Learning to Eat, Learning to Walk

By Celia Tsui

Last year, my husband and I practiced for one year in Plum Village. At the end of the Winter Retreat we went to the EIAB for six weeks before going back to Plum Village for the June retreat.

It was beautiful springtime when we arrived at the EIAB. Fresh green leaves were just sprouting; cherry blossoms and flowers were blooming in the garden. The monks and nuns had just finished the monastic retreat and now had a more relaxed schedule. Sometimes we played volleyball. Whenever we had a few hours of free time, brothers and sisters would invite us to go hiking in the forest around Waldbröl. I remember one occasion in particular. During a hike, whilst we rested after a long walk, brothers and sisters suggested a group game. To my surprise Sister Annabel also participated in the game. It turned out that we had a very joyful time nourishing brotherhood and sisterhood.

We lived closely with the brothers and sisters in the EIAB, and so we had many opportunities to practice mindfulness by working together, sitting together, walking together, and eating together. There were many times when I rushed to the toilet before the morning sitting meditation, walked unmindfully, and closed the door brusquely. Often at this moment, I would meet Sister Annabel walking down the stairs slowly and mindfully. I would stop and feel embarrassed, but she always gave me a tender smile. Her presence was like the warm and soft light from the rising sun, and my rushing energy just disappeared.

After some days I wrote a gatha to help myself in this situation:

Opening the door,

I open a new door

of my life.

I vow to live truthfully

and mindfully.

Truly, living in the EIAB opened a new door for me, and I started to deepen my practice more and more in daily life. During my stay, I had a chance to join the course “Building Relationships,” taught by Thay Phap An. On the first day of the course, he taught how to take care of our physical health. If we always feel ill or tired, it is impossible for us to offer joy to our beloved ones. He shared the following gatha with us, which he practices when serving himself food.

All beings struggle to survive.

May all living beings have

enough food to eat today.

I send my love to all beings.

(originally in Vietnamese)

I was very touched by Thay Phap An’s love and compassion for all beings and for the world. Thay Phap An cares deeply for those who suffer. I thought that by practicing the gatha at every meal, I could nourish my seeds of compassion. But the English translation is not easy for me to remember. So I made up my own Chinese gatha:

In gratitude for the food

in front of me

which cultivates my love

and good heart,

I wish all beings in the world

have shelter and enough food

to eat in this moment.

This gatha helps me enjoy every meal and be thankful for the food I have.

Our six weeks’ stay in the EIAB was surprisingly short. I felt very reluctant to leave. We planned to go back in mid-July for another four weeks.

Celia Tsui, True Radiant Harmony, has practiced at the Asian Institute of Applied Buddhism (AIAB) in Hong Kong and with the Hong Kong Sangha since 2007. In 2012, she became a member of the Order of Interbeing.