Rejoicing with the Sangha in Hanoi

By Sister Hanh Nghiem mb49-Rejoicing1

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The seven-day retreat on Engaged Buddhism in Hanoi was truly wonderful. I was touched by the rooted feeling of being a community.

Before the orientation, the Order of Interbeing, monks, and nuns were on stage ready to invoke the name of Avalokiteshvarya. Looking out at the audience, I saw a sea of bluish grey robes — I was totally surrounded by spiritual grandparents, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, brothers, and sisters. I could even feel the presence of my ancestors coming up to support this event. I could only do mindful breathing during the chanting because my attention was on gratitude to my entire line of spiritual and blood ancestors. My lips could not open to sing the chant but the chant resonated in my heart.

Getting enough favorable conditions for the retreat to take place was not an easy task. But with the practice of mindfulness and keeping to our breathing, our patience and faith worked their magic and the fruit of much hard work ripened to perfect sweetness and maturity. We managed to turn the Golden Lotus Hotel into the Golden Lotus Monastery. For seven days, three hundred and fifty people from all over the world stayed in closed quarters. We were able to utilize every inch of space in the Golden Lotus Monastery to practice walking meditation, gather for Dharma discussion, do chi qong, and even find space to be with ourselves. Since we had nowhere to go and nothing to do, it was so easy to dwell joyfully together in our Golden Lotus Monastery!

For the first time, we got to hear Thay share his story about Engaged Buddhism. We listened to the history and rise of this tradition. During the guided meditation in the morning, we were able to come back to ourselves in a very gentle yet powerful way to heal our hearts and to recognize our path to transform our suffering. Tears were shed, leaving our hearts light and giving us a true sense of liberty. The Dharma talks offered inspiration to reach out and help people in the here and now without the need to worry that we will lose our practice. We learned to see that by being mindful, it is only natural to help those in distress. When we help them, we also help ourselves.

The Brothers and Sisters caring for the Dining Meditation Hall did a superb job making the meal time into a period of practice for deep looking and transformation. They invited the bell to welcome us all to come eat together as a family. The manager of the hotel worried when he saw how simple our meals were; he was afraid that we were suffering! Quite the contrary was true — everyone enjoyed the meals. They could feel the goodness and love and care put into preparing the dishes and serving the food.

The ceremony for transmitting the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing was like the Grand Ordination Ceremony during the winter retreat. Both lay and monastic practitioners received the Trainings. Although we didn’t see a statue of the Buddha or any Patriarch, I am sure they were smiling and proud of us.

Surprisingly, there were a number of young people (nineteen to thirty-five years old) attending the retreat. We had a marvelous time together. We felt so safe with each other that we could share things we would never imagine sharing with other people. We could recognize our practice was vital to our future. We even had T-shirts made as a bell of mindfulness to practice wholeheartedly and diligently to aid in reducing the suffering in the world. The T-shirts said “Let the Buddha Breathe.” We just need to welcome the Buddha into our life and trust that this awakened being knows what to do and we take the joy ride with the Buddha.

When the seven days came to an end, the retreat was not over. We continued dwelling in our energy of peace and healing and nourishing it. We did walking meditation around Hoan Kiem Lake in the center of Hanoi, seeing the morning life of the Vietnamese. People were jogging, doing aerobics, playing badminton, doing other kinds of exercises, and going to work. We also did sitting meditation in front of the memorial statue of King Ly Thai To. He offered the longest period of peace in Vietnamese history — two hundred years. The following day we had a Day of Mindfulness. We broke out into affinity groups according to the panels that would be discussed at the Vesak Conference the next day

At the opening day of the Vesak Conference we processed into the convention center on a red carpet and we mindfully ascended the long wide staircase between the Dharma Protectors into the hall. We were the largest group at the conference. It was nice to be at the conference as a practitioner and not as a business person with an agenda.

My happiness from the conference came when I met up with the young people’s group at the end of the evening to reflect on the day, to hear other people’s take on the event. I could see that my Sangha was boundless as long as I took the time and saw the joy in being together with those around me. The other part of the conference that touched me were the blown-up pictures of the Requiem Ceremonies from last year. I saw that love was timeless and nothing can stop love from entering the hearts of people.

Our time together in Hanoi made its impression in history and in our hearts. It was a very special twenty-one-day retreat condensed into two weeks of retreat, days of mindfulness, conference, and holiday celebrations. Quite the gift!

Sister Hanh Nghiem, True Action, now lives at New Hamlet in Plum Village.

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