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North American Tour

mb41-North1 Less than a week after the end of the summer  retreat at Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh and some members of the monastic Sangha embarked on a two-month tour of North America. Retreats and public lectures took place in Massachusetts, Quebec, Colorado, and California. The tour culminated with a visit to Mississippi, where Thay received the gift of a new practice center called Magnolia Village.

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Hundreds of people took the Three Refuges and the Five Mindfulness Trainings, while thousands more were exposed to Thay’s ongoing message that “A smile is the most basic kind of peace work.”

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An Explosion of Grace

The First Retreat for Young People at Plum Village By Susan Rooke

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Thay has often spoken of the tragic situation in France, where thirty-three young people commit suicide every day. He has asked us, “What are we doing today for those who are going to kill themselves tomorrow or the day after?”

A year ago, Anne-Marie Ascencio, a French member of the Order of Interbeing, shared with Sister Chan Khong her dream of initiating a retreat for young people run by the fourfold Sangha at Plum Village. Her idea was received with enthusiasm, so a small group of young monastics and members of the French OI organized, over the Internet, the first young persons’ retreat in Plum Village. It was held during the last week of June 2005 at the Middle Hamlet and thirty-two young people came, ages thirteen to twenty-six. Of the twenty staff members, there were five monks, three lay Plum Village residents and seven members of the French OI. A group of young nuns and aspirants visited and offered daily support.

We divided into three families, one of which was English-speaking. We had planned to include only French speakers to avoid translation problems, but retreatants took turns translating for friends, and the international flavor was a bonus.

This was a typical day: 6:00  Wake up; exercise with bamboo poles, or yoga 7:30  Sitting meditation 8:00  Breakfast; working meditation; questions & answers with monks and nuns 11:00 Free time 12:00 Lunch 14:30 Sharing in families 16:30 Creative workshops (drawing, painting, writing, calligraphy, collage, dance, music...) 18:00 Dinner 20:00 Deep relaxation; evening activity 22:00 Noble silence 23:00 Lights out

The creative workshops were new for Plum Village. A nun gave a dance workshop under the trees, the music offered spontaneously by two young people. An array of paints, brushes, pencils, and paper was provided in the painting area, along with piles of old magazines for collages. On the dining veranda a large white wall displayed the creative works as they were made; before long the veranda was decorated with paintings, poems, and calligraphy. Retreatants were encouraged to create spontaneously, in a relaxed, non-academic way, working on pieces alone or in groups.

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One evening we participated in a percussion workshop, creating rhythms on drums, saucepans, wash bowls, bells, wooden spoons, and blocks of wood. Another evening, around a bonfire we enjoyed pancakes cooked by a group of young retreatants as a gift to the community.

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The practice was offered in formal and informal ways. Youngsters were taught sitting and walking meditation, stopping and listening to the bell, and eating in silence. The informal teaching was also important: a long conversation with a monk over a cup of hot chocolate; visiting together around a group painting; talking and really listening to each other. This atmosphere of freedom and peace was created with a minimum of structure so the young people had a safe space to talk, be creative, make music, or just be together.

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During the week, Thay gave two teachings that were attended by the Plum Village community and a question and answer session for the young people. Appreciative of this special opportunity, the young people asked good questions about violence, anger, and monastic life. Thay finished the session asking the young people to continue the spirit of the retreat by forming a “committee of the heart.” This new committee will operate over the Internet. For information about future retreats, keep an eye on the Plum Village Web site.

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The ultimate expression of gratitude for this wonderful retreat came on the last evening, when fifty of us practiced Beginning Anew. Seated under the oak trees, with the evening light fading, we shared the transformations of the past six days. A younger and elder brother reconciled with deep, loving words and a hug. Many shared long-hidden, hurt feelings, brought into this compassionate space to be held gently, listened to, and respected. Finding understanding, forgiveness, and healing. Heard over and over: “This has been the best week of my life.”

