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 to purchase the Upper Hamlet, and hoped it would become available. 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 Miracle 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 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.