhism has been in Vietnam for over 2000 years, but that we must practice well to rejuvenate and make it relevant. When an advanced practice question was posed Thay deferred answering now suggesting that we must make baby steps; scientifically nurturing understanding in the practice and cultivating compassion and understanding. I was quite taken by being present for this event.I’ll write more as time and access to internet allows. Your comments or questions are welcome.