After a Covid-caused hiatus, this Spring Plum Village monks and nuns left the monastery to offer mindfulness retreats and sessions around the world. Here are some reports of their experiences.
South America Tour
In April and May 2022, Brothers Phap Huu, Troi Duc Tri and Sisters Trai Nghiem and Trang Moi Len led teaching tours in Ecuador and Colombia, attended by around 900 people.
“People were so thirsty for the Dharma”, said Sr. Trai Nghiem, “Even the organisers who had many responsibilities came for all the activities.” Retreats of various lengths, open activities, and student reductions were offered so that the practice could be accessible to more people.
Many people came with grief from the loss of loved ones in recent times. Nine-year-old Mariana from Bogota earnestly listened to every Dharma talk and joined in Dharma sharing. Seeing how she was learning the practice to remember and continue her grandmother inspired many retreatants to share deeply and embrace their own grief. “Mariana received the Five Mindfulness Trainings at the end of the retreat and throughout the ceremony joined her palms in such sincerity that we were all touched and inspired”, said Sr. Trai Nghiem.
The Bogota retreat was also an impetus for the young practitioners, many of whom are peace activists, to create a “Wake Up” (aged 18-35) sangha. “They really bonded and right after the retreat on Sunday night, they already had their first Wake Up meeting on Monday!”
For retreatants who have never met Thay or been to Plum Village, it was a precious opportunity to hear about Thay’s life through Br. Phap Huu – Thay’s long-time attendant. These sharings about Thay was an important continuation of the memorial events in Plum Village.
Br. Phap Huu offered all the Dharma talks and Br. Troi Duc Tri translated them into Spanish – “I was the only monastic who spoke Spanish and the only one the retreatants could speak directly with. It was tiring and satisfying at the same time. I was moved to see how people from Ecuador and Colombia really love Mexican culture. They were so happy to sing along with the Mariachi music knowing that I am Mexican!”
The retreats were held in nature reserves with outdoor meditation halls. Sr. Trai Nghiem: “We were surrounded by nature in the jungle. We could look out at the mountain, listen to the bird songs, and walk through lush green plantations. We brought the children to gather pebbles from riverbeds for pebble meditation. There was even one total relaxation where a herd of wild horses galloped to a nearby waterhole and stayed! Just sharing the space with all these amazing animals: turtles, iguanas, pelicans, baby sharks… and seeing their suffering first hand gives us inspiration to really protect them. Since then, it has become second nature for me to pick up plastic and trash.”
“Tour de France ” – Francophone Tour 2022
In April, nine French speaking brothers and sisters went on a tour around France, passing by Belgium, to meet practitioners and local sanghas and share the practice through weekend retreats and days of mindfulness. The brothers and sisters also offered their spiritual support in a refugee camp, a prison, participated in a conference on inter-religious dialogue, and were present for a day of practice around climate anxiety.
Throughout their trip, thanks to the great generosity of sangha members, they were able to stay in homes, gites, two monasteries, and even one castle!
Our brothers and sisters from Plum Village traveled up to Angers, and then “toured” France starting in the North up to Belgium, then in the East, and then going down South and coming back up on the West coast.
In total, they met more than 1000 people who collectively learnt how to transform the energies of fear, anxiety and confusion into hope and compassion. The presence of Thay could be felt in the sanghas they practiced with. Lay friends and monastics alike could feel that they were continuing Thay’s aspiration of offering peace and non-fear to the world.
Our brothers and sisters marveled at the changing landscape as they traveled all around France. They took time to walk in the forests of Normandy, hike in the Alps, swim in the Channel river, and walk along the Mediterranean sea…
Living together for one month, sometimes moving every day, and holding the retreat space together, the brothers and sisters deepened their connection, understood each other better and discovered each other’s hidden and intimate sides. They returned to Plum Village full of energy, joy, aspiration and togetherness.
Easter retreat at the EIAB, Germany
This Spring, a group of brothers and sisters travelled to Germany to support the Children and Teenager Programs for the Easter retreat in the EIAB.
Most of the monastics do not speak German, so it was a journey of discovery to build connections through the quality of presence rather than through words. They created many games to share the practice of mindfulness with the children and heartily enjoyed the annual chocolate egg hunt.
One little boy at the retreat says that he wants to become a Buddha. His mother had attended a retreat in Plum Village three years ago without knowing she was pregnant at the time. She felt that the stay in Plum Village had benefited her baby and he was born very peacefully. Another six-year-old girl loves sitting meditation and woke her mother up each morning to join the meditation together.
Brother Troi Thien Duc, from Germany, facilitated the Teens’ Program.
