Blue Cliff, October 7th, 2009
To my Bat Nha Children,
I write “my Bat Nha children” and not “my children in Bat Nha” as I had done before, because even though you are not living in Bat Nha anymore, you continue to carry the name of the Bat Nha Sangha. You and Bat Nha are one. Wherever you go, you carry Bat Nha with you, and Bat Nha has become an indestructible diamond body. In the opening gatha, which we recite before reading the Diamond Sutra, there is the term “diamond body” as follows:
How may we transcend birth and death
And attain the indestructible diamond body?
How do we practice
So that it may sweep away all illusions?
We ask the Buddha, out of compassion for us,
To open up the treasure store.
For all of us,
Please expound your wonderful teachings!
Bat Nha has become a legend, a diamond body – no one can destroy it any more. Bat Nha is a fragrant lotus that has bloomed from the mud of ignorance, fear, anxiety, corruption and abuse of power. Bat Nha has made history. And you are fortunate to have had the opportunity to contribute your part in the manifestation of the Bat Nha lotus. Bat Nha has become a part of the cultural inheritance of our homeland.
My Bat Nha children now are not only taking refuge in Phuoc Hue Temple, but you are also present in many places, inside and outside of the country. Wherever you are, you have the Bat Nha lotus in your hearts. It is the aspiration to practice and help others. It is the Beginner’s Mind. It is the Mind of Love. It is the source of energy that enables us to still be who we are, helping us not to become corrupted or bought out, or to surrender. Thay is very happy, because Thay is writing this letter to confide with you. Under the pen name “Nguyen Lang,” Thay wrote to the president of the country and to the intellectuals in Viet Nam and overseas, asking them to intervene and raise awareness about situation in Bat Nha. And this is the letter Thay writes to you.
First of all, Thay wants to let you know that Phuoc Hue Temple, in which a number of you are staying at, is also the place Thay where had lived for many years in the 1950s. Back then, Thay was still very young, and Phuoc Hue Temple was still very simple, not developed like today. Behind the temple was a tea garden that had up to a thousand trees. Thay had a small thatched hut right in the tea garden. Thay lived there alone. In the hut, there were only a bed and a table. Venerable Thai Thuan probably can show you the location of that hut. One evening, Thay dreamt of his mother; she did not look any different than before, with her long shiny black hair. While Thay was speaking to his mother with much happiness, he suddenly woke up. And Thay remembered that his mother had passed away many years before. Thay got up and opened the door to walk outside. There was not a restroom inside the hut, because Cong Hinh village (the name of the village in which Phuoc Hue Temple is situated) was in the highland, surrounded by tea trees, so one could urinate right amongst the tea trees. As soon as Thay stepped out of the hut, Thay was in touch with the bright moonlight draping over the entire tea hill. It was the waning moon, so bright, beautiful and gentle. The earth and the sky were calm. And Thay had a feeling that he was embraced in his mother’s arms; the mother’s love was gentle like the late moonlight. Suddenly, Thay was enlightened to the fact that his mother had never died, that his mother was always there for him, and that her true nature was no birth and no death. All the sadness and yearning Thay had felt after he lost his mother disappeared at once, and Thay smiled in the late moonlight. Thay recalls that he had recorded this story somewhere, perhaps in the book Fragrant Palm Leaves.
Thay knows that the tea hill does not exist anymore. The thatched hut is also no longer there. But if you have a chance to do walking meditation around the Phuoc Hue Temple in an evening when there is the moon, visualize that wonderful night and, looking up at the moon, you will see Thay and Thay’s mother smiling with you.
During the teaching tour 2009 in the United States, a miracle happened, and that was the retreat at Estes Park in Colorado. This retreat had 980 retreatants coming from many different states. It started from August 21st to 26th , 2009. Among those retreatants there were about 50 percent who had never met Thay, listened to Thay’s teachings, or participated in a retreat with Thay. They only knew Thay through his books, published in the U.S. They came to the retreat with the intention to listen directly to Thay’s teachings and guidance. Many of them had to fly several hours to get to Denver. They then had to take the bus to go up to the mountain to attend the retreat. The YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) is in Estes Park, and they have the capacity to provide housing, food and restrooms for over one thousand people. It is situated 1000 meters above sea level, so it is very cool and cold. The mountains are majestic and luscious. Every two years Thay comes to lead a retreat there, and every retreat is full of people.
