Thich Nhat Hanh died on the 22nd, in his home temple in Vietnam where he became a monk at 16. He was 95 and had had a stroke in 2014. Photos of him being greeted at the entrance to the temple, a small old man in a wheelchair who could no longer speak, were beautiful and bright. I'm sure he was tended to around the clock as a revered and beloved teacher. His nickname, Thuy, meant teacher.
I have been crying a lot. It surprised me, the depth of my grief. And then I recall what my life looked like when I stumbled into a small dark room where people were meditating. I was so sad and vulnerable and fragile. It was 1995 and I was involved in a lawsuit a family had brought against me and my partner for a baby who was damaged. It doesn't matter the details now. We were released from the suit after two horrible years of lawyers and depositions and endless paperwork. But my/our world collapsed. Every day was full of dread and fear. Would I lose my falling-down house I had just bought? Would I ever work again? As they say in Buddhism, the eight worldly winds were blowing from every direction, knocking me down over and over.
The small dark room held a community of people who were following the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk who had opposed the Vietnam war and had been expelled from his country. He was a friend to Dr King. He established centers all over the world to teach mindfulness and meditation, to bring peace and happiness to others. His message was one of engaged Buddhism.
In that dark room, I finally breathed fully for the first time in what felt like months. I didn't have to tell my story, I could just be. I went week after week, involving myself in the community. We eventually bought a house that we turned into a Dharma hall. Our teacher, trained by Thuy, came from her rural home to offer retreats and Dharma talks.
I remember how silly I was, how I wince at the ways I misbehaved, not fully understanding the gift I had been given, to begin to comprehend my tangled thinking, my reactivity and the ways that I was contributing to my own suffering.
Almost 27 years later, I can fully grieve for the little monk who worked tirelessly to bring gentleness and love to all of us, to teach us to love ourselves without reservation.
"Even when the cloud is not there, it continues as snow or rain. It is impossible for the cloud to die. It can become rain or ice, but it cannot become nothing. The cloud cannot become nothing. The cloud does not need to have a soul in order to continue. There's no beginning and no end. I will never die. There will be a dissolution of this body, but that does not mean my death.
I will continue, always."
May all beings be at peace. May all beings be free from their suffering.