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Buddhadharma : Spring 2010
65 spring 2 01 0 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly We sat outside in the cool evening after dinner, and Marty took out her knitting and started talking. “Hey, Marty, you gotta be quiet hon,” I scolded, “I have to get this down.” She crooked her head and squinted, shrugged, kept knit- ting. I continued to take dictation from Dr. Seuss. This is the creative process, I’d been through it before. You just act as a channel and it comes through you like a baby. But it can be frustrating when words get stuck and some things don’t quite fit. Rather obsessively, I thought about my Dr. Seuss poem for the next twenty-four hours. At dharma group on Tuesday I asked my friends whether they might want to use my poem as our presentation. I read it, and they laughed and hooted. A musician in the group offered to put one of Thay’s poems to music after I read my little bit. Just like that, we had an act. One of the women in my discussion group insisted that I put my hair in a ponytail on top of my head, “like Betty Lou Who.” It’s just amazing how Dr. Seuss brings out the best in all of us. I complied, of course, proud to be a Who, and we “Where is Thay? Is he okay?” Brother Phap Khoi read Thay’s letter very slowly and clearly. “My dear friends, I am writing to you from the Mas- sachusetts General Hospital in Boston. I know the Sangha has manifested today in Estes Park. I miss the Retreat. I miss the beautiful setting of the Retreat. Especially I miss the Sangha, I miss you...” Tears were streaming down people’s faces. One retreatant said that she had felt a strong urge to scream in that moment, but everyone was so still, she did not dare to. People also said that they felt overwhelmed by disappointment, worry, and grief. But thanks to the practice of Noble Silence that took place immediately after the orientation until after lunch the next day, no one could complain! Noble Silence gave everyone an opportunity to listen to their unpleasant, pain- ful feelings and to embrace them. Leaving the meditation hall that first evening, everyone walked ever so quietly and attentively. Had we come to the retreat to see Thay in the same way that we go to a concert to see a rock star or to a basketball game to see Michael Jordan? If the rock star or Michael Jor- dan doesn’t show up, we’re entitled to a full refund. Should we also demand a full refund and leave the retreat, since Thay was not there? Thay’s absence forced us to reevaluate our intention for the retreat. We could not look to him as our main focus or rely on him for energy and inspiration. During the next five days everyone invested themselves wholeheartedly in the practice. The monastic and long-term lay practitioners became Thay in the way we walked, spoke, and thought. There were also over four hundred first-time retreatants who also practiced deeply. From the first activ- ity early in the morning to the last activity at night, we were all fully present. Thay was not at the retreat. Yet, Thay was everywhere. All of us experienced his presence—in ourselves and in each other. By staying together as a Sangha, we broke through our habitual patterns of avoiding and running away from pain. The powerful energy of our collective practice enabled us to look into our past experiences of love, losses, expectations, and disappointments, and allowed healing and transforma- tion to take place. We experienced directly the immense value and strength of the Sangha and realized that Thay and the teachings will continue well into the future because we are a Sangha. Wherever we are, as long as we come together as a community of practice, we can generate this powerful energy of peace and healing. prepared mimes and dancing to go with the poetry. It was fun, almost joyful, and no one had really talked about Thay’s absence in days. We were absorbed in our community, our process, and that was that. Tuesday evening we gathered in the hall for the Be In and there was singing, dancing, and lots of laughter. After each act—some rather loud and raucous—a monk would ring the bell three times so we would all settle back down. When it came time for our group to present, my buddies were rubbing my head and wishing me well. It had hardly occurred to me that I’d be reading a Dr. Seuss poem to a thousand people while staring into a camera, recording the whole thing for Thay, with my hair in a ponytail on top of my head. Hmm. I stepped up to the microphone. “A poem in the tradition of the American Zen master, Dr. Seuss,” I said. Some laughter. “It’s called, ‘Thich Nhat Here.’” The place exploded in guffaws. They laughed and laughed The Way is not about one person, one idol, but all of us—good souls on the path together, finding the Buddha, singing the dharma, and loving the sangha.