Thich Nhat Hanh
Returns to Vietnam

Dear friends,

Please find letter from Thay to members of the Sangha going to Vietnam in English, French, and German. Thay and the monastic Sangha will arrive in Hanoi at 7:00 A.M. (Vietnamese time) January 12, 2005.

Br. Phap Kham

When I left Vietnam 39 years ago to come to the West to call for a cessation of the hostilities in my country, I was like a cell of the Sangha body, taken out of that body.  If I did not dry up after a few years of being in exile, that is because my practice was to carry the Sangha body in myself.  And there was not one day when I did not try to build a Sangha.  While talking and working with friends in Europe and America, I naturally shared the practice, and we always tried to incorporate the practice of mindfulness in our work.  I have been able to regenerate a full fourfold Sangha from a single cell.  I am therefore coming home not as a Sangha cell any more, but as a whole Sangha body.  And you are my body.

Vietnam is a beautiful land and a beautiful people, and we shall have the opportunity to contemplate many beautiful things.  These will include walking meditation by the Ho Guom lake (Lake of the Returning Sword), climbing Yen Tu Mountain where King Nhan Tong practiced as a monk, and visiting Halong Bay which is considered to be the most fantastic landscape in Asia.  Wherever we go, we will practice dwelling happily in the present moment, radiating peace and loving kindness around us.  Those of us who stay in hotels will consider our hotel as a practice center, walking, talking, sitting, and eating in mindfulness.  All of us will be closely observed, especially by secret agents, who will be able to appreciate our wholesome energy and certainly will profit from it.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings are the most concrete
expression of our practice.  There will be no consumption of tobacco, meat,fish or alcohol; no talking while walking; etc.  As we practice to be the Sangha body of the Buddha, we are also the body of Thay at the same time.  Those of us who are Dharma teachers or Dharma teachers in training will make sure that the practice of the Sangha body is solid, fresh and joyful.  We shall certainly make many people happy with our presence and practice.

We will be together in a few days.

Thay nh


Tuesday, January 25, 2005

together again

first few days in saigon

the sangha has been in saigon for three days now. there was another enormous welcoming party waiting at the airport in saigon on sunday. the weather down here is hot and humid and many of us are wilting under the heat and the intense pace of the schedule. on monday there were visits to SIX temples in saigon; a lot to pack into a single day. especially navigating through the mind-numbing saigon traffic on a caravan of four tour buses. thay is conserving his energy and took a rest instead of going to the last temple of the day yesterday. even so he is probably as tired as the rest of us.

there was a day of mindfulness today at Vinh Nghiem Temple. approaching the temple, we can see that it is an enormous, modern place with a grand staircase like the steps of the capital building and an impossibly huge buddha statue on the top tier. the predictions people were making up north about how the turnout in the south would be even bigger proved to be true. for this day of mindfulness at the crowd was about 70% monastics. but since the crowd was so big, that means there were a LOT of lay people too. in the main dharma hall -- i don’t know how to quantify how big the hall as; maybe three times the size of the hall at upper hamlet -- there was a sea of grey robes and bare scalps, packed in knee to knee. there was no room at the back of the hall for the lay people who had come to hear the talk, but there were doors on three sides of the hall and people sat and stood tightly around the doors, and anywhere else they could find outside that was within range of the sound system. our group listening to the translation was sandwiched in too. some ladies behind us kept waving us with their fans to make it more bearable.

thay’s tone today was very light hearted and informal, he said a few times: today we just play; this is no dharma talk. . . as he invited an abbot to come sit on the stage next to him. he was addressing the vietnamese monastics again, telling about many of the practices at plum village, such as shining light, using the sangha eye, not going out alone (including not going out on the internet alone), doing everything together, and a democratic system of organizations. “our abbots are not so busy; mostly what they do is drink tea,” he said, illustrating the way decision making is done by the consensus, by the caretaking committee, and not by any individual.

i also had the impression that thay was being slightly more provocative today. as if he had warmed up after the talks in the north; or perhaps he sensed he could take more liberties here. he raised some topics that would strike a nerve with the monastics here. such as the practice they do in plum village every year at tet, where the brothers touch the earth before the sisters, acknowledging the spirit of avalokiteshvara in them and promising to nurture and protect it. thay acknowledges that it may be years -- perhaps ten years before such a thing could happen in vietnam -- monks touching the earth before nuns, that is. but he is watering the seed. he also talked about how a nun handles receiving a phonecall from an ex-boyfriend, and resurfaced a question from a previous talk: what to do when there is “an attachment” between two sisters.

just in the act of surfacing these topics, there is daring. he encouraged the monastics to be courageous, and just as his own master did when he was young, he encouraged them to revolutionize buddhism. i am a very young student in the subject of vietnamese society, but as i learn more about the atmosphere here, i wonder how bold thay’s words come across. here, in a place where conversations about politics do not come up between strangers and where some people are do not feel that they can show their faces at these public talks. surely the crowds that keep showing up are helping.

