Brother Dong Tri shares how he healed his relationship with his mother.
This excerpt is from a panel sharing on 8 August, 2021, in Upper Hamlet, as part of the Rose Ceremony celebration in Plum Village.
Brother Nguyen Tinh introduces Brother Dong Tri
Myself and Brother Dong Tri studied together 21 years ago in the Buddhist Institute. During these past 21 years, we have shared a great deal about our practice. I was very happy when he came to France. There have been many spikes and thorns along his path. But we all know the innocence of his smiles and his way of being. It shows that his inner child has healed a great deal. The sufferings, dissatisfactions, and obstacles did not diminish or damage his bodhicitta. That is a great happiness.
If you have seen Brother Dong Tri and novice monk Brother Khiet Lam sit and drink tea for two hours, their laughter filling the entire vegetable garden, one side does not understand English and one side does not Vietnamese; you would have no idea what is happening. I also drop in once in a while. I just hear one saying: “Ok, good good, delicious”, and the other saying: “Khue khue (well, well)” and both explode in laughter. They can sit, drink tea, and socialize with each other for two hours, both so happy! One day Brother Dong Tri needs to open a workshop on “The art of living happily together without the need for language”. That is very important.
Right now I know that Brother Dong Tri is quite nervous. As I have been in touch with his family, I know there has been a lot of transformation in his family. I would like Brother Dong Tri to share his path of practice and the flowers and fruits of his practice that he was able to offer to his blood family.
Sharing by Br. Dong Tri
Dear Thay, dear brothers, sisters, and dear sangha,
My mother has five children and single-handedly brought us up. We grew up without a father. In Vietnam, there is a saying, “A family with five girls has five princesses. A family with five boys has five devils.” My family belongs to the second category. Right now my mother is living with one of her grandchildren who is 12 years old. They’ve lived together for seven years.
My mother has a deformity on her face and because of it, I always had a complex about her. I was not very happy or proud to introduce her when I was little. I saw that I always felt complexed about her appearance when I was a child. But at the same time if the other children made fun of her appearance I also felt angry. They just needed to say a few words and I would get very angry and try to defend her, but in my heart, I could not accept her.
Even when I became a monk [in a traditional temple in Vietnam], I still could not change that attitude. After ordaining I did not make much effort to pay attention to her or ask about her welfare. I remember the time my temple organized the Rose Ceremony [to honor our blood ancestors] in 2008. My mother came to the temple to join the ceremony. When she came, I was cool towards her and did not approach her to welcome her or greet her. I told myself then that I had to take care of preparing for the ceremony that night.
After the ceremony, my mother went back to her room, sat in a corner of the room, and showed her sadness on her face. One lay friend asked her why was she so sad? My mother could not hold back the sadness inside of her and she said: “I am sad because I see that Brother Dong Tri just takes care of everyone else but does not pay any attention to me. I feel so sad about it. Especially on the Rose Ceremony day designed to remember our parents but he is so cool towards me. I feel so sad and sorry for myself.”
That very night the lay friend came and said to me: “Your mother is very sad because of you. It is Rose Ceremony day and you did not show any care towards her.” After hearing this, I was shocked into silence. I returned to my room. Because of this incident, I started to have a new way of thinking and started to change.
Gradually I tried to open my heart and started to speak more to my mother and contact her more. When I came to Plum Village, I started to be in touch with the Plum Village Dharma doors and Thay’sThay (“teacher” in Vietnamese) is the affectionate name Thich Nhat Hanh is often called by his studentsteachings. When Thay spoke of our spiritual and blood families, I started to have more understanding and acceptance and was able to love my blood family more. Whenever I saw the image of brothers and sisters who were in contact with their parents in a very loving way, like father and child holding hands, mother and child holding hands to do walking meditation together, I felt so moved.
After living in Plum Village and practising here for a while, my heart also started to open more. I had the opportunity when I became Thay’s attendant to follow Thay to the Thailand centre. While in Thailand, the parents and relatives of many brothers and sisters came to visit Thay. It is also because of this that I started to miss my mother and thought of her more. At the start, I still had my complex and hesitated and thought a lot about it. But I saw that I’d already been distant for quite a while and did not want to miss the opportunity of Thay’s return to Thailand to see my mother. My mother also mentioned that she has never traveled far.
Inviting Mom to Visit
I called and invited my mother to come and visit Thailand. My mother is already in her seventies and it was not easy for her to deal with all the paperwork. I asked a niece to make the passport for her and take care of everything. Then my mother came to Plum Village Thailand and could meet Thay and spend time with me.
It was her first visit, but all the brothers and sisters took such good care of her and showed her so much love. My mother looked so happy. She said: “This is the first time I have come to a temple where I feel so happy and warm; seeing the smiles of the brothers and sisters, and their willingness to call me ‘mum’!”
In traditional temples, it is very rare that the monks and nuns would call someone’s parent ‘mum’. But in Plum Village, no matter whose parents come, the whole sangha calls them ‘mum’, as our own mother. I see that is a very beautiful aspect of Plum Village. It creates an easy connection between parents and children, and between the brothers and sisters. The brothers and sisters of Plum Village took very good care of my mum and brought her to many places to play. She was so happy. I also felt so happy.
They brought her to hike in a mountain and drank tea up there. They cooked and prepared all the food, sang songs, and shared from their hearts. It was so joyful. I saw how when my mother came in contact with the freshness and youth of the monastics, she also bloomed and her smile was also fresh. Even though she is not physically beautiful, her smile was very fresh.
The night before her departure, the brothers and sisters prepared a tea meditation for her in the meditation hall. Br. Trung Hai suddenly said: “The big hour has arrived. This is the moment. We would like to invite mother and son to stand up and practice hugging meditation.” I thought: “Oh, this is a bit tough!” In the end, my mother and I did stand up to practice hugging meditation. I knew that in that moment, even though we did not say anything to each other, my mother was happy.
Due to that practice, I saw that my mother and I could untie a lot of our internal knots. Afterwards we were able to play together, speak to each other. Often I don’t call her “mum”, I call her “sister 10” (as she’s the 10th daughter in her family). When I call her, I ask “Sister 10, are you well?” It’s quite funny. As I practice longer in the Plum Village tradition, I can love my mother more, and accept her, and can share more with her. It is such a great fortune and happiness for me that I could recognise my complex. Even though I did not change that much and my mother did not ask much of me, but just the fact that I cared for her and asked about her wellbeing was enough to make her happy. I didn’t need to do much.
Our Secret Love
Nowadays my mother and I are very at ease with each other. We don’t have to try so hard like before or struggle to have a conversation. Recently I called her and I asked: “Now I will ask you something and you need to answer the truth, ok? Mum, do you love me?” [audience laughs] My mother’s response was also quite funny, she said: “Oh, whatever. How about you answer first.” I was surprised by that and said nothing. It has become a secret love between my mother and I, we keep it deep in our hearts.
I am very grateful to Thay and the sangha to have such beautiful practices and paths for everyone to learn and practice. No one can go wrong on this path. I myself could learn, practice, and untie the complexes in me with my mother. If I did not know this Dharma door, did not know how to practice, then for sure that knot would have remained.
Thank you for your deep listening.