committing anew to peace
My teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, has died. In the Plum Village tradition we say “continued in new form” or “transitioned” to avoid the delusion of “life and death”. Language is critical to understanding. But I like to say “died”, even if it is only in the relative truth.
I have never met Thay in person. Some part of me kept a sliver of hope that we would one day meet, and now I know it is not to be. I am startled by the loss. The pain is sharp, tears spring to my eyes. Shoulders ache, stomach is hollow and heavy. I yearn for something tangible to grasp now that his physical form is gone. Live streams from Vietnam show Thay's body lifted and lowered into casket, monastic and lay bodies bowing and chanting. Gold and brown robes. Chrysanthemums, Thay's favorite flower. I practice with this being enough.
Lazy day upon learning of Thay’s death. With no destination in mind, feet wander towards farmer’s market, hands gather satsuma mandarins for the road. Glimmering lake, breathing with the birds overhead. I imagine Thay alongside me as I walk, his gentle footsteps kissing the earth. Breathing in, Thay is walking. Breathing out, Thay is joy.
At the botanical gardens, those who tend the land are gossiping about the celery stalks. I lay down on a bench to enjoy the sun. I pass an olive tree and sign of peace. City sidewalks, Farley's cafe with strawberry limeade, a colorful taco shop. This body is in flow while Thay's body lies in wake. I arrive at the “Remember Them” memorial downtown. Thay greets me with his hands in a lotus bow. I place my hands on his cold bronze sculpture and Thay responds.
Do not come looking for me here. Thay is not here. I am already in you, in the sangha. There is nothing more. I have given you all I can, the transmission is complete.
The transmission is complete. I want to protest, ask for more time, one meeting with this person who has touched every part of my life. I sit with this knowing of Thay in my heart, tears welling. In front of me, a family with squealing kids enjoys a nerf gun fight, foam bullets flying. They are Black and I worry for a moment that police will be called. I return to my breath. Thay is not here, and he is here in everything.
Thay is in my awareness of fear, my breath, my community of friends all over the world. Thay is in each moment I greet the cloud in my tea. His teachings on love and reconciliation have helped me to love and forgive my family. His monasteries have been my physical home. His monks and nuns have taught me about self-acceptance and belonging. There is no part of my life separate from Thay's teachings. He is already in me, he is my kin and spiritual ancestor.
Out in a birch forest in Plum Village, I committed to a set of aspirations that have nourished and guided me to this day. I share them to commit anew to this path, in acknowledgment and with gratitude to this dear teacher who has come before me.
My life aspirations are all in relationship to something: to myself, my blood family, future partner and descendants, my friends and community, the earth, to my work. Recognizing Thay in me, I aspire to:
- Celebrate and make space for wonder, creativity, and play - in prose, poetry, art, and movement
- Take good care of suffering, healing seeds of anger, craving, and ignorance deep in my consciousness
Blood family and ancestors: Love and accept my blood family by communicating with clarity and love, offering full presence in regular visits, and learning our ancestral stories
Partnership and descendants: Create the conditions for secure, loving, intimate partnership by cultivating joy and patience, learning to resolve conflicts in partnership without running away, working with forgiveness and letting go
Friends and community: Show up with love and consistency for those I love; contribute to building sangha and community spaces that allow for intimacy and depth - the bearing witness to others over time
Earth: Live in deep harmony and gratitude for the earth and all beings; cultivate a mutual relationship with the land
- Aspire to collective healing, justice, and "positive peace"
- Work towards financial conditions that allow space for practice, play, and social entrepreneurship
- Deepen in commitment to spiritual practice, with an intention to ordain into the Order of Interbeing, and to walk the path of a dharma teacher
Thank you, Thay.