someone wrote to me and asked about the grey temple robes. part of registering for this trip involved sending in our measurements for a custom-made grey robe. it is traditional to wear them in many vietnamese temples, but a first for many plum village practitioners. we put them on the first morning; the robe fits loosely and is held on by two tiny button-like nubs that slip into a cloth loop. the first time we put them on the loops were so tight someone else has to attach the one up by the armpit. in the beginning i wondered why we wore them: is this is just to make sure there that no stowaways get on the bus? is this so the secret police can identify us more easily? it felt awkward wearing it, like i was wearing some tribal costume from a clan I didn’t belong to. but then once we got used to wearing them every day, i started to like the fact that i didn’t have to worry too much about wearing the same clothes underneath for days at a time. no one would notice, afterall. once i relaxed about it, i started noticing the reactions of people seeing westerners in the grey robes. at the temples, it is well appreciated and a simple way to communicate between people who do not have a common language. but out on the street one day, someone took the robe to mean i was a nun and asked my friend: how come she doesn’t shave her head? he just answered: she’s a different kind.

thay always says that when a monastic takes the robe for the first time, they must learn that when people bow to you, they are not bowing to you as an individual, they are bowing to what you represent. i think of that sometimes when i watch these huge crowds of people waiting to greet thay. they line up, sometimes for hours, straining to catch a glimpse of him. after taking in the scene a number of times, i realize they are focusing all their attention that way, and looking, waiting, looking -- not to see the man, but they want to see what it looks like to have something to believe in again. they want what we all do: to see how to live in harmony with each other and love each other. they want to see the way. growing up in this country, at school for example, you are constantly fed a line about what it takes to be a good citizen. but once you get out into the world, where the gears of capitalism are grinding, you find that the moral lessons you’ve learned don’t really serve you. and that the chase for money doesn’t bring any happiness either.

thay’s arrival here in vietnam represents so many things to so many people; when we take part in it, when we wait for him to enter, and when we watch him finally step through the temple gate, what are we witnessing? what holds our interest so strongly? what does it all mean for you?

that is my question to you.

posted by alissa @ 6:20 AM   1 comments  

a temple visit: picturess

here is a picture series of a temple visit in hanoi, beginning with the gathering crowd, the camera crew, and then the procession.

posted by alissa @ 2:52 AM   0 comments  

a temple visit: pictures

posted by alissa @ 2:49 AM   0 comments  

a temple visit

posted by alissa @ 2:39 AM   0 comments  

photos by xuong.

posted on thurs., jan 20th by alissa.

if the technology cooperates i'll post more pictures as the trip goes on. if there's anything in particular you'd like to know about the trip, you can email me at:


together again


Saturday, January 22, 2005

streams of consciousness.
By alissa Fleet

it's hard to know where to begin, or who i'm writing to, but i'll just start here, at this internet cafe in hanoi. i think everyone here that is part of the delegation realizes what an honor it is to witness what is happening here, thay returning home after 40 years, and we all want to tell about it.

we have been here for about a week and a half already. there is thay, the monastic sangha of about 100, and about 50 lay people who are traveling with him. more lay people will be coming from america, europe, australia, and beyond, in the coming weeks. for most of the trip there will be about 90 people in the lay delegation. tonight the sangha is packing up to leave for an early morning flight to saigon in the morning. the crowds there are expected to be even larger than here in the north.

this afternoon (saturday) thay gave a dharma talk at a temple in hanoi. we had visited there several times already. this is the central temple for the city of hanoi and there is a monastic training school connected with the temple. thay gave a talk earlier in the week for the monastics studying there. now that the sangha has been here for 10 days, word has gotten out and the temple was much more full than any other public talk yet -- there must have been 2,000 people there. including the older grandmothers that we tend to see at all the temples we visit, and also, middle aged and young people. it was very very crowded; when the western delegation arrived we could barely find a place close enough to the translation boxes to sit and listen to the talk.

how has word been getting out? news of thay's arrival has been in the newspapers and on tv. in fact i was eating dinner at a friend's house when her sister called up and said: hey, quick, turn on the tv; thay is on tv. and there we were, wathcing our visit from earlier in the day on the evening news.

it seems that people are very interested in what they are hearing and want to learn more. thay's style and message is so different than the experience vietnamese people have of buddhism.

after the talk today two professors came up to one of the people in our group, very excited. they had listened very closely to the talk and they wanted to know: how do we do it! how do we practice?! they wanted to know details. about how to form a sangha, and what to do at the sangha meeting. the two professors took notes from the person in our delegation. they even asked for her address so they could write to her if they had questions about how to practice.

