Hello Attachment, You Are My Friend

Sister Chân Trăng Hiền Nhân

Dear respected Thay, dear noble sangha,

This year, as we are celebrating forty years of Plum Village, I am just turning three years old as a monastic. I am like a tiny tree just learning to absorb the warmth and the light of the sun, and Plum Village is the great forest in which I gently grow. This past year, we have adorned Lower Hamlet with several new jewels, as if beautifying her for a great celebration of a special birthday.

The flowing of the sangha

We planted 150 trees, made a new, vast and spacious walking path, moved the Happy Farm, and what used to be a parking lot in front of the Big Meditation Hall is now an inviting garden, protected by the shade of the poplar trees with their gentle songs in the wind, colorful with many flowers and tender with newly planted trees. At the same time, we also rejoice in their full growth, the many treasures offered by Thay and the sangha from the past 40 years: The cathedral of the poplar forest, the lotus pond, the plum orchard, and the many trees planted along the paths.

Thus, old and new stand together in harmony, complete each other in beauty and strength. When the sangha practices walking meditation in the poplar grove and the small forest sanctuary where Thay loved so much to take us, I feel like we are walking in Thay’s steps and continuing the old path with a faithful and determined heart. When the sangha walks on the newly created path, passing by the new Happy Farm, the 150 newly planted trees, looking over the vast, wide open neighboring fields, I rejoice in the going forth of our sangha and feel how together, we are carrying Thay into the future.

The signs of attachment

Dear community, as a very young disciple, I want to offer you a gift–the story of my practice with one of the mental formations that I have inherited from a long stream of ancestors, their experiences, and inner formations. The name of this mental formation is attachment, and the name of this ongoing story, sometimes going up and sometimes down, is “Hello attachment, You Are My Friend.”

Lower Hamlet tree planting day

So, how does this story start? Earlier this year, Mister Attachment came once more to knock at the door of my heart and started singing his familiar song of fear and desire (the one I first listened to the day I came out of my mother’s womb). He sings to me very eloquently, with a powerful voice that can both rise very high and come down to the very low notes, accompanied by a whole orchestra. His songs can be captivating. I have to make a great effort in order not to get too absorbed in them. Mister attachment is a poet, he has a whole range of metaphors, rhymes, tones, and forms; he is grounded in a whole lineage of artists and his strength comes from the very core of human nature. He is also a philosopher capable of deep reflection, and a scientist with proven evidence. His songs contain all of that.

Now, do you want to know how he started his lament? In the past year, I have had a close relationship with my mentor, and I felt that I could share anything with her, that she would understand, love, and support me no matter what dark energies were inside me. I enjoyed being with her, embraced by her energy and receiving her guidance. She also taught us the fine manners and precepts, which made my happiness even greater. This happiness gave me great energy to practice. I was aware that, part of that inner happiness was based on our mentor-mentee relationship as well as friendship, but I was also aware that there was some attachment in me. I understood, based on my childhood and past experiences, that attachment was very natural, and that my elder sister seemed to trust my capacity to be responsible and to practice with the mental formations that came up. So I let the relationship unfold naturally. I enjoyed the times we had together–sharing, drinking tea, learning or working together. I observed my mind and let the joy and love penetrate me and sing in my thoughts. I didn’t worry because I had faith in my sister, in the sangha, and in the practice.

Then, naturally, the time came to change mentors and precept teachers. When that time came, sadness arose in me as well as other feelings like loss, of being abandoned, jealousy and anger.

I am very shy about going to my elder sister, so not having her as a mentor or teacher, I would rarely see her or share with her, I just wrote her letters about my practice from time to time. The inner child in me started to feel pain: after being so close to her, I saw very little of her, as if we lived far away from each other.

Embracing the storm

For three days, I held this sadness in my awareness while continuing daily activities with the sangha. Somehow, behind the painful feelings, I also felt faith and had the impression that if I could stay with what was there, I would discover something even more precious than the kind of joy which was still tainted by attachment. I felt that if I went through the storm, I would be able to bring more freedom into the relationship. I was also aware that I would need to go through many more storms after this one if I wanted to walk towards freedom. So the only thing to do was to practice.

The unfolding of a poem

I observed my body and mind, kept my heart open to moments of joy: sharing, working, sitting and of walking together with the sangha. I continued to nourish myself with the Dharma. On the third evening, when I came back to my study desk after the evening sitting, I found myself starting to write. I didn’t know it would be a poem, and I didn’t know this poem would be about the sangha.

But it started to unfold like a fruit ripening in the store consciousness. During that time of practice, an insight came up and I experienced how my body and mind are very different depending on whether or not they were in the collective embrace of the sangha’s energy. Thanks to the pain manifesting in me based on attachment, I wholeheartedly came back to the practice and opened myself to the collective energy of the sangha, generating a presence in me that allowed the insight to ripen.

