683 THÂY FOR ALL: When you are a truly happy Christian, you are also a Buddhist. And vice versa.
Day 683 Friday January 28, 2022
THÂY FOR ALL: When you are a truly happy Christian, you are also a Buddhist.
And vice versa.
THÂY FOR ALL
A few days ago, a great spiritual guide died. He was a major influence on the unfolding of our spiritual life here at Starcross. Yet he never visited us and probably did not even know we existed. Many hundreds of spiritual communities around the world could make the same statement.
Thich Nhat Hanh was born in 1926. At 16 he was ordained as a Buddhist monk at Tu Hieu Temple in Hue, Vietnam. He spent his life working for peace within people and nations. In 1964 he became a strong activist against the Vietnam War. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. On the other hand, both North and South Vietnam banished him from living in Vietnam. Thich Nhat Hanh, known by friends and students as “Thây” (teacher), spent most of his exile living at Plum Village, a meditation center he founded in southern France. After a stroke which left him unable to speak, he was allowed to return to Vietnam in 2018. He died at Tu Hieu Temple in Hue where he had taken his vows 76 years before — he was 95 years old.
The community at Plum Village asked Thây’s millions of followers to take a moment of mindful breathing and to hold him in their hearts this week. And it is in that spirit that I send you this Friday Reflection.
Thây was a remarkable bridge between eastern and western spirituality. He was instrumental in pioneering the understanding of mindfulness in the West and furthering the concept of socially engaged Buddhism in the East. In his personal life, Thây walked a multi-faith path which was enlightening to us at Starcross. He once wrote:
When you are a truly happy Christian, you are also a Buddhist. And vice versa.
On the altar in his hermitage he had a statue of Jesus and a statue of Buddha. He touched both of them before his meditations because he considered both his spiritual ancestors. It's no wonder that Thomas Merton (1915-1968), probably the most well-known Christian monk in the 20th century, referred to Thây as his “brother.” It raised quite a few eyebrows in both East and West when Thây wrote that:
If the Buddha had been born into the society which Jesus was born, I think he, too, would have been crucified.
Eyebrows rose a bit higher when it came out that he would on occasion participate in a Roman Catholic Mass, including the Eucharistic communion, when his friend, the Jesuit anti-war activist, Father Dan Berrigan (1921-2016) was presiding.
Thây’s many books are frequently studied and referred to here at Starcross. Spiritual interns often like some help in meditation if it has not been part of their practice before coming. They will find Thây’s simple advice hanging on the wall in their room. For me it is a daily reminder. Perhaps you could use it in the same way:
Breathing in. Breathing out.
I am blooming as a flower.
I am fresh as the dew.
I am solid as a mountain.
I am firm as the Earth.
I am water reflecting
what is real, what is true.
I feel there is space deep
inside of me. I am free.
Many of us practice “walking meditation” with guidance from Thây. We have a little booklet of his that helps us, The Long Road Turns To Joy. We are not walking to any place —the walk is the place. We are mindful of the Earth and ourselves. Mostly we are becoming more and more mindful of the present moment. When I see someone mindfully walking through the olive groves it is a safe bet, they have Thây’s booklet in their pocket!
Thây has also led large numbers of people on a walk, especially when there is some troubling issue facing the community or the world. It usually begins with the simple words of a Zen poem, “Take my hand. We will walk . . .” Here is a picture of Thây leading a walk with a Buddhist community in West Virginia.
It seemed appropriate to provide a eulogy for Thây as an ending for this Reflection, but I really didn't know what to write. Then, wonderfully, two friends sent Sister Julie a little story that Thây himself wrote about a falling leaf. It seemed a perfect homage.
I asked the leaf whether it was frightened because it was autumn, and the other leaves were falling.
The leaf told me, “No.” During the whole spring and summer I was completely alive. I worked hard to help nourish the tree, and now much of me is in the tree. I am not limited by this. I am also the whole tree, and when I go back to the soil, I will continue to nourish the tree. So I don’t worry at all. As I leave this branch and float to the ground, I will wave to the tree and tell her, ‘I will see you again very soon.”
That day there was a wind blowing and, after a while, I saw the leaf leave the branch and float down to the soil, dancing joyfully, because as it floated it saw itself already there in the tree. It was so happy. I bowed my head, knowing that I have a lot to learn from the leaf.
So please continue to look back and you will see that you have always been here. Let us look together and penetrate the life of a leaf, so we may be one with the leaf. Let us penetrate and be one with the cloud or with the wave, to realize our own nature as water and be free from our fear. If we look very deeply, we will transcend birth and death.
Tomorrow, I will continue to be. But you will have to be very attentive to see me. I will be a flower, or a leaf. I will be in these forms, and I will say hello to you. If you are attentive enough, you will recognize me, and you may greet me. I will be very happy.
Goodbye, Thây. Hello, Thây!