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A Dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh
The Six Umbrella Pines
We held our very first Summer Retreat in the Sweet Potato Hermitage in the north of France. However, it was such a small center that we could not receive many students. So we came to the south to look for land and establish a practice center that could hold more people.
When we first saw the Upper Hamlet, I liked it immediately because it was beautiful. I saw the path that we could use for our walking meditation, and I fell in love with it at first sight. However, Mr. Dezon, the landowner, did not want to sell the property. He loved that piece of land very much since he had been a farmer there for a long time.
We continued looking for land, and a few days later, on September 28, 1982, we found the Lower Hamlet and purchased it. But we still wanted the Upper Hamlet, so we continued to pay attention to what was going on up there. That year, there was a hailstorm that destroyed all the vineyards on Mr. Dezon’s property. He got angry and put the land on the market for a very high price, not really intending to sell it. In spite of the increased price, we bought it because we liked the land so much.
Anh Thieu came from Vietnam by boat with his wife and two children. They were the first people to help us start Plum Village. From the winter of 1982 to the summer of 1983, we had to work a lot. In early 1983, we began to plant some trees in the Upper Hamlet. The first trees were six umbrella pine trees. The land in the Upper Hamlet was full of rocks, so we needed the help of a local farmer and his machine to dig holes for the trees. We put a little cow manure in bottom of each hole. It was raining that day, and everybody was soaked. Afterwards, I got sick and stayed in bed for three weeks. Everybody was worried. Fortunately, after a while, I could get up and eat some rice soup.
In those days, we called our new home Persimmon Village, the name of a practice center that the School of Youth for Social Service and the Order of Interbeing had planned on building in Vietnam.
In the 1950s, we had the Fragrant Palm Leaves center in the highlands of Vietnam. However, the School of Youth for Social Service wanted to have a center closer to the city. When I wrote The Miracles of Mindfulness, I mentioned the idea of founding a practice center called Persimmon Village. Eight years later, our vision came true. We thought of planting persimmons, but we realized it was not practical, so we planted plum trees instead. We were naïve, thinking that, if we planted many plum trees, we could make enough income to support ourselves. We were not horticulturists, so we did not do very well. We have enjoyed more plum blossoms than plums. The name Plum Village was beautiful, so we changed from Persimmon Village to Plum Village.
Many of those first plum trees were bought with the pocket money given to us by children who came to Plum Village. The children were told that in seven years the plum trees would bear fruit, which would then be dried and sold. That money would be used to help hungry children in Vietnam and other poor countries. Many children saved their pocket money in order to buy plum trees. Sometimes the children would combine their money and the tree we planted with their money would have the names of the child sponsors. It cost thirty-five French francs to plant a baby plum tree. We planted 1,250 trees because that was the number of the original monastic Sangha at the Buddha’s time.
First Summer Opening in Plum Village
In 1983, we held our first Summer Opening with 117 practitioners. We had not yet developed the practice of Touching the Earth or the daily practice with gathas (meditation poems). However, we already had sitting meditation, walking meditation, Tea Meditation, and consultations. There were no monks and nuns yet, so I led all the practices from the beginning to the end, from A to Z. I had to walk around and correct people’s sitting posture, straightening each person’s back and neck. During our first Summer Retreat, there were a few Westerners among the many Vietnamese people.
In the second Summer Opening, there were 232 people. In the third, 305, the seventh, 483, and in the ninth, there were 1,030. In 1996, 1200 people came for the Summer Retreat, and in 1998, there were 1,450 practitioners. In the year 2000, the number increased to 1,800. Of course, not all 1,800 came at the same time. Some came for one, two, or three weeks, and some came for the entire four weeks of the retreat. There were those who liked it so much, that after four weeks, they asked to stay on longer. People came throughout the year to practice with us. In the first few years, Western practitioners stayed in the Lower Hamlet so they could enjoy traditional dishes of their homeland.
The Atlantic cedars, which you see in the Upper Hamlet, were planted during the first year. They were just four feet tall and took a long time to grow, but the more they grew, the more beautiful they became. They will be very beautiful in three hundred years. There are two different varieties of Atlantic cedars; one is a smoky gray color and the other is a silvery-blue. When we do walking meditation in the Upper Hamlet, we start at the linden tree. As we pas the Transformation Meditation Hall, we see the Atlantic cedars on the right. They are already so beautiful. I often look at a tree and see it as a monk or a nun who is growing strong in Plum Village. I stop to offer praise, “This young novice is doing quite well!” because that cedar has grown healthily and beautifully. Twenty years have passed, and they are now grown – no longer four-foot high baby cedar trees. In Plum Village, many other things have grown up as well. Not only the monks and nuns and lay practitioners have grown up, but also our methods of practice, our experiences, and the lessons from our own practices have matured like the cedars.
Last Updated (Friday, 23 November 2012 14:54)