Gratitude for Plum Village Practice By Chan Ngo Nguyen Duy Vinh
I would like to offer some memorable milestones for Plum Village’s 30th Anniversary celebration. Though my capability for remembering is reduced due to my growing age, my mind is able to go back as far as 1966, when I received a small booklet entitled A Rose for Your Pocket (Bong Hong Cai Ao) from a high school classmate. I was only eighteen years old and I was studying in Quebec City at that time, far away from home. My mother was still alive when I left my country and she died a few years later. My mother lived in Vietnam and we often communicated by ordinary snail mail. We didn’t have Skype or email as we do today. Sometimes I missed her a lot. We all miss our beloved ones when we are far away from them.
While I enjoyed every word of the booklet written by Thay in Vietnamese, the love toward a mother described so vividly in the booklet was like a glass of cold water poured onto my head. I was “awakened” by Thay’s writing. Thay wrote about his mother, and I could relate to it. I felt some regret that I hadn’t known how to fully appreciate my mother’s sweet presence when we were together. Far away from home and from her, I realized I was so stupid for not letting my mother know more often how much I loved her.
I didn’t think of this author, Thay, again until 1984 when I had a chance to be in France, attending a scientiﬁc conference in Toulouse. At the end of the conference, a friend of mine offered to drive me to Plum Village as he had to visit his family not far from Duras. This was my ﬁrst encounter with Plum Village. I wasn’t well prepared as I didn’t know what the practice of mindfulness was all about. It was all new to me and I was culturally shocked.
My ﬁrst encounter with Plum Village was a challenging one. Eating in silence, walking in silence, sitting in silence, doing almost everything mindfully in silence. And there was no coffee for our breakfast meal in the morning. I found it a bit hard and I even thought of quitting. But somehow, my mind told me to persist and I stayed. On the fourth day, I suddenly tasted a kind of peaceful feeling I hadn’t tasted before. And this was the beginning of my long journey with Thay’s teachings and my Sangha practice thereafter.
I attended almost all Canadian retreats led by Thay between 1985 and 2005. In 1987 I began practicing regularly with the Maple Village Sangha in Montreal, and around 1991, together with some new friends in the Sangha, we founded the Ottawa Pagoda Sangha. This small Sangha has undergone many ups and downs but we have survived the waves of change. Today, supported by a strong and dedicated core group of OI and non-OI members, this Sangha holds regular weekly sessions and monthly days of mindfulness. Its activities can be seen on www.pagodasangha.org.
Although my struggle with my old “bad” habits continues, and it happens from time to time that I derail from the right track, I can ﬁrmly tell you that we are in good hands with this practice. Mindful living has allowed me to attain some sort of a balance in my life and this way of living continues to protect me in various ways. My challenges have ranged from teaching large groups of university engineering students to driving in busy and dangerous streets in Yaounde (Cameroon). The challenges included giving talks in front of a crowd and performing choir songs in front of a large audience as well as dealing with some adverse moments in my life. For example, one time I had a very bad reaction to an antibiotic treatment the doctor gave me after a minor surgery. I was admitted to the emergency room in the hospital. Mindful breathing allowed me to be in control of my feelings and I was able to be at peace despite the very hectic moment. Another time, we encountered severe ﬂooding in the basement with a broken water pipe during a harsh winter night of -25 degrees Celsius. It was very cold and windy. Mindful breathing allowed me to undertake urgent repair actions without panicking.
Nowadays, I’m able to live more and more in the present moment and to be more and more at peace with whatever I’m doing. Of course the struggle continues, but thanks to all my Sangha friends who provide guidance and support, I am evolving each day with all these blessings.
I present my deep gratitude to Thay and the Fourfold Sangha as one of the Plum Village songs resonates in my mind: You have given me such a treasure, I love you so…
Chan Ngo (Nguyen Duy Vinh) lives in Ottawa, Canada and practices with the Ottawa Pagoda Sangha. He received the Lamp Transmission from Thay in 1994 in Plum Village.