Many, many high honors have filled my life, usually involving traveling and interviewing luminaries. One such high honor and luminary was filming Thich Nhat Hanh as he gave a dharma talk and led a walking meditation at Plum Village, his Buddhist community near Bordeaux, France.
I started writing this blog when I heard that Thay, as he’s called and which means “teacher,” was very sick and not eating, perhaps close to the end. It turns out that was just a social-media rumor and he’s actually fine — he’s 94 and had a stroke a few years ago, but overall is doing well.
Here’s what the Plum Village website —plumvillage.org — gives for a quick summary for Thay:
Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh is a global spiritual leader, poet and peace activist, revered around the world for his pioneering teachings on mindfulness, global ethics and peace.
Thay was ordained as a monk at age 16 and was exiled for his peace work in Viet Nam during the war.* He had a profound impact in the West with his teachings and over 100 books. His introduction of a practical Buddhist spirituality that can be used for social justice has touched millions.
We have to walk in a way that we only print peace and serenity on the Earth. Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.
Thay during a walking meditation at Plum Village.
I was traveling the world to interview people from all walks of life about how we can make world peace. From Rarotonga to Rio, from Iceland to Iowa, from Soweto to Saskatchewan, I talked to street kids, politicians, celebrities, maids, merchants…the folks of this world.
So that’s why I was crouching in the bushes at Plum Village, waiting to get a profile shot as Thay walked by. A twig snapped right next to me. “Oh!” I said to the man rustling through the bushes, “I thought you were a wild animal.”
“No, worse,” he said. “Another filmmaker!”
“Some of my best friends are filmmakers,” I laughed.
He was Velcrow Ripper, who is still making powerful documentaries all these years later. His website is www.transparentfilm.media.
It was fall in Bordeaux, one of the most beautiful autumns I’ve ever seen. I wrote a chapter in one of my books called “Fifty Shades of Orange,” where I talked about no matter where you are in the Northern Hemisphere, October is a special shade of orange. April in the Southern Hemisphere is, too. That autumn was especially magical, thanks to this visit to Plum Village.
Thay also is the opening speaker of my movie about Viet Nam veterans, Hoa Binh: Vietnamese for Peace. This award-winning documentary showed the vets returning to Viet Nam to do humanitarian work, visit their Areas of Operation, and heal their wounds of war. Thay advises storytellers and filmmakers to look deep into the hearts of veterans to see how much suffering the war has caused.
The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.
*Sometimes when I’d mention the war to the Vietnamese they’d say, “Which one?” Then they’d laugh and say, “The Chinese were here for 1,000 years and then the French were here for 100 years. You Americans were just a drop in the bucket.” Well, that can certainly give it a new perspective!
Another beautiful memory of Thay involves my father. Dad was a serious alcoholic for many years. After he stopped drinking, his personality didn’t change all that much for a few years. One day, though, he asked me, “Have you ever heard of Deepak Chopra?”
I physically looked at my phone. (Remember those big receiver things we used to have?) “Dad?” I asked, as if to ask, “Is this really you?”
He had a major spiritual transformation and become one of my closest buds. I gave him Thay’s book Being Peace, which he carried with him everywhere he went for the rest of his life (teardrop).
There is no way to happiness—happiness is the way.
I also had the pleasure of interviewing Sister Chan Khong (True Emptiness), who has been by Thay’s side coordinating his teachings and travels for decades. She’s a profound speaker and author on the subjects of peace and mindfulness, as well.
Sister Chan Khong
We cannot hate you, you who have thrown grenades and killed our friends, because we know that men are not our enemies. Our only enemies are the misunderstanding, hatred, jealousy, and ignorance that led us to the act of violence.
This gentle monk has had such a profound impact on my life, as he has for so many, for which I’m beyond grateful. Blessings, dear man, for the rest of your journey here and thank you for the gifts of peace and mindfulness you have so generously given to the planet. Hoa binh (peace) and cam on ban (thank you).
P.S. Here’s a fun blog I wrote a while back about what happens every time a bell rings at Plum Village: https://anncrawford.net/2017/06/05/mindfulness-calling/. Peace and blessings.