On the warm morning of November 15, 2017, the four-fold Sangha of Plum Village France gathered at the Dharma Cloud Temple to open the 2017-18 Winter Retreat with the “Request for Taking Refuge Ceremony”. At this ceremony, we make the commitment to practice together continuously for 90 days.
The Winter Retreat is called “An Cư Mùa Đông” in Vietnamese, meaning “dwelling peacefully in the winter season.” In the Buddha’s time over 2,500 years ago, this practice of “Vassa” brought together the Buddha’s disciples from around India, and it was held in the rain season to minimize trampling on small creatures. To this day, this tradition is continued in many countries where the Buddha’s teachings are found.
This Winter Retreat at Plum Village carries the spirit of returning home and taking refuge in our spiritual family to enrich and deepen our togetherness. There is a warm atmosphere with our elder brothers and sisters returning after many months of teaching tours in the US, South America, India, Africa etc.
Thầy has often shared with us, “We are very fortunate to have a chance to live together and participate in sitting meditation together, walking meditation together, learning sutras together, have Dharma sharing together happily for three months.” This is a beautiful tradition the Buddha has created for us to rest and heal. What is left is for us to continue to learn to open our heart and our mind.
During this winter, we are focusing on the teachings on the “Seven Factors of Awakening”, namely: mindfulness, investigation of dharma, energy, joy, ease, concentration, and equanimity. We take this time to develop our personal practice, to deepen our understanding and application of the sutras, precepts, and fine manners.
Lay friends can come to practice with the monastics on the “Day of Mindfulness”, to stay and practice with us for two weeks during the winter, or for the full 90 days of the Winter Retreat. Lay and monastic practitioners for the full three months remain in the monastery and observe the boundaries of the Winter Retreat.
This winter, in the Upper Hamlet, there are 50 bhikshus (fully ordained monks), 25 novices, and 73 lay men and women. In the Lower Hamlet, there are 66 bhikshunis (fully ordained nuns), 5 novices, and 28 lay women and man. In the New Hamlet, there are 56 bhikshunis, 7 novices, and 15 lay women. A total of 325 practitioners with 209 monastic and 116 lay.
Br Pháp Hữu: presence and togetherness
Below are the words that Brother Pháp Hữu, the abbot of the Dharma Cloud Temple (Upper Hamlet), spoke as a request to the elder brothers and sisters to be a refuge for the whole community:
Dear Respected Teacher,
Dear elder brothers and sisters of the community,
We are bhikshus, novices, and lay practitioners of the Dharma Cloud Temple. This winter in the Dharma Cloud temple, there are 50 bhikshus, 25 novices, and 73 lay people. A total of 148 practitioners for the full three-month Winter Retreat.
This Winter Retreat carries the spirit of returning home to take refuge in our spiritual family to enrich and deepen our Dharma body and the Sangha body. In this Winter Retreat we aspire to practice being present and coming on time for the sangha’s activities. We know that our strength comes from our presence and togetherness. We will cultivate stillness in body and mind with our lifetime friend: our breath. Suffering will come from time to time, but the practice and our sangha is there. We will generate joy in our life, to nourish our future. This is a beautiful tradition the Buddha has created for us to rest and heal, what is left is for us to continue to learn to open our hearts and our minds.
How fortunate we are, to have the conditions to be together and practice for three full months. Please dear Thầy, elder brothers and sisters, be a refuge for me and for the whole community. This is a happy moment. This is it! Please accept our request.
Br Pháp Ứng: the stream of practice continues in each of us
Here is the response of brother Pháp Ứng accepting the request on behalf of the elder brothers and sisters, and requesting in return to take refuge in the community:
Namo Shakyamunaye Buddhaya!
Dear respected Thầy,
Dear noble community,
It is a precious opportunity as Thầy is there with us today, in each of us. We are the continuation of Thầy. Every time we take a breath in mindfulness, every time we take a step, we join the stability here and now. Thầy is there with us, the Buddha is there with us, and our spiritual ancestors are there with us. The stream of practice continues in each of us. So let us enjoy the present moment, enjoy life here and now as the foundation for nourishment and also for healing. This is it! Like Brother Pháp Hữu, the abbot of the Dharma Cloud Temple shared, each moment can be a moment of coming home, taking refuge in ourselves, so that we can be a refuge for our loved ones, for those who are struggling in their life in this moment everywhere in the world. Let us be there for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for many people who need our support. And also, let us take refuge in the collective energy of our community supporting us. The hamlets are there, supporting us.
Like a flock of birds, each of us is flying on our own strength so that collectively we form a flock, flying together in harmony, in peace. Let us be an inspiration for each other, coming home, nourishing and healing.
I have full trust in each of us in the practice. Our patriarch and Thầy are there with us in every moment. So let’s enjoy each moment of this Winter Retreat. Today is Today’s Day. Thank you for being there, organizing, supporting to make this possible. And thank you, our friends, for coming and being here, making this Winter Retreat a retreat of a four-fold sangha. We wish everyone a fruitful, peaceful and joyful Winter Retreat. Thank you.
Sr Diệu Nghiêm: offering peaceful steps to ourselves and the world
These are words of Sister Diệu Nghiêm (Sister Jina) requesting to take refuge in the community:
Dear respected Thầy,
Dear respected sangha,
Dear respected bhikshunis, shramanerikas and lay friends,
I too have the great opportunity to be here in the Winter Retreat with the four-fold sangha to practice, to take refuge in the sangha for support. All the monastics have come back home from having been away, and the lay friends have come from all corners of the world to join us for the three -month Winter Retreat to be nourished, to find healing and transformation. We are all here to study, play, work, and practice together for three months.
‘I have arrived, I am home’ is the first Dharma Seal of Plum Village practice and tradition. Our beloved teacher has printed this Dharma Seal on the earth with every step wherever Thầy went. In America, China, Russia, Vietnam, the de-militarized zone in Korea. In many countries in Asia, in Israel, in Europe, and in what was called East Berlin after the wall came down. Everywhere Thầy walked, Thầy brought solidity, peace, and healing in each step. This winter, let us take walking meditation as an offering to ourselves and to the world. So that when we go home or go out after the Winter Retreat, we can print peace, solidity, and healing with every step we take wherever we go. ‘I have arrived, I am home’. To offer our presence first of all to ourselves and to everyone we meet. Let us walk in Thầy’s footstep. Let us walk for Thầy. I wish everyone a very happy, joyful, nourishing Winter Retreat with brotherhood and sisterhood.
Join for one or two weeks
The 2017-18 Winter Retreat is underway and the 90 days retreatants have settled in. There is still space for friends who would like to come and practice with us for a shorter period of time. Click here for more information and registration.
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