Sunday, November 16, 2014

For Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the greatest living teachers of the Dharma for more than 50 years, suffered a severe brain hemorrhage on November 11, while being hospitalized near his Plum Village monastery in France. The latest word is that, at this time, there are signs he may recover.

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)
Another world-renowned Dharma teacher, Sharon Salzberg, wrote in an email to The Huffington Post, "when I heard he was gravely ill, along with concern and sorrow, I had the reaction I have had on the passing of my teachers. [It is] time for me to try to be better than I was yesterday, to practice and try to serve, to up my game so to speak. I think that's something for all of us to reflect on."

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!"