SAT CHIT ANAND
PLUM VILLAGE MONASTERY, BORDEAUX, FRANCE
Breathing in, breathing out, breathing in, breathing out,
I am blooming as a flower, I am fresh as the dew
I am solid as a mountain, I am firm as the earth
I am free.
Breathing in, breathing out, breathing in, breathing out,
I am water reflecting what is real, what is true
And I feel there is space deep inside of me
I am free, I am free, I am free.
PEACE IN ONESELF, PEACE IN THE WORLD
Plum Village is a monastic and retreat community, where monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen (the fourfold Sangha) study and practice under the guidance of Thich Nhat Hanh, called Thay (meaning Teacher) by his disciples and students. Thay is founder and spiritual master of Plum Village, where he lives. He inspires, teaches and leads retreats at Plum Village and worldwide on Buddhism and THE ART OF MINDFUL LIVING. He is one of the most revered and beloved Buddhist Masters of our time. Although he is nearly 80 years, his compassionate brown eyes and delightful smile are ageless; his skin is smooth and an inner radiance makes his face glow with a presence that speaks of the Beyond.
Plum Village Monastery is located in the beautiful countryside near Bordeaux, France. It consists of three hamlets: Upper Hamlet (monks and male practitioners); Lower and New Hamlets (nuns and female practitioners). Lay couples are accommodated at all three hamlets. Each hamlet is self-contained, with its own office, reception areas, kitchen, dining halls, meditation halls, library, bookshop, monastic quarters and accommodation for lay practitioners. All hamlets consist of lovely old stone buildings, surrounded by gardens with big shady trees and flowering shrubs, abundant bird life, bamboo groves, lotus ponds and plum trees (hence the name Plum Village).
THE MIRACLE OF MINDFULNESS
in, I dwell in the present moment.
Present moment, wonderful moment.
Various meditation techniques are taught at Plum Village. Special emphasis is placed on cultivating moment-to-moment mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness helps one cultivate inner peace through breathing deeply, slowing down, and living fully in the present moment. Bells are used to bring one back to the present moment. The bell plays an important part of life at Plum Village. There is a bell for everything, and you quickly learn not to do anything before the bell has given its instruction or permission. One of the practices at Plum Village is to stop every time you hear a bell, and breathe in and out three times. You stop whatever you are doing whenever you hear the bell of mindfulness and focus all your attention on your breathing. This brings you back to yourself. We often get lost in our activities, physical and mental. [Bell] Listen … listen … this wonderful sound brings me back to my true self …
FEET OF THE BUDDHA RETREAT 2004
“There is nothing to stop you from being in touch with life in the present moment. The question is, do you have eyes that can see the sunset, feet that can touch the earth?” [Thay]
I was blessed to attend my second 21-day retreat with Ven Thich Nhat Hanh and the monastic and lay Sangha. This retreat is held every second year, and it is a wonderful opportunity to receive transmission of teachings every day and to soak up the presence of this remarkable man. Thay is like a clear transparent river and the teachings flow through him, a pure transmission of the Dharma. The theme of the retreat was THE FEET OF THE BUDDHA:
“We shall look deeply into the feet that, while touching the earth, transform it into a Pure Land for all; the feet that have made a deep commitment never to abandon this wonderful bastion of life which is our own beautiful planet Earth; the feet that are always ready to bring us back to our true home, to bring us together as a family regardless of culture, race, belief, or geographical boundaries; the feet that continue to bring the light of Great Understanding and Great Compassion far into the future, so that healing and transformation will always be possible. Let us learn to walk together as a Sangha, so that the Buddha can be present at any time and in any place.”
PEACE IS EVERY STEP
Thay is famous for his walking meditations. He moves slowly and mindfully. During walking meditation with him, time stops and you enter into a different dimension, that of the eternal present moment. It is always present, but we are usually not present, so we miss its incredible beauty. When you become one with the moment, you step into the Kingdom of God / the Pure Land of the Buddha. You are aware of the aliveness and unique beauty of everything. The world around you becomes magical - the sunlight and shadows, leaves on the trees, birds and butterflies and bugs - everything is part of this magical world, and everything is woven together peacefully and lovingly.
The Buddha did not only practice sitting meditation – He walked mindfully from village to village for 40 years teaching the Dharma, and today, we still walk in His footsteps when we follow the Path to Enlightenment taught by Him. We are a continuation of the Buddha and it is possible to walk like a Buddha with the energy of mindfulness. Our body can become the body of the Buddha. We can become a Bodhisattva and continue the Path of the Buddha. As Thay says, the miracle is not (only) to walk on water – the miracle is to walk on this Earth – to see with the eyes of the Buddha and to walk with the feet of the Buddha so that this Earth becomes a Pure Land.
“Here is the Pure Land. We touch it with mindfulness. Walking with mindfulness, with every step we touch the Pure Land. Such steps generate peace, freedom, healing and love. We have the duty and the joy to cultivate mindfulness.” [Thay]
When you are with Thay, you are transported to the Pure Land that has manifested itself around his holy presence, and you know that Paradise on Earth is possible amongst people who live together in love and harmony. The experience of living for three weeks with the monks and nuns in his Monastery (the kindest, nicest people you have ever met), makes a deep impression of how it could and should be, in all places. Plum Village is a refuge where one feels safe, nurtured and protected. The monastics and lay Sangha follow the teaching and wholesome way of living prescribed by the Buddha, which is so nourishing to body and mind, and brings out the very best in yourself. Thay teaches that the Pure Land of the Buddha / the Kingdom of God is here. It is available to us all the time – the question is, are we available to it? With his teachings, practices, and way of living, we learn to touch the Pure Land / the Kingdom in the present moment, more and more often, so that it becomes a reality for us here and now.
“Here is the Pure Land. The wonders of life are all around us – inside of us and outside of us. But we ignore their presence and we loose the Kingdom of God / the Pure Land of the Buddha. Conditions for our happiness are available, but we don’t know how to get in touch with them … You can dwell in the Pure Land 24 hours a day! Our practice should help us to enjoy the Pure Land / the Kingdom of God in the here and the now. We must help people touch the Kingdom / the Pure Land here and now, instead of making promises for the future, after you die. The Kingdom / the Pure Land is alive, and you must be very alive to touch it in the here and now. The Kingdom / the Pure Land is inside your heart.” [Thay]
NATURE OF CONSCIOUSNESS
Thay blessed us with amazing teachings on the NATURE OF CONSCIOUSNESS (based on his book entitled “Transformation at the Base: 50 Verses on the Nature of Consciousness”). I feel so privileged to be part of evolution happening, as mankind grows from homo erectus to homo sapiens to homo conscious (conscious beings). We have to awaken the collective consciousness and help the new species of mankind to manifest. Our future depends on this. By spreading the light of wisdom and enlightened understanding, we are helping to create a new vision of non-duality and inter-connectedness within the collective consciousness of humanity. As Thay says, the age-old question is not, to be or not to be … it is to inter-be. Buddhism teaches there is no-separate-self, and one day this Truth will be a lived reality. Homage to the Buddhas and Bodisattvas, and gratitude to the Enlightened Teachers who show us the Way.
“Every step you make in the direction of peace, every smile that you produce, and every loving look that you have, inspires and helps the people around you to have faith in the future.” [Thay]
LEELA was ordained by Thay, at Plum Village Monastery in June 2004, as a member of the Order of Interbeing, and received the Dharma Name: ‘True Stream of Light’.
Photos by Maurice Barker