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On the first day, the young people arrived anxious, fearful, and stressed from school exams and the pace of city life. They were noisy and talked a lot. It was a joy to watch their faces transform; to see their shy smiles and hear their laughter; to enjoy the noble silence becoming more silent; to hear their language become more gentle. For the sake of the young people, and for our sake, I hope others will organize young persons’ retreats all over the world.

Susan Rooke, True Joyful Stream, lives in the foothills of the French Alps.

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Breath of the Buddha Retreat

mb43-Breath1 mb43-Breath2 For three weeks in June, more than 800 practitioners from every corner of the globe gathered at Plum Village for the Breath of the Buddha retreat. In eighteen Dharma talks, Thich Nhat Hanh offered a brilliant and beautiful exposition of the Sutra on Mindful Breathing. Basing his talks on his recent translation of the sutra from Chinese, Thây contrasted this with the Pali version that he had used as the basis for the 21-day retreat in 1998 at St. Michael’s College in Vermont.

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Thây greeted us enthusiastically with news about a movie project based on his book Old Path White Clouds, about the life of the Buddha. Later he told us that he has written to the president of Vietnam with plans for a return trip in 2007, plans that have now solidified (see page 46).

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Thây gave participants an assignment—to write a letter to a suicide bomber—which occasioned many heartful discussions (see page 12). One day, in discussing this topic, Thây wrote Einstein’s famous statement about non-self on the white board and asked us to copy it down.

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Thây spoke at length about sangha building, ending the retreat with a joyous Sangha Fair at Lower Hamlet. Dharma discussions, guided meditations, nourishing periods of noble silence, working meditation—all transmitted deep understanding and amazing wisdom.

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The loving hospitality of the monks, nuns, and lay residents of Plum Village nourished us so deeply. And they provided an extraordinary bit of “monastic theater,” transforming an American classic into “The Wizard of Uz,” complete with Dorothy in pigtails and an astonishingly wise Glenda the Good Witch.

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We will never be the same.

—Janelle Combelic

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Walking for Peace in Paris

By Christian Bonnin mb44-Walking1

On Saturday, October 21, 2006, Thich Nhat Hanh and the monks and nuns of Plum Village traveled to Paris. Some of them spent the day seeing the sights of the city, guided by members of the Paris Sangha. That evening Thây gave a public talk at the Théatre de la Maison de la Mutualité entitled “Less Anger, Less Violence,” and on Sunday another talk, “How to Transform Our Fears,” both to a full house of several thousand people.On Sunday morning, October 22, Thây and the monastics led a peace walk through the streets of Paris. One participant writes about his experience.

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The sky was overcast as a large crowd gathered little by little along the edge of the Luxembourg Gardens. Some people knew each other or had crossed paths at Plum Village; others arrived in groups. Everyone seemed moved and happy to be here — to walk for the first time behind Thây in Paris, to walk in silence in a large pulsating city. Slowly things got organized and people handed out bumper stickers — “La paix en soi, la paix en marche, célebrons la vie!” (Peace in oneself, peace on the move, celebrate life!)— which was the agenda for the morning.

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Thây gave us a few instructions and then the crowd calmly set in motion. At first I was disappointed that we didn’t receive a permit to walk in the street. Wasn’t peace worth disturbing our Sunday morning driving habits, just a little? But then I understood the advantage of using the space reserved for men and women rather than cars — this allowed us to be in the midst of people trying to make their way among us, and the contact was stronger.

For those of us meditators accustomed to walking in peaceful places, this experience was valuable because it forced us to concentrate on ourselves, to not be influenced by the restless mob, and to share our calm with passing strangers. Yes, I was carrying my inner island and so was each one of us — a sangha walking together! I didn’t know what passersby would take away from this — doubt, surprise, bother, or indifference — but for us it was an unforgettable experience.

