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Winter Retreat Opening Ceremony with Thay

Thay and the Venerables offering incense at the altar
Thay and the Venerables offering incense at the altar

On the morning of Tuesday 15th November, Thich Nhat Hanh joined the fourfold community of Plum Village for a very special opening of our annual 90-day Winter Retreat.

After missing two years of Winter Retreat in a row, the sangha is delighted that Thay’s health is now strong enough for him to offer his all-embracing compassionate, fearless presence to the whole community at this key moment of the year.

Thay arriving to join the ceremony

The ceremony is also known as the “Face to Face Ceremony,” where we all present ourselves before one another in order to commit to “take refuge” spiritually, for the 90-day retreat. This year, there will be over 200 monks and nuns, and 100 lay practitioners residing together and practicing for the full 90 days, making it the biggest retreat of its kind in Europe.

First, Thay and the visiting venerables offered incense at the altar. In recent months Thay has often directed his attendants to lead his wheelchair to the altars in the meditation halls to offer incense. Every time, Thay’s presence and concentration as he holds an incense stick is extremely powerful. Yesterday he was equally present and concentrated, offering incense on behalf of the whole community.

The community then chanted the New Heart Sutra, in full voice with the fish drum. This is the first time Thay has heard over 300 voices chant his new sutra set to music.

Then, the abbot and abbesses of the three Plum Village Hamlets came forward, as leaders of the community, to formally take refuge in Thay, touching the earth deeply.

The Abbot and Abbesses touching the earth to Thay

This was a very moving moment as both the Abbess of New Hamlet (Sister Dinh Nghiem) and the Abbot of Upper Hamlet (Brother Phap Huu) have also been absent from Plum Village for the past two winters, as they have been attending Thay through his recovery.

Each abbot and abbess expressed their gratitude to Thay for offering his presence and embodying his deep teaching that it is possible to live happily in the present moment, no matter what challenges we are facing. Knowing how precious it is to have Thay with us, is a great inspiration for the community’s daily practice in this Winter Retreat. As Thay nodded approvingly, each abbot and abbess also expressed the aspiration of their hamlet to practice diligently, to nourish seeds of peace and compassion, and to take good care of each other as a spiritual family during these 90 days. We know it is thanks to the merit of our ancestors that we have such good fortune to be together in this way today.

Brother Phap Huu (Abbot of Upper Hamlet), Sister Hoi Nghiem (Abbess of Lower Hamlet), Sister Dinh Nghiem (Abbess of New Hamlet), addressing Thay on behalf of the whole community.

Then, the three “Elders” of each hamlet (Sister Chan Khong, Sister Jina and Thay Phap Ung) came forward alongside Thay to speak as elders on behalf of Thay, as Thay is not able to speak himself. Thay Phap Ung shared his deep appreciation that the monks’ community is going from strength to strength, in harmony, and finding creative new ways to organise their life and practice. Son Ha (“The Temple at the Foot of the Mountain”) has expanded to have 25 resident monks this Winter, and 12 new novices from around the world will be ordaining in December.

Sister Chan Khong shared that each one of us has the power to generate mindfulness and compassion in every moment of the day, and that we do so for ourselves and for the world. Sister Jina shared that each one of us can walk mindfully “In the Footsteps of Thay” (the theme of this year’s retreat), generating compassion for each other, and for the Earth. Now, more than ever, we need to come back to ourselves to create a solid, calm, and stable refuge that others, who do not live in the monastery, can turn to. We generate clarity and stability for the whole world.

The Elders of each hamlet offering guidance and encouraging words on behalf of Thay.

After this, the whole community then knelt up to formally take refuge in the Abbot and Abbesses, the Elders, and our dearly beloved teacher, Thay. This was a very moving and happy moment for our whole spiritual family, and for all the young men and women who are joining us this winter.


Then, everyone touched the earth. The community is taking refuge in the Abbot and Abbesses, and they are taking refuge in the community.


The ceremony closed with the offering of merit to our ancestors and all beings. We know that if our 90 days of practice in Plum Village can be successful and bear fruit, we will be able to offer those fruits of healing and transformation – our compassion, clarity and stability – to the world in the year to come.

Thay leaving the hall at the end of the ceremony

For the Winter Retreat 2016-17, “In the Footsteps of Thay,” practicing in Plum Village there will be:

Upper Hamlet: 51 Bhikshus, 18 Novices (+ 12 to be ordained next month), 54 Lay men
Lower Hamlet: 55 Bhikshunis, 5 Siksamanas, 9 Novices, 23 Lay women and men
New Hamlet: 54 Bhikshunis, 7 Novices, 19 Lay women

Join the conversation

  • Every day I voice Thay’s name in my meditations and prayers to Divine Consciousness. May Thay’s health get better and better so we’ll see him again on Walking Meditations. I know Thay is vegetarian. May I suggest you feed him quinoa instead of white rice. Spelt and kamut pastas are also good. Potatoes are too starchy to eat on a regular basis. Please eat chickpeas instead. Be well Thay.

  • Que Felicidad volver a ver a El Maestro Thay, si vien es cierto no totalmente sano de su cuerpo. Su sola presencia nos inspira a nunca dejar de buscar el Camino
    Soy un Cristiano con costantes búsquedas Espirituales y que en una conferencia Budista
    Supe por 1a vez de Thay, busque sus libros y me encanto su gran Corazón, me enseñó que para alcanzar el Sendero no existe un solo camino , puedes tener diferente creencia de Dios pero para alcanzar la Luz. Solo hay una Forma y es Tener un Gan Corazón,
    Thay ha sido un Ser de Luz que no se ha cansado de decirnos lo importante que es servir a todos los Seres , Un gran Ser Humano con un fuerte sentido de Compasión y de Bondad.
    Dios le de una pronta y total recuperación y a nosotros la Sabiduría para poder seguir sus Pasos .

  • As I scrole down thruogh all the wonderful heart felt comments everyone has sent, I realise all of you are my dear friends scattered throughout the world. Tears come to my eyes. I feel the love we have for our teacher the Dharma and the Sangha we also have for each other. Thankyou thankyou thankyou.

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    What is Mindfulness

    Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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