by Brother Dao Bi
Wake Up is a Precious Gem of the Plum Village Tradition
As a young person, I didn’t know what I really wanted to do with my life. I didn’t have a path. When I heard that Thay was coming to Indonesia in 2010, I immediately signed up for the retreat. After the retreat had finished, I felt that I had seen the path I wanted to embark on. Yes, I wanted to become a monk! My parents didn’t support me but after they had witnessed my transformation, they understood that this path would bring me a lot of happiness. They asked me to finish my studies, I thought it was a good idea also, so that I could really reflect deeply on my aspiration, to see if this path would help me to find meaning in my life.
After the retreat in 2010, some young people who were at the retreat decided to establish Wake Up Indonesia. The Wake Up movement has helped many young people to find a path in their life. In 2013, some of my friends and I from Wake Up Indonesia went on the Wake Up Retreat led by Thay in Thailand. In the closing session, I saw a calligraphy on the slideshow, “You have seen the path. Do not fear anymore.” I was deeply moved to tears, and I didn’t know why. Slowly I recognized that I had a fear that I wouldn’t be able to see Thay again. That calligraphy was like encouraging words from Thay, comforting me that it’s not important to see Thay personally. It’s more important to be able to see the path.
The Path of Compassion
I received a lineage name, Chân Trời Đạo Bi, which means True Sky over the Path of Compassion. It reminds me that my practice is to see the Path of Compassion. “The Path of Compassion” is one of my favorite chapters in the “Old Path White Clouds” that I have read over and over. It tells the story when Siddhartha and Yasodhara were social workers, and they did not know how to overcome the sadness and grief in their hearts. Yasodhara was overwhelmed by grief when a young child she had tended to for more than a week had just died. Siddharta tried to console her but he was not yet able to help her to overcome the grief because he had not yet found the path. Only after Siddharta became the Buddha, was he able to discover the path of compassion and understanding and show this path to others.
I feel very fortunate that Thay has helped me to see this path. I had a lot of wounds as a social worker before I ordained, and I see that I am still on the path of healing my wounds. Knowing that I am on the path brings me a lot of happiness. The painful feelings of the wounds come up from time to time, but I have learned how to be with my wounds, and to understand my wounds. Thay always teaches us that understanding suffering is the way to generate compassion. This path has helped me to grow in my understanding of life. Thanks to being able to see the path, I see my wounds as ingredients to grow compassion. When compassion arises, I do not have to fear. This is like a mantra or a guided meditation for myself. “Breathing in, you have seen the path. Breathing out, do not fear anymore”.
This mantra has helped me overcome my regret of not being able to see Thay anymore, to embrace the fear and to remind myself that my practice is to be able to see the path. I regret that I had not decided to become a monk a little bit earlier and gone to Plum Village, then I would have had a chance to be with Thay, and to receive his advice and guidance directly. I was able to come to Plum Village in 2015, when Thay was no longer able to speak. Sometimes I have dreams of talking with Thay, and it makes me very happy.
I feel grateful that I have been born in this spiritual life as a disciple of Thay. I have learned a lot from Thay even though Thay is no longer able to teach verbally. Thay continues teaching in the non-verbal way. When Thay joined the walking meditation in his wheelchair, Thay would pick up a leaf and with a playful gesture, Thay made everyone laugh. Thay doesn’t need to teach verbally to make people feel happy. Just by pointing at the sky, trees, flowers, and the wonders of life, Thay can help people to generate joy and happiness. Sometimes when we stopped during the walking meditation, Thay would pat or hug his disciples, and I felt as if Thay was patting and hugging me and everybody as well.
Seeing Thay and the Path with the Eyes of Signlessness
One time, I saw Thay in his wheelchair when we were practicing walking meditation in Lower Hamlet. I saw Thay from the other shore of a lotus pond, and a branch blocked my view of Thay. I moved to the left and to the right, trying to see Thay. I asked myself, “Where is Thay?” Then I realized that I was still caught in Thay’s form. I was looking for Thay in his form, and I had not been able to see Thay with the eyes of signlessness.