we are learning a lot about the buddhism that is already here and how thay's message sounds so different to what people are accustomed to hearing from a monk at a temple. the common person may think of buddhism as something very high that you worship, and thay has been telling about how to integrate it into daily life. he has been talking about how to invite the bell, the "listening room: each family should have a listening room" where they can invite the bell and calm themselves. in vietnam, it is very unlikely that a family would have enough space for a separate room, so instead they can make it a space in front of the ancestral altar. he has also been talking about the sutra on conscious breathing, and the practice of walking in such a way that with each step you know: "i have arrived, i am home."

as westerners, we are surprised to learn about the vietnamese buddhism that is part of our root tradition. some of us came on this trip, perhaps expecting the experience to be similar to a retreat at plum village. "should i bring my chanting book," some wondered beforehand. (no.) in particular, some are missing doing sitting meditation in the morning. the way it works on this trip, some people sit in their rooms before the day begins, but it is not part of the program. the idea is that we are practicing all day long, in everything we do. and given that the schedule is so packed, a formal mediation and service in the morning is dropped. some of the westerners were talking about how they missed it, how they saw sitting as an importnant a cornerstone of their own practice. so we organized to sit together in the temple this morning. we were struck that in the temple, there not even any meditation cushions; the space does not naturally lend itself to a big group of people to sit and meditate. so we just sat on the straw mats. this is one thing that has struck us about the difference in the buddhism we see here in vietnam, and what we have practiced in plum village.

everyone has different impressions they take from the talks, but what i see is that thay is doing intensive flower watering of vietnamese buddhism. and he is clearly proud of the the international sangha and all the practitioners in the west too. as part of the talks, he often introduces some of the monastics, a strong theme being how international the sangha is (representing 20+ countries), and well educated they are. there are two former doctors who have been introduced frequently; one a former heart surgeon, who wanted to learn a different kind of healing the heart. he keeps noting that the plum village practice has been presented in a way that is appropriate for the young and the intellectuals of the west. as he said: "we have a practice center in the west but its ROOT is in vietnam."

he has been showing off the beauty of vietnamese buddhism, the ancestor worship, for example, and how this practice has been translated for the westerners. he also talked about how vietnamese buddhism naturally lends itself to being an "enagaged buddhism."

you can actually listen to and see transcripts of the talk on the plum village website:

posted by alissa @ 4:05 AM   3 comments  

photos of thay's arrival

i posted some pictures of thay's arrival in vietnam and the first week and a half here in hanoi and the surrounding area:


together again

at 7:30 a.m. on january 12th, there were hundreds of people waiting at the hanoi airport to greet thay.

even the 98-year old abbess from hue made the long trip to hanoi to greet her former student.

there was so much excitement when he arrived, thay could barely make his way through the sea of people -- yellow and brown robes, flowers everywhere, and cameras held high over the crowd; everyone trying to get a glimpse of the happiness on thay's face.

he finally did take a step outside, and up onto the bus.

in the past week, the sangha -- including 100 monastics and 100 lay friends -- has been traveling throughout hanoi and surrounding provinces...

each time we visit a new temple -- someones 3 or 4 in a day -- the reception is overwhelmingly warm and sincere.

we have also been visiting historic sites, training schools, and the city markets...

making new friend everywhere we go...

and sharing our practice in more ways than one.

we will be in hanoi for the next few days, and then the whole sangha is traveling down to the saigon on sun, jan 23rd.

photos by xuong.

posted on thurs., jan 20th by alissa.

if the technology cooperates i'll post more pictures as the trip goes on. if there's anything in particular you'd like to know about the trip, you can email me at:

1 Thay's trip to Vietnam

Thiền sư Thích Nhất Hạnh ngắm nhìn bức tượng vị thiền sư đầu tiên ở Việt Nam ở chùa Dâu. Trụ trì chùa Bút Tháp chào đón Thiền sư Thích Nhất Hạnh.


 Asia Pacific News »
A renovated buddhist pagoda in Vietnam
Time is GMT + 8 hours
Posted: 12 January 2005 0420 hrs

Buddhist monk heads home to Vietnam after 38 years in exile




PARIS : Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who has built an international following during 38 years in exile, left France to return to his home country for the first time since 1967.

Thich Nhat Hanh, who hailed what he called the Vietnamese government's "effort at opening up" before boarding an Air France flight from Paris to Hanoi, said he hoped to teach across Vietnam for the next three months.

The monk, who received an entry visa at the end of last year, also plans to set up Buddhist meditation centees during his stay.

"The Vietnam that I left nearly 40 years ago no longer exists," said the monk, smiling and sipping tea before his flight from Charles de Gaulle airport.

Thich Nhat Hanh, affectionately referred to as 'Thay' or 'Master' by his followers, said he hoped to "dispel the doubts and fears" of the Vietnamese government about his teachings.

