We awoke early Monday in order to make the 2-hour drive to Thénac to visit Plum Village for the 9:00 a.m. Dharma talk given weekly by Vietnamese Zen-Master Thích Nhất Hạnh.
Plum Village is a monastery for Buddhist monks and nuns and a practice center for lay practitioners of Mindfulness. It was founded in 1982 by Thích Nhất Hạnh who continues to be its inspiration.
It’s a beautiful setting in the French countryside of the Dordogne Valley, although with all the brothers and sisters wandering around in their brown robes and nón lá rice paddy hats, its feels like you’re in Viet Nam.
Inside the main meditation hall, Thích Nhất Hạnh’s remarks were translated into French…
…although he was actually speaking in English as we listened to him being broadcast to English-speakers on the back patio.
The Dharma talk began with the monks and nuns “chanting,” although, being accompanied by a violin and viola, it wasn’t what I was expecting: no simple “Om mani padme hum” mantra for this group (by the way, Thích Nhất Hạnh is seated next to the bell, out of sight, in the middle of the photo, below).
Out front, I believe the Dharma talk was in Vietnamese.
I’ve been interested in Zen Buddhism, as a philosophy of life, since I was a teenager (after a lengthy discussion with our former minister at the Presbyterian church in Miami Shores, he said he thought I was a Presbyterian Buddhist, and I guess, maybe, I am). But we were visiting Plum Village for Dale, not for me; she has been actively practicing Mindfulness meditation for over a year now and has read several of Thích Nhất Hạnh’s writings on the subject and was anxious to hear him in person.
For the uninitiated, a Dharma talk is a little like a sermon; it’s a public discourse on a topic related to Buddhism or Buddhist practice (meditation, mostly).
Here’s my take-away from the Dharma talk we heard; I’ll paraphrase:
“Breathe. Pay attention to your breathing. Feel yourself taking in a breath; hold it and feel yourself releasing it. This is the best way to feel the present moment. It will focus you on the “now” because you are actively breathing. You breathe all the time, but the breaths you took in the past are gone and the breaths you will take in the future have not yet been taken. By focusing on your breathing and being aware of it you will be aware that you are alive. Your active mind will not distract you by racing ahead, planning, anticipating; nor will it worry or dwell on past events and sorrows. And you will always know you are alive when you focus on the act of breathing because, when you are no longer breathing, you will know that you are no longer alive.”
At this point, Thích Nhất Hạnh smiled an elfish, little smile. I liked the guy.
After the Dharma talk, we walked over to the pagoda where they have the big gong.
Dale felt right at home.
Breath is life and life is breath! How awesome!