Dear Spiritual Family,
With great regret we announce that our dear Italian brother Thay Phap Y passed away last Friday morning, February 7th, 2014.
He was a teacher to all of us, our big brother, our “Venerable Thich Chan Phap Y”, and “Papi” to many. He was a colorful character, a passionately engaged member of the sangha, deeply committed to Thay and the community in his 14 years of monkhood at Plum Village.
Bhikshu Thich Chan Phap Y
26th January 1939 – 7th February 2014
9th Generation of the Lieu Quan Dharma Line
2nd Generation of the Plum Village School
Thay Phap Y, (his name means “True Dharma Mind”), was 76 years old and had been ill for a number of years, yet had been continuing to participate fully in our monastic life, teaching tours, and our 90-day Winter Retreat.
He had had a few weeks of poor health, and had not been eating well. On Friday morning he began to experience breathing difficulties, and his brothers were tending to him in his room. He experienced heart failure while being held in his brothers’ arms, and his breathing stopped. The ambulance services arrived a few minutes later; their attempts to resuscitate him did not succeed.
The brothers spoke of how peaceful Thay Phap Y was, and the energy of love surrounding him in his room in his final moments. The brothers took time to clean and dress Thay Phap Y’s body and laid in him the monastic residence Zendo with his Sanghati robe. Flowers and an olive tree were bought, and his favorite stuffed owls placed with him. Thay offered two calligraphies for him: “Smile Thay Phap Y ” and “A Cloud Never Dies“.
By 5pm the whole community had gathered for a beautiful and moving ceremony with Thay in the Zendo. The energy was very powerful and the chanting strong. Thay Phap Do offered incense and touched the earth on behalf of the whole sangha (it was so crowded). With a fresh daffodil flower, Thay sprinkled water along the length of Thay Phap Y’s body – the nectar of compassion – and then lovingly held his hand on Thay Phap Y’s forehead while reciting the Contemplation on No-Coming, No-Going:
This body is not me.
I am not limited by this body.
I am life without boundaries.
I have never been born,
and I have never died.
Thay Phap Y’s body was cremated on Monday 10th February in Bergerac with the whole sangha present for another powerful and beautiful ceremony, followed by a loving and intimate memorial with poetry, sharings and songs.
We invite you to enjoy some of these below, as well as Thay’s guiding words, in loving memory of our dear brother, who is still very much a part of our Sangha Body, continuing in new forms.
The Sangha Body smiles his smile and carries him with us into the future.
Sharings from our Spiritual Family
Every morning in Upper Hamlet, Brother Phap Y would come to sitting meditation very early. He was one of the first elder brothers to arrive in the hall. Although he had been ill for many years, Brother Phap Y practiced very diligently. He treasured every moment of life.
In his youth, Brother Phap Y was a member of the Italian Communist Party – an atheist. Later he went to India and ordained as a novice in the Tibetan tradition. So when he first came to Plum Village he wore the red robes of a Tibetan novice, and later changed into the brown robes of Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhism. After many years of practice in Plum Village, Brother Phap Y received the Great Ordination as a Bhikshu and then the Lamp Transmission to become a Dharma teacher.
Whenever the sangha went on a teaching tour to Italy, Brother Phap Y was always very happy. He delighted in taking the sangha sight-seeing as a big brother.
Once he was upset with Sister Chan Khong. No one knew what had been told to him about Sister Chan Khong that made him so upset. When Thay was made aware of the situation, Thay wrote Brother Phap Y a letter of just one sentence, and sent an attendant to take it to Brother Phap Y. The letter said: “Dear Thay Phap Y, do you know who loves you the most in Plum Village? Sister Chan Khong.” He was no longer upset!
In Brother Phap Y’s Ceremony of Purification and Support for the Deceased, Thay said: “This body is not me, I am not this body. I am not limited by this body, I’m life without boundary. And I am continuing as a river with the sangha toward the future.” That is a fact. Therefore, in our daily life we should be able to see the presence of Brother Phap Y – an elder brother. He lived a life of practice in Plum Village for nearly 20 years, he passed away at the age of 75. We can call him “Venerable Thich Chan Phap Y”.
“It is not finished! This meeting is not over! This will never be over!” This will continue among the autumn oak leaves swirling across Upper Hamlet, the golden sun rays across the volleyball field, and the daffodils that will bloom this Spring and many Springs to come. You are still there among us – your smile brightens our monastic residence, your gentle steps along the corridor, and of course, your powerful sharing that always came from your love for Thay, your care for the brothers and your protectiveness for our community.
