Plum Village Sangha in Thailand By Lynda Berry and Karen Hilsberg
In October 2010, Thailand welcomed the Plum Village Sangha warmly. An international delegation of about thirty-six practitioners from the U.S., England, Italy, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Germany, Canada, and Australia spent one week touring and one week with the Plum Village Sangha outside of Bangkok. Eighty to ninety percent of the Vietnamese monks and nuns from Bat Nha Monastery were there, plus new monks and nuns who were ordained in Thailand. Thay was reportedly very happy, and so were the Bat Nha sisters and brothers, to be reunited after being expelled and scattered from Vietnam.
Plum Village Thailand
On our second day with the Sangha, we went to Pak Chong to visit the land that the Sangha is in the process of purchasing. It is a picturesque setting among green hills. Within the next two years, the Sangha will build a new practice center there, conveniently located for people from Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. It will include a wing of the European Institute for Applied Buddhism. The first priority is to pay off approximately $750,000 owed for the land; then to build a meditation hall for 1,000 people, then two hamlets.
Meanwhile, 279 monks and nuns are staying in two private homes. The Sangha has built a huge, temporary, thatched roof meditation hall that seats 1,000. During our visit, it was full with monks and nuns who were present for a monastic retreat. We were all nourished by the ordination of novice nuns and monks and a lamp transmission ceremony for thirteen young monastics from Vietnam. There was an intense energy of mindfulness and beautiful chanting by Thay. He personally cut a lock of each novice’s hair during the ordination ceremony.
At the end of the lamp transmission ceremony, Thay shared the following with the new Dharma teachers and the Sangha: “As monastics we have a great horizon, high and wide. Keep the light and transmit it to the later generations. We are aware that the Buddha and the patriarchs are our roots. We vow to receive the wisdom, compassion, peace, and joy that the patriarchs have transmitted. We vow to transform our suffering and help people of modern times to transform their suffering and to open Dharma doors in new ways. We vow to look at each other as brother and sister in the same spiritual family. We vow to take care of each other so we can help each other. We vow to practice loving speech and deep listening. We vow to transform hatred and jealousy so we can go forward. Only when we do that can we be children of the Buddha and the patriarchs.”
Not Seeking Anymore
A few days later, Thay gave a public lecture at Thammasat University Law School. There were at least three thousand people in the giant auditorium, including many monastics from different traditions. Thay’s presence attracted huge numbers of people in Thailand, which is primarily a Theravadan Buddhist country. He explained the differences and similarities between the native Buddhism and Zen. He did not mention the political situation in Bangkok, but his description of non-duality seemed appropriate. When you understand your suffering, he explained, and look deeply into the suffering of another you believe to be your enemy, you may develop compassion because you see your enemy as a human being who suffers the same way you suffer. He said that Theravada contains the Mahayana teachings and that Mahayana contains the Theravada teachings. He also shared about the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing and about the practices of deep listening and loving speech.
In the following days, Thay gave Dharma talks at MCU Buddhist University a few days prior to the family retreat. We all stayed together in the same hotel at the university, where a marquis in the lobby said, “Welcome Thich Nhat Hanh!” The family retreat took place at a resort outside of Bangkok, and at least 300 people came by boat and bus from Vietnam (a twenty-four-hour drive.) They had their own meditation hall with Vietnamese translation. Thay spoke about the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing, the Four Mantras, and the Four Noble Truths. He taught the children how to be bellmasters. He also spoke about the sixteen exercises in the Anapanasati Sutra exercises and about the gatha, “This is it (on the in-breath), not seeking anymore (on the out-breath).” The Dharma talks were very fresh. It seemed that Thay was thriving in this Buddhist country.
On the last day of the retreat, the power cut in the middle of Thay’s Dharma talk, but he did not react. He sat and drank his tea while 1,600 people sat in complete silence. When the power came back on about five minutes later, he continued as though nothing had happened. At the end of the retreat, the monastics went up on stage and we all sang together. It looked as though Thay was holding hands with the Theravadan monks. It was a beautiful moment.
Lynda Berry, Awakened Listening of the Heart, is from the United Kingdom and lives in Portsmouth. She took the Five Mindfulness Trainings at the Nottingham Retreat in August 2010. Karen Hilsberg, True Boundless Graciousness, lives in California. She founded Organic Garden Sangha in 2003 and mentors Order of Interbeing pre-aspirants and aspirants in Jasmine Roots Sangha.
The Sangha is very happy to have found a beautiful location in Thailand to build a permanent home for monastics where they can practice the teachings of love and understanding under the guidance of our beloved teacher, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. The new land is about 190 km northeast of Bangkok. It has a spectacular view of Khao Yai Mountain in Thailand’s first and largest national park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We envision two monasteries, one for 100-150 monks and another for 200-300 nuns. The site will also include an Institute of Applied Buddhism for the fourfold Sangha in Southeast Asia. There will be space for vegetable gardens where organic food can be grown. The total cost of the land is 24,583,000 Bhat (U.S. $819,434). A deposit of $152,767 was made on August 30, 2010. On June 30, 2011, the rest of the total amount will be due. The right to the land will then be transferred to the Thai Plum Village Foundation.
With your support, Plum Village Thailand will manifest as a reality. To make a donation, please make a bank draft or cashier check payable to “PV Foundation for PV Practice Center in Thailand” and send it to:
Plum Village Foundation. 399, Moo 9, Nongsarai Subdistrict Pak Chong District Nakhon Ratchasima 30130 Thailand
Or make a wire transfer with the information below: Bank Account Name: PV Foundation for PV Practice Center in Thailand Account No. 855-0-24898-6 Bangkok Bank, Siam Paragon Branch S.W.I.F.T. code “BKKBTHBK” Address: Ground Floor, Siam Paragon 991/1 Rama 1 Road Pathumwan District, Bangkok 10330 Tel: 66-2-129-4318, 66-2-129-4319, 66-2-129-4320, 66-2-129-4321, 66-2-129-4322
If you have questions or need more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.