A month has passed since the beginning of our 90 Day Fall Retreat and the small woods and forests around Plum Village, are preparing to let go of their leaves. Over the past few weeks some trees have gradually turned bright yellow or red, while others still indulge in a little more green, waiting for the first winter frost to dry up their foliage. In just two weeks, the 25th of October, a new family of aspirants will be ready to receive the ten novice precepts and take refuge in the Plum Village monastic community. While nature is preparing for her annual rest, our brothers and sisters are preparing to be born on their monastic path. The ten of them have come from many different countries: America, Germany, Italy, Belgium, France, Bulgaria, and Korea. Some are very young, others already have much life experience, but they share a deep call to transform themselves and to be of service to all beings and to our beloved Mother Earth.
When we become a monk or a nun, we do so out of a very deep desire and aspiration. As a monastics we decide to give up our worldly possessions and the chance to have children of our own. Some people might think that this is a way to run away from the world, but the truth is that we can only find the courage to take such a big step because we are responding to a very deep call inside of ourselves. This voice is so strong that at one point it makes us realise that if we ignore it, we can not be happy.
Most of the monastics in the community choose to join for life however if we are not quite ready to commit for the rest of our lives, we can also choose the Five-Year Monastic Training. The Five-Year Monastic Training is an opportunity open to young adults, to ordain as a monastic for 5 years. After they graduate from the program some choose to stay as a monastic and some go back to their previous life.
The name that has been chosen for this ordination group is *Beech Tree Family. Beech trees are found all over Europe, Asia and North America and they can become hundreds of years old. They often live together in small woods or forests, as if they enjoy the company of some good friends. In recent years scientists have also found out that their communion is much deeper than what can be observed with the naked eye. Beech forests are connected by a very complex network of roots. The trees seem to be able to communicate with each other and exchange nutrients to support neighbouring tress who are not doing so well. As a monk or a nun we also make the vow to take refuge in a forest of a kind: the forest of community. This is because we understand very clearly that the practice of meditation and transformation is not an individual matter. We need brothers and sisters to support us and to encourage us, so that the light of our bodhicitta, our mind of love, will not fade away.
Seeing new siblings beginning their monastic life allows our whole community to refresh our beginner’s mind. Some of us have been living in Plum Village for ten or twenty years, and we have seen many generations of monks and nuns receiving the ten novice precepts. Despite this, the fresh and powerful aspiration of our young siblings continues to be a major source of nutriment and inspiration for our own monastic path. A few days ago the brothers of Upper Hamlet met to discuss the male aspirants. As the meeting was over and all of them had been accepted to join our community we felt a great sense of lightness, harmony and joy. I believe that the same has happened in our sister’s hamlets. These new monks and nuns will be the fresh new leaves on the tree of our Sangha, and at the same time they will be a continuation of Thay and of the Buddha. This is such a rich moment! Past, present and future meet for a moment in the quiet beauty of our Fall Retreat.
Br. Phap Bieu
* Aspirants are ordained in groups called ‘Ordination Families” which are given a name such as “Plum Tree” or “White Lotus”. Ordaining aspirants in “families” generates the energy of togetherness and closeness in the context of a large international sangha and created strong bonds rooted in shared experience.
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Br. Phap Bieu lives in the Upper Hamlet, Plum Village, France. He was ordained as a monk when he was 18 years old and became a Dharma Teacher this year. He is originally from Italy and speaks Italian, French, English and Vietnamese fluently. He is a talented musician and often conducts the Plum Village Monastics when they chant.