Dear Friends, 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 stories Thay has told of his time there. This is the seventh in that series, excerpted from “My Master’s Robe“.
The Monk and the Fish
— by Thich Nhat Hanh
My teacher used to tell us stories, his voice full of deep respect, about the patriarchs of our temple. Nhat Dinh, a venerable monk who lived over a hundred years ago, was the Zen master who originally founded the Tu Hieu Meditation school and our root temple. My teacher told us this story about him that had been passed down over the years.
Long ago, the patriarch went up to Spring of Yang Hill near to where the temple tombs are now located, chose a peaceful spot to clear, and built a hermitage where he could practice and take care of his ageing mother. In this hermitage, which he named “Nourishing Peace,” he followed the Buddha’s teachings faithfully. His concentration was very deep and he wasn’t caught in anything small or petty.
Even though he was a Zen master, he cared for the needs of his old mother. When living in an era where there is no Buddha, taking care of one’s parents is as virtuous and meritorious as taking care of the Buddha. One time his mother was ill and needed some nourishing food to recover. Knowing that in the past his mother liked to eat rice soup with fresh fish, he went to the market to buy a fish to prepare for his mother. People were shocked to see a monk buying a fish and carrying it home, but they dared not say anything to him, knowing that he was a high monk and could do no wrong. People didn’t understand it, however, and they gossiped about him behind his back. But the master continued to be himself in his natural, unaffected way as he walked through the streets carrying a fish home from the market. He knew what he was doing and he did not get caught in other people’s opinions of him, which were based on their ignorance.
When I first heard this story I felt a joy that almost brought me to tears. Nhat Dinh demonstrated a free and liberated attitude that wasn’t “bound by dogma” – like a poem that says a person who is caught in prejudices would never be able to live or understand. Later on, Nourishing Peace Hermitage grew into a large temple and King Tu Duc, who was very dedicated to his own mother, gave it the name the “Imperially-Appointed Temple of Loving Kindness and Filial Love.” The master passed away in the tenth lunar month of the year 1847.
Memories from the Root Temple: