By TS Nguyễn Mạnh Hùng
Men normally don’t cry. But I did cry before the end of the Wake Up Asia 2014 retreat. And I can’t help but write them down, the emotions about the memorable days we were fortunate to be together.
At first I didn’t plan to attend the Wake Up retreat in Thailand this time, as I was quite occupied with Thái Hà Book’s 7th anniversary. In addition, the retreat was aimed mostly at young adults, age range of 18 to 30, the range I have long surpassed.
But I joined at last to bring along 16 members of Thái Hà Book’s family and give them the opportunity to taste the real joy in Dharma, in meditation. To my surprise, not only Thái Hà Book members, professional individuals and students attended the retreat, but we also welcomed three children participants without their accompanying parents. Bringing young adults to attend a retreat abroad seem to be the most attractive trick. I always believe in the mission of bringing Buddhism to young people, and help them practice at their age.
Five days of the retreat were filled with happiness and joy. I can’t believe that with 450 participants, we had 160 monks and nuns to look after the practitioners, i.e. on average two/three young adults were taken care and guided by one monastic, the lowest ratio for all types of domestic and international retreats I had ever attended.
I couldn’t hold my tears in seeing the monks and nuns join the group in daily activities, meals, Dharma talk and sitting and walking meditation sessions. They were all simple, but unbelievably intimate.
I was so touched that I bit my lips when I witnessed the monastics rising early in the morning to prepare food, fix the toilet and cast the road even all the way till near midnight so we could walk comfortably.
I won’t forget the image of the monk and nun sharing hats for the young adults during walking meditation, worrying that they couldn’t take the heat of the new lands after arriving. It was so memorable when I see them holding hands with children, smiling and playing with them, just like parents who show love to their kids.
To be honest, I joined quite a few retreats around the world; yet I rarely see such joyful smiles. And those smiles come from both the monastics and practitioners. And everyone carries that smile to share with their Dharma friends and for themselves.
It was wonderful to know that there were many business owners, CEO, college professors, doctors, engineers, PhD and masters that attended the retreat, all dressed in simple brown garment, and practiced together peacefully. I suddenly realized that they had generously set aside a large portion of their precious time away from their office to invest in this retreat, refresh themselves, “wake up” and charge up.
I stood in silence, watching those little primary school practitioners taking food, consuming in mindfulness and washing dishes all by themselves. To my surprise, they, rather than other young adults and college students, voluntarily went to bed early in order to attend early meditation session the next morning.
I burst into tears when I saw two of my students being ordained. Thuan from Nam Dinh and Thu Nhi, my college students from a few years back in Duy Tan university in the city of Da Nang and who are also members of Thái Hà Book club, used to address me as their teacher. After the ceremony, they officially became Brother Chan Troi Pham Tri and Sister Chan Trang Chi Nguyen. From now on, I have to address them as my teacher rather than the other way round. A few days ago, I dressed in brown color gown, while they dressed in light blue Buddhist gown. However, on the day of ceremony, I chose to dress down a bit in light blue gown and let them don the symbolic brown dress with a yellow wrap afterwards. It was memorable the moment we swapped roles as teachers and students.
I witnessed the changes in all the participants during the retreat, particularly the 16 members of Thái Hà Book family. To my great delight, many of them shared their experience tearfully during Dharma talk as they have understood their problems and how to solve them thanks to the mindfulness practice every day, every hour and moment according the Buddha’s teaching. Buddhism is not just to learn, but to practice as well.
Counting both arrival and departure day, we had in total seven days in Pak Chong. In fact, besides Hoang Phap Temple, this was the only place that could organise such a long retreat and accommodate such a large number of participants. The main practice here was to be mindful in every moment during the day. The group always reminded ourselves to concentrate in our practice in everyday activity. I feel very grateful to see the retreat organisers, volunteers who are mostly Thai friends, who have mustered all their efforts to serve and create a conducive environment to build energy and happiness.
I didn’t keep track of how many times I cried. Last year in April, I cried once during the “Together for now” retreat. This time, I shed my tears in joy and deep satisfaction. I couldn’t hold the emotions when I “woke up” myself and woke up with my retreat companion for seven days. And I will keep reminding myself to live mindfully everyday afterwards.
Typing those words don’t make me cry. Looking back on seven days in Thailand, seven days of the Wake Up retreat, they fill my heart with peace and happiness. It seems I got charged up with a great source of energy. I sincerely wish to spread this energy of love to everyone, especially those who are lucky enough to read these words. Open your heart and receive it, dear friends.
Nguyễn Mạnh Hùng, MS
Board of Director, CEO Thái Hà Book
This article was originally published in Vietnamese on Lang Mai’s website.