Your reclusiveness and closed door could not hide your desire to reach out and connect with us, to love us even though it was not always easy. Thank you Thầy, for remaining with us and allowing some of us to cross into your heart and to feel your tenderness and vulnerability; to experience you as a real human being.
Every time now, when a young brother cares for his elder brother, you are there; when we look for a wooden bench in the meditation hall, you are there; when we enjoy pasta, or pizza together, or fragrant garlic, you are also there. “This only continues.”
Your transition into the limitless and signless form moved us all. So quick! So decisive! There was peace and acceptance in your body and mind. No struggle. No confusion. Not even among the police and paramedics. That morning, you were surrounded by all the brothers that loved you. We were calm. We shared your last moments, your last breaths. No regrets. No longing.
We continue to breathe for you, to breathe with you, to open our hearts with you. We are determined to stay, as you did, within this community, to build it and protect it, and to continue your work to make Upper Hamlet and all the hamlets, a home for us all.
You challenged us to be more truthful as we face ourselves, as we faced you, and as we face each other. We are determined to continue to trust more, to be not afraid, to open our hearts to each other, to reach out, as you were doing after your trip to Israel. Your return to Israel helped you to touch your true home in your own heart. The trip transformed and softened you. You brought this warmth and softness back to share among us in Upper Hamlet.
We remember the day you came out to greet the brothers who had just returned from the US Tour. You hugged us like a Grandfather, like an Uncle, like our Elder Brother. You held us in your arms just a little longer than you had ever done. This something softer, something human, something real – this we continue.
How wonderful to have been a human, to have practiced together, and to have shared our lives together as monks. See you on the path, see you in the kitchen, Downtown, as you’d called it.
Nous avons reçu ce matin la nouvelle: notre grand frère franco-italien continue a nous sourire dans les nuages.
Ton rire, cher grand frère, continue a faire chanter la forêt de Thénac, surprenant quelques pigeons voyageurs et faisant lever les yeux aux vaches qui ruminent.
Eh bien alors! Nous le croyions reposant paisiblement dans son lit, un sourire éternel aux lèvres…et le voila qui continue a faire des siennes, barbotant avec les grenouilles dans la mare a lotus, chantant a tue-tête avec les hirondelles, perches ensemble sur les fils électriques, se cachant dans le regard malicieux de l écureuil qui nous regarde du haut de son arbre…tous les moyens sont bons pour nous le faire savoir:
“Ne me cherchez pas dans mon lit, je n y ai laisse que l enveloppe; la lettre, elle, a été envoyée dans le cosmos, plus rapide qu’un email! Ne perdez pas de temps, lisez moi!”
Ce matin en apprenant la nouvelle, je me suis souvenue d un enseignement monastique ou Thay avait dit: “Thầy Pháp Ý cười đẹp quá!” et c est bien ça qui était la, ton bon grand sourire d enfant, ta grosse voix de grand papa ours qui me lançait des “Ciao Caroline! Come stai?” a chaque fois que tu me voyais (tu non m a mai chiamate Mai!?) avant de me prendre dans tes bras dans un éclat de rire désarmant!
Ton sourire, caro fratello, qui a traverse tempêtes et brouillard, fait face a toutes sortes de monstres a dix têtes aux éclairs et a la foudre, pour en ressortir toujours plus éclatant…ton sourire c est bien ça qui est la.
Alors en recevant la calligraphie de Thay un peu plus tard dans la matinée, le mien s est mouillé de pleurs.
Que c est beau de te retrouver sous le pinceau de notre maitre, dans ces lettres dansantes et souriantes!
Que c est beau de voir dans les traits d encre doux et puissants, épaisde vie et d amour comme le sang du père qui coule dans les veines du fils avec vigueur, qu’un sourire ne peut pas mourir!
Je souris ton sourire et t’embrasse.
Votre soeur qui t’aime, Mai Nghiem
My Dear Brothers and sisters,
We received the news this morning: our big French-Italian brother continues to smile to us in the clouds.
Your smile, dear big brother, is still ringing through the forest of Thénac, surprising a few passing pigeons and raising the eyes of a few grazing cows.
