Dear brothers, sisters and friends,
A miracle took place recently at the “One Buddha Is Not Enough” retreat in Colorado. Each person at the retreat experienced that he/she was surrounded by Thays, and that he/she was indeed also Thay. In fact, there were over one thousand Thays practicing deeply and joyfully together. The retreat also came to be affectionately known as “One Thay Is Not Enough.”
And it all started with Thay not being able to attend the retreat. Thay had been diagnosed with a severe lung infection while he was conducting the retreat at Stone Hill College in Massachusetts (from August 11th to 16th). Thus, right after that retreat, Thay was admitted to the Massachusetts General Hospital for a two-week course of IV antibiotics. Seven monastic brothers and sisters stayed back with Thay, and the rest (over 60 of us) went to YMCA of the Rockies to prepare for the retreat as it had been planned. It was the largest retreat that the monastics would be conducting without Thay’s physical presence. Moreover, even though the retreats on our teaching tour were advertized as being led by “Thay and the Plum Village Sangha,” all of the retreatants expected to see Thay and to be with Thay. Our monastic brothers and sisters had several meetings to discuss about the best way to support our teacher and our retreatants. The practice of deep listening and loving speech were practiced more earnestly than ever. Unified by the urgency of the situation and by our love for Thay and for our lay brothers and sisters, we experienced a profound solidarity in our brotherhood and sisterhood. Every person stepped up to take on responsibilities that we might have hesitated in other times. We realized that the success of the retreat depended on the energy of the whole Sangha, and as monastic practitioners, we had to contribute our best.
At the night of the orientation, all of the monks and nuns arrived early. Without planning it, when we got on the stage, we stood closely together as one unit. Those of us, who were present that night, will always remember that moment. The Sangha was invited to listen to three sounds of the bell, touch a spacious and calm place within ourselves, so that we could receive Thay’s love letter. As it was reported later, many people became immediately alarmed: “Love letter! What?” “Where is Thay? Is he O.K.?” “Where is Thich Nhat Hanh? Why is he not on stage?” Brother Phap Khoi read Thay’s letter very slowly and clearly. “Boston August 21, 2009.... My dear friends, I am writing to you from the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. I know the Sangha has manifested today in Estes Park. I miss the Retreat. I miss the beautiful setting of the Retreat. Especially I miss the Sangha, I miss you....” Tears were streaming down on faces. One retreatant shared that she had felt a strong urge to scream in that moment, but everyone was so still, she did not dare to. People also said that they felt overwhelmed by disappointment, worry, and grief, but thanks to the practice of Noble Silence which took place immediately after the orientation until after lunch the next day, no one could complain! Noble Silence gave everyone an opportunity to listen to our unpleasant, painful feelings and to embrace them. Leaving the meditation hall that first evening, everyone walked ever so quietly and attentively.
Did we come to a retreat to see Thay like we come to a concert to see a rock star or to a game to see Michal Jordan? If the rock star or Michal Jordan did not show up, we were entitled to a full refund. Then, should we also demand for a full refund and leave the retreat, since Thay was not there? Thay’s absence forced us to re-evaluate our intention for the retreat.... We could not look to Thay as our main focus. We could not rely on Thay for energy and inspiration. What happened during the next five days was that everyone came to a decision to invest ourselves wholeheartedly in the practice. The monastic and long-term lay practitioners became Thay in the way we walked so stably, in the way we spoke so compassionately, and in the way we thought so gratefully – for Thay, for each other, and for this path we were sharing together. There were also over 400 of us first-time retreatants, and we, too, practiced deeply. From the early morning first activity to the late evening last activity, we were all fully present. Thay was not at the retreat. Yet, Thay was everywhere. All of us experienced Thay’s presence, in ourselves, and in each other. This powerful energy of our collective practice also enabled us to look into our past experiences with love, losses, expectations and disappointments. By staying together as a Sangha, we broke through our habitual patterns of avoiding and running away from pain. Transformation and healing took place in every person, monastic and lay, long-term and beginner. We experienced directly the immense value and strength of the Sangha. We realized that Thay and the teachings will be continued well into the future, because we are a Sangha. Wherever we are, as long as we come together as a community of practice, we can generate this powerful energy of peace and healing.
The miracle of the Sangha manifested at our retreat in Colorado because each one of us took the practice to the deepest level, in which we experienced the nature of inter-being with Thay and with each other most concretely. No individual talent could have performed this miracle. It was the success of a community of practitioners. Our Be-In on the last night of the retreat was truly a joyful and meaningful feast of our practice. Thay’s second letter was read at the beginning of the Be-In. In response to Thay’s proposal that a retreat in Colorado should be conducted every year, with or without Thay’s physical presence, everyone bloomed flowers with our hands. One teenager said he was very happy that there will be a retreat next year, since he could not bear the thought of having to wait for it for two years. A boy at the age of six or seven said, “It’s the best retreat of my life!” Over 73 people signed up to help organize the retreat in Colorado next year. One person reported that after he left YMCA, he shared with many friends about his wonderful experience at the retreat. At one point, he realized that he was saying to them that “I was at the retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh.” Indeed, we were at the retreat with Thay in the deepest possible way.
Dear spiritual family, together we can continue our awareness and realization of the miracle of the Sangha. Thay has suggested that we write a book about our beautiful past at the “One Buddha Is Not Enough” retreat. Please send to us your writings and reflections about this retreat (and photographs taken at the retreat as well). Already, we have received many poignant, enlightening letters and articles from our lay and monastic brothers and sisters. Thay has enjoyed reading each one of them thoroughly, and we would like to share some with you to nourish and inspire you to write more about your own experiences. For those of us who did not attend the retreat in YMCA, Thay also encourages us to write about our direct encounters with the miracle of the Sangha.
May we allow the Dharma and the Sangha to take care of us in our daily life. May we take good care of the Dharma and the Sangha, so that all other beings may also receive wonderful benefits.
Brothers and sisters of the Plum Village Sangha.
Attention: please send your writings to clarity(at)dpmail.net , subject: Sister Dang Nghiem (or sister D), re: YMCA (or Miracle of Sangha).
read other articles from "One Buddha is Not Enough":
- The Miracle of Sangha
- We Take Refuge in the Sangha
- One Buddha Is Not Enough
- Thay’s Absence is His Dharma Talk
- Photos Album
- 23/12/2010 22:48 - Thay's Dharma Talks Online and Live
- 04/12/2010 17:59 - June Retreat Rescheduled for 2012
- 26/11/2010 11:56 - Visiting Indonesia
- 02/10/2010 21:48 - Peace Is the Way
- 12/05/2010 23:16 - Touching Peace
- 04/09/2009 00:00 - The Miracle of Sangha: Letter from young monk at Prajna (Bat Nha) monastery
- 14/08/2009 13:50 - Coming together in the mist of suffering
- 01/12/2005 01:00 - Remember. Remember. Remember.
Last Updated (Monday, 28 September 2009 21:06)