Winter Retreat Opening Ceremony with Thay

Thay and the Venerables offering incense at the altar

Thay and the Venerables offering incense at the altar

On the morning of Tuesday 15th November, Thich Nhat Hanh joined the fourfold community of Plum Village for a very special opening of our annual 90-day Winter Retreat.

After missing two years of Winter Retreat in a row, the sangha is delighted that Thay’s health is now strong enough for him to offer his all-embracing compassionate, fearless presence to the whole community at this key moment of the year.


Thay arriving to join the ceremony

The ceremony is also known as the “Face to Face Ceremony,” where we all present ourselves before one another in order to commit to “take refuge” spiritually, for the 90-day retreat. This year, there will be over 200 monks and nuns, and 100 lay practitioners residing together and practicing for the full 90 days, making it the biggest retreat of its kind in Europe.

First, Thay and the visiting venerables offered incense at the altar. In recent months Thay has often directed his attendants to lead his wheelchair to the altars in the meditation halls to offer incense. Every time, Thay’s presence and concentration as he holds an incense stick is extremely powerful. Yesterday he was equally present and concentrated, offering incense on behalf of the whole community.

The community then chanted the New Heart Sutra, in full voice with the fish drum. This is the first time Thay has heard over 300 voices chant his new sutra set to music.

Then, the abbot and abbesses of the three Plum Village Hamlets came forward, as leaders of the community, to formally take refuge in Thay, touching the earth deeply.


The Abbot and Abbesses touching the earth to Thay

This was a very moving moment as both the Abbess of New Hamlet (Sister Dinh Nghiem) and the Abbot of Upper Hamlet (Brother Phap Huu) have also been absent from Plum Village for the past two winters, as they have been attending Thay through his recovery.

Each abbot and abbess expressed their gratitude to Thay for offering his presence and embodying his deep teaching that it is possible to live happily in the present moment, no matter what challenges we are facing. Knowing how precious it is to have Thay with us, is a great inspiration for the community’s daily practice in this Winter Retreat. As Thay nodded approvingly, each abbot and abbess also expressed the aspiration of their hamlet to practice diligently, to nourish seeds of peace and compassion, and to take good care of each other as a spiritual family during these 90 days. We know it is thanks to the merit of our ancestors that we have such good fortune to be together in this way today.


Brother Phap Huu (Abbot of Upper Hamlet), Sister Hoi Nghiem (Abbess of Lower Hamlet), Sister Dinh Nghiem (Abbess of New Hamlet), addressing Thay on behalf of the whole community.

Then, the three “Elders” of each hamlet (Sister Chan Khong, Sister Jina and Thay Phap Ung) came forward alongside Thay to speak as elders on behalf of Thay, as Thay is not able to speak himself. Thay Phap Ung shared his deep appreciation that the monks’ community is going from strength to strength, in harmony, and finding creative new ways to organise their life and practice. Son Ha (“The Temple at the Foot of the Mountain”) has expanded to have 25 resident monks this Winter, and 12 new novices from around the world will be ordaining in December.

Sister Chan Khong shared that each one of us has the power to generate mindfulness and compassion in every moment of the day, and that we do so for ourselves and for the world. Sister Jina shared that each one of us can walk mindfully “In the Footsteps of Thay” (the theme of this year’s retreat), generating compassion for each other, and for the Earth. Now, more than ever, we need to come back to ourselves to create a solid, calm, and stable refuge that others, who do not live in the monastery, can turn to. We generate clarity and stability for the whole world.


The Elders of each hamlet offering guidance and encouraging words on behalf of Thay.

After this, the whole community then knelt up to formally take refuge in the Abbot and Abbesses, the Elders, and our dearly beloved teacher, Thay. This was a very moving and happy moment for our whole spiritual family, and for all the young men and women who are joining us this winter.


Then, everyone touched the earth. The community is taking refuge in the Abbot and Abbesses, and they are taking refuge in the community.


The ceremony closed with the offering of merit to our ancestors and all beings. We know that if our 90 days of practice in Plum Village can be successful and bear fruit, we will be able to offer those fruits of healing and transformation – our compassion, clarity and stability – to the world in the year to come.


Thay leaving the hall at the end of the ceremony

For the Winter Retreat 2016-17, “In the Footsteps of Thay,” practicing in Plum Village there will be:

Upper Hamlet: 51 Bhikshus, 18 Novices (+ 12 to be ordained next month), 54 Lay men
Lower Hamlet: 55 Bhikshunis, 5 Siksamanas, 9 Novices, 23 Lay women and men
New Hamlet: 54 Bhikshunis, 7 Novices, 19 Lay women

Just a simple monk!

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47 comments on “Winter Retreat Opening Ceremony with Thay
  1. Jarvis says:

    As I scrole down thruogh all the wonderful heart felt comments everyone has sent, I realise all of you are my dear friends scattered throughout the world. Tears come to my eyes. I feel the love we have for our teacher the Dharma and the Sangha we also have for each other. Thankyou thankyou thankyou.

