Book excerpt from “The Sun My Heart” by Thich Nhat Hanh, read by Br. Phap Lai.
Thanh Thuy’s apple juice.
Today three children, two girls and a little boy, came from the village to play with Thanh Thuy. The four of them ran off to play on the hillside behind our house and were gone for about an hour when they returned to ask for something to drink. I took the last bottle of homemade apple juice and gave them each a full glass, serving Thuy last. Since her juice was from the bottom of the bottle, it had some pulp in it. When she noticed the particles, she pouted and refused to drink it. So the four children went back to their games on the hillside and Thuy had not drunk anything.
Half an hour later, while I was meditating in my room, I heard her calling. Thuy wanted to get herself a glass of cold water, but even on tiptoes she couldn’t reach the faucet. I reminded her of the glass of juice on the table and asked her to drink that first. Turning to look at it, she saw that the pulp had settled and the juice looked clear and delicious.
She went to the table and took the glass with both hands. After drinking half of it, she put it down and asked, “Is this a different glass, Uncle Monk?”.
“No,” I answered. “It’s the same one as before. It sat quietly for a bit, and now it’s clear and delicious.” Thuy looked at the glass again. “It really is good. Was it meditating like you, Uncle Monk?” I laughed and patted her head. “Let’s say that I imitate the apple juice when I sit; that is closer to the truth.”.
Every night at Thuy’s bedtime, I sit in meditation. I let her sleep in the same room, near where I am sitting. We have agreed that while I am sitting, she will go to bed without talking. In that peaceful atmosphere, rest comes easily to her, and she is usually asleep within five or 10 minutes. When I finish sitting, I cover her with a blanket.
Thanh Thuy is the child of “boat people.” She is not yet four and a half years old. She crossed the seas with her father and arrived in Malaysia in April of last year. Her mother stayed in Vietnam. When her father arrived here in France, he left Thuy with us for several months while he went to Paris to look for a job. I taught her the Vietnamese alphabet and some popular folk songs from our country. She is very intelligent, and after two weeks she was able to spell out and slowly read “Ivan the Fool” by Leo Tolstoy, which I had translated into Vietnamese from the French.
Every night Thanh Thuy sees me sit, I told her that I am “sitting in meditation” without explaining what it means or why I do it. Every night when she sees me wash my face, put on my robes, and light a stick of incense to make the room fragrant, she knows that soon I will begin “meditating”. She also knows that it is the time for her to brush your teeth, change into pajamas, and go quietly to bed. I have never had to remind her.
Without a doubt, Thuy thought that the apple juice was sitting for a while to clear itself, just like Uncle Monk. “Was it meditating like you?” I think that Thanh Thuy, not yet four and a half, understands the meaning of meditation without any explanation. The apple juice became clear after resting a while. In the same way, if we rest in meditation a while, we to become clear. This clarity refreshes us and gives us strength and serenity. As we feel ourselves refreshed, our surroundings also become refreshed. Children like to be near us, not just to get candy or hear stories. They like to be near us because they can feel this freshness.
Tonight a guest has come. I fill a glass with the last of the apple juice and put it on the table in the middle of the meditation room, Thuy is already fast asleep, and I invite my friend to sit very quietly, just like the apple juice.