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Thich Nhat Hanh turns 93

Dear Beloved Community,

We are very happy to share that today Thay has been celebrating his 93rd birthday at Từ Hiếu Temple in Huế, Vietnam, his “Root Temple” where he first entered the monkhood aged sixteen. 

Over the last few days, Thay’s monastic students from across Vietnam have been gathering at Từ Hiếu Temple to celebrate his “continuation day.” Brothers have come from nearby Từ Đức Temple, and sisters have arrived from the South. To celebrate this special day, the monastics have created an exhibition of Thay’s books in the Full Moon Meditation Hall. Thay has been coming out in his wheelchair every day to admire the preparations and savor the joyful atmosphere. Today, hundreds of people gathered to celebrate and offer their best wishes. The monastic community can feel the strength, peace, alertness, and vitality of Thay’s presence, and the warmth and harmony he is bringing to Từ Hiếu.

Thay visiting the exhibition of his books at Từ Hiếu Temple in Huế, Vietnam this week

These are the last few sunny days before the rains arrive. Despite the heat and humidity of recent months, Thay has coped very well, perhaps because this is the climate of his youth. (For some of Thay’s attendants, the hot weather has been much more challenging!) From time to time he has a chance to visit the beach for a few days, just thirty minutes from the temple. Thay’s health remains fairly stable overall, although from time to time he faces challenges with appetite, sleep, and physical discomfort. Thay continues to receive regular treatments from acupuncturists and physiotherapists, which are very beneficial. 

Earlier this year in July, Thay made remarkable progress with his bilingual (Vietnamese-English) speech therapist, who had begun to help him in San Francisco in 2015, and with whom he has a very good connection. It seems that the mechanics for speech are still there, but that it will take a lot of training for Thay to recover the capacity to speak. Thay eagerly made swift progress over the course of two weeks of therapy, but following his great efforts his body became exhausted. Once he had rested, Thay made it known that he preferred not to continue with the speech training to conserve his energy for offering his presence in and around the temple.

This marks almost a year since Thay first arrived at Từ Hiếu shortly after his birthday last October, in time for the Ceremony of Sweeping the Ancestral Stupas. There have been many highlights, including his first Tết (Lunar New Year) at the Root Temple since the 1960s in February; the start of huge renovation works on the main shrine hall in March; and the official visit of a delegation of 9 US Senators in April. Students and followers of Thay have been visiting from around the world to pay their respects. Last month, Thay was awarded book prizes in Vietnam for his new children’s books The Hen and the Golden Eggs, and Each Breath, a Smile. Internationally, Thay has been honored with the Luxembourg Peace Prize, and in July, with the Gandhi-Mandela Peace Award

Thay with Senators Leahy, Murkowski, Stabenow, Whitehouse, Udall, Portman, Baldwin, Hirono, and Kaine, and their spouses, at Từ Hiếu Temple in Huế, on 19 April 2019

To celebrate Thay’s birthday this week we have released a new Plum Village website, with inspiring information about Thay’s life, and richer resources on his teachings for environmentalists, peace-makers, teachers and business leaders. We’ve also released a new series of images of Thay’s Life in Photos and told the fascinating story of his Life in 12 Books. Those who wish to go deeper can explore his letters, interviews, and calligraphies, and see our reader’s guide to his books.

Knowing that we are Thay’s continuation, we are coming together as a Sangha to support worldwide efforts to incite change and protect the Earth. The Earth-Holders network of sanghas has put out a call to support the student climate strikes. Recently, in Bordeaux, a large group of monastics and lay friends, attended the school strike for Mother Earth, and this joyful and compassionate action was echoed in many of our centres around the world. In August, we had our biggest ever Wake Up Earth retreat, with over 500 young people gathered in Plum Village from all around the world, including a delegation from Palestine and 10 young members of Extinction Rebellion who were sponsored to come and join the retreat. 

As we all know, Thay put great emphasis in his last years of teaching on sharing how our community can contribute to change in the world by bringing back the spiritual dimension, and showing how, together, we can fall back in love with Mother Earth. For our three-month Rains Retreat this year, we have taken the themes of nourishing Bodhicitta (the mind of love), taking care of Mother Earth, and building enduring, sustainable communities; all crucial aspects of bringing about the collective awakening we need. As a community we’re committed to continuing to explore how best we can support and engage, always keeping the Plum Village tradition relevant and up to date. 

Plum Village monastics practicing sitting meditation during the Climate Strike in Bordeaux on 20th October 2019

Next year’s 21-Day Retreat in June will explore how Thay’s Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings can be a light for our times—offering a radical, engaged, ethical and spiritual way forward, both individually and collectively. With these trainings as a guide, we will discuss how our community-building practices can establish firm foundations for long-lasting human and planetary sustainability through the challenges that lie ahead. 

We take refuge in Thay’s courage, his tenderness, his spirit of never giving up; and in the wisdom of our ancestral teachers.

With love and trust,

The Monks and Nuns of Plum Village

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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