Well, well! We might be thinking that you’re quietly resting in your bed, an eternal smile on your lips… and there you are up to your tricks again, splashing about with some frogs in the lotus pond, singing at full pitch with the swallows perched together on the electricity wires, or hiding in the mischievous glance of a squirrel looking down on us from the heights of his tree… every way a means to let us know: “Don’t look for me in my bed! There I’ve only left an envelope. The letter itself has been sent into the cosmos – even faster than an email! Don’t waste a moment! Read me!”
This morning, when I received the news, I recalled the monastic Dharma Talk when Thay said “Thầy Pháp Ý cười đẹp quá!” (“Thay Phap Y is smiling beautifully!”). And that’s exactly what you would do, your great big smile of a child, your huge voice of a grandfather bear, who would cry out “Ciao Caroline! Come stai?” every time you saw me (Did you ever call me by my monastic name Mai?) before embracing me with a burst of charming – and disarming – laughter!
Your smile, caro fratello, which has traversed blizzards and storms, confronting ten-headed monsters in thunder and lightning, has every time emerged ever brighter. And yes, this smile is exactly what lives on.
And so when we received Thay’s calligraphy a little later in the morning, my own smile moistened with tears. How beautiful are the smiling, dancing words of our master’s brush! How beautiful it is to see in his traces of ink, so gentle and yet powerful, thick with life and love: a father’s blood vigorously flowing in the son’s veins – yes, then we can see that a smile can never die!
I smile your smile, and I hug you.
Your little sister who loves you,
Dear Thay Phap Y, Dear Mother Earth,
How many times in the last few years did we laugh about how we first met? It was during Thay’s 2003 retreat in Rome, and you were still a “young” monk in the Plum Village tradition. It was my first retreat, and you were the first Buddhist monk I had ever met – what a shock! You were therefore my first crisis with the Sangha. You never lacked enthusiasm, especially for social and political issues, especially the subject of Israel and Palestine. We exchanged words, ideas, and probably judgements. The sky is vast enough for those too.
In the following years we began to exchange smiles as well, and yours is a vivacious smile, a contagious smile; a Sicilian smile full of sun, of contact and of laughter.
The axis Italy-Israel-Palestine-Plum Village became a common space for a new friendship, and I was always happy to visit you in your room in Upper Hamlet, decorated with pictures of Thay who you loved dearly and full of books from Shakespeare to Jewish mysticism to Buddhist philosophy to Star Wars to Spinoza (always Spinoza). You never hesitated to share your thoughts and reactions to political developments, and I discovered that behind the polemics lies a great love, the desire for a world based on compassion where human beings treat each other differently and live in peace and harmony. So sensitive are you to difficulty and suffering that you didn’t accept even that others would cut flowers: “They are alive – let them live”, you would say.
I know that such a strong urge for a better world brought you on a long and colorful path. You mentioned your strict and unpleasant Catholic education. When you inquired about my military service you remarked that you knew a thing or two about Kalachnikovs. Decades ago you engaged your years and your energy in Africa and India to improve the conditions of our many brothers and sisters who by chance were not born with the same privileges that many around us take for granted. I know that a search such as yours is not born on its own, that there must be a great suffering that motivates and fuels it. We spoke too little about your childhood difficulties, I regret.
You have been generous not only with your opinions but also with words of encouragement, especially for the young, and with the wisdom of your Dharma talks and your unique perspective, the fruit of your experience and learning. Last summer you offered the final talk of the Wake Up youth retreat, and many of the retreatants later shared how much they appreciated your wisdom, your humor and your freedom of thought.
In a different moment you reflected on the gatha to recite upon waking: “Waking up this morning I smile, twenty-four brand new hours ahead of me.” “I don’t like that gatha because it’s not true”, you retorted. “Who guaranteed us twenty-four hours to live? Who guarantees us that this breath won’t be our last? Every moment could be our last moment, that’s why we must treasure the present moment, the only one we can be sure we’ll have”. Surely you spoke from experience: it has been a few years that your health has been unstable, making you more aware of the truth of the fagility that we all share but rarely recognize.
Of course your generosity went beyond words. Over the years you have made many trips to Italy to lead or support retreats, especially to offer the practice to those in the south of the country where you were born and raised. I’ve seen you galvanize great energy to help bring some young Palestinian friends to Plum Village. All the brothers of Upper Hamlet owe many smiles to your cooking, especially for example when you treat over a hundred people to homemade pizza. I’m sure that the monastic brothers can testify to many happy and full bellies.
