As if We Had Met Before – Thay’s Childhood Rain

Br. Thích Nguyên Tịnh

My dear friends,

“What event in this year was the most meaningful for me?” If you had asked me this question, without hesitation I would have replied that it was the opportunity to attend Thầy. In this process I have found myself and I have also found you.

It has already been ten months that I have been beside Thầy. Each day was memorable. Each day was a poem, a Dharma talk that his existence has transmitted to me spiritually. The following passages are excerpts from my daily practice book. It is the most beautiful end-of-year gift that I would like to offer to you.

It was a sunny afternoon in summer when Br Pháp Mạch and I took Thầy out to the swing under the three pines. Thầy really likes this space. Thầy planted these pines nearly forty years ago, before he received monastic disciples. The evergreen branches give shade to a large area of the garden. The trunks are now so big that two people cannot even fully wrap their arms around them. On sunny days, Thầy would often lie beneath these trees and watch the puffs of white clouds in the blue sky that could be seen through the branches. I would sit by him, massage his feet, and recount stories related to Thầy in the past that I knew. Sometimes I would recite a few poems from memory. Other times I even felt inspired to sing to Thầy a few songs by Phạm Duy, such as Quê nghèo, Tình ca, Tiếng hát to, or Giọt mưa trên lá (My Poor Country Home, Love Song for my Homeland, Singing out Loud, The Rain on the Leaves). Thầy particularly likes to hear the poem Bướm bay vườn cải hoa vàng (Butterflies over the Golden Mustard Field), which I had recited many times. Each time he would listen with such stillness, and afterwards often embraced me in his arms. I treasure those moments as if they were the last moments of my life.

That afternoon Thầy was lying on the swing. Shortly after, dark clouds came by but the sky was still bright. The Hermitage is so peaceful. The wind blowing through the pines, the poplar leaves waving, the resounding bird song hidden in the branches could not disturb the stillness of this place, but on the contrary, only enhances the serenity. Thầy opened his eyes, looked around and really enjoyed life. I have read his book Fragrant Palm Leaves many times, and know that Thầy really likes peaceful afternoons without wind, and early seasonal rain in his childhood. I sat there calmly looking at Thầy, then said to him, “Dear Thầy, I remember that you really like tranquil afternoons, and early seasonal rain when you were a child”. Thầy looked at me and nodded his head. I retold him those memories, then he nodded his head in agreement for me to read him the chapter in Fragrant Palm Leaves where he wrote about how he enjoyed the rain in his childhood:

“Even as a young boy, I’ve always been enchanted by storms. Thunder rumbled, the black sky sank low, and the first raindrops, large and heavy, splattered on the roof tiles in our village. Gusts of wind banged against the window shutters. When I saw and heard those signs, I was transported to another realm. They were the prelude to a majestic symphony. After a crash of thunder that seemed loud enough to crumble the earth, the rain began to tumble like a waterfall. How could I sit still at such a moment? I ran to the window, threw back the curtains, and pressed my face against the glass. Areca palms bowed as earth and sky moaned and screeched. The universe shuddered. Large leaves whipped ferociously against the window. Rain pounded down and gushed in the gutters. Birds struggled against the wind that shook silver curtains of rain.

In the symphony of the storm, I heard a call from the heart of the cosmos. I wanted to turn into an areca tree or become a branch bending in the wind. I wanted to be a bird testing the strength of its wings against the wind. I wanted to run outside in the rain and scream, dance, whirl around, laugh, and cry. But I didn’t dare. I feared my mother’s scolding. So instead I sang for all I was worth. No matter how loud I sang, my voice could not be heard above the roar and crash of the storm. As I sang, my eyes stayed glued to the drama taking place outside the window. My spirit was absorbed by the storm’s powerful music, and I felt wonderful! I sang one song after another. When at last the storm subsided – it always seemed so abrupt – I stopped singing. The excitement in my body quieted, but I could feel a few tears still clinging to my eyelashes.”

Thầy listened with his eyes bright, with gentle nods and such a smile full of innocence – that of a child. Then the thunder echoed throughout The Hermitage. Thầy indicated with his eyes. The first few raindrops fell. I said to Thầy, “Dear Thầy, it’s raining now, shall we go in?” Thầy smiled, shook his head and held out his hand to catch the small raindrops. Each time a raindrop touched his palm he would smile more. “Or maybe Thầy would like to shower in the rain?” I asked in an excited voice. This time Thầy laughed aloud, nodded his head in apparent eagerness. Just kidding! As his attendants, how could we possibly let Thầy get wet in the rain like that, he would surely catch a cold. We helped Thầy sit up, placed him in the wheelchair and brought him inside. The smell of earth vapors could be sensed, and we pushed the wheelchair quickly as if running. Thầy held out his hand to catch the rain, and the sound of laughter could be heard echoing throughout The Hermitage…

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Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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