As we celebrate Thay’s 92nd continuation day on 11th October, we would like to take this opportunity to share with you how our beloved Teacher has been doing.
After spending time recuperating in San Francisco in 2015, and then from January to December 2016 at home in Plum Village in France, Thay requested to travel to Thailand, to join his monastic students at our large monastery near Khao Yai National Park. Since that time, Thay has been nourished by the joy and youthfulness of over two hundred monastics at Thai Plum Village. In the warm and tropical climate, and surrounded by his young students, Thay has been able to continue on his path of healing, while also offering his presence to support his beloved young community’s strength and growth. In Thailand Thay has the opportunity to receive world-class healthcare from both Eastern and Western specialists. We are deeply grateful to Thay’s “doctors sangha” who have been caring for Thay with immense generosity, love and respect; and also to all the many specialists in acupuncture and oriental medicine who have offered their skills and expertise.
As is to be expected for someone so advanced in age recovering from a major stroke, there are times when Thay’s health is stronger, and other times when it is weaker. On good days, Thay is able to eat several small meals a day and join the sangha for walking meditation in his wheelchair, or perhaps participate in a formal meal in the meditation hall, eating with great concentration, dignity and presence. When he is with the sangha, Thay will often gesture, bright-eyed, to remind us to enjoy listening to the sound of the birds, or with a gentle smirk he will point to his mouth to remind us to smile. On good days, Thay has been able to offer his solemn presence and witness at ordination ceremonies, or his joyful presence at festivals, watching his students perform songs, skits and dances. Even with his health challenges, Thay never wants to miss big sangha events. He insisted on being present for the premiere of the “Walk With Me” documentary in Bangkok (where he directed the sangha buy large quantities of popcorn), and he also insisted on travelling with the monastics to be present as they led a large retreat for families at Wang Ree Resort in Thailand.
Although Thay has still not been able to speak since his stroke, he delights in joining in when the sangha sings Plum Village songs and, when he has the strength, continues to diligently train himself to form words. Whenever his health permits, Thay trains eagerly with his physiotherapy exercises, and smiles a smile of victory whenever he is able to stand on his own two feet without any help. The nerves in his right leg are now active all the way to his foot. Although there are still some days when Thay is unable to eat or drink, and he rests deeply in his bed, as soon as his energy is restored he eats a lot, as though making up for the days he couldn’t eat. Overall, we are happy to say that, since the last two years of following a special diet, Thay’s digestive system has been strengthened and restored.
The sangha can feel Thay’s supportive and nurturing presence, always keeping a teacher’s keen eye on our practice and endeavours, urging us forward, and encouraging us to continue to enjoy the wonders of life, to advance in our practice, to grow and to serve. Thay’s continued presence in our midst has been a great gift and a huge source of energy and support for our community.
Thay makes it known when he would like to nourish himself with nature, and at one point directed his attendants to take him out for a few days by the ocean. Thay enjoyed spending time relaxing on the warm sand, and a young monk held him so he could immerse himself fully in the refreshing, salty water. Thay spent hours listening to the waves and watching the vast ocean and distant horizon. It is a great teaching for all of us to witness Thay enjoying his life so deeply despite the physical adversity he is encountering.
Since Thailand is not far from Vietnam, it has been possible for venerable monks and nuns from Vietnam to travel over to pay their respects to Thay and spend time drinking tea, sharing meals, recalling fond memories and reciting poetry. Many of these venerables are friends and students of Thay who have supported him in difficult moments, in particular when Thay was calling for peace during the Vietnam War. Thay treasures these visits very much. Indeed, last year (in August 2017), Thay was determined to make his own visit to Vietnam, and although it was extremely complex and challenging to organise such a trip, he could not be dissuaded. As soon as he learned that arrangements were in place, he was filled with energy and enthusiasm. Thay was determined to pay his respects at his ancestral shrine in his homeland and at our lineage’s Root Temple in Huế, Chùa Từ Hiếu, where Thay is still abbot, and where his students, Plum Village monks and nuns, continue to live and practice. Thay entered Từ Hiếu temple like a monk coming home. With deep concentration and presence, he chose to visit each altar one by one to solemnly bow and offer incense. After directing his attendants to lead him on a tour of the half-moon pond, and visiting the favorite spots he had loved as a young novice, he chose to leave, as simply as he had come.
Dear friends, Thay always reminded us to practice looking at our loved ones with the eyes of “signlessness”. We see Thay still with us in his physical body, teaching us with his great courage, dignity, strength and compassion. And we see Thay still with us in his teaching body—the living Dharma—expressed not only in all his books and talks, but also in the ways his message continues to resonate around the world, an inspiration for countless people in countless walks of life. Thay is also continued in his Sangha body, his community – comprising over 700 monks and nuns, thousands of members of the Order of Interbeing, and tens of thousands of practitioners who follow the Five Mindfulness Trainings and nourish their practice at local sanghas in cities around the world. It is a great fortune that Thay transmitted the Dharma Lamp to hundreds of monastic and lay teachers, and it is a great happiness that today they are helping Thay’s teachings to shine brightly a little bit everywhere.
Now, more than ever, these teachings are needed, and we are grateful for each of you continuing Thay’s love, wisdom, peace and courage in your corner of the planet. We hope that you can join us in our monasteries or at our external retreats in the coming year as we continue Thay’s legacy together. And we hope that you can be nourished by following our Dharma talks online, in particular the talks of the Autumn Rains Retreat in Plum Village, exploring The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings more deeply. We invite you to consider making a concrete commitment in your practice that you would like to offer as a gift to Thay. Perhaps a promise to take every step in mindfulness from your front door to the car (one of Thay’s favorites), or to introduce a new habit to protect and care for Mother Earth (like eating vegetarian a certain number of days per month). You can share these commitments in the comments below. This is a wonderful way Thay’s birthday can help invigorate and inspire our collective practice.
We are profoundly grateful for your presence, your practice, and for the much-needed resource support you continue to offer our monasteries as places of learning and refuge. Your generous donations to the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation make it possible for us to continue to keep Thay’s teachings and legacy alive and relevant for generations to come. We thank you.
Happy continuation day, dear Thay. And happy continuation day to all your continuation bodies.
With love and trust,
The Monks and Nuns of Plum Village