Brother Phap Dung shares a story with us from our beloved teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, a story of friendship and longing for peace. A story that shines some light on the long-standing bond between Plum Village and France. We want to strengthen this bond by opening a new mindfulness practice center near Paris and help more people to find peace and joy inside. Please help us realise this dream with a donation from your heart.
Old Friend, New Center
Our new center near Paris can be seen as a beautiful continuation of the deep friendship Thay developed with a young French soldier during the skirmishes of the first French Indochina War. It was 1947 or 1948 and Thay was still a young novice monk studying at the Buddhist Institute at Bao Quoc Temple, in Hue. The monks would often hear exchanges of gunfire across the hills, and few villagers ever dared to venture along the remote paths through the fields.
On one cool morning, Thầy set out on one of these paths to make his monthly visit back to his root temple, Tu Hieu. That morning was fresh, cool and quiet, with a little dew on the grass. Thầy followed the path over the hill and suddenly heard a voice call out. A soldier was shouting and waving his arms from a hill above, and ran down to speak to Thầy. He wanted to know where Thầy was from. When he heard Thầy was from Bao Quoc Temple, he asked Thay to stay a while and speak to him. The young soldier had been troubled and stunned by his experience of a night-raid at Bao Quoc Temple that he had been ordered to carry out the week before.
The soldiers had stormed the temple looking for Viet Minh. They stomped in shouting, guns at the ready. But instead of triggering unrest and panic, as they expected, they found the temple deserted and calm. There was no reply to their shouts; no movement at all. When they shone their lights into the dim-lit hall they thought would be empty, they saw inside sixty bald monks sitting silently in meditation. They were so taken aback by this unexpected scene that they fell silent and stepped back outside. It was the force of the silence and the serenity that was so powerful, it was clear that there was no threat there and nothing else to do but to retreat in peace.
This noble silence of concentration impressed the young soldier Daniel Marty. It opened his mind and heart and inspired him to discover more about the Vietnamese people and their culture. He was eager to ask Thầy about this silence that he found so captivating. And he opened his heart to share about how homesick he was. He shared how seeing the monks sitting so peacefully inspired him to cherish the lives of all human being. The two young men sat there talking about the sorrows of war and their shared hopes for peace. Later on, he would visit Thầy at the temple whenever he had a break and shared that he wanted to live his life according to the Buddha’s teaching. Thầy gave him the Vietnamese name Thanh Luong, meaning ‘purity, clarity, freshness’.
Our new mindfulness practice center Healing Spring Monastery is a continuation of this deep friendship of two cultures and a shared humanity. It will be the ground on which many seeds of compassion and healing can be sowed in hearts of many more young French people. Thầy has taught us that nothing is ever lost; it only continues in new forms, just as a cloud becomes rain. Brother Thanh Luong is still there, in our aspirations, in our presence, in our spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood and hopes for the future, and also in the natural spring and bubbling brook that runs across the border of this new land where Healing Spring Monastery will manifest.
With your help, we can extend Thầy and Daniel’s friendship, and open our arms to include hundreds and thousands more young people of all backgrounds and nationalities, together cultivating a future of peace, healing, tolerance, and hope for us all.