In this moment, countless individuals in the world are sending thoughts of loving kindness and compassion to Thay, as he affectionately known. These individuals comprise the "sangha," or as Thay has called it, "the community of persons practicing the Way of Awakening, those who travel this path together." He is referring to one of the Three Refuges of the Dharma, the other two being the Buddha (the ability each person has within them to awaken), and the Dharma (the teachings that lead to that awakening).
Thay wrote a beautifully poetic biography of the Buddha, Old Path White Clouds (1991), in which he describes a time when the Buddha himself became gravely ill near the end of his life, but later recovered. After the Buddha was well again, his beloved follower, Ananda, told him of his despair that their teacher might be leaving them to fend for themselves. The Buddha replied:
"Ananda, the teaching is the true refuge. Every person must make the teaching his own refuge. Live according to the teaching. Every person should be a lamp unto himself. Ananda, the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are present in everyone. The capacity for enlightenment is the Buddha, the teaching is the Dharma, the community of support is the Sangha. No one can take a way the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha within you." (p. 548)
It has been my privilege to have walked and practiced with Thay. His very presence has touched and changed thousands of people, and when you hear him speak, you know you are experiencing the Dharma as authentically as it can be taught in our time. He is a man of peace; a gentle soul, who walks lightly on the earth. He also teaches that his time here is impermanent, as all things are. Thay quotes the last words of the dying Buddha as being:
"Dharmas are impermanent. If there is birth, there is death. Be diligent in your efforts to attain liberation!"