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Plum Village Lineage / Celebrating the Life of Master Nhat Dinh

Plum Village is rooted in a deep spiritual tradition. In this post, we celebrate the life Master Nhat Dinh, one of Plum Village’s spiritual ancestors.

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Master Nhat Dinh. His name means “One Concentration”.

On November 22nd, 2020, we celebrated the memorial day of Master Nhat Dinh. Wholeheartedly, we directed our minds towards master Nhat Dinh, the founder of Tu Hieu temple – the root temple of our Plum Village tradition. As we paid our respects to our ancestors, we read a letter addressed to Master Nhat Dinh, who is still present with us in spirit. We invite you to come on a journey with us, to get to know one of our root teachers of the Plum Village tradition.

Dear Respected Ancestral Teacher,

We are now practicing to be in touch with you, through the image of an old teacher living in in a little straw hut amidst the Duong Xuan forest, with his old mother, and three of his students. That was your happiest period, as you could take good care of your mother, as well as transmit the fruits of your practice to your beloved students.

Born in 1784 (45th year of the Le Dynasty) in Trung Kien village – a Buddhist land in the province of Quang Tri. At the age of seven, you came to Thien Tho temple on Ham Long mountain – Hue, to become ordained under the guidance of Meditation Master Pho Tinh. When you reached the age of thirty, seeing that you possessed within a strong will of becoming a one who transcends the norms of this world, your Master transmitted to you the Dharma lamp with this gatha:

Samadhi Illuminates the skies,
As in space, the full moon is beautiful and complete.
Heart to heart entrusting the light of Dharma,
So the path may be lit, revealing to all the true nature of this world.

From then on, your steps were imprinted all over the land of the ancient capital. Wherever you went, you also sowed the seeds of understanding, love, solidity, and freedom in the heart of the people, from small villages to the great imperial city. Because the kings and imperial officials were inspired by your virtues, all their people were able to live in safety and peace to the country. This is also the reason why King Minh Mang requested of you to hold the position of Tang Cang, the position reserved for those who have the capacity to become a moral exemplar for both the monastics and laypeople. With your dignity and virtue, you were a true spiritual teacher, a refuge for the kings, imperial officials, and people in the imperial city. The teaching that you transmitted, carried in itself a strong mark of engaged Buddhism, which can be applied to other aspects of life, other groups of people, not only for the monastics in the temple.

In the year 1843, after retiring from the position of Tang Cang, you handed over the management of Bao Quoc temple to your younger brother, traveled to Duong Xuan mountain, built a straw hut by a little brook, and named it An Duong hut, (later on, the hut was renovated into a temple and King Tu Duc granted it the honorary name: Tu Hieu.) Từ (loving-kindness) is the great virtue of the Buddha, the first element of the 4 elements of boundless love. Hiếu (filial piety): King Tu Duc granted this name to the temple for later generations to remember this beautiful quality from their Patriarch Nhat Dinh to his mother.

Our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh walks through the gates of Tu Hieu Temple (2008).

You brought your mother and your three students there with you to practice, to grow vegetables, and to enjoy a life of simplicity together. Although you were in your sixties at that time, but still able to fulfill the duty of a filial son towards your eighty-year-old mother. One day, when your mother was seriously ill, and the doctor said that she needed to be well-fed to be able to recover from her illness. Without any hesitation, you went down the mountain to the market, bought a very big fish, regardless of the slanderous words from the people, you calmly and collectedly brought the fish home for your mother. The rumor began to spread amongst the people and eventually reached the ears of King Thieu Tri, who could not bear it, and immediately came to your hut to find out whether or not that was the truth. When he arrived at your straw hut, it was at the exact moment when you were offering the bowl of fish soup to your mother. The king understood everything, and his admiration towards you increased even more. Going down to the market to buy a fish, is something you could have asked a lay student to do, but instead, you did it yourself. That is why this story continued to spread in the country, inspiring and changing the lives of so many people.

Another rendering of Master Nhat Dinh

Although you chose a remote hill to be your home, you were still very influential spiritually, therefore the kings, imperial officials, and your lay students often visit. The journey was very difficult, although your hut was only 5 kilometers from the imperial city, yet it took them half a day to arrive. There were instances when the king and his officials wanted to build a monastery as an offering to you, but you told them: “If I wanted to stay in the monastery, then I would have stayed in Bao Quoc temple already. I wouldn’t need to come up here and build a hut.” Other times, seeing that you had very little, the Officials wanted to make an offering to support you, you replied to them by saying: “I already have 3 students who help me plow the soil and plant vegetables, enough to get through my days, I don’t need anything more”. 

Yes indeed, dear Patriarch, one who is without aim, does not seek anything more. Your source of joy is to be able to spend time with your mother and transmit the heart of practice to your students. We feel so fortunate, that our past ancestral teachers had continued you so worthily and beautifully, and that is why today we have the opportunity to turn to you for refuge.

Dear Respected Patriarch, we see that we were present with you, the moment you made your first step on the hill of Duong Xuan, we were also there with you and your three students, plowing the earth and planting vegetables every day. We followed close behind you every time you headed down from the mountain walking peacefully as a person who truly embodied the practice of aimlessness. And now, in this very moment, you are also here with us in the present moment, in our every breath, every smile, and every step. That old straw hut, has awakened the source of compassionate nectar flows endlessly until today. We are so happy to know that your spiritual descendants are now present everywhere. Wherever we go, we are continuing your legacy, sowing down in everyone’s mind the seeds of understanding, love, solidity, and freedom which we have received from our spiritual ancestors, and we are also aware that you are always there with us as we continue your work.

Dear Ancestral Teacher! We feel so warm in our hearts, to sit here and be able to express our gratitude to you. Please be always there to protect and support us.

Wholeheartedly, we direct our minds towards Master Nhat Dinh – the founder of Tu Hieu temple, the root temple of Plum Village tradition.

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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