October 5, 2007

10/05/07 Plum Village France

Upper Hamlet

After saying my goodbyes to Cynthia at the subway station, I made it to the train station without any problem. The only shock was the toilets had an attendant and you were charged 0.50€

Kind of a dreary, rainy train ride through the French country-side. But it was non-stop all the way to Bordeaux where I switched to a local train that seemed full of college kids going home for the weekend.

One of the brothers from Plum Village picked me and Dominique, from Tours, up at St Foy le Grand. The rolling country-side is covered with vineyards in this part of France. At Upper Hamlet (for men), Manuel, one of the lay residents showed us our rooms and gave us a short tour of the grounds. Later when I was registering, the young brother in the office told me he grew up in Gardner Kansas. I laughed at what a small world in which we live in.

"Plum Village, a monastery for monks and nuns and a Buddhist practice center for lay people, was founded in 1982 by Vietnamese Zen-Master Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay). Every year, Plum Village welcomes thousands of retreatants from all over the world. Due to its rapid expansion in recent years, the community is now comprised of seven hamlets; four located southeast of the city Sainte Foy la Grand; and three located just west of town, Duras." PlumVillage.org

Plum Village

I have known about Thich Nhat Hanh and Plum Village through my readings of Buddhist literature. I decided, even though Thay is currently teaching at a center in New York this week, that I wanted to take advantage of my being in France to see and participate at Plum Village first hand.

For our first night, we went to the evening meditation. Instead of Tibetan like at Nalanda, a lot of the chanting was in Vietnamese. In the meditation there were about 30 monks, a few just teenagers, and about 15 lay people most of whom looked to be between 30 and 50. Meditation lasted 30 minutes followed by walking meditation. After some chanting, a sutra (teaching of the Buddha) was read.

Before dinner, one of the older monks, the same brother who picked us up from the train station, began teaching a few of us a type of qi kong caled 'life sustaining way of the heart'. It is sort of a chinese version of calistenics, using a bamboo pole - a mixture of stretching and movement. It just be a god thing to mix with all this sitting meditation.

Then it was dinner time. And just like at Nalanda, we waited until everyone had served themselves and were seated before the bell signaled us to eat mindfully in silence. The food looked Vietnamese so I can't begine to tell you what I ate, but it was very good. Next time I need to get a bigger bowl (as I didn't see anyone go back for seconds).

Had tea and took a walk with Dominique. He seems like a real nice guy. He is divorced and has a nine-year old son who thinks dad is crazy to meditate and not eat meat. Dominique says that work is stressful enough that he really needed this time at Plum Village. He just wished he could stay longer than a week.

It is almost 8:30pm so I'll take a break from this blog to do a little reading. Then it's off to bed because we have a 5am wake-up bell with morning meditation at 5:45. And we get more qi kong lessons at the 6:30 exercise period before breakfast at 8. Sounds like a great way to start your day, even if it is a little early.