Memories from the Root Temple: Closing the Door

Dear Friends,

In celebration of our teacher’s return to Tu Hieu Temple, Vietnam, where he practiced as a novice monk, we would like to offer you a series of memories written by Thay,  from his time there. This is the first in that series. 


Children sometimes ask me, “Why do you meditate?” I meditate because I love it. But I don’t just love sitting meditation, I also love meditating while walking or even while standing. Suppose at meal- time you need to stand in line, waiting for your turn to buy or serve yourself some food. You can take the opportunity to practice mindful breathing, aware of your in-breath and your out-breath, enjoying yourself and the presence of the people around you. With the energy of mindfulness, every action in our daily life can become pleasurable.

Thay as a Novice Monk, aged 16

I practice this lesson every day. One day, when I was a novice monk, my teacher asked me to do something for him. I was very excited to do it for him, because I loved my teacher very much. So I rushed out to do it. But because I was so excited, I wasn’t mindful enough, and I slammed the door on my way out. My teacher called me back and said: “My child. Please go out and close the door again. But this time, do better than you did before.” Hearing his words, I knew that my practice had been lacking. So I bowed to my teacher and walked to the door with all of my being, every step with mindfulness. I went out and, very mindfully, closed the door after me. My teacher did not have to tell me a second time. Now every time I open and close a door, I do so with mindfulness, remembering my teacher.

Many years later I was in Kentucky with Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, and I told him that story. He said: “Well, I noticed that without you telling me; I have seen the way you close the door.” A month after I left his monastery in Kentucky, he gave a talk to his students and told them the story of me closing the door.

One day, many years later, a Catholic woman from Germany came on retreat to our Plum Village practice center in France. On her last day, she told us that she had come only out of curiosity. She had listened to a recording of Thomas Merton’s talk, and she had come to see how I closed the door.


This story is an excerpt from At Home in the World: Stories and Essential Teachings from a Monk’s Life by Thich Nhat Hanh, published in 2016. 

Thay returning to the root temple in 2005, after 39 years of exile. PHOTO: Courtesy Paul Davis, Touching Peace Photography

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31 comments on “Memories from the Root Temple: Closing the Door
  1. Patricia Macdonald says:

    Deep gratitude for sharing these stories Thay used for his teachings. I love the one about the fish- the courage to be oneself in the face of dogmatistism

    Thay, I tell the story of my meditation practice which was on going for some 15 years before I met you and that it was your presence and how you manifested love that awoke my heart to bring more of me to my practice. I am eternally grateful to you for the connection to my own heart.

  2. Eileen says:

    Dear Thay, Thank you for the peace you brought to my being with your teachings.
    You continue to awaken awareness and simplicity and gratitude within me.

  3. Edward Pierce says:

    My Dear, Respected Teacher, Dear Sangha,

    When I attended my first retreat with you twenty years ago, I was sixty years old. Because of your presence and profound teachings the last two decades of my life have been miraculous.

    Chan Tang Hanh

  4. Christina Shanyn-Miller says:

    Thank you Thay for your many teachings. My wish too, is that you enjoy the peace and wellbeing surrounding you. Thay has arrived. Thay is home.

  5. Vasanthi Murthy says:

    Praying for Thay’s Peace and good health.

  6. Barry says:

    Thankyou dear Thay your words and wisdom have help me so much

  7. Eddie says:

    Thank you

  8. Bodhivata Dharmashanti says:

    Namaste my adored teacher. You are the reason why I got into Buddhism and the reason why I never left. In moments of difficulty I only need to look at your smile, on your photo on my wall, to infuse my whole being with your light and love. I am grateful I was so lucky to meet you, in your books, so early on my path. I chant happiness, peace, love and health for you every morning, knowing that my energy can cross the oceans and reach you in your beautiful home in Vietnam.
    Thank you.
    With very deep love,

  9. Andrea says:

    Thank you Thay, from the bottom of my heart. Your teachings have saved me.

  10. De una amiga recibi un libro y una foto del amado maestro Thich Nhat desde ese momento ha estado presente en mi…. Gratitud

  11. Leah says:

    Why was Thay excited? I am so happy I found his teachings…. Thankyou

    • kim uyen huynh says:

      Hi Leah, I found the answer to your question which I think you meant exiled not excited, during the Vietnam war, Thay travelled to the states and met with King and was mentioned in his nobel prize nomination, both North and South Vietnam leaders decided to ban Thay from returning to VN after this mission.