But this time, Thay could not attend and guide the retreat because of his illness. The doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), after having made the diagnosis, recommended that Thay stop leading the retreat at Stonehill College in Massachusetts and that Thay should also cancel the retreat in YMCA in order to treat his lung infection. The doctors said Thay had to stay in the hospital at least 14 days for the treatment. Doctor Sicilian – known for his specialty in treating pulmonary infection caused by pseudomonas aeruginosa, and responsible for the special treatment unit on the 12th floor of the hospital – advised Thay to be hospitalized immediately that evening so that the treatment can begin. But Thay decided to return to Stonehill to complete that retreat, before Thay returned to check himself into the hospital. The theme of the retreat in Stonehill was Be Peace, Be Joy, Be Hope. The retreat had started on August 11th, 2009. And at about 5 p.m. on August 13th, 2009, Thay had some time to go for a check-up. A few weeks before, symptoms of the chronic lung infection had become severe, and occasionally Thay saw bright fresh or old dark blood in his sputum. After five hours of waiting and testing, all the doctors advised Thay to begin the treatment immediately, without delay.
Thay got back to the college at 12 midnight, and the next morning, Thay went to sitting meditation with the Sangha, gave the Dharma talk, and went on walking meditation as if nothing had happened. No one knew that Thay was sick. Everyone said that the Dharma talks on the last three days of the retreats were powerful. Thay Phap De said to Thay that, “You were luminous during these Dharma talks.” Only your elder brothers and sisters knew that Thay was sick, and Thay was going to the hospital right after the end of the retreat. On August 14th, there was a special meeting of the Dharma teachers in which they were informed that Thay would be hospitalized on Monday August 17th, and that Thay was not going to fly to Denver to lead the retreat. In that meeting, the Dharma teachers delegated to each other the responsibilities to lead the retreat in Thay’s place. Everyone took the initiative to volunteer, without waiting to be invited or asked. The retreat in Stonehill also had almost one thousand retreatants. Except for the monastic Dharma teachers, no one knew that Thay was not going to attend the retreat in YMCA, Estes Park, including the monks and nuns. Only when it was almost time to get on the bus to go to the airport did the brothers and sisters know that Thay was not going to fly with them. This was the first time that this happened: Thay could not attend the retreat, and the Sangha had to lead it for Thay. The organizing team was aware that the time was near. There was not enough time to postpone the retreat, because everything had been prepared, from housing, food, registration, to plane tickets; some were already on their way to the retreat by car or by bus from other states.
With certainty, there would be many retreatants disappointed or angry on the arrival day, when they found out that Thay could not be there. Many of them had read Thay’s books for many years, and it was their first opportunity to meet Thay and practice with Thay. There were those who promised their friends and relatives that after the retreat, they would come back to tell them about their experience with Thay. The more hope and waiting there were, the greater the disappointment and sadness would be. The monastic brothers and sisters flew to Denver with that awareness, but everyone had enough courage to take on the responsibility: This was an opportunity to prove that they were worthy of the trust of the Buddha, of the patriarchs and of Thay. The opportunity was now or never. Therefore, everyone was determined, and all joined efforts to lead the retreat with all of their hearts and minds. The energy as well as the brotherhood and sisterhood had never been as stable and strong as during those days.
Meanwhile, Thay began to be treated in MGH, the largest and most well-known hospital in the northeast of the United States. Thay was hospitalized on August 17th, and on the morning of August 21st, Thay wrote a letter to the retreatants at YMCA, Estes Park, Colorado. From the hospital, Thay was informed that upon listening to Thay’s letter that evening, many people cried, monastic as well as lay. After reading the letter, the brothers and sisters invoked the name of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, and then they gave an orientation about the practices for the whole retreat. After the orientation, the entire community practiced Noble Silence until after lunch the next day. The practice of Noble Silence helped the retreat greatly. Many people had the opportunity to recognize and embrace their disappointments and reactions – mental formations that arose when they received the news that Thay was not present in the retreat. The next morning walking meditation, the silent breakfast and the first Dharma talk helped many retreatants to embrace and transform their disappointment, worry, and other negative mental formations.
The letter is still long. Thay will send more to you later…