Thich Nhat Hanh Joins Plum Village Sangha to Open Annual Winter Retreat
The renowned Zen Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (known affectionately as Thay), joined his Plum Village community on Tuesday for the beginning of the sangha’s annual 90-day winter retreat. Plum Village expressed its happiness that Thay, who turned 90 last month, was strong enough to join the community for the opening ceremony after an extended period of ill health: “After missing two years of Winter Retreat in a row, the sangha is delighted that Thay’s health is now strong enough for him to offer his all-embracing compassionate, fearless presence to the whole community at this key moment of the year.” (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. On 11 July 2015, 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 the following January was allowed to return to Plum Village, where he has remained under the care of the members of his community.
Known as the “Face to Face Ceremony,” the members of the sangha assembled to commit to taking spiritual refuge for the entire duration of the retreat, the biggest of its kind in Europe, involving more than 200 monastics, and 100 lay practitioners. Thay and the visiting venerables offered incense at the altar, before the community chanted the New Heart Sutra, translated by Thay. The abbot and abbesses of the three Plum Village hamlets then came forward to formally take refuge in Thay. Plum Village noted that the abbess of New Hamlet, Sister Dinh Nghiem, and the abbot of Upper Hamlet, Brother Phap Huu, had also been absent from Plum Village for the past two winters as they had been caring for Thay during his recovery.
Plum Villages describes the retreat as a time for the community’s resident monastics to study together and deepen their practice over the 90-day period, for the duration of which they remain inside the monastery: “It is a time for everyone to deepen and strengthen our spiritual roots. The emphasis is on generating a powerful collective energy of mindfulness, as we live, practice, and work together with a full schedule of Plum Village mindfulness practices six days a week.” (Plum Village)
As the ceremony concluded, the community knelt to formally take refuge with the abbot and abbesses, the sangha elders, and Thay, before bowing to “touch the earth,” and offering merit to ancestors and all sentient beings.
Thay, born Nguyen Xuan Bao on 11 October 1926, 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.
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