The monastic community of Plum Village on Wednesday published an update on the well-being of the Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh, known affectionately to his followers as “Thay” (teacher), marking the occasion of renowned teacher’s 92nd birthday.
In a message posted on the Plum Village website, the members of Thay’s Plum Village community near Bordeaux in France gave a detailed account of his circumstances at the Plum Village community in Thailand where he has been residing.
“Thay has been nourished by the joy and youthfulness of over 200 monastics at Thai Plum Village,” the monks and nuns related. “In the warm and tropical climate, and surrounded by his young students, Thay has been able to continue on his path of healing, while also offering his presence to support his beloved young community’s strength and growth. In Thailand Thay has the opportunity to receive world-class healthcare from both Eastern and Western specialists.” (Plum Village)
Thay was hospitalized in France in November 2014 following a severe brain hemorrhage. After months of rehabilitation, he was released from the stroke clinic at Bordeaux University Hospital in April 2015 and returned to Plum Village, where attendants from the monastery and visiting medical professionals continued to aid his recovery. In July of the same year, Thay was flown to San Francisco to undergo a more intensive rehabilitation program at the UCSF Medical Center. In September 2015, Thay spoke his first words since his stroke and in January 2016 was allowed to return to Plum Village, where he remained under the care of the members of his community.
In December 2016, two months after his 90th birthday, Thay communicated a clear and determined wish to travel from France to Thailand in order to be closer to his homeland.* In Thailand, he has been residing at Thai Plum Village on the edge of Khao Yai National Park, the largest practice center in Asia in Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition, with more than 200 monastic disciples. In August 2017, Thay made his first visit to his homeland Vietnam in more than a decade, spending several days in Da Nang before visiting his hometown in nearby Hue and paying his respects at his ancestral shrine and his lineage’s root temple, Chua Tu Hieu, of which Thay remains the abbot.
As is to be expected for someone so advanced in age recovering from a major stroke, there are times when Thay’s health is stronger, and other times when it is weaker. On good days, Thay is able to eat several small meals a day and join the sangha for walking meditation in his wheelchair, or perhaps participate in a formal meal in the meditation hall, eating with great concentration, dignity and presence. When he is with the sangha, Thay will often gesture, bright-eyed, to remind us to enjoy listening to the sound of the birds, or with a gentle smirk he will point to his mouth to remind us to smile. On good days, Thay has been able to offer his solemn presence and witness at ordination ceremonies, or his joyful presence at festivals, watching his students performs songs, skits and dances. Even with his health challenges, Thay never wants to miss big sangha events. . . .
Although Thay has still not been able to speak since his stroke, he delights in joining in when the sangha sings Plum Village songs and, when he has the strength, continues to diligently train himself to form words. Whenever his health permits, Thay trains eagerly with his physiotherapy exercises, and smiles a smile of victory whenever he is able to stand on his own two feet without any help. The nerves in his right leg are now active all the way to his foot. Although there are still some days when Thay is unable to eat or drink, and he rests deeply in his bed, as soon as his energy is restored he eats a lot, as though making up for the days he couldn’t eat. Overall, we are happy to say that, since the last two years of following a special diet, Thay’s digestive system has been strengthened and restored. (Plum Village)
In concluding the Plum Village members emphasized the importance of continuing and propagating the Dharma teachings shared by Thay: “It is a great fortune that Thay transmitted the Dharma Lamp to hundreds of monastic and lay teachers, and it is a great happiness that today they are helping Thay’s teachings to shine brightly a little bit everywhere. Now, more than ever, these teachings are needed, and we are grateful for each of you continuing Thay’s love, wisdom, peace, and courage in your corner of the planet. We hope that you can join us in our monasteries or at our external retreats in the coming year as we continue Thay’s legacy together.” (Plum Village)
Born Nguyen Xuan Bao in central Vietnam on 11 October 1926, and ordained at the age of 16 at Tu Hieu Temple, in Hue City, Thay is an influential Zen teacher, poet, and the author of more than 100 books. As an active advocate for peace, he was influential in the anti-war movement, encouraging non-violent protests during the Vietnam War. Thay founded the Order of Interbeing and the Unified Buddhist Church, and in 1982 established the Plum Village Buddhist Center in France with his colleague Sister Chan Khong. He has been a central figure in the transmission of Buddhism to the West and in marrying an authentic Zen tradition and lineage with a progressive approach to issues such as social activism, science versus faith, and religion versus spirituality.
Walk With Me, a new documentary film about Thich Nhat Hanh and his Plum Village monastic community made its world premier at the prestigious South by Southwest festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas in March last year. Narrated by actor Benedict Cumberbatch, the flm has been shown in cinemas across the world.**
* Thich Nhat Hanh Travels to Thailand to “Be Closer to his Homeland”
** Walk With Me Documentary About Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village Community Premieres at SXSW
Thay’s 92nd Birthday (Plum Village)