Diary from a Monastic Sister


Meditation Hall of Inspiration

12 September 2015

New Hamlet Plum Village altarDear Thay,

It is still dark outside; we have just finished the meditation. Here, we have started the Fall Retreat after “two weeks of leisure.” In the early morning the mist is still hanging over the glass door. The Fall is often the time when Thay, together with the Brothers and Sisters, travels to America. The younger disciples in Plum Village will be gathering apples, picking up chestnuts, making fire to bake potatoes, hiking in the mountains, picking plums and cooking plum jam, waiting for you to return for the Winter Retreat. Now I am sitting here, writing to you, allowing myself to miss you in our village a little.

You know, there was a child who asked me: “Sister, what is ‘lazy’? How to be lazy?” She wondered what I was doing during the two weeks of leisure and how to be called “lazy.” I am going to tell you about my two weeks of leisure, as well as telling her about the monastics’ leisure. Though during the time of leisure, this little spiritual house is still spreading its arms to welcome Sisters and Brothers from other practice centres and submitting visas to join the retreats. The house with seven Sisters is now sharing five more sisters from other practice centres. It’s a little bit tight but joyful and warm with sisterhood.

Despite being “lazy”, I still kept my practice timetable and listened to Dharma Talks everyday. This year I was lucky to listen to all 13 Dharma Talks Br. Phap Kham taught about the way of Engaged Buddhism and the 14 Rules of Interbeing. I also followed all the Dharma Talks from the monastics during the retreat at Blue Cliff Monastery and the U.S. I go with the flow of the Sangha, learning and receiving your growing transmission from each teaching. How happy happy and rich we are to have so many monastics with solid practices! The flame you transmitted, we are receiving fully and strongly from the Brothers and Sisters. I do not feel any deprivation, loss, or disadvantage from anything even though I became a monastic late when you were already advanced in age.

The Sangha operates as diligent bees, practices, learns, plays and works in a rhythm together moving forward. We are shoulder by shoulder building up our Sangha with all the talent and strength we have. One sweeps; the other gives the Dharma; the elder brother cooks; the younger one sets the table; the elder sister buys vegetables; the younger one cleans vegetables. We share cozy and happy moments with each other.Co Chan Tuyet New Hamlet Plum Village

The Master of Meditation Hall of Inspiration has taken many hours to build a stone wall during the lazy days, helping to prevent the rainwater from eroding the coastline. She made it by hand. She went around the garden, collecting all sizes of stones hiding under the grass. One hand held the hoe, one hand hoed up the grass while matching the stones together beautifully, laying some wild flowers from the beginning of autumn into the corners where two stones meet. The Master is French and is already old in age, but her soul is quite young. She works like she is playing – works like no work. The achievement of that “leisure” is a quite poetic stone wall.

During lazy days, I had time to sit around and listened to stories the Sisters told about why they became monastics, how they met you and the Sangha, and the suffering and happiness they experienced. Sometimes, the stories accidentally touched the pains that were not completely transformed, tears rolling down their faces. I went back to my breath and breathed in rhythm with the Sisters. At the same time we transformed our suffering for each other. In our busy daily life, how could we sit around with each other if we did not have days of leisure?

Also during the lazy days, I have returned to the Village for two days to extend my visa for the New Year. After just entering the door, I was enjoying the fragrance of plum jam. This year, the Sisters made the jam so skillfully. They put more orange peel, cinnamon, and ginger into the jar, making the jam taste more delicious. I also helped the Sisters wash pots and clean up. The plum jam this year is quite yummy, and there is plenty for next year’s meditation trainers to enjoy during breakfast. I assure it is delicious to the last jar, hee!

The vegetable garden in the village is always green in summer, cucurbit and cucumbers dangling, so joyful to see. Perilla is high about my shoulder, branches and leaves are all purple. Additionally, there is spinach, sweet potatoe buds, malabar nightshade, cinnamon, and persicaria squeezing tightly along the walk. I have two suitcases full and heavy with vegetables to carry to the city. When I pulled the suitcase, I did not see I was pulling vegetables. I was pulling the love from the village to the border. How could I carry it without love! The Sisters laughed so much seeing me breathing out heavily at the bus stop near the house with those two suitcases full of vegetables.

New Hamlet Plum VillageDuring the lazy days, I spent a lot of time writing to my blood family. The pain of my mother has not yet been healed; other worries of my father have not yet cleared; my brother still needs some encouragement; the nephews need to be comforted. I spent a lot of time to see deeply, write letters, show my gratitude to my parents by the way of a monastic, support the spirit of beloved ones, and give them more strength to face every challenge in life. In each letter, I can see I am a continuation of you on the way to aspire to the magical present and respect each other’s presence. There are a lot of stories to tell, but it is raining outside. May I go and watch the rain a little bit?

With respectful love and thanks to you!

Your disciple,

Co Tu Nguyet

This article was originally published on langmai.org

Translation credit: Vuong Haiyen

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