I’m writing this letter for you from Central Vietnam. I just returned to my hometown several days ago after six weeks of enjoying, studying and practicing together with international practitioners in Plum Village France and Thailand. I remembered on an early day last May, after reading “Wake Up Dreams” by Br. Phap Linh in La Thu Lang Mai magazine (you can read the English version here), the spark that had been lying sleeping in my heart burned. I resonated with his dream “to find, to meet, to connect with, and to bring together good, kind and wise people” to contribute to building a better world, and that fire lightened up inside me. Immediately, I registered for a retreat for young Asian people (Wake Up Asia Retreat) in Thailand.
I wanted to study and practice well, so that I could contribute a small part to the Wake Up retreat. I hoped I could connect with young people, and together we could fire every heart. Therefore, I joined in the Wake Up Asia Retreat in Thai Plum Village. I was fortunate enough to meet practitioners from all over the world and share the aspiration of bringing mindfulness into education, especially in Asia. And luckily, I also met many young people with the same enthusiasm.
On the last day of the 21-day retreat What Happens When We Die this past summer, I remember you said to us: “You can connect to me through your every step and every breath. When you walk and breathe in mindfulness, I am there. You are my continuation.”
The Wake Up Asia Retreat was also the first time I came to Thai Plum Village. It was so wonderful when I got off the bus. I already felt a sense of warmth and familiarity just like home. Every day I was there, I felt truly home. I arrived and I was home in every second and minute. I felt your presence in every activity of the retreat. There were many young people coming to the retreat for the first-time, so it was very strange for them initially. However, after receiving an orientation from Sr. Hanh Lien and Br. Phap Niem, they quickly fit in.
From the orientation of that first day until the end of the retreat, every time I connected with the monastic brothers and sisters, I always saw your presence. The monastics are truly your continuation. A thought came to me: “If I don’t have the conditions to fly to Plum Village in France, I can meet your continuation body right here in Pak Chong, Thailand.”
Waking up every morning, I went to the meditation hall; it was still dark, so I felt as if I could touch the bright, starry sky. I really enjoyed the bright stars. They were shimmering and magical as if I could touch them. It was such a quiet morning that I could hear my steps on the dirt road. During the retreat, I fully enjoyed the nature and felt connected to the cosmic body. I felt I was lucky and happy because I had the opportunity of experiencing what you taught in the 21-Day Retreat in France.
During all the sitting meditations I benefited a lot from the Sangha’s collective energy of mindfulness. Therefore, I was able to experience your teaching on “Go as a river.” A Thai lay friend shared that she had always been afraid of coming to Buddhist temples because in the previous retreats she had attended, it was all about the theory. She felt very miserable as all the teachings were very subliminal and hard to understand. But the Wake Up retreat helped her to understand more the Buddha’s teachings because she found the meaning of every activity there. There was joy and happiness created in every activity: sitting meditation, walking meditation, mindful eating, Dharma sharing or just playing.
Mindful eating may have been the activity that many young people were most interested in. They shared that they had the habit of eating fast or do other things when eating. Therefore, they were taught this practice right after they had just arrived at the Wake Up retreat. In the beginning, they found it too difficult to practice, but after eating with the Sangha three meals every day, mindful eating became easier. They gradually knew how to eat slowly, chew carefully and felt grateful because in every single bite of the food was the gift of the Earth and the Sky. A deep gratitude to the monastics who prepared all the delicious and nutritious dishes with kindness and compassion..
During this retreat, we cultivated healthy body through nutritious foods and nurtured peaceful minds through beautiful and meaningful meditation songs. Some young people shared that music helped them connect with each other and practice better.
I remember during the 21-Day Retreat, Thay invited the practitioners to compose more songs, poems and verses for the practice. Only a few days later, I was amazed to hear so many beautiful songs and poems written to inspire us in the practice.
Every time I participated in retreats, I can’t help but admire the musical talents of the monastics and lay friends from around the world. The last night of the Wake Up retreat was full of joy and laughter. The Sangha was awarded with a party of musical performances, skits, and dances by so many practitioners.
Another activity that also attracted many young people in this year’s retreat was sports and games. We were divided into many teams according to our Dharma family to compete. We had a lot of fun and laughter. Looking at the young people being soaked with water, the monastics enthusiastically joined in all the games and further inspired the youngsters’ spirits. Our team did not win any games, but we were all laughing and merry. What mattered to us was not winning the games, but because we played with all our heart in the spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood, we learned many precious lessons.
In this Wake Up retreat, I was fortunate to be in a Dharma family with many youngsters (19-20 years old) and connect with various local Sanghas from different parts of Vietnam. I had the opportunity to listen to their sharings of pain and sorrows, anxiety and stress in their study, work and daily life. Therefore, I felt more grateful to Thay for empowering us with your insightful teachings that help us recognise the sufferings and pains in our hearts and practice to transform them.
I agree with what Br. Phap Linh’s writing in Wake Up Dreams that “Thay is young and his teaching always attracts young people.” After seeing their transformations at the end of the retreat, I wish more young people in general, Vietnamese young people in particular, have the opportunity to learn and practice according to Thay’s teachings. Once again, I am deeply grateful to Thay for having transmitted to us the many wonderful teachings.
I’m thankful to Brother Phap Linh for having lit the Wake Up fire within my heart. I am also grateful to the monastic brothers and sisters in Pak Chong who helped me recognize Thay’s continuation in Thai Plum Village. I vow to practice diligently to become a beautiful continuation of Thay.
With love and gratitude,
Tam Tu Quang (Luminous Compassion of the Heart)
This article was originally posted in Vietnamese on Lang Mai‘s website