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Buddhadharma : Spring 2010
64 IT’S TRADITION ON THAY’S retreats to have a Buddhist “Be In” on the last night of the gathering. We were scheduled to leave on Wednesday, so during Monday’s dharma group we were told that as a group we’d have to come up with a creative “thing” to present at the Be In. My mind resounded like a gong. I would write a poem and call it “Thich Nhat Here!” I couldn’t concentrate for the remainder of the session, so quickly were rhyming words flooding into my head. We left for dinner and Marty had no idea what was happening. “I need paper!” I said with a hint of desperation as we hoofed it to the dining hall. “Paper?” “Marty, I’ve got a poem coming in. You have any paper?” She rummaged through her backpack and handed me a notebook, still confused about what was “coming in” so quickly. We ate in silence and it took all my discipline not to scrib- ble things down while I focused mindfully on chewing each bite thirty times. There were colorful jingles dancing in my frontal lobe, like The Starbellied Sneeches. Indeed, more pres- ent to me than Thay right then as I munched my tofu was my hero, Dr. Seuss. A miracle took place recently at the “One Buddha Is Not Enough” retreat in Colorado. Each person at the retreat expe- rienced the feeling of being surrounded by Thays, and that he or she was indeed also Thay. In fact, there were over one thousand Thays practicing deeply and joyfully together. The retreat came to be affectionately known as “One Thay Is Not Enough.” It all started with Thay not being able to attend the retreat. He had been diagnosed with a severe lung infection while he was conducting the retreat at Stone Hill College in Mas- sachusetts. Right after that retreat, he was admitted to the Massachusetts General Hospital for a two-week course of IV antibiotics. Seven monastic brothers and sisters stayed back with him, and the rest (over sixty of us) went to the Rockies to prepare for the retreat at Estes Park that was scheduled to begin later that week. This was the largest retreat that we monastics had ever had to conduct without Thay’s physical presence. Even though the retreats on our teaching tour were advertised as being led by Thay and the Plum Village Sangha, all of the retreatants expected to see Thay and to be with Thay. Unified by the urgency of the situation and by our love for Thay and for our lay brothers and sisters, we experienced a profound sense of solidarity in our brotherhood and sister- hood. Every person stepped up to take on responsibilities that in other times we might have hesitated to. We realized that the success of the retreat depended on the energy of the whole Sangha, and as monastic practitioners, we had to contribute our best. The practice of deep listening and loving speech were practiced more earnestly than ever before. On the night of the orientation, all of the monks and nuns arrived early. Without planning it, when we got on the stage we stood closely together as one unit. Those of us who were present that night will always remember that moment. The Sangha was invited to listen to three sounds of the bell and to touch a spacious and calm place within ourselves so that we could receive Thay’s love letter. As it was reported later, many people became immediately alarmed: “Love letter! What?” PhYLLIS coLetta is a writer and former litigation attorney who plans to enter upaya’s Buddhist chaplaincy Program next year. this article is adapted from the forthcoming book, One Buddha Is Not Enough: A Story of Collective Awakening, a collection of essays published by Parallax Press. From the other side of the park, another huge mass of quiet humanity moved together, slowly, across the dewy grass. Somehow we all met in the middle, nearly a thousand of us, sleepy but mindful. We sat down right there and breathed, surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, washed in cold clean air. It felt good to be free of my own incessant babbling about how disappointed I was. I just sat still with all these strangers, and felt better. We walked peacefully to the meditation hall, and sat again. Something began to shift softly inside me with the retreat routine in place. I felt safe, even held, with all these good folks on the path. Even though much of the day was spent in silence, we smiled deeply at each other as we passed on the sidewalk or sat across the table in the dining hall. We bowed every time another person came to eat with us, respectfully acknowledging a new presence. Dear brothers and sisters in a letter to Thich Nhat Hanh’s sangha, the monastics of Plum Village share how they experienced their teacher’s presence in his absence. ➤