I feel fortunate to be able to read letters from Thay. In one of the letters Thay says, “Thay and his disciples feel every day that they have the Buddha practicing sitting meditation, eating meditation, and walking meditation with them. For us Buddha is not a distant image from the past but a living reality, which we can see with the insight of signlessness.” Sometimes I feel that Thay practices sitting, eating, and walking meditation with us even though Thay is not in Plum Village. Whenever I come back to my breathing, I feel that Thay and the Buddha are very close to me. If I am not aware of my breathing, Thay is far away from me.
From time to time, I ask myself “Have I really seen the path?” This koan will always accompany me along the path. I don’t know if I have really seen the path. I still have a lot of fear and sorrow, and a part of me says that it is difficult to really feel that I do not have to fear. The practice of listening to the sound of the bell has helped me a lot. When I recite the gatha “Listening to the bell, I feel my afflictions begin to dissolve”, I see that my fear and sorrow slowly begin to dissolve, day by day.
The European Wake Up CTC
When some brothers and sisters were organizing the Wake Up Ambassadors Retreat in Plum Village for the first time in 2018, we established the European Wake Up CTC. We call it ‘Oomph’, because it sounds more fun! Some people felt that CTC sounds too formal, and they didn’t want to have more meetings when they joined the CTC. We agreed that we wanted to establish the CTC as a way for us to get nourishment and joy. Since then we have monthly Zoom Online Gatherings. Right now Annica Bauer, Verena Böttcher, Toos Vergote, Arlind Reuter, Fransisco Vogel, Jan-Jitze Hees, Sr. Tao Nghiem, Sr. Xuong Nghiem, Sr. Loc Uyen, Br. Duc Niem, and myself serve in Oomph.
At the beginning of the Oomph monthly online gatherings, Hong-An—the Wake Up International coordinator at that time—joined us. Since the end of 2019, we formed the Wake Up International Coordination Team with Jazz (Wake Up Australasia), Lewis (Wake Up North and South America), and Annica (Wake Up Europe, Africa and Middle East).
Once every three months, we have an online gathering with the Wake Up Ambassadors in Europe. Every month, we continue to deepen our connection and friendship. Usually we have the online gathering on Thursday or Sunday evenings, which are lazy evenings in Plum Village after the Days of Mindfulness. Sometimes I feel tired but when I join the online gathering, I always feel as if I am coming back to the house and gathering with the family in the living room, and asking, “How is everybody doing?” or “How was your day?” The lay members share their difficulties, both personal and in their Wake Up Sanghas, and the monastic members also share their difficulties, so we create mutual support and deepen our brotherhood and sisterhood. Sometimes we also have fun together, play online games, sing, and dance!
Happy Wake Up Ambassadors Change The World
We came up with what Oomph stands for: Organism for Optimising Many People’s Happiness. Oomph is not an organization, it is an organism. When the Wake Up Ambassadors have a place of refuge, they are able to optimise their own happiness. When the Wake Up Ambassadors are happy, they are able to help other people in their Sangha and optimise other people’s happiness. Happy Wake Up Ambassadors can help to optimise many people’s happiness and thus help change the world.
Wake Up Earth Holder
In May 2020, we had the Wake Up Online Retreat in Plum Village. One of the main concerns of young people now is protecting the environment and and it was one of the main topics we addressed with the 250 young people who joined the retreat. During the retreat, some brothers and sisters felt the need to establish an Earth Holder Sangha in Europe. At the end of the retreat, we announced that we would have a monthly online Earth Holder gathering with young people. Since then, Br. Duc Niem, Sr. Tao Nghiem, Sr. Loc Uyen, Sr. Giac Hoa, Sr. Khuong Dinh, Simona Coayla-Duba, Aoise, Jazz, Alex, myself, and other sisters and brothers have joined the core group. Some young people from different continents like Europe, the Americas, and Asia also join the online gathering every month. We share joys and tears around the topic of Mother Earth. We hold Mother Earth deeply in our hearts, and find ways to support one another.