  12. Willy De Jongh says:

    The lessons of Thay are so simple and clear,
    I love them!

  13. Linda Kelly says:

    I am too humble to contemplate many words as all have been said.Thay, you are the action of millenia…all time in present. My breath,speech, action and life thank you…thank you. Merci… Merci…Merci…Oui…Oui…Oui X I vow and bow to local and world peace from myself cascading. X

  14. Angela says:

    Thay’s teachings changed my life, and in doing so, changed the lives of those around me.
    I can never express my love and appreciation for his words and how blessed we are to have them in this world.
    All my love.

  15. Michael Adams says:

    My Dear Thay
    I am so happy that you are now back in your homeland. Your smile is imprinted in my heart. Your words, written and in your dharma talks have made clearer what had been difficult before. I will never see a cloud in the same way as I once did. Thank you for your smile, your love, and your wisdom.
    With much love and gratitude to you

  16. Emile Mercier says:

    I wish for your continued happiness Thich Nhat hanh. You have provided me with so much, I am thankful and lucky to have learned from your work.

  17. Thank you Thay for this and all your teachings. You turned around my life, I needed you and I met you. May you be peaceful and ease. May you be filled with lovingkindness. May you be safe and free from fear. May you be happy. Much love, Katy Butler, True Lotus.

  18. Victoria Emerson says:

    Dear Thay, I am so happy you have arrived and are home at Tu Dieu Temple and feel so blessed that I could be there some 10 + years ago. Such serenity on the quiet walks around the pond. Such wisdom in the ancient stone buildings, bridges, and archways. I can feel the musty humidity and hear the birds chirping. I feel great joy that you can be home. And that the DOOR of your heart has opened so many doors of compassion & understanding for all those who have heard or read your words. I bow deeply in gratitude for your teachings … especially of “No Coming, No Going”.

  19. Scott B. says:

    Having intentionally slammed many doors in my day this story has special meaning especially since your book “Anger, Cooling the Flames” is by far my favorite and has taught me many valuable lessons. My forever gratitude. ✌️❤️😃☯️

  20. Ann-Marie says:

    Yes, I am trying to teach this to my 5 year old twins every day. To be mindful.

  21. Griffith Mark says:

    I seek to learn more from Thich Nhat Hanh

  22. Michele Nappi says:

    I remember when Thay came to the University of Vermont. I had the honor of listening to him speak. A nun sang a song. Some of the words were ‘I hold my face in my two hands, I am not crying, I am not crying.’ Today I am crying in honor of Thay. I am remembering him in honor and respect.

  23. Tess B says:

    Thank you for this message. It is timely as I reflect on “doors” opening & closing in my past, present, future. Being Mindful will guide me through All doors with reverence.

  24. Dear Thay
    Having been to all three hamlets of Plum Village in France on many occasions and on one occasion having had formal lunch with you present I can tell you that your presence (even in your absence) has been powerful on every occasion. Your teachings are profound and I am so grateful to all the monastics that continue in your footsteps. The brothers and sisters are an exceptional credit to you. May you now spend your days in your home country peacefully and safe in the knowledge that your teachings of the Buddha continue in the very capable hands of your disciples. Their devotion is a credit to you and your ability to show the way of enlightenment and we are all very fortunate that these wonderful monastics have chosen this path to help us all.
    With deepest gratitude.
    Sandy UK.

  25. David coles says:

    I shied away for a while, life got difficult. I have returned

  26. Richard Pryor says:

    Thank you 🙏

  27. Melanie says:

    So beautiful, the door can be so many things and the power of this message travelling the world is such a force for good ❤️

  28. Faye Harasack says:

    Dear friends, what a wonderful idea to share these memories of Thay from Tu Hieu Temple with those of us who have not been there ourselves. It helps us to feel more concretely our connection with Thay and all our brothers and sisters there. May we all enjoy our steps, walking on Thay’s path, wherever we are!

  29. Kay Ayers. says:

    I loved this story of mindfulness.

  30. Many thanks for taking the time to give us this series of Thay’s memories, how lovely, very much appreciated – I have also heard Thay tell this story in one of his online talks – they are all gems. Trish