Thay’s Disciples in Plum Village
28th January 2022
Dear Beloved Thay,
It is the greatest fortune of our life to have been able to become your students, to receive your guidance, and to belong to your Beloved Community.
You are our Teacher, and you have taught and nurtured us with boundless love, patience, and care. The dewdrops of your compassionate nectar have refreshed our thirst. You have been the torch guiding us through the forest of confusion; the hand reaching out to us when we fall; the ladder rescuing us from our darkest moments. You have given us a path to walk, so that we no longer have anything to fear.
You have offered us the most profound teachings, and so many practices to realize those teachings in our daily life. You have transmitted to us the precepts, renewed and reinvigorated. You have trained us in a new kind of Buddhism that can serve the world and help respond to the suffering and difficulties of our time. And you have built a healthy and happy community for us to take refuge in, and a vibrant monastic culture to nourish and support us on our way.
Dear Thay, your deep bodhicitta, which began in the heart of a little child from central Vietnam, has grown to be a vast force of action across East and West. You met your hermit at the well; you saw the kind of Zen master you wanted to become. You had a dream and, dear Thay, you have realized that dream. At every turn you took the path less-traveled; the difficult path.
Throughout your life you encountered acute moments of loss and injustice–like when you were exiled, heard the news of your students being shot on the riverbank, or when your passport was cancelled, or when your program to rescue thousands of boat people from the South China Sea was shut down–and yet you met these moments with the strength of your mindfulness practice, and your indestructible courage, compassion and clarity.
Dear Thay, despite all the difficulties, you never gave up–on hope, or on this path, or on your vision of creating a practice that could truly help the world. You found ways to build sangha out of all the non-sangha elements around you. You overcame your gentle shyness to open your heart to embrace new people, cultures and perspectives.
Amid the rolling fields and oak forests here in France, the Beloved Community has taken root in Plum Village and grown branches wider than anyone could ever have imagined. You touched “the soul of ancient Europe”–and today the sound of the great temple bell resonates across her valleys. Here, you have created a true Pure Land, a beautiful environment of practice, for people of all faiths, backgrounds and nationalities to take refuge in. Today, your Plum Village Tradition has become a beacon of mindfulness in the West. You have taught us how to breathe, how to walk in freedom, how to generate happiness, handle suffering and reconcile with those we love. It is thanks to your vision, creativity, courage and simplicity that the world has the kind of accessible mindfulness we have today.
Dear Beloved Thay, how can we ever thank you enough for your courage, compassion, and endurance, and for everything you have given the world? Embracing the pain of exile you healed your wounds, and got the breakthrough, to find your true home, right in the heart of the present moment. You transformed your suffering and have given us all the practices we need to transform ours. You have offered us, your students from around the world, the rich spiritual heritage of Vietnam, and accepted us as your spiritual children without ever asking us to abandon our culture or roots.
Despite the injustices you’ve experienced and the suffering you’ve witnessed, you have always found ways to respond to injustice with the healing balm of compassion and nonviolence; you have found ways to embrace everyone–even those who have caused you harm or harboured ill-will.
Dear Thay, we honour and cherish your virtue, your ethics and your integrity. You have dug deep into your own experience and the riches of Buddhist heritage to offer us a robust code of global ethics that can guide us through even the harshest storms ahead. You have shown us how to share these “applied ethics” in families, schools, workplaces, prisons, parliaments and town halls around the world. You have shown us how to wake up and fall in love with the Earth, so we may protect and heal her with all our heart. We may spend our whole lives trying to keep up with you, dear Thay, and your vision for a future that is possible–a future whose foundation you have built step by step, breath by breath, page by page.
Dear Thay, you are the gentle and skillful revolutionary–the Zen master who is ready to update our Pratimoksa, remove Buddhas from altars, establish equality for the nuns, and create a truly multifold sangha.
Dear Thay, we see you sitting in meditation on the podium: so profoundly at peace, natural and relaxed; still and unshakeable. We see your one-pointed mind as you offer incense at the altar; and your deep concentration as you touch the Earth. We see you sitting in silence on Vulture Peak as you watch the sunset–a true “soulmate of the Buddha.” And we see you sitting on the Deer Park mountain with the sangha as you watch the sun rise over the ridge.
We see you walking. You arrive in every step; you are the master of every step, walking in freedom, one step, one breath, and we see you walking with the freedom of a Buddha. You have shown us the healing power of collective energy; and you have shown us that, with a sangha, peace becomes possible.
We see you teaching in the Dharma hall. We feel the silent, healing tears. And we hear the hall erupting in laughter at the story of the hammer and two hands. You have shown patience and compassion for every one of your students, meeting us right where we are. You knew when to be gentle, when to tease, when to challenge us.
Dear Thay, the Dharma sings through your poems and calligraphies–their truths touch our hearts and lift our spirits. You have lived each day in beauty, no matter what adversity you faced. You know how to take refuge in Mother Earth. Even when you faced the calamity of your stroke, you knew how to take refuge in nature and in your beloved community. With immense compassion you stayed with us, never giving up, teaching us that, even in the most challenging situations, it is always possible to cherish life’s beauty and the miracle of being alive.
Dear Thay, when you returned home to Vietnam and Tu Hieu two years ago, you brought us all with you. It is a great happiness for us, your students, to know that you could live your final days in peace at our Root Temple, the home of our spiritual ancestors.
Dear Thay, we know that you are much more than your physical body. You are your teachings, your sangha, your immense compassionate action in the world. You are present wherever one of your students is taking a mindful breath or mindful step. You are also present in your cosmic body, just as the cosmos is present in you. And so, every time we enjoy the golden daffodils, or the purple bamboo, the view from the mountain peak, or the gentle creek winding its way to the ocean, we will enjoy these wonders with your eyes and with your smile.
You have said that, “Time is stilled in eternity, where love and the beloved are one.” Dear Thay, you are present here with us in this very moment, as we climb the hill of the 21st Century together. What you have not yet completed, we promise to complete for you. We would like to express our deep love and gratitude as we make the vow to carry your teachings, compassion, and insight far into the future.
This is a legendary moment.
This is a moment of continuation.