In the Land of the Buddha

1988 trip to India with Thich Nhat Hanh By Gillian Coote

In 1987, my husband Tony and I heard about a pilgrimage to India with Thay and Sister Phuong, to be led by Shantum Seth. Thay had recently written Old Path White Clouds, and would be sharing his knowledge of the Buddha's life and offering Dharma talks. How could we resist such an opportunity?

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Our first destination was Sarnath. After an expedition on the bus, Thay watched us giving rupees to people who were begging in the streets and saw us climbing back on board with many packages. The following morning, Thay asked us to consider these actions deeply, and to understand their interconnection. Perhaps we could make a decision to restrict our shopping and our giving money to street beggars. Perhaps we could donate that money to an organization addressing the structural causes of poverty and in this way make a difference in people's lives. His words struck home, and the last few days of our pilgrimage were spent with Buddhist social workers in Poona at their retreat center in a remote valley surrounded by ancient Buddhist caves, where we donated several thousand American dollars to support their educational, medical and cultural work amongst poor Untouchables.

Tony and Gillian Coote practice with the Sydney Zen Center in Australia. Gillian made a documentary for Australian TV during Thay's 1986 visit to Australia, called "The Awakening Bell," which is distributed by Parallax Press.

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