Two Families, One Heart:
 A Western Bhikshu Comes Home

Br. Chân Trời Phạm Hạnh

I still remember vividly my community as a young boy. We had to go up the stairs and into a big hall with stained glass windows. It was full of older and younger brothers and sisters, or uncles and aunts, as we called them as children. As a little boy, I would sit next to an older brother and I would get peppermint and other sweets, but I did have to sit still.

I still remember most of all, the feeling that I could be who I was, and that I was loved. These impressions and experiences are still a part of me and I feel rich. Maybe I cannot explain in words what it is to be Apostolic, but I know for sure that it laid the foundation for my whole life. My parents really did their best to give what they could. Although we had to live through storms and difficulties, we are still very close to one another.

When I discovered the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh and Plum Village, it was as if I’d come home. The pieces of the puzzle fell into place, and I could see myself in a whole new light. That continued so far that I became a monk, and now I can experience this beautiful path with my second community.

As a monk you live in a community, your sangha. Once every two years you can visit your family for two weeks. That seems short, but via FaceTime, I video call my family frequently and they visit me often. It does not feel as if I am living very far away. And when I come home again, it feels as if I have never been away. Whenever I am at home, I do long for my Apostolic community.

During one of my last visits, I went to the Sunday service. It was special, because my father helped that day. Although he is no longer a Minister and could not help out in the church because of health reasons, it was exactly the moment when I was home that he was asked to help.

That morning I sat next to my mother. It was special to feel at home again in the community and to share this moment with my parents. My father’s Sermon was wonderful, inspiring and authentic. The moment came for the “rondgang” – the ancient ritual of sharing bread and wine in the community. My father was invited to help perform this traditional ceremony.

The whole community slowly came forward, the choir sang, I listened, and waited next to my mother who was conducting the choir. How it happened, I do not know exactly, but suddenly I found myself last in line. My line was slower, probably because my father always takes his time. The other line was already empty and many had “overtaken” me by moving to the empty line. And this put me into a dilemma: deep in me I did not want to cause inconvenience to others; as the last one, yet not wanting to go to the empty line, it meant that the whole community waited for me. But here I was, back home in our Apostolic community after a long time. I stood there as an Apostolic Buddhist monk, waiting in line for my father. This is my moment, this is my father…
I can take this moment, it shall not slip away.

It took a while, and then I was in front of my father. He looked into my eyes, he looked long, and I looked at him. It was silent in the community and everyone looked at us. A smile, a connection. Here I stood in my strength, and here was my father back in his strength.

It was my father who said, when I told him that I wanted to become a monk: “There are few people who really go for what they deeply wish for in their lives. I am proud of you. You have my support”. Well, I went for it, and it is good.

“A lot or a little bit of wine?” he asked. “A lot,” I said. “I thought so”, he said with a smile. He soaked the tiny wafer* in the wine. “The offering of your soul has been accepted and hereby confirmed”.

The wafer on my hand, the look on my father’s face; this was a moment in which time stood still. My father, his son, so much love, so much given for his children, tried, failed, and trying again. This was a moment of gratitude. This was a moment of real connection, of true Love.

“Amen”. “I love you dad”.

The community was quiet. This moment, so intimate, so real, the sharing was the gift.

 

    *The wafer represents the Eucharist, the last supper that Jesus shared with his Disciples, and is the size of a two-euro coin.

 

 

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