Authors: Sister Xướng Nghiêm and Brother Trời Bát Nhã
Thầy’s monastics and lay disciples from around the world are gathering in Vietnam to honor our beloved teacher as he becomes an ancestor in our lineage. Sister Xướng Nghiêm and Brother Trời Bát Nhã share their open letter to Thầy from Từ Hiếu, the Root Temple in Vietnam founded by Zen Master Thích Nhất Hạnh.
Dear respected Thầy,
The Từ Hiếu Root Temple is stunning amidst the beautiful Dương Xuân hills, with the tree canopies and blankets of grass lit by the warm winter sun. Venerable monks, nuns, and lay practitioners have all gathered here, to prepare for the Great Memorial Ceremony.
The Diệu Trạm nunnery has been bustling these days, and I think Thầy can see this. Groups in brown robes from various centers have all gathered here. We say to each other, “this is the scene Thầy saw in his dream that year.” And Thầy is smiling at us.
“Thầy had a very ordinary but beautiful dream. Thầy dreamed that he woke up in a temple or a practice center where the atmosphere was very joyful. Thầy asked someone nearby: ‘What is so joyful?’ They replied: ‘Dear Thầy, some brothers have just arrived. We are cooking a pot of rice to share joyfully together. Thầy got up, walked out to the temple yard, practiced walking meditation, recognizing each orchid pot, each bamboo cluster with a heart full of joy. What’s there? Just a few brothers who have just arrived. Just a pot of rice about to be cooked for brothers to sit and eat together. Just the orchid pots, bamboo clumps in the temple yard. But why so joyful? Because we still have each other, because we have brotherly love. A small, simple dream, but it made Thầy happy for many days. But this is not just a dream; this is the truth. Thầy and his students, we brothers, have each other. Whatever happens, our brotherly affection will not be lost. That is our paradise. We just need to look carefully at the brother present. We just need to look carefully at the orchid shoots, bamboo clumps, and recite Nguyễn Du’s magical verse: ‘Now we see each other’s faces clearly. If we can see each other’s faces clearly today, then today will never become a dream again.’” (Excerpt from Thầy’s letter dated 07.03.2010)
We are engaged in returning. Returning to the simplest, most familiar, most beloved things, with wood stoves, smoke scent, books, plum, pear, peach branches, bamboo hedges, water jars, brothers gathered around a warm fire, sharing tea, and telling stories. Peach branches brighten the meditation hall, and beautiful white plum blossom vases begin to be displayed on Buddha’s table, Thầy’s table, the Ancestors’ table. The community has been very happy, enjoying every moment of the morning practice. Every corner in the meditation hall, the library, the living room, the communal room, the tea house, the reading room, the cinema room, the front yard, the entrance gate, every little corner here, we want to have life, practice spirit, showing the minimalist and Zen quality in this space.
Wherever brothers sit, I feel Thầy’s presence there, “Je suis là pour toi”, “Already arrived”, “Breathe child”, “Happiness is the way”, “No worries”, “Together we are one”,… Sitting down and settling in peace, we deeply connect with Thầy. We are aware that we are working with Thầy, with Thầy’s hands, so we are more careful, more appreciative, more harmonious, and know how to let go, Thầy. Thầy’s presence is always the sound of the mindfulness bell in our actions, speech, and work.
These days, senior monks and nuns from afar have returned, engaging in activities, sitting together for meals, sharing tea around the wood stove, enjoying the warm family atmosphere, and we are very touched. It’s not a funeral, not a memorial for Thầy’s cessation of manifestation, but like celebrating Thầy’s very new, mysterious manifestations, everywhere, in every disciple, in every flower and blade of grass, in every working group, in every plot of vegetables planted as a green robe we offer to Mother Earth, and in each calligraphy stroke here and there around the nunnery.
“The old sun guides us home,
The old dream reunites, warming the homeland’s heart.”
We have already returned; we are truly here! The dream of a great spiritual family, guided by venerable elders, with the consciousness of being present for each other in boundless brotherly love, is a dream that has never been old.
“The vast hills of Dương Xuân,
Flowers greet the path of virtue, miles share their fragrance.”
The Dương Xuân hills, the ancient capital region, the green Mother Earth are all smiling, welcoming the children from centers around the world, joining hands in preparing for the upcoming events. Following the Buddha and the Ancestors, we make love the foundation of our practice; we vow to use this love to make the Root Temple continue to be a refuge for descendants from all directions.
The Great Memorial Ceremony is very close. We are aware that in every dignified presence, every greeting bow, every gentle smile, every leisurely step, every silent work, every affectionate look, they are all gifts, precious offerings we present to Thầy on this occasion. We see Thầy’s warm hand holding ours as we visit the Root Temple, the Diệu Trạm nunnery, seeing the Sangha working very joyfully together. A new spring is returning to the homeland.
by Sister Xướng Nghiêm with Brother Trời Bát Nhã