Dear Thay Phap Y, I know that the suffering you were still transforming sometimes impeded you from being in touch with the happiness in and around you. The enthusiasm and urgency with which you tried to improve the world could occasionally take forms that made communication and deep contact difficult. (The converse is that you went out of your way to look out for and support those with whom you felt safe, accepted and loved.) I’m grateful for this part of you too, because it was with you that I learned to let go of my expectations of what a monk – or a friend – should be, creating a new space for tenderness, for appreciating what -is-, and for a true contact.
How happy you were last spring to fulfill your dream of coming to Israel and Palestine, to visit ancient olive trees, enjoy the sun and eat felafel or shakshuka in the market! It was fun and joyful, and also a powerful experience to see with my own eyes how a strong Sangha can support its members and help each other with their weak points. You may not have been the easiest of travel companions, I presume, and another community might not have been able to support you with stability and harmony. You were very fortunate to have found such favorable conditions, even as you yourself helped create those favorable conditions. And for that I am very happy: for you and for them. You played your role and they played theirs, and together you gave a collective teaching on love and community. I am also happy for the young Palestinians and Israelis who had the chance to learn from you during that tour. How your face beamed, for months afterward too, when a group of young participants came to hug you at the end of the retreat saying “Phap Y we love you”!
“I am old and you guys are young,” you often told me. “Do something!”. Dear friend, yes, we will do something, and we will do it with you. We will do it with your smile, your generosity, your tenderness towards life, with the teachings of Thay and with the community that you chose for yourself as companions and inspiration. Your suffering was never and is not for you to bear alone, and your love, energy and generosity will continue with us all.
And I promise to deepen my knowledge of Spinoza.
With love, friendship and gratitude,
Plum Village, France
Beautiful planet Earth
his ashen face,
and the monks, his brothers,
tell the story.
They make room
for more of us to enter.
His upper lip subsides
as if there might still be breath.
A finger under his nose
The medics arrive
and ask for the room to clear.
It does, but we return.
They put an electrode pad
on his chest—
“We are legally required
to try to resucitate him“
—and they begin CPR.
They are gentle
with the pumping on his chest
and the oxygen mask.
After fifteen minutes
He has not breathed
for more than half-an-hour.
No oxygen for the brain.
A stretcher allows them
to lift him onto his bedbox.
There are questions of name
and age, and they depart.
We fetch warm water
to shave his head and face,
and wash his body.
Kneeling with my hand on his shoulder
I breathe twelve times
A brother lathers his face
and glides the razor through his beard.
“Keep your eyes closed,” he quips,
his voice full of love.
At the moment
the thing to do
is to be present.
Pháp Độ turns to me, wet cloth in hand
I take it, raise
my brother’s hand,
and wipe the tips of his fingers.
How supple they are!
The tendons strong and bending,
folding gently into mine—
and did they just move now
on their own?
I move the cloth between each digit.
Had I held his warm hand
in life? I cannot recall.
Here I hold it now, warming it
with the blood pulsing in mine,
slowing in his,
and we are not embarrassed.
He can no longer object.
He cannot refuse this love
so difficult to receive in life.
There is no more banter between us.
We are full brothers of the flesh
I lay his palm on his chest
and offer the cloth to another.
Where is my big brother?
He is not in this hand,
nor these tendons,
nor this failed heart.
We undress him under a cloth
and wash his whole body.
He will have no need of
this newly renovated shower
nor his beloved books of Spinoza.
“It is finished,” as he liked to say,
the sun appears beyond the clouds
and the brisk wind picks up
as his brothers work in quiet harmony
Fresh robes are brought out
and with good-natured, apologetic,
rolling of his shoulders,
folding of his arms,
he is dressed.
A man in the cloth. A monk.
We move the bed from the wall
revealing a fallen Star of David.
Together we lift him in the blanket
and carry him outside, feet first,
along the terrace
and into the zendo, head first,
back onto the re-positioned bedbox.
His sanghati is unfolded
and Pháp Độ and I drape it
over him, up to his neck,
as the stuffed owls and tiger
are arranged on the sill behind him.
We stand there, with nothing to do,
gazing on him,
when hard patter on the roof
shifts my attention to the courtyard.
Large brilliant streaks of light
rays refracted through the sudden downpour
illuminate the air.
I go outside and stare in cool wonder.
“Thầy Pháp Ý, we know you are there!”
The pregnant cloud passes
leaving the warmth of the sun
and the glint of ice on the green grass.