Recently, I was fortunate to be invited to attend a ceremony at the retreat centre Karuna in Katoomba. The occasion was the gifting of a bowl which had held the ashes of Thich Nhat Hahn. This was a gift from the Mountain Spring monastery in Bilpin in the Blue Mountains to Karuna. Apart from the Plum Village monastics who conducted the ceremony, there were representatives of the many Buddhist groups who have connections with Karuna, sharing chanting of Tibetan texts, the Lotus sutra, Plum Village sutras, and poems of Thich Nhat Hahn. Afterwards, we joined the monks in mindful walking to the great Buddha statue.

Later, I was struck by the contrast of this atmosphere of shared respect with the current social attitudes often given a voice in media of, not just Us and Them, but ME and Them. That emotion of ‘I am better than them, my opinions are better than theirs’ is very seductive. Social media is always pushing us to take sides, as though life is one enormous game show. Perhaps the most seductive is ‘I am better than those Us-Them people.’

As students of the Buddha Way, we take refuge in our practice and learn to disentangle our emotions from the actual here and now. It takes a lot of patience to explore and find the true motivations for those feelings of outrage and frustration. But then, coming back to the breath that meets each moment, we forget ourselves and find that space of respect and compassion for others and for ourselves. It’s so simple, but requires constant love and attention and practice, the practice of peace in each step.

I was reading an article by Eveline Beumkes about Sister Phuong, the English translator in the early days for Thich Nhat Hahn, and the one who helped him set up Plum Village. Her dharma name is Chan Khong, ‘True Emptiness’.

Eveline writes: “ ‘My happiness is your happiness’ and ‘your pain is my pain’ is something that she (Sister Phuong) truly lives. Seeing the self in the non-self is not a theory for her but the very ground of her being.” Sister Phuong’s story is an inspiration for us to see the one not manipulated by hate-speech, to see the opportunity to walk and touch peace every moment.

This article was written by Jane Andino, roshi for the December 2022/January 2023 Newsletter