Misty fog greets these Plum Village, winter retreat days, freshly moistening me and everything else outside. My heart beats joyfully, walking from Upper to Lower Hamlet in this star-lit, early morning darkness. The Assembly of Stars meditation hall is set up with purple mats and cushions arranged in rows, facing forward towards the alter and large stained glass colorfully depicting the Buddha, his father, and the buffalo boy. Translation boxes for French and English are available for our mini jacks. We are treated to inspiring, poetic and profound teachings by Thich Nhat Hanh, today in Vietnamese. For more images click on the one above.
A series of talks is given to the monastic and lay sangha on the Golden Lion lesson from the Avatamsaka Sutra; a fascinating Buddhist scripture depicting the path of the Bodhisattva and a mystical vision of Reality. The essence of these talks is Inter-being, emptiness, the one contains the all, and, eternity is present in each moment. The five teachings from ten schools of Buddhism are skillfully compared. We sit in gratitude as Thay convincingly details the argument that the mind is like a painter, creating the images and colors of our individual and collective consciousness. Whether we see heaven or hell is up to us; we can paint it beautifully or ugly.
Comparing the Buddhist and Christian perspectives on the purpose of our existence was also inspiring. Thay detailed how in western thinking God created humans and the rest of the universe from nothing, with the aim of doing His will. There will be a judgement, and an end. While in the eastern perspective we come from a beginning-less beginning, where time and space are simply constructs of the mind, and there is no end, only continuation. Our purpose is karma, the continuation of actions. We have actions of body, speech and mind. Our mind action is motivated by intention, and the history of our intention is now our way of looking. So often what we see is a misperception. “Are you sure?” That is why the first way out of suffering is right view. Recognizing our nature of inter-being. Choosing the Kingdom of God, in this moment, rather than the hell realms. We are already what we seek. I can come back to my state of happiness, well-being and peace, and not keep looking for these things somewhere in the future. I can have hope that those I know, and those who I don’t know, can also find peace in themselves, and in the world, now, and not in another life.
Many precious walking meditation opportunities with Thay and the sangha, weekly, even in the rain, over brown and grey oak leaves, which had been green, majestically held up to the sky when I was last here in August. We kept fit with mindful movements, stretching and strengthening. The winter retreat each week had formal and informal lunches, which ended with compassionate prayers and chanting the three refuges for the sick and the dead. Quite a privilege for me to be refreshed in France with so many friends. Thay will be in Hanoi this May; another chance to visit with happy friends.