By Brother Pham Hanh
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 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 had to sit still. I still remember, most of all, the feeling that I could be who I was, and that I was loved. The impressions and experiences are still a part of me, and I feel rich. I can maybe not explain in words what it is to be Apostolic, but I know for sure that it laid the foundation for my whole life. My parent really did their best to give what they could. Although we had to live through storms and difficulties, we are still very close to each other.
When I discovered the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh and Plum Village, it was for me as if I came home. The puzzle pieces fell into place, and I could see myself into a whole new light. It went 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 with your Sangha, but once every two years you can visit your family for two weeks. That seems short, but via FaceTime, I video call my family a lot, 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 never have been away. But 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 because of health reasons, he could not help out in the church. It was exactly at that 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 speech was wonderful, inspiring and authentic. The moment came for the “rondgang,” an old ritual of bread and wine. My father was invited to help perform this tradition. The whole community slowly came forward, and the choir sang. I listened and waited next to my mother who was still conducting. How it happened I do not know exactly, but suddenly I found myself as the last person 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.
This put me into a dilemma because deep within me, I did not want to cause inconvenience to others and as the last one, to not to go to the other empty line meant that the whole community had to wait for me. But here I was, back home in the apostolic society after a long time. I stood here as an Apostolic Buddhist monk, waiting in line for my father.
This is my moment, this is my father…
I can take this moment
This moment will not slip away
It took a while, and there I stood in front of my father. He looked into my eyes for a long time, and I looked at him. It was silent in the community, and everybody looked at us. A smile, a connection. Here I stood in my strength, and here was my father back in his strength.
When I told my father that I wanted to become a monk, he said, “There are few people who really go for what they deeply wish for 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 such a moment in which time stood still. My father, his son—so much love, so much given for his children—tried, failed, and tried again. This was a moment of gratitude. This was a moment of real connection and of true love.
“Amen. I love you, Dad.”
The community was quiet. This moment, so intimate, so real; the sharing was the gift.
You give so much more than you think by just being who you are and taking the space that is already given. You do not serve the world by making yourself smaller of bigger: you truly serve by just being you.
*The wafer represents the Eucharist and is the size of a 2 euro coin.
Click here to read about Brother Pham Hanh’s first year as a monk.