The Plum Village monastic community grew by three on October 20th. The Dogwood Tree ordination family consists of Sr. Trang Quang Son (27), Sr. Trang Kim Son (24) and Br. Troi Minh Dung (23). They were ordained during the North America Tour Monastic Retreat in Magnolia Grove Monastery in Batesville, Mississippi. This interview took place the following day.
Tell us Sr. Trang Quang Son, how did you came across Plum Village ?
I grew up in Upstate New York. Some call it the “Buddha Belt” as there’s so many different traditions there. When I was five my family started going to a Japanese Tendai Buddhist centre. Once a month during the sitting meditation we would read Thay’s 14 Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing. So I started hearing them when I was really little, even though I didn’t know anything about Plum Village. That’s why I’ve been practising for a “long time”! I’ve been exposed to it most of my life.
What does your name, Sr. Trang Quang Son, have to do with how you came to ordain here?
Two years before I came to Blue Cliff Monastery I was a student at a Fo Guang Shan university in Taiwan. In Vietnamese it would be Phat Quang Son, Buddha Light Mountain literally. I was doing a master’s in Buddhist studies. But I dropped out to go to Blue Cliff. So I don’t have a master’s!
So what made you want to leave just before you finished your studies?
I was there to explore monastic life and to find where I was supposed to ordain. I visited many different temples and traditions in Taiwan and Vietnam. I hadn’t really lived at any Plum Village centre before. I’d only gone for Days of Mindfulness in Blue Cliff. After I visited Thai Plum Village I had no doubt that I was supposed to ordain in this sangha. So I went from Thailand back to Taiwan, withdrew from my studies and bought my plane ticket back to the US and went to Blue Cliff.
So why did you ordain Br. Troi Minh Dung?
Sometime after leaving college I realised that I wanted to help people. I think that each person has an inherent goodness in them and I want to help draw that out. I got a book by Jack Kornfield, A Path With Heart. It resonated very strongly with me and half way through reading it I realised I wanted to become a monk.
When I first thought I wanted to become a monk I told my parents that I was going to go to Tibet and live there for 50 years! They encouraged me to look around and so I found Magnolia Grove Monastery right near my home here in Mississippi. I had this idea they would be older and very stern but they were young and easygoing. I liked that they were engaged in the world and they saw that you needed to interact with the world in order to help it grow and not just seclude yourself. After three weeks in Magnolia Grove, I travelled to Deer Park Monastery in California to begin my monastic training.
Sr. Trang Kim Son, you’re also from the Bible Belt here in the Deep South. How did you come to ordain?
I’m from the New Orleans area of Louisiana which is even deeper! Well Magnolia Grove was the first monastery of any kind that I visited. I learned about this monastery in the back of one of Thay’s books, Anger. That was the second book I read by him. That really touched me. So I saw it at the very back and saw that Magnolia Grove was in Mississippi and it was only 5 hours from my house. I came here for a retreat with my mum who’s Southern Baptist. She didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t bill it as Buddhist. I just said “Oh you know it’s just a relaxy meditation retreat”. I think she said “It’s really quiet! They eat in silence. It’ll make me uncomfortable!”. But by the end she didn’t want to leave. So it was quite transformative for her as well as for me.
I remember seeing the monastics in their brown robes, walking in the distance like this (she points at some passing monastics on the path) and that was really powerful for me. The collective energy of this particular community and all the monastics is special. I was also seeking a teacher. I started practising in a local sangha after I came home from here and I felt I needed more guidance. At the time the sisters were mostly trained at Blue Cliff. For the year of 2016 I worked a bit, paid off some debt and then moved to Blue Cliff. So here I am back at the beginning of the circle.
What’s your favourite practice?
TKS: I like eating meditation.
TMD: I really enjoy deep listening – hearing people share vulnerably and giving them the space to do so. I’m also starting to really enjoy sitting meditation because of my loving kindness meditation practice. I get in touch with my heart and live from there.
TQS: I really enjoy moon gazing meditation. Recently on the harvest moon we turned off all the lights at Blue Cliff and enjoyed gazing at the moon. My whole life I’ve really enjoyed watching the moon. I’ve often wished I could share the beauty of gazing at the moon with someone else. I was so happy when another sister asked me if I wanted to sit and look at the moon with her.
And now you have moon in your name!
My name is Sr. Trang Quang Son, radiant mountain moon. It’s a bit of a mouthful! I’m hoping to go by Sr. Moonlight!
In Plum Village France we have a novice ordination coming up as well: next week December 14. This post is the first in a series around the theme of aspiration and entering monastic life.