By Karl and Helga Riedl Last August we were invited to visit Moscow and offer a public talk and three-day retreat for Russians. A young Russian named Michael Sherbakov, who was in Plum Village attending the Summer Opening, offered to organize our activities in Moscow. Michael runs a "New Age Institute." He trained in the United States to lead psychological growth seminars. He did a perfect job with his group so we could be totally focused on teaching and being available for people.
Though we initially felt insecure about going to Russia as this would be our first teaching trip, we felt deeply welcomed by the people and nourished by their warmth and hospitality, and we really enjoyed our stay. Thay's and Arnie and Therese's visits had prepared the ground so thoroughly that we did not have to do much. It was like inheriting a big bank account. We hope we have not spent much of it, and maybe even added a bit.
During his 1994 visit to Russia, Thay had the first contact with a Vietnamese group in Moscow. This Br. Phap Ong, Boris Labkovsky year, the group grew strong enough to host visiting teachers and rent a flat that serves as a temple. Boris and Olga Orion invited us to stay at their place and took care of us with all their hearts, as if we had been old friends or relatives.
We found the 60 Russian retreatants to be extremely committed, cooperative, and open-minded. They were obviously touched by our general message of giving life more dignity, depth, meaning, and joy. After three days, there was a very warm, light, and joyous atmosphere in the group. In the beginning, it was difficult. Several "Beginning Anew" sessions between group members helped establish some harmony. In the end, people were able to let go of old anger and grudges, and expressed a deeper understanding and compassion for each other.
One evening we invited all of those who had taken the Five Precepts during the retreat to receive their precept certificates and share tea with us. This group of about 18 is basically connected with Boris Labkovsky and his work. Everyone expressed enthusiasm about meeting regularly to share the practice. We then spent two wonderful days with Boris Labkovsky in St. Petersburg. His friend, Ludmilla, organized a two-day retreat which was a very special experience.
Although we did not meet any of the people who had practiced with Thay in St. Petersburg in 1994, we shared our practice with a group of about 50 people, mainly from helping and healing professions. Their sharing and insights were deep and touching. At the end of the retreat, this group was also very enthusiastic to meet regularly and share their experiences.
It was a beautiful experience to be in Russia. We immediately established a very warm and deep connection and people expressed their affection spontaneously. They are a deeply spiritual people and, with guidance, can easily use the practice of mindfulness to touch the deeper parts of their beings.
Several young people shared with us that they felt lost in their meditative absorption. They not only need more specific teachings, but also a "spiritual friend," someone who can be a model for them, inviting them into the ordinary magic of everyday life. It is difficult to appreciate a glass of clear water once you are used to strong coffee! I think that a yearly three to five-day retreat is not much help for these precious ones.
Two children participated in the retreat—Ivan, 12 years old, and Any a, 10 years old. Anya was the first one to come for the morning meditation at 7:00 a.m., listened quietly and deeply to the Dharma talk, did not miss any activity, and was the last one to say goodnight after Dharma discussion and guided meditation at 9:30 p.m. In our last Dharma discussion sharing, I asked Anya how she felt about the retreat. After a brief, thoughtful moment, she replied, "It was a happy, quiet time." Then I asked her, "How do you feel now, Anya?" The answer came out of the depth of her being, "I have peace in my soul."
In our search for touching the Russian heritage, we discovered a traditional Russian greeting. In former times when people met, they would greet each other with the words, "Peace to your home." When we shared that in St. Petersburg, someone offered an even older way, and with that we closed our group: You place your right hand on your heart and, while bowing to each other, say, "Peace to your heart."
Karl Riedl, True Communion, and Helga Riedl, True Wonderful Loving Kindness, are Dharma teachers from Germany who live in Plum Village.