Removing the Blindfold to Enjoy Autumn’s Beauty
Brother Chân Trời Khiết Tâm
Eight and a half years have passed since I moved to Plum Village. I lived in Upper Hamlet as a lay-member with the sangha for more than two years. Both my aspiration and my stubbornness were really big and I wholeheartedly dived into the learning process of taking care of my body, feelings and mind in the midst of communal living. While I was on a steep learning curve, wanting to do everything fully, my life was filled with deep contentment, which is still the case today. I also learned to make compost near the Happy Farm, which was at first challenging and then increasingly fun (the second completely unforeseen) - a nice symbolism of how experience by means of the practice shifts from suffering and confusion to wellbeing and understanding.
I ordained in December 2017 as part of the Poplar tree family - what happiness! Living in the monks’ residence I have been so lucky to share rooms with Br. Phap Dung, then with Br. Phap Ung and more recently with Br. Phap Huu, thereby having a clear example of the path manifested, giving me concrete examples of ways in which I could possibly realize it.
What can I say? All my questions have been answered and all I had wished for that brought me to Plum Village has been fulfilled. Even more - the happiness of practicing in the sangha is beyond what I had imagined before. Maybe I was like someone who had a blindfold on for lifetimes. We can have a vague intuition (which could symbolize bodhicitta) of the beauty of nature’s autumn, which is then experienced when blindfold is taken off with the help of friends. At the same time, I still need to carefully turn the compost. It is fun as well!
In May 2022, together with three brothers, I had the pleasure of going on a ten-day-tour to Austria, the country I am from. I was so happy to participate in bringing the practice body of awareness and true happiness there; thereby letting my Plum Village identity and my Austrian identity blend naturally. It felt like bringing light, and my blood family has been happy with this blended manifestation of me.
Now I would like to briefly share some recent experiences of life in the sangha with you.
Working in the office in Upper Hamlet, we read and respond to many emails with questions and requests of many kinds. Some are long, some quite short. Each of the friends’ writing is unique, with regards to their relationship to the spiritual practice and to Plum Village. That relationship is sometimes new, sometimes random; or it is deep and has great aspiration within it.
Mostly I feel inspired, drawn, to “listen” deeply to these emails. It is not a question of how much time I take for the email, but rather it relates to my quality of presence at that moment. I don’t imagine a face or something similar, but there is an intuition about that person which I lean on to some degree. Then I will respond in a way that is hopefully appropriate to that person. I want to keep the door of compassion open and to be open to the possibility of an authentic, unique connection, of inter-being. The work is nourishing and joyful.
One day I remembered Thay sharing on how in the sixties and seventies, before preparing and sending a care package for a child in his homeland, he looked deeply at the child’s photograph. Thay’s insight and compassion is certainly way beyond mine; still I feel connected to this and this is a direction I am inspired to go in.
I have seen a tendency in me to believe that we, as individuals, have to be pure, perfect, to be enlightened or truly happy. Looking at myself or others in such a grasping way, I see many problems, formations or knots in myself or others. How on earth can we reach well-being if there are so many knots and problems in us? I have an example, an image, for this grasping kind of thinking: When an acupuncturist doctor came to Plum Village, so many of the brothers and sisters went to consult her. A thought coming up in me at times was, it seems our brothers and sisters don’t have much faith in their capacity of self-healing.
I have experienced that in the sangha, by practicing mindfulness, concentration and insight, my way of looking at things changes for the better, and the insight arises that in Plum Village being a monastic is not only about oneself and that here we don’t have to be a perfect individual. So every day, I am encouraged or challenged to see the interconnection and not to get caught in the details, in fixations. Then I don’t need to think any more about the mistakes and problems that I perceive in individuals. Joyfully Together is the name of a book by Thay on communal living, and this pair of words describe that shift very well. Sangha life and Thay’s teachings give me plenty of opportunities to make that shift in my way of looking. Do you remember what I wrote above on composting? This is a similar process.
After months of not writing in my notebook, suddenly something comes to mind. I welcome it and write it down in order to later either distill short practices of insight out of the material or refine one I already have. Those are simple, short gathas, short phrases of insights (in the spirit of Buddhist meditation) that I can breathe with and look at things within my daily life.
Sometimes what I scribble down simply communicates something to myself or other people. In both cases the store consciousness gives me the words that inspire me, something that maybe fits for me, for us. If a detective read my notes, they could deduce what my mind has been focusing on and the fruit of the past weeks of practicing mindfulness, concentration and insight. The paragraphs above on Office Work and Joyfully Together have also manifested in that manner. Would you like to guess what I have been mindful of in the past months?