“After the Covid break, I was very much looking forward to being and practicing with the Teens again. It was wonderful getting to know each one of them, meeting them right where they are at and to create a fun and deep environment in which we can feel at home. A special moment during the program was when the initial hesitation and distance faded in the group and feelings of trust and mutual respect emerged. We opened up and could be real with each other.
Being with the teens is a deep practice for me. Throughout the program I had precious chances to see myself a bit more deeply by connecting to both my own inner teenager as well as the parent within and to meet both with kindness.”
The Italian tour consisted of two delegations. The first delegation was in Italy from 11-27 March. Their tour consisted of public Dharma talks to commemorate the 49th day of our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh’s passing, a peace walk and public talk in Pisa and Firenze, a day of mindfulness in Florence, and a four day retreat hosted by a Catholic Convent in Lucca.
In commemoration of Thay’s 49 Day, a group of Plum Village monastic Brothers and sisters visited the Lay community Practice Center in Plum Village Tradition “Centro Avalokita” in the mountains in Castelli Village. On this occasion, as a Sangha, we explored how to cultivate Compassion and Courage in these difficult times. More than 500 signed up for this online program (as the center was not yet open to the public).
Plum Village monks and nuns practiced a Peace walk in the city of Pisa with more than 200 people, walking in silence, offering peace to themselves, to the city and to the world right now. 100 people with 20 children gathered in the countryside in Florence for a day of mindfulness
“This trip allowed me to reconnect, to express my aspiration, water the seed of hope and to experience directly that happiness, peace is possible with the collective awakening, collective energy of mindfulness. We were able to get in touch with more than a thousand practitioners in Italy….Deep gratitude to the monastic team work and especially the local sangha who had been working joyfully hand in hand and harmoniously.” Br Bao Tang
“…highlights for me included my first ever experience in a Plum village children’s programme which was an absolute joy allowing me to really feel how nourished these kids are when simply given conditions for freedom and fun.” Br Niem Hoa
“…I felt so moved to see how much appreciation our friends have with Thay, with the monastic Sangha, with the practice. It nourishes my aspiration and deepens my monastic life.” Sr Sac Nghiem
“It made my heart sing to see so many lay friends happy about our visit. They needed that, they needed the dharma and they needed the sangha…..
The sisters and brothers on tour were beautifully living and touring together, so that the lay friends benefited greatly from our harmony and diversity of teaching. I see Thay smiling.” Br Ngo Khong
“It was truly nourishing to be able to return to Italy after 3 years … to offer practice opportunities to the Italian Sangha. We had the opportunity to nurture peace and joy in such a complicated time….People who joined in the activities expressed deep gratitude for this opportunity to practice.” Br Dao Phuong
The second delegation of monastics in Italy did a walking pilgrimage in Assisi following key events in the life of St. Francis and also participated in an interfaith event. This will be added as we receive the updates.
Sisters Hien Nghiem and Sang Nghiem and Brothers Phap Linh, Pham Hanh and Ruong Hieu toured the Netherlands.
From April 28 to May 1, there was a large retreat at the former Capuchin monastery Beukenhof in Biezenmortel, there were 120 participants, including 30 youth. On May 3 there is a free event for students and Wake Uppers in Utrecht. Then, on May 5, a mindfulness afternoon was organized in Amsterdam at the Tolhuistuin location. The event attracted over 250 participants and afterwards the monastics guided a walking meditation along the IJ promenade.
On Saturday, May 7, the transmission ceremony of the 14 Mindfulness Trainings for four new members of the Order of Inter-being took place in Zaltbommel. It was the first time that this could take place locally since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Over a hundred people attended a beautiful Day of Mindfulness in Nijmegen on May 8.
During the talks on this tour, many themes of engaged Buddhism were covered including ‘The Art of Saving the Planet’, they can be watched with Dutch translation on the Stichting Leven in Aandacht YouTube channel.
“The skiing retreat is a special opportunity to apply dharma practice in a very dynamic context. While in Plum Village we spend a lot of time sitting or slowly moving around, in the skiing retreat we get the chance to apply mindfulness to a very fast paced activity and environment – skying mindfully in the busy Andorran slopes.
We also have our normal practice schedule – sitting, walking, dharma talks, dharma sharing, mindful meals… So we can get the full Plum Village flavor of the practice.
The most impressive thing was how closely we could connect to each other. We spent a lot of time together in a day, as we had the whole morning and potentially afternoon to ski with our family, with the full practice schedule on top of that. During skiing, a lot of emotions come up. How do we relate to each other? How do we approach such a physical, competitive and exciting activity like skiing? Plenty of chances to see ourselves, to witness clinging and encourage each other to breathe, smile and let go. Dharma sharing was also especially powerful, and a deeply relished opportunity to slow down and process the busy day together.” Brother Thien Y