The monk, who is in his late 70s, studied comparative religion at Princeton University in the United States in the early 1960s. Returning home in 1963 as war raged, he was sent into exile by Vietnamese authorities in 1967.

Thich Nhat Hanh then gained asylum in France, where he began teaching at the Sorbonne in Paris. He later headed the Buddhist delegation to talks that led to the Paris peace accords in 1973.

In 1982, he moved to southwest France, where he founded Plum Village, a Buddhist monastery and retreat that is home year-round to 150 monks, nuns and resident lay practitioners.

A delegation of 200 followers, mainly from France and the United States, will accompany Thich Nhat Hanh on his initial three-month visit to Vietnam.

Several dozen of them, wearing brown tunics and sporting shaved heads, meditated or performed stretching exercises in the hallways of Charles de Gaulle airport before Tuesday's flight.

"Things are not simple. I must listen closely. I'll be surrounded by 200 people trained to listen closely," the monk said.

Sister Chan Khong, a faithful assistant to Thich Nhat Hanh who has been a follower since 1960, said: "We want to put peace in people's hearts -- we have no ambition to take power."

The monk does not belong to the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), which was banned by authorities in 1981 for refusing to come under the ruling Communist Party's control.

Vietnamese security police launched a sweeping crackdown on the church more than a year ago, putting senior monks under house arrest and placing hundreds of pagodas under surveillance.

When asked why certain religious movements had been banned in Vietnam, Sister Chan Khong replied: "The flags of the old regime are hidden behind some of these churches. We have no political ambitions." - AFP

Just a note...***Viet Kieu for the Vietnamese means returnees.
In the States the Vietnamese refer to the name as "VQ"

***Viet Kieu monks and nuns visit Vietnam 
after 40 year absence

Monk Thich Nhat Hanh, leading a delegation of 100 monks and nuns and 90 Buddhist followers from foreign countries, started a visit to Vietnam on Wednesday at the invitation of the International Buddhism Board of the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (VBS).

Monk Thich Nhat Hanh is French of Vietnamese origin and now practises at the Lang Mai Pagoda (Mai Village Pagoda) in France. He is making his first visit to his homeland after nearly 40 years living abroad.

During the three-month visit, from January 12 to April 11, the delegation is expected to meet with leaders of the VBS, visit some historical relics and tourist destinations and hold discussions at some pagodas in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Thua Thien-Hue and Binh Dinh.   

Vietnam Buddhist Churchy welcomes visit from monk
14:18 12/01/2005 (GMT+7)
A private Buddhist delegation headed by a Vietnamese-French monk arrived in Vietnam this morning and the Vietnam Buddhist Church (VNBC) has promised to facilitate the visit and help the visitors get first-hand knowledge of the renewal process and Buddhism in the country.

Monk Thich Nhat Hanh and his entourage visited the Bo De Pagoda.

Most Venerable Thich Gia Quang, deputy head of the International Buddhism Board under the VNBC's Executive Council said he hoped the 190 monks and nuns led by Monk Thich Nhat Hanh would recognise Vietnam's policy of respecting religious freedom and promoting national unity.

The VNBC has co-ordinated with agencies concerned to ensure highest safety for the delegation in every aspect - transport, food, health care, security...," Thich Gia Quang said.

"The VNBC has made all preparations in co-ordination with not only the central government and localities the delegation is expected to stay in Hanoi, HCM City, Hue and Binh Dinh, but also in provinces where it will only go for short visits, like Quang Ninh, Phu Tho, Bac Ninh, and Ha Tay."

Monk Thich Nhat Hanh and his delegation, comprising 100 monks and nuns, and 90 followers, most of them overseas Vietnamese, will be in Vietnam for over three months - until April 14, to be exact.

Monk Thich Nhat Hanh, aged 82, is French of Vietnamese origin. He now practices at the Lang Mai Pagoda, or Mai Village Pagoda, in France. He is a world-renowned religious figure who is making his first visit to his homeland in 40 years.

The group will meet with leaders of the VNBC, hold discourses and meet with Buddhists in Hanoi, HCM City, and Hue City and Binh Dinh Province in the central region. They will also visit many pagodas across, the country.

Monk Thich Nhat Hanh and his entourage visited the Bo De Pagoda in Ai Mo in Hanoi's suburban district of Gia Lam this morning, where they stay during their time in the capital.

"It is said that every monk arriving at the pagoda is a Buddha, but it is our karma [a Sanskrit word meaning destiny] that we have the chance to receive such a special delegation." Nun Thich Dam Lan, who belongs to Bo De Pagoda said. 

Nun Thich Dam Lan said the pagoda was making preparations for the visit for the past month, refurbishing rooms and stocking up on food and blankets.

She said the pagoda was used to hosting up to 3,000 visitors during annual celebrations to mark Buddha's birthday and delegations of up to 150 monks and nuns every summer.

(Source: Viet Nam News)


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