In April 2006, four of us, Brother Phap Ân, myself, Sister Giac Nghiem (Soeur Elizabeth) and Sister Tung Nghiem (Sister Pine), had the honor and privilege to travel to China for the First World Buddhist Forum.
When we arrived at Hangzhou, in Jiangsu Province in the east of China, we were taken in charge from A to Z, staying in luxurious hotels (we each had our own room!); everything was very well organized. We were told that our hosts had been working on this project for two years.
Three days were dedicated to this Forum, titled “A Harmonious World Begins in the Mind.” We spent entire days listening to speeches by more than 70 participants; each person would speak for a maximum of eight minutes. The number of participants attending the Forum was estimated at 1,000, with 34 countries represented. Our small delegation represented France.
Nourished by the Joy of Togetherness
The speeches followed one after the other—about the efforts of Buddhism to bring improved well-being on the planet earth, improve the conditions of humanity, and find solutions to the complexities of the modern world and the many problems that it generates in different fields: environment, economy, health, social life, education. All the participants recognized the need for renewing Buddhism in order to respond more adequately to the difficulties of our times. Good intentions, promises, even plans of action were proposed as to how Buddhism could positively influence society.
Half-way into the Forum, doubts and a certain lack of appreciation arose in me, due to what I perceived as a lack of substance in some of the speeches. But finally I gained a more optimistic view, as shown in this excerpt from my journal:
“Nothing essential is being said here, no concrete methods or strong propositions are being brought out. It looks like half of the participants are drowsy or not listening to the talks, some sneaking out of the main hall to go and meet people, creating bonds around the tea tables especially afforded for this purpose. But I have to sympathize – keeping attentive for all these talks via translation is not so easy.
“What is the use of all this? What is the use of this Forum? “Well, on the other hand I do see something positive. I can compare it to our daily activities in Plum Village. The different occasions where we are together are also opportunities simply to ‘find one another again’, and from there to go forth through the sharing of our insights.
“In the same way, the meaning of the Forum is nothing but the joy of meeting one another and sharing brotherhood under various forms and colors, giving us a chance to go forward together in a luminous direction, combining our hopes and insights. A Harmonious World Begins in the Mind, and if the quality of my own mind in this moment is able to offer good conditions for me to experience harmony with my environment, then it is for sure that I will get in touch very closely with the essence and intention of the Forum. Then, let us be nourished by the joy of togetherness.”
When came our turn to offer a speech, Brother Phap Ân introduced each of us and we came up to join him on stage. This was a way for us to give our support to our Brother and express what we were representing during the Forum: the presence of a delegation from Plum Village.
Brother Phap Ân shared about the different retreats that Thây and the Sangha have offered in the last years in various parts of society. He described with much clarity and skillfulness the basic teachings used at Plum Village, concrete practices based on the awareness of breathing that can be easily applied in daily life, among the family, and in a busy professional life. He mentioned the practice of walking meditation; the practice of beginning anew; the practice of stopping, looking deeply, and recognizing our emotions. These are all tools that have borne the fruits of real transformation and healing of the suffering of the individual, of the family, and of society.
Venerables Among the Venerables
One of the funniest things for us in this adventure is probably the fact that we found ourselves together with high monks, venerable ones among the Venerable Ones, receiving much attention and consideration. Often, the atmosphere would be very joyful while traveling from one place to another; our arms loaded with gifts, we were juggling with the luggage, all participants embarked in an adventure that was carrying us towards the unexpected and the marvelous.
Meanwhile, the harmony was weaving inside our little group, and it is with infinite gratitude that I have learned to know and appreciate more my elder Brother and my two Sisters. We were able to work with a spirit of cooperation, always having much patience and respect for one another. We never let the unpleasant emotions, the negative perceptions, or the internal formations take over and control the situation. This allowed us to transform the difficulties and to go forward in beauty, ever offering the best of ourselves.
Far beyond the numerous material gifts that we received, I think this is here for me one of the greatest gifts of the Forum:
“Last hours of this Forum… I have the impression to participate to an historical event; while sitting in the midst of my Brothers and Sisters from all different Buddhist traditions, monastic and lay people, I feel out of time still. We are young practitioners mixing with great Tibetan, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese Masters…We can feel the bonds intensify, and we recognize one another in the light of this deep feeling, both intimate and strange, of knowing one another from a long time ago.
“Even just for the value of the encounter, and the opportunity and the privilege to be together, the Forum is worthwhile. It is not so much for the speeches, that often sound hollow and seem to be chattering, rather for the richness of the interactions, the joy of crossing looks, the beauty of the faces, the palette of colors, patterns and styles varying through the monastic dresses from the different traditions represented here. We feel part of the same big and warm family, which is Buddhism.”
Chân Phap Khi was born in France and currently lives at Plum Village.