We ambled slowly down the sidewalks of the Rue Saint Jacques toward Notre Dame, our destination. Eventually, because of street crossings, the group stretched out so that we looked more like a procession and less like a massive demonstration. But later I would learn that we were several thousand people (perhaps four thousand). As we walked we became aware of the efficient organization involved and the hard work by members of the Order of Interbeing and all those who invested their time for months to make this weekend a reality. I would like to thank them and share my gratitude. This walk showed me that a large sangha can work together, in the same direction — for the peace inside each one of us that leads to peace in the whole world.

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When we arrived at Notre Dame I was impressed by the size of the crowd, especially since I was toward the back of the group. The sky was with us as well because by now the weather was gorgeous and we were flooded in sunshine. I wasn’t able to see the end of the walk and it was impossible to distinguish the meditators from the tourists; a lot of people were taking pictures to capture this moment.

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I have only one regret — the information spread by the news media was not up to the event. We definitely live in an era full of contradictions; everyone says they want peace but when a teacher like Thich Nhat Hanh shows us the way how many people take the trouble to notice? It’s really a shame. I hope that next time the media will take heart and broadcast the message far and wide.

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Looking again at the bumper sticker handed out that day, I can’t help but believe that “peace in oneself, peace on the move, celebrate life!” is an indispensable mantra for all those who work for peace in the world. Something for all of us to meditate on for a long time.

mb44-Walking7Christian Bonnin, Harmonie Spirituelle du Coeur (Spiritual Harmony of the Heart), lives in Massy, south of Paris, where he practices with Libre Nuage (Free Cloud) Sangha.

Translated from the French by Janelle Combelic

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Sitting inthe Autumn Breeze

The 2007 American Tour mb47-Thay1

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In August 2007, Thich Nhat Hanh and ninety of his monks and nuns began a three-month tour across North America. Thousands of adults and children attended retreats in Massachusetts, Colorado, California, Quebec, and New York. Thay received the Doshi Bridgebuilder Award at Loyola Marymount University and spoke at a UCLA-sponsored conference for psychologists.

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The first large retreat at Blue Cliff Monastery filled the beautiful new facilities with people and blessed the land with peace and joy. While there, Thay wrote a long and provocative letter to the Sangha and in New York City, after speaking at the Asia Society, Thay gave a wide-ranging interview to Time Magazine.

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Many of us were deeply moved by Thay’s call to awakening for the sake of our earth mother. At the public talk in Denver (excerpted earlier in this issue), to a hushed hall of two thousand people, Thay said, “We have the power to decide the destiny of our planet.... If we awaken to our true situation there will be collective change in our consciousness.” May each of us embody that hope for the world.

Photos by Jonathan Cardozo and Tricia Garcia

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Plum Village Smiles

Plum Village  is  not  a Vietnamese temple set on European  land.  In  Plum Village, we see the Indian culture, the Chinese culture, the Vietnamese culture, and the Western culture. When we look carefully, we see that non-Plum Village elements exist in Plum Village. Consequently, Plum Village is also an object of meditation. The deeper we look, the more clearly we see it.... If we look deeply, we see that Plum Village is also unborn and undying.- Thich Nhat Hanh

 

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Anh Thieu came from Vietnam by boat with his wife and two children. They were the first people to help us start Plum Village. From the winter of 1982 to the summer of 1983, we had to work a lot. In early 1983, we began to plant some trees in the Upper Hamlet. The first trees were six umbrella pine trees. -- Thich Nhat Hanh

 

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If you come to Plum Village, you have to take home with you no less than Plum Village in its entirety. Bringing Plum Village home, you will be able to survive longer. The teaching and practice of “I have arrived, I am home” always complements the teaching of “going as a river and not as a drop of water.” If you are a drop of water, then you will evaporate halfway; but if you go as a river, you will surely reach the ocean. - Thich Nhat Hanh

 

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Photos courtesy of Plum Village, Eileen Kiera, and Lyn Fine. Quotes reprinted from I Have Arrived, I Am Home (2003) by Thich Nhat Hanh with permission of Parallax Press, Berkeley, California, www.parallax.org.

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