Thay, Sister Chan Khong, and ten monks and nuns from Plum Village arrived in Los Angeles on September 10 to begin a month-long tour of North America. Their first week was in southern California, dedicated to the Vietnamese community—a four-day retreat near San Bernadino and a Sunday public lecture in Santa Ana. On Monday, September 18, Jim Fauss and Arnie Kotler met Thay and the Plum Village entourage at the San Francisco Airport. Jim drove the ten monks and nuns to Camp Swig, an hour away, while Arnie showed Thay and Sister Chan Khong to the Aiport Hotel, where, after a short rest, Thay met with Alix Madrigal of the San Francisco Chronicle for an interview about the just-published Living Buddha, Living Christ. The interview was warm and convivial, and Ms. Madrigal's report is reprinted in the pages that follow.
Thay arrived at Camp Swig, a beautiful, rustic summer camp in the Santa Cruz mountains, surrounded by redwoods and live oaks, in time for dinner, and then joined the 550 retreatants in the camp assembly hall to chant an invocation of Kwan Yin's name, joined by the Plum Village monks and nuns. Thay then lovingly introduced each monk and each nun, followed by an orientation talk by Sister Chan Khong, Sister Jina, and Arnie on mindful breathing, walking, eating, and bowing. During the four-day retreat, Thay expounded on the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing, as well as teachings on the four mantras (see "True Presence," page one) and a beautiful story about a young man named David and an angel named Angelina. The retreat went seamlessly well thanks to the lovely presence of the monks and nuns and the gentle guidance of many members of the Order of Interbeing.
On Saturday, September 23, Thay led a Day of Mindfulness at Spirit Rock Meditation Center north of San Francisco, for 2,200 people. From Sunday through Wednesday, Thay and the Plum Village disciples led a Day of Mindfulness and retreat for the Vietnamese community at Kim Son Monastery near San Jose. On Tuesday, September 26, Thay gave a public lecture to nearly 4,000 people at the Berkeley Community Theater. The evening began with Betsy Rose singing "Breathing In, Breathing Out" and "In My Two Hands," and, following Wes Nisker's joyful introduction, Thay and the monks and nuns again invoked the name of Kwan Yin. Thay offered the four mantras and the newly printed "mantra Tshirts" were made available to reinforce the practice.
On Wednesday, Thay and Sister Chan Khong went to the Fairmount Hotel in San Francisco, where Thay was to participate in several panel discussions and give a keynote address for the State of the World Forum, hosted by Mikhail Gorbachev. On September 17, USA Weekend reported, "Next week in San Francisco, when Margaret Thatcher, Vaclav Havel, and George Bush meet at the State of the World Forum, they'll be addressed by a diminutive Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, who has gained a large following among Americans. Official events include a half day of practicing 'mindfulness,' the heart of Buddhist meditation." In his opening remarks, President Gorbachev expressed particular appreciation "that Thich Nhat Hanh and other spiritual leaders are present at the Forum." Joan Halifax presents an account of the conference on the page that follows. Before leaving San Francisco, Thay was interviewed by Michael Toms of New Dimensions Radio, Jerry Brown on alive, callin radio broadcast, and Ram Dass, for future TV broadcast.
On Tuesday, October 3, Thay et al. flew to Newark and went by van to Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, to lead a 4-day retreat for 800 people on "The Buddha's Teachings on Love." On Monday, October 9, Thay lectured to a standing room only crowd of 3,000 people at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in New York City, organized by the New York Community of Mindfulness. Three days later he lectured at the Washington, D.C. Hebrew Congregation to 2,200 people, organized by the Washington Mindfulness Community. At both of these East Coast lectures, as in Berkeley, a palpable silence filled the room, where practitioners and non-practitioners alike basked in the Dharma, so beautifully presented by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.
After a meeting with State Department officials, an interview by Pythia Peay of the Religion News Service, and a lecture in Vietnamese in Arlington, Virginia, Thay and his monks and nuns flew back to France on October 17, preparing for a well-deserved rest before beginning the winter practice period at Plum Village. On the pages that follow are accounts by a monk and a nun about the retreats, and tastes of the Gorbachev conference, the State Department visit, and other moments along the way.