The monastic community of Plum Village in France on Monday published an announcement stating that the monastery and mindfulness practice center would be closed until 1 May, effective immediately. The letter cited the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in Europe and the growing number of infections in France, with 285 confirmed cases with four deaths as of this writing. In the letter, signed “The monks and nuns of Plum Village Monastery, France,” the community pledged to give full refunds to everyone who has registered for retreats and teaching events in March and April.
In a message posted on the Plum Village website, members of the community near Bordeaux listed the Spring Retreat, Irish Week, Francophone Retreat over Easter, and additional external teachings as some of the canceled events. They will continue to review and update plans as the situation evolves.
France was the first European country to confirm a case of COVID-19 when, on 24 January, a 48-year-old man was admitted to a hospital in Bordeaux for treatment. The man had traveled through Wuhan before arriving in France on 22 January. On 15 February, France announced the first death caused by the virus outside of Asia, an 80-year-old male Chinese tourist from Hubei Province.
The monastics at Plum Village plan to continue taking registrations for events scheduled for May onward, but they “advise against booking flights and travel until nearer the time, when we have more information about the situation. It is uncertain how this virus outbreak will develop and what France and the international health institutions will recommend. We will do our best to inform everyone of any further closure as soon as possible, especially if the outbreak continues to grow in Europe.” (Plum Village)
The letter continues:
We recognize that, as a spiritual community and a place of refuge, we have a social responsibility to protect the wellbeing, safety, and happiness of our visiting guests and residential community. We also wish to support the spirit of recommendations currently being proposed by the French Government, namely to avoid unnecessary travel and large gatherings bringing diverse populations close together. (Plum Village)
Conditions at Plum Village intentionally facilitate what the monastics call “communal togetherness,” which includes shared meals and close meditation and living quarters, all of which make the meditation center highly vulnerable to spreading the virus. Additionally, as an international community in which retreatants and guests come from all around the world, the risk of bringing in the virus and spreading it to new cities and countries is heightened. In the letter, Plum Village noted: “During the course of 2019, we received over 15,000 guests at our Days of Mindfulness and retreats.” (Plum Village)
Nevertheless, the community has urged followers to use the opportunity to live simply, contemplating the Buddhist concept of interconnectedness, reformulated by Thich Nhat Hanh as interbeing. Additionally, practitioners are urged to take time to pause, slow down, and simplify their lives, adding rest and time in nature to their schedules as they take care of themselves and their loved ones.
The letter goes on to recommend a Plum Village app and its YouTube channel to help stay connected with the teachings. It concludes:
We send our thoughts and prayers to those around the world facing suffering and difficulty in these moments, and look forward to the chance to welcome our wider community back in Plum Village in the near future. May all of us as a species use this opportunity to wake up to our shared humanity, our shared vulnerability, and to nourish our compassion and tolerance, and not our fear and discrimination. (Plum Village)
As of this writing, there have been a total of 95,425 confirmed coronavirus cases around the world, some 80,410 in mainland China. There have been 3,286 deaths from COVID-19, most of them in the central Hubei Province, where the coronavirus was first detected in December 2019. South Korea has become the country outside of China with the largest number of cases, at 5,766, after the virus spread widely among of a secretive Christian sect in the southeast city of Daegu and beyond.