  2. Roberto Magdaleno says:

    Que Felicidad volver a ver a El Maestro Thay, si vien es cierto no totalmente sano de su cuerpo. Su sola presencia nos inspira a nunca dejar de buscar el Camino
    Soy un Cristiano con costantes búsquedas Espirituales y que en una conferencia Budista
    Supe por 1a vez de Thay, busque sus libros y me encanto su gran Corazón, me enseñó que para alcanzar el Sendero no existe un solo camino , puedes tener diferente creencia de Dios pero para alcanzar la Luz. Solo hay una Forma y es Tener un Gan Corazón,
    Thay ha sido un Ser de Luz que no se ha cansado de decirnos lo importante que es servir a todos los Seres , Un gran Ser Humano con un fuerte sentido de Compasión y de Bondad.
    Dios le de una pronta y total recuperación y a nosotros la Sabiduría para poder seguir sus Pasos .

  3. Beverly says:

    Every day I voice Thay’s name in my meditations and prayers to Divine Consciousness. May Thay’s health get better and better so we’ll see him again on Walking Meditations. I know Thay is vegetarian. May I suggest you feed him quinoa instead of white rice. Spelt and kamut pastas are also good. Potatoes are too starchy to eat on a regular basis. Please eat chickpeas instead. Be well Thay.

  4. Mary Prada Vaiani says:

    It is so uplifting to see dear Thay back with the Sangha.
    I have done a day of mindfulness with Thay in Boston a few years ago.
    I thank Thay and the Sangha for the lessons I continue to work on as I move forward.
    I will always remember the deep sense of peace I felt while we sat in silence in the Boston Public Garden and hope, through mindfulness, I will continue to feel that peace.

  5. Judith says:

    Dear one I would like to go on retreat is it possible to go for a shorter time 7-10 days?

  6. Dan says:

    Thay looks older than my parents now. I met him a few years back and he looked almost sixteen. I don’t care for mindfulness, but I love his poetry. His poems will always make me feel sixteen. I am sorry if I don’t have the reverence of others here, but I take joy from our impermanence thanks to Thich.

    Leonard Cohen used to sign autographs “All good things”. I am dense so it took me decades to realise that it was short for “All good things come to an end”. Yet nothing truly ends. My nephew just had a daughter, and I will give her all of Thay’s books. He is a ripple, not a pebble.

    • It's My Inner Child says:

      Dear Dan,

      I hear anger in your tone of voice. This is a great Sangha and a caring community. May you find peace, contentment, and wisdom!

      • Padma says:

        Anger is more often masked in sweet words. Dan is simply speaking his own truth and in this I see wisdom, not anger.

  7. Inge says:

    Dear Thay, Dear Sangha,
    thanks for sharing the photos. Blessings to you all.

  8. sagi ayalon says:

    I was trying to find wards to express. Feeling of great love and appreciation for the kind teacher and the beautifully written books he gift us .
    Even do we have never met there is great respect and admiration may he live her after full of joy and light that shines upon the world compassionate one.may I have the Merit and great honor to serve you in this life or any other one.??

  9. Thank you so much for practicing on our behalf. I take refuge in the stability, compassion, and generosity you create.

  10. Georgiana K. Birch says:

    Dearest Thay, Dear Sangha,

    My mother had a stroke ten years ago, and is nearing her end in this life. The Practice has given me the strength to be there for her, in the moment, and cope with her suffering, and mine. Thank you for your dedication to sharing your wisdom and the Practice with the world. Your presence and the Sangha is beyond beautiful and I am so grateful.

    Georgie Birch

  11. Jim Henry says:

    Wonderful to see Thay in the meditation hall with this large Sangha present. His smile this fall was very loving.

  12. Deepa says:

    Dear Sangha,

    Thank you for sharing this post and these pictures of Thay. They moved me to tears ( I don’t know why). Will look up the online retreat mentioned in one of the posts and participate from India this time. One day in the future, hope to be there in person with my young son. May you all grow well in steadfastness and clarity during the retreat. With Love,

  13. Alice Huang Yuling says:

    Dear Thay
    Dear Sangha

    Thank you for sharing this precious moment and beautiful photos.
    May all of you have a fruitful winter retreat.

    My gratitude to Thay for his profound teachings. I wish you excellent health, peace and happiness always.

    LOVE from Singapore ?☘️?
    Alice Huang Yuling

  14. Susan Patrick says:

    Peace to you all in this Winter Retreat.

  15. Susan Buckser says:

    Thank you so much for sharing! What a beautiful time for the sangha, and we are all so, so happy to see dear Thay amongst the many practitioners!

    Happy winter, and a beautiful retreat to you all.

  16. Rev. Moonhawk River Stone says:

    Dear Thay and Sangha,

    Many blessings to you and much gratitude to you all. To see Thay again joining the community in ceremony and
    practice lifts my spirits immeasurably. As one who himself dwells in the moment to moment presence of my own
    terminal illnesses, your practice and presence bring me both hope and peace. May your retreat be beautiful and
    peaceful and filled with love. Namaste.