While writing the poem, I suddenly felt so happy. Images from the sutras came up in me, praising the sangha. I didn’t have to make any effort to write, the sentences just came up from store consciousness and surprised me. I felt great happiness because I was experiencing the fruits of entrusting myself to store consciousness and my deepening roots in the sangha.

Sr. Trang Hien Nhan

Taking refuge in the spiritual stream

After this poem, the ripening continued in the next days and I started to feel the energy of attachment loosening and a more stable feeling of being anchored was slowly born. By gently continuing to hold my pain and keeping to the daily practices while in the embrace of the sangha, I started to feel part of a spiritual stream of wisdom and love that carried me. I found great joy in studying and practicing the Shikshamana Precepts and in directing my mind to the basic Dharma doors throughout the day. Every evening, when I sat at my study desk, a more mature presence arose in me, embracing the vulnerable part. This helped me to be less affected by the emotions and mental formations that came up during the day, because I knew I was on firmer ground. It appeared to me that the practice of "investigation of dharmas" had naturally been born in me.

After this experience, something began to change. I didn’t want to get caught in attachment anymore because I felt that attachment was an obstacle to getting in touch with the spiritual stream I had found. I wanted to come back to myself to observe, listen, and embrace.

Of course, attachment is still in me and manifests in daily life. When I see my elder sister, hurt might come up. From time to time, I still miss her and seek her presence. In daily life, when I am in a situation that might cause the energy of attachment to arise in my body and mind with my elder sister or other siblings, I can become very tense. Something in me is making me feel like freezing or running away. But there are also times when I can sit still and reflect on what is happening, and at those times, I know that if I stay with the pain, it can become a bridge to inner freedom.

Now I know that the way is not to want to transform or to fight. Not only with mental formations like attachment, but also with the body, I don’t want to try to walk beautifully, to sit with a straight back, to stand with grace, etc… even though monastic beauty touches something very deep in me when I see it manifesting in my sisters. I just want to listen, to understand, to accept and embrace myself, and I have trust that transformation of my body or mental formations will then naturally manifest as a byproduct of love, even if it takes years.

Finding acceptance

In my heart, I started to feel close to my elder sister again. That closeness was based on the practice of coming back and embracing what came up. I felt how this relationship was helping me to grow, how there was a deep respect and faith that I couldn’t lose. This deeper feeling embraced the childlike feeling of missing and seeking.

Since our initial encounter, there have been many more events, and there will be many more to come. I still need to suffer a lot to learn to love freely, and many storms will cross my path. When a storm comes, I can only do my best to practice and entrust myself to the sangha. I wholeheartedly put my energy into watering the good seeds in me so that they can balance all the other seeds being dug up and crying inside.

Dear community, here is the poem I shared about earlier, which has helped a heart to heal and to grow. It was born in French and then translated into English because it lives in an international sangha.

The sangha is as vast as the ocean
High as a mountain
Free as the unobstructed sky

The sangha is a festival of stars
A full moon brightening the night
A deep, ancient forest

The sangha is protected by a spiritual stream
Within her, all that occurs is a mirror
Which gently unveils our minds

The sangha is a path to awakening
Each pebble invites us to take a step
That brings us to the heart of our being

The sangha is made of laughter and tears
Because the sangha is made of human beings
Tears purify the heart

The sangha is the teacher
Teaching me resilience,
Inner strength, acceptance,
Openness and love

The sangha is the sea that collects my tears
The sangha is the valley which echoes my laughter
The sangha makes me discover that I love what is difficult, because what is difficult makes me grow and frees me

The sangha teaches me that Manas, that emotions and hurts
Are not my true mind
The sangha teaches me to stop, to breathe and to smile

The sangha teaches me to love my inner child
Wounded and shy, she suddenly jumps up and runs to join a festival of joy
Loved among her sisters

Manas and my inner child walk hand in hand
Sometimes, I let myself be a child even if then I am also Manas, I am not afraid
Because the sangha is both gentle and sharp, seeing straight into the heart

The sangha teaches me silence and the sangha teaches me laughter and joy
The sangha teaches me to be happy and to suffer
The sangha teaches me that my body and mind are not separate from the energy of the sangha

The sangha lives in my heart, in my body, my breath
The sangha thinks in me and dreams there
The sangha eats, drinks, falls asleep and awakes

She carries me on the ocean of life
She is the source of my balance, my joy, my energy
Without her, I cannot say what would manifest in me–how could I know?

This poem is also the Sangha
As well as each of my thoughts, my actions and my words
Today, I cried the tears of the sangha so that gently, my heart in the heart of the sangha becomes freer.

With love and gratitude, Sr. Trang Hien Nhan