Thích Nhất Hạnh looked at me from the most sorrowful eyes I have ever seen and I understood what it was like for a person to feel all the suffering the world is experiencing.
I had attended a five-day silent retreat at Blue Cliff Monastery in upstate New York with some thousand others who meditated morning, noon and night. Someone would ring a bell as you walked through the monastery grounds and just like clock-work, everyone would stop what they were doing and rest in the present moment.
We ate no meat even though Buddha himself was not a vegetarian. Meat was scarce in his day, and he ate whatever someone would fill his bowl with while he begged from one village to another.
I learned to concentrate on the food provided. We were instructed to chew each bite some 50 times. That’s right, chew fifty times and dwell on how rich the food tasted, where it came from and the benefits provided by the many people who gathered the food, delivered it to market and sold it to the consumer.
Too often we don’t appreciate the food and fail to show gratitude for those who worked on our behalf to nourish us. That includes the sun and the rains from the many clouds above our earth.
I joined in walking meditation with “Thầy.” That the name many of his followers address him. It means teacher. He led hundreds of marchers who slowly walk over the monastery grounds with no particular place to go and no hurry to get anywhere. Meditation is like that. You simply live in the moment and enjoy the present no matter what life might be offering you.
Children loved him and surrounded Thầy. It reminded me of the little ones from the Bible that Jesus counseled his apostles to allow near him. I walked some ten feet behind the kids and the Vietnamese monk and felt blessed to be that close to him.
We made our way to a grassy area where Thích Nhất Hạnh sat beneath a tree. One of his assistants passed him a cup which Thầy slowly sipped from. Everything he did was slow. He slowly sipped the liquid as if he was cherishing the beverage offered to him. I knew exactly what he was doing. Savoring the taste, the feel and the beauty in that precious moment.
It was at that moment as I stood some 15 feet away that he glanced in my direction. He made eye contact with me and I felt a wave of understanding pass between us. I saw the four truths as offered by Shakyamuni, the one who became enlightened some 2,600 years ago and taught about suffering and the causes of suffering. Thầy understood the craving and desires men and women have. He has dedicated his life to help us overcome them through meditation and following the “Middle Way.”
I also remember what he told the followers later that day in the large meditation hall when speaking of the Dharma, the teachings of the “awakened one.”
“God is available to us twenty-four hours a day,” Thầy said to the assemblage of Sangha members. “How often are we available to Him?”
I’ll never forget you Thầy. May your message live for hundreds of kalpas as the Tibetan Buddhist proclaim!