  17. Tim Holbert says:

    Dear Thay, Dear Four Fold Sangha,

    It brings such a smile to my eyes to see pictures of Thay back in the community. Thank you all for your practice. My heart is with you all on this retreat. May we all be able to walk the path of presence and peace in this turbulent time.

    with a bow,
    Tim (True Precious Insight)

  18. lou Kearney says:

    Thank you for the post. Very uplifting.

  19. Maire O'Sullivan says:

    Dear Thay, Dear Sangha

    I take courage from your wonderful teachings which support me every day. So very grateful to know you are there so solid and peaceful for the planet and all of us. Thank you for sharing these photos and account of the Winter Retreat Opening Ceremony

    With deep gratitude and respect

  20. Pat Maslowski says:

    Thank you. Dear Thay and Sangha, I think of you daily. You have been inspiration, hope, a refuge, and acceptance for my life. I am grateful each day.

  21. Rebecca Smith says:

    What a great day for the sangha. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful ceremony.

  22. Franco Tiscareño says:

    Qué alegría. Bien por usted maestro. Dios siga sacándolo.

  23. Peter Mirchandani says:

    Dear Thay, Dear Sangha,

    I wish you all be best for the Winter Retreat.

    Thank you for sharing the pictures. They are very nice.

    I am very happy to learn that Thay is feeling better and is now strong enough to attend. I am sure his presence will help and inspire all attending the retreat. I hope that his health continues to improve.

    A Lotus For You,

  24. Judi Axelrod says:

    Dear Thay, dear Sangha,

    I am truly grateful for the pictures you just posted. The power of Thay’s teachings vibrate and resonate in many many places in the world, including my country, Israel, and I was filled with joy to see him looking so much better. With thanks, gratitude and love.
    Judi True Joyful Water

  25. sue rempel says:

    Dear beautiful and beloved Thay… dear Sangha,
    What a gift to see you together at the winter retreat. I wanted very much to be with you in Plum Village for the winter retreat this year, but I am still healing, and unable to travel. These photos remind me that I am there in you. Thank-you for posting these and sharing the beginning of the winter retreat.
    I know you are there and I am very happy.
    with gratitude,
    s u e

  26. Altaa says:

    Thank you for this wonderful news and pictures of Thay. Long and peaceful life for Thay!

  27. Carol Pringle says:

    Dear Thay, Dear Sangha, Wishing you all many Blessings and sharing much sunshine from Down Under ( Australia ) with you all during your winter retreat……In Gratitude with much love Carol

  28. Plum Village seminars with Thich Nhat Hanh has transformed how I see myself today on earth and in the cosmos.
    I am so grateful to be able to listen to most of the lectures. It has been beneficial to my mental and physical health.
    With heart felt appreciation thank you. May Thich Nhat Hanh be with us for many more seasons.

  29. Nadene says:

    Thank you so much for this wonderful news and beautiful pictures. Many blessings on your winter retreat.

  30. Julie Tran says:

    Thank you so much for sharing all photos. I was so touch and emotion by look at Thay. I would love to meet Thay one day.
    If anyone know his next year retreat schedule, please let me know. I would greatly appreciated.

  31. Bernadette Dunne says:

    Thank you for posting these pictures and words. They help me to feel connected to Thay and the Sangha as unfortunately I cannot go to the Winter retreat.

  32. marilee pittman says:

    So happy to see Thay. much love and wish I could join you one day.

  33. Michael Adams says:

    Dear Thay, Dear Sangha
    Breathing and smiling With deep gratitude.

  34. Evelym says:

    Thank You for the photos just looking at them brought me to a feeling of peace ??

  35. Juanita Galaz says:

    Muchas gracias por compartir las fotos, ha sido una gran felicidad ver a Thay.

  36. Daniel says:

    It’s always a blessing to know that the sanga at plum village is practicing in the spirit and integrity of Thays example, he has been a true light in my life and i have so much gratitude for his teachings. Om Ah Hum

  37. Beverly says:

    Dear Thây, Dear Sangha,
    It is so wonderful to see you all together. I am grateful to whoever posted this. ?♥️?♥️?

  38. Chrissi says:

    Dear Thay,dear Sangha. I shall be thinking of you all and sending my love. Peace and light too you also. Xxx

  39. This is fantastic! so pleased to see that dear Thay is able to be physically with the Sangha this 90 day retreat. I am not able to attend but would love to one year, instead I will be joining the 90 day lay winter retreat (online via FaceBook) _/l\_

  40. Tina says:

    Blessings to all. May your 90 day walk of peace and presence bring loving wisdom and support to one another.

    I begin a 90 day walk with you.

  41. Rose says:

    I would love to meet Thich nhat hanh how can this

  42. Fabio says:


  43. Jason Gerhardt says:

    Dear Thay, Dear Sangha,
    I wish you all the solidest winter retreat yet.
    Thank you for sharing these photos and words,