Building Wake Up is to build brotherhood and sisterhood
My sisters and brothers who have been involved in the Wake Up movement keep reminding each other that whatever we do in Plum Village or the wider community, we are doing in order to build brotherhood and sisterhood. One time, Sr. Loc Uyen who now serves in Oomph and Wake Up Earth Holder CTC said that we need to come together as brothers and sisters in the CTC then everything else will unfold well. When the young people see that we can optimise our own happiness, they will be inspired to learn and put into practice Plum Village teachings in order to optimise their own happiness.
I’ve been involved in Wake Up as I’m still under 35 years old. Yet many of the monastics and lay friends who are involved in Wake Up are above 35 years old, but they are still young! They have a youthful energy and I really learn a lot from them. They still have a big heart to be with young people. Brother Thien Y offered a calligraphy to me “The path of compassion is endless, but together it’s a lot of fun!”
In the “Praising the Buddha Chant”, I very much like this sentence, ”May the Sangha practice diligently, showing love and concern for one and all. Just as for our very own family…” It always moves me as it reflects my deep aspiration to practice in such a way to show love and concern for young people, the human family, and all beings. It’s a lot of fun to practice with young people and to show others that when we practice we don’t have to be too serious, that it can be fun!
Wake Up is a Precious Gem of the Plum Village Tradition
In my Wake Up online Dharma sharing family during the Rains Retreat 2021, I invited everybody to share the most precious gem of our tradition to them. It could be a discourse that we learnt in this retreat, or a practice that is the most important to them. After everybody shared, I shared that Dharma sharing is the most precious gem of our tradition to me. I could learn a lot from what they shared during the three months, how they applied the teachings, and the living insights born from experiences shared in the family. Dharma sharing and eating meals with the family are my favorite practices in our tradition. The Plum Village tradition attracts many young people because Thay and the Sangha have been able to renew Buddhism in a way that is more relevant to young people, and establish Wake Up as a Dharma door for young people. The Wake Up Dharma door is truly a precious gem of the Plum Village tradition.
Thay and the Buddha Have Shown Us the Path
One of my favorite parts in “Old Path White Clouds” always helps me to nourish my beginner’s mind. This chapter talks about Venerable Ananda who had not yet attained his spiritual goal of enlightenment when the Buddha was dying. Venerable Ananda was weeping and the Buddha tried to comfort Ananda. He said, “Don’t be so sad, Ananda. The Tathagata has reminded you that all dharmas are impermanent. With birth, there is death; with arising, there is dissolving; with coming together, there is separation. How can there be birth without death? How can there be arising without dissolving? How can there be coming together without separation? Ananda, you have cared for me with all your heart for many years. You have devoted all your efforts to helping me and I am most grateful to you. Your merit is great, Ananda, but you can go even farther. If you make just a little more effort, you can overcome birth and death. You can attain freedom and transcend every sorrow. I know you can do that, and that is what would make me the most happy.”
Reading this part always gives me faith that we can be enlightened without the presence of The Awakened One. Venerable Ananda was able to really see the path and attain his spiritual goal after the Buddha passed into Nirvana. It gives me faith and hope that we can attain freedom and transcend every sorrow after Thay continues from his form. I see that Thay’s presence in Vietnam now is giving us an opportunity to make a little more effort to overcome birth and death, like the Buddha’s advice to Ananda. Thay knows we can do that, and that is what would make Thay most happy.
Thay has shown the path to me and many people. Thay is a teacher who has shown us how to understand and to love. My deep aspiration is to continue to walk on this path and to help other people see this path. I know this is what would make Thay most happy.
This article appeared in the printed Plum Village Newsletter 2022