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Thich Nhat Hanh Books
Intro to Buddhism
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Fragrant Palm Leaves, $14.00
In recent years, Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh has become one of the world's most respected spiritual leaders. But his journals of the early 1960s reveal a vulnerable and questioning young man. As a student at Princeton and Columbia Universities, he shares his reflections on the state of humanity as well as the many difficulties he faced at home in trying to make Buddhism relevant to his people's needs. We see Thich Nhat Hanh as he returns to Vietnam and establishes the movement known as "engaged Buddhism" -- starting self-help villages, a new university, a Buddhist order, and many other efforts for peace.
This wonderful book, regarded by Vietnamese readers as Thich Nhat Hanh's most endearing writing, offers us a glimpse into another time and into the mind of a great thinker and activist. It also offers us a model of how to live fully, with awareness, during a time of challenge and upheaval.
Published by Riverhead Books
ISBN: 978-1-57322-796-4, Paperback.
1962 - 1963
16 August 1962
Medford, New Jersey
Next Wednesday I'll leave here and return to New York. Autumn has arrived. Here they call it "fall," because so many leaves fall from the trees. They call the first season "spring," when young buds spring forth from the branches. Riverside Park must be beautiful now. Princeton is always beautiful in the fall. At Princeton, I always walked down a narrow path bordered by emerald green grass. It is so cool and crisp this time of year. At the slightest breeze, leaves fall from the trees and brush against your shoulders. Some are golden, some as red as lipstick. There are unimaginable varieties of hues. Leaf showers are a joy for the eyes. At home, I love the trees that change their colors, like the arjun. Dai Lao Forest is always green. Very few trees in Dai Lao Forest lose their leaves.
Princeton is beautiful, but it doesn't have the beauty of Phuong Boi. Fog never encircles the mountains, making you feel as though you are standing at the edge of the sea. The scent of chieu flowers does not waft through Princeton, nor do gibbons' cries echo there. Princeton is not untamed, like Phuong Boi.
I will never forget the nights when the moon shone over the forests of Phuong Boi. Nighttime in the forest is not like nighttime in the city or even on a farm. At night, the sacred forest declares its absolute authority. The curtain of darkness is thick and secretive. Sitting in the study at Phuong Boi, I heard many eerie cries coming from the forest. By eight o'clock it was already night, and the forest's dominance was restored. The whole universe sank into a profound silence that, at the same time, vibrated with life. I could almost hear the majestic steps of the mountain god as he leaped between the towering trees.
On full moon nights, none of us could sleep. One time, I was up late writing when Thanh Tue rose from his bed and stood quietly by the window to gaze at the moonlit forest. I blew out my candle with a whisper and stood beside him. When moon and forest were together, they created a profoundly marvelous and mysterious atmosphere, unlike any we had experienced before. The silence was total, yet we could hear moon and forest speaking to each other. They were no longer two, but had become one. If you took away the moon, the forest would cease to be. If you took away the forest, the moon would not be. We wouldn't be standing by the moonlit window if moon and forest ceased to be. We were mesmerized.
Some nights I stood gazing at the forest for hours. Just fifty meters away, the omnipotent forest pulled at me, with an irresistible force. It was wild and invigorating. I imagined seeing the shadowy form of a Montagnard tribesman from thousands of years ago, and I could feel the ancient tribesman in myself awakening. I felt the urge to leave civilization behind, throw away my bookish knowledge, tear off my clothes, and enter the forest naked. To do what? I didn't know. But I would enter the forest's depths. Even if wild animals devoured me, I knew I would feel no pain, terror, or regret. I might even enjoy being devoured. I stood at the window for a long time, struggling with the call of the forest and the moon.
The forest in Medford, by comparison, is tame and meek. I long for Phuong Boi. Sixteen moons have passed since I left Vietnam. The other day I wrote these lines:
On the pillow of forest's deep night
I dream of the sixteenth-day moon.
Sixteen moons have come and gone.
On the nights at Phuong Boi when there was no moon, I'd look up at the night sky and imagine the fullness of the sixteenth-day moon. Sixteen moons and the sixteenth-day moon are one, yet two.
On the first day of the rainy-retreat season, it stopped raining. Nhu Thong, Nhu Ngoc, and Th�y Chau Toan arrived at nine in the morning with offerings for Phuong Boi. We filled a beautiful vase with wildflowers to offer to the Buddha. I remember vividly the bowls, plates, chopsticks, and food. Montagnard Hill was too overgrown for us to eat outdoors, so we ate in Montagnard House. Tue had arrived. Nguyen Hung and I were putting the final touches on the meditation hall. Toan went into Meditation Forest to pick flowers, and he was soon joined by Sister Dieu Am and Sister Luu Phuong. The two sisters gathered snow-white chieu flowers, and Toan picked a few peonies and many branches of sim blossoms. We filled many small vases, mostly with arrangements of sim branches. Toan had removed the leaves to make them look like peach blossoms. We filled the largest vase with chieu, peonies, and some flowers we didn't even know the names of. Toan cut a large pine branch and set it in a brown-glazed Montagnard vase inthe meditation hall. Nhu Khoa and Thanh Gioi hiked over the hills into Phuong Boi and joined us. What a wonderful gathering! After a ceremony honoring the offerings, we gave everyone a tour of Phuong Boi.
Our friends stayed until mid-afternoon, and we discussed future plans. Toan, Nhu Ngoc, and Nhu Thong were the first to leave. To return to Saigon, they had to cross the forest to Dai Ha Village, where they could catch a bus. Nhu Khoa and Thanh Gioi were the next to depart. Finally, Uncle Dai Ha's family left, as did Sister Dieu Am, Sister Luu Phuong, and Thanh Tue. Thanh Tue couldn't join us permanently. He still had a teaching job in Blao.
That evening, a tranquil emptiness returned to Phuong Boi. After bidding farewell to Sister Dieu Am and Tue, we entered the gateway to Meditation Forest, marked by a board nailed to a tree on which were painted the Chinese characters "Dai Lao Mountain, Phuong Boi Hermitage." Phuong Boi was a reality! It was not like anything we had known before. It was precious beyond words. We never thought we would come into contact with such a reality, yet it seemed like a cloud that could dissolve at any moment. I agreed with Hung's sentiment - we did not own Phuong Boi; Phuong Boi owned us. Later, Ly called Phuong Boi "the Pure Land." Wherever we traveled, we would always belong to that Pure Land.
We climbed Montagnard Hill that evening to look out in the four directions. Then we walked between the rows of tea bushes - the earth was so spongy - and along the edge of the forest and down into a dale. It was there that Hung saw the fresh footprints of a tiger leading in the direction of Plum Bridge. It was already dusk, and the forest was deserted. A little anxious, I suggested we return to Montagnard House. We crossed through the tea bushes to the top of Montagnard Hill. When we reached our quarters, we built a fire, as the night was growing chilly. Aunt Tam Hue was unable to stay that night, so Hung and I were the only ones there. Others planned to join us a few days later. We prepared a simple meal of rice and mustard green pickles with soy sauce, and then, sitting together by candlelight, shared our thoughts about what we might accomplish in the coming days. Before going to sleep, Hung and I celebrated a brief ceremony to express our gratitude.
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