January 23, 2022
In the first minutes of January 22nd in Vietnam, our dear Thay (teacher) Thich Nhat Hahn left his physical form. Over his life he taught millions how to manage their lives and the earth with love, grace, kindness and understanding. With over a hundred books, mindfulness retreat centres, the training of hundreds of monks and nuns, global talks, online teachings, involvement with peace talks and environmental movements, he still wanted to be referred to as a simple Zen monk.
Thay had a stroke in 2014 that disabled him from speaking or teaching. In 2018 he returned to his beloved monastery where he ordained in Vietnam when he was just 16. Although he was now in Vietnam, we visited Plum Village in France a few times since his stroke. Plum Village was his main monastic home for over 30 years, and where there are still two hundred monks and nuns living. They monastics lead retreats year round. After having had the good fortune to attend retreats under Thay’s tutelage many times, I was a little hesitant to go without him present. However it was easy to feel him there. His presence lives in the hearts of all the monks and nuns. The dharma talks and mindfulness practices shared remained the same.
I got the news on Friday while packing for Ireland to work on the May retreat. His passing resonated into my bones the principle of inter-being. How our sadness and joy are one. I feel a mourning of deep loss and yet it is pregnant with the joy and gratitude of having been present to his teachings all these times.
The 4 noble truths teach us that if there is no suffering, there can be no happiness. If there is no right, there can be no left. If there is no mud, there will be no lotus. This is because that is.
Here is a little teaching with him on the four noble truths. He is funny, kind and wise beyond words.
In a stressful time in my life I was in NYC, in Barnes and Noble and spotted a book by Thich Nhat Hanh. Until this moment I knew nothing about him, but for months prior, his name kept coming up in conversation or reference by someone else I was studying. As I expanded my gaze at that moment I realized the entire section was his books. Wow... where to begin. I picked the book Being Peace and opened it randomly. It opened to his poem Call Me By My True Names. This poem took me to my knees and I knew that I had just found my teacher.
PLEAE CALL ME BY MY TRUE NAMES
Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow—
even today I am still arriving.
Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.
I am a mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.
I am a frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am also the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.
I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.
My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up
and the door of my heart
could be left open,
the door of compassion.
This poem still takes me to my knees with tremendous reverence to life. Although Thich Nhat Hanh is known for his Engaged Buddhism, he wanted the mindfulness teachings to be reachable for anyone and everyone. For the first ten years of Plum Village you would not find a statue of Buddha. Although you will now, the walls are more adorned by the calligraphic poetry to aspire to. Mindfulness was his life, teaching and practice. I remain grateful to have been able to transpire some of his writing into medallions all these years. It kept me connected in practice and life.
There will be days of ceremony this week in Vietnam and France. Here is a link to find out more. www.plumvillage.org/memorial
There is also a place you can send messages of gratitude or personal transformation. plumvillage.org/gratitude-for-thich-nhat-hanh
Retreats ~ https://plumvillage.org/retreats/
To you from Ireland, with love, a lotus and a smile,
Plum Village, 2019
Comments will be approved before showing up.