He realized his dream of creating sanghas or communities of peaceful activists by establishing Zen centers; first in France at his Plum Village and later in Vietnam, Germany and in Deer Park Monastery. Periodically, these beautiful and peaceful communities are opened to the public and visitors can come to participate in a retreat or just participate in a tea ceremony, to meditate, practice mindfulness and listen to Dharma talks on Zen Buddhism.
I recently had the privilege of visiting the Deer Park Monastery and it was a time I will cherish, always. A moment there that stands out clearly is when a friend and I decided to walk up to the very top of the Great Hidden Mountain where a small temple is located, high above the rest of the sangha, which consists of various structures built on several different levels of the mountain. The day was rather gray, overcast, rainy and cool, somewhat unusual for the early fall in that part of San Diego county. After the walking meditation had ended, we spent the rest of the morning inside the Great Meditation Hall, listening to the rain fall outside while Dharma talks were being given by the monks and nuns in the sangha.
The rain had let up a bit and even though no one else was doing it, we decided to climb to the Floating Cloud Stupa or temple at the top of the mountain. After a healthy vegetarian lunch of soup made by the monks from the vegetables in the sangha's organic farm and with only our water bottles in hand, we made the effort to climb up the mountain and try to reach the temple at the top, whose spire we could just barely see, due to the low hanging clouds.
We walked very slowly and deliberately through the mud as a light rain and mist helped to keep us cool. What awaited us and any others who would choose to take the time and effort to make the pilgrimage to the top was a large labrynth, made of stones found on the mountain, most likely created by the monks living there, which we mindfully walked. Past the labrynth, in the distance we could see a truly breath- taking sight: sitting atop a huge cement base was a magnificent, 20 foot high, white marble Buddha. A single red flower was placed in the crook of the arm of the statue.
In front of the large statue was a planter with other flowers growing in it and my companion noticed a piece of wet paper sticking out from the bottom of the planter. We lifted the planter and carefully removed and opened the folded white paper. On it we found this unsigned prayer, written in someone’s own handwriting, that has become a type of meditation for me:
I pray for uncompromising strength and clarity
in practicing the truth of unconditional love
and may I be a living example
of that truth.
Without a pen or paper, we decided to memorize the prayer so we wouldn’t forget it and began repeating each line out loud, like a mantra. We did this until we reached the small temple, delicately tucked into the other side of the mountain, like the flower that was tucked into the crook of the arm of the Buddha. Single-file, we climbed down the steps made of logs, that someone had thoughtfully placed there so people could reach the temple without falling off the steep mountain side. Blessings to whomever did that!
When we finally reached the temple, what awaited us was truly worth all the effort it had taken to get there. What we found was a beautiful temple that comfortably fit up to three people. It was totally dry and protected from the elements and as we climbed in through the small opening, we saw that it was tall enough for us to stand up in and contained three small meditation cushions, several candles and some incense.
Words felt somehow out of place and we decided to use our time in the small temple for silent meditation. I had begun an energy clearing for my monthly Energy Clearing Group earlier in the day while I was in the Great Meditation Hall and it seemed fitting to complete the final portion of the energy clearing there, in the small holy temple in the clouds.
Looking out through the opening at the other mountains in the distance and the sangha below, we were struck with how peaceful and sacred it felt. We could almost feel Thich Nhat Hanh's energy there as we each silently reflected on what a glorious and beautiful experience we had during our special time at the monastery.
Excerpt from Chapter 10, Letting Go, from the book Soulful Living: Awakening to the Wisdom of Your Soul.