On the day of ceremonies honoring Thay’s transition

January 29, 2024

Dear Thay,

Today, the sangha celebrated the two-year anniversary of your transition to a cloud. I imagine you convening the other clouds and creating the conditions for sangha to gather: soft and gentle wind, mist, gray skies. I am delighting in everything. 

Elderly Vietnamese women in brown jackets make space for me & each other as we walk and bow as a sangha. Sister Chan Khong erupts in a radiant smile as she passes the Buddha Hall on the way to your hut. Lines of monastics flow as a river. Thay Phap An and Phap Dung walk with quiet concentration; Brother Phap Luu is a few yards behind. Sisters Hien Nghiem, Trai Nghiem, and Linh Yi. My heart delights with each passing monastic, the 400+ brave, wonderful, daring souls in golden sanghati robes who have committed their lives to sangha.

I am bowing, eyes downcast, peeking at the long lines of beautiful gold and brown. At another point in ceremony, Brother Phap Huu carries a tray of flowers. Nuns grin as they weave past monks into formation. Attendants carry colorful ceremonial staffs to denote the venerables.

I sway to the chants while breathing with you, Thay. My arms ache from holding my palms together in prayer and greeting; my legs and feet grow sore from standing. The impact on my body is to root deeper into the earth, to entrust myself to the soil, the sangha, the chanting. I surrender my body to the ceremony and allow myself to be carried by the flow. I am planting spiritual roots in front of the Buddha as the monastics touch the earth.

A brilliant and elegant ceremony unfolds - from the Ancestors Hall to the Buddha to the Full Moon meditation hall to your hut and back. Movement as medicine, as ritual, each location complete with chanting, bowing, walking. I allow myself to experience the joy and wonder of the moment, beaming at the Vietnamese elders, feeling delight when they smile back. Connection without speaking, joy that goes beyond words. I am marveling at their presence. Did these beings once serve in the School of Youth for Social Service? What did they bear witness to in their lifetimes? 

In the sangha, there are Tu Hieu and Plum Village monastics, lay friends of Vietnamese and Western roots, people of many countries and ancestral streams. There are children and elders, motorcycles and taxis honking. Palm trees and pines tower over buildings and bonsai. A cat slinks by. In this sangha of many beings, I see your journey unfolding: ancestral and cultural roots in a village of Hue, the trials of French colonialism, your peace advocacy during the Vietnam-American War, exile from  Vietnam, establishing a refuge in France for the boat people, bridging and integrating Western culture and custom into the practice, opening practice centers in the West. The monastic communities and Order of Interbeing blossoming with your guidance and care. Wow. I am full of gratitude and awe for you, Thay. The sangha is so beautiful and vast, reflecting your incredible life. 

I am so fortunate to be part of your continuation body, one drop in the flowing river. I will carry you with me always, until I too transition to the forests and become a cloud in a descendent’s teacup. I will continue you in my breath, my soft steps upon the Earth. I will try my very best not to speak out of anger, and to resolve all conflicts, however small. I will take good care of my relationships and invest in healing familial wounds, beginning with my parents and siblings. 

Thay, today a dear friend was suffering from sadness and loneliness, and they spoke with anger to me. I was hurt and unable to meet their difficult emotions with compassion. I was angry that they would disrupt your ceremony day. Looking deeply, I see my desire for a day of pure happiness and the ability to control external conditions & people. The words of Brother Phap Huu surface: “Thay gave me permission to suffer. We have seeds of anxiety, worry, and suffering. It is okay to live as we are. We practice mindfulness to have space to transform ourselves.” Thanks to you, I recognize that suffering and happiness inter-are. The joy and ease of belonging reflects the sorrow of loneliness. Compassion arises from pain. I can integrate the hurt of the interaction with the wonder and beauty of the day — knowing that they exist without separation.

You taught us that there is no perfect human being. Sister Dinh Nghiem and Brother Phap Huu both spoke of your humanity, how you made it possible for them to see your difficulties. I learned that you were sad that you did not massage your teacher’s limbs and give him hot water bottles in the cold winters, as you were away from the root temple building schools and projects. I learned that you refused to elevate yourself as special, that you encouraged your attendants to see you as human. Phap Huu quotes you: “Don’t worry. You are enough. We are all drops of water in the river of the sangha.”

Thay, I celebrate you as an extraordinary and imperfect human, a revolutionary who advocated for peace even when it exiled you from your homeland. You were a prolific scholar that made Buddhism accessible to people like me. You were an artist, with calligraphy and poetry that move me to tears. You shared the “cream” of Buddhism — the teachings on “no-birth” and “no-death” — to children and lay friends. You showed me that enlightenment is available in the here and now, that I don’t have to wait until later to be happy. Your aspirations and work have become magnificent flowers all over the world. 

Thay, I have so much reverence for you. Thank you for teaching me how to live. Thank you for teaching me that life is precious and sacred and profoundly beautiful, even in the midst of suffering.

I will end with a simple joy: the beauty of lunch for ten visitors, offered with love by the monastic sangha. I meditated on the jackfruit, white rice, and vietnamese olives with contentment and gratitude. What a beautiful, wondrous, full day.

With the deepest love and respect, 
Your student,
Melanie Anne Gin
True Light of Aspiration
Peaceful Embracing of the Heart