In celebration of our teacher’s return to Tu Hieu Temple, Vietnam, where he practiced as a novice monk, we would like to offer you a series of memories written by Thay, from his time there. This is the first in that series.
Children sometimes ask me, “Why do you meditate?” I meditate because I love it. But I don’t just love sitting meditation, I also love meditating while walking or even while standing. Suppose at meal- time you need to stand in line, waiting for your turn to buy or serve yourself some food. You can take the opportunity to practice mindful breathing, aware of your in-breath and your out-breath, enjoying yourself and the presence of the people around you. With the energy of mindfulness, every action in our daily life can become pleasurable.
I practice this lesson every day. One day, when I was a novice monk, my teacher asked me to do something for him. I was very excited to do it for him, because I loved my teacher very much. So I rushed out to do it. But because I was so excited, I wasn’t mindful enough, and I slammed the door on my way out. My teacher called me back and said: “My child. Please go out and close the door again. But this time, do better than you did before.” Hearing his words, I knew that my practice had been lacking. So I bowed to my teacher and walked to the door with all of my being, every step with mindfulness. I went out and, very mindfully, closed the door after me. My teacher did not have to tell me a second time. Now every time I open and close a door, I do so with mindfulness, remembering my teacher.
Many years later I was in Kentucky with Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, and I told him that story. He said: “Well, I noticed that without you telling me; I have seen the way you close the door.” A month after I left his monastery in Kentucky, he gave a talk to his students and told them the story of me closing the door.
One day, many years later, a Catholic woman from Germany came on retreat to our Plum Village practice center in France. On her last day, she told us that she had come only out of curiosity. She had listened to a recording of Thomas Merton’s talk, and she had come to see how I closed the door.
This story is an excerpt from At Home in the World: Stories and Essential Teachings from a Monk’s Life by Thich Nhat Hanh, published in 2016.