Tea at Plum Village

By Jim Fauss Four of us returned to the Lower Hamlet about 8:30 p.m., after seeing off our dear sister Tuyen at the train station. As we drove up, we could see light coming from the limestone building. A tea was being held in the Red Candle Meditation Hall. Kees and Liane went off in the direction of their tent. Elan and I entered and found places in the circle of about 25 monks, nuns, and civilians.

Thay An Nhiac was the bell master. The occasion was to say good-bye to two nuns who were leaving in the morning to return to Hanoi. We went around the circle as we sipped tea and ate goodies and each person offered a poem or a song—sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. When we came to Thay Due Thien, he didn't say much about the two nuns because he had arrived with them and in a week would also be returning to Hanoi. Instead, he chose to talk about me, about how we had become friends during our stay at Plum Village. He wanted everyone to know that I too was leaving in the morning, that I spoke Vietnamese, that my Vietnamese name was Nguyen Van Phan, and that I was one of the first Americans to protest the war in Vietnam. I always laughed when he said my Vietnamese name, and he did too.

My heart was so full. I sat there thinking what a beautiful evening it was—and then came the recognition from a monk from Hanoi. How many times over the years had I dreamed of the lakes, parks, and boulevards of that beautiful city. In March of 1960, a 19-year-old boy was an Army private first class working in intelligence. He had also been studying Buddhism and the life of Gandhi. He requested a word with his boss and said, "I feel that what we are doing in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam is wrong and I do not want to be part of it anymore."

He felt very much alone. How could he know that 34 years later someone would say just a few words and make it seem so perfectly right? How could he know that with every breath he took and every word he spoke, the whole universe was there to breathe and speak with him?

When I was 19,1 thought I was the only one capable of seeing what was going on. Later, in my 20s and 30s, I was quite critical of my 19-year-old self. Now I have some compassion for that kid and I am not ashamed of him. I don't know if I could be that brave again today.

My memory of that last night at Plum Village, drinking tea, sitting in the circle, singing songs, sharing moments with those beautiful sisters and brothers, is and always will be one of the most perfect in my life.

As I reread these words, my eyes fill with tears and my heart goes out to all the young men and women who face the moral decisions that this world forces upon them. For the future of our planet, I hope and pray that they are making the right choices. I hope we can help them.

PDF of this article