• Preface
    The Miracle of Sangha
    The Monastic Brothers and Sisters of the Plum Village Sangha

    One Buddha Is Not Enough is a collection of essays, stories, and letters by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monks and nuns, and laypeople. The book is dedicated to the idea that awakening is a collective process, and that we and our community are our own most important teachers.

    In August of 2009, close to one thousand people gathered at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado to enjoy a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, called “Thay” (teacher) by his friends, students, and the monks and nuns in his tradition. Thich Nhat Hanh lives in France and is now more than eighty years old, so the retreat was a special occasion. Eager practitioners traveled from across the United States and other parts of the world. Many made great personal and financial sacrifices to get there. Everyone had come hoping to practice mindfulness surrounded by the majesty of Rocky Mountain National Park.

    When they got there, they found something completely unexpected: Thay wasn’t able to attend the retreat. He had been diagnosed with a severe lung infection while he was conducting the retreat at Stonehill College in Massachusetts. Thay was admitted to Massachusetts General Hospital for a two-week course of intravenous antibiotics. Seven monastic brothers and sisters stayed behind with Thay. The other monastics, over sixty of them, went to YMCA of the Rockies to prepare for the retreat as had been planned. It was the largest retreat that the monastics had ever conducted without Thay’s physical presence.

    A miracle happened at that retreat in Colorado. Each person there felt they were surrounded by many Thays, and that they themselves were also Thay. More than a thousand Thays practiced deeply and joyfully together. The retreat, titled One Buddha Is Not Enough, affectionately came to be known as One Thay Is Not Enough.

    The monastic brothers and sisters held several meetings to discuss the best way to support our teacher and our retreatants. The practice of deep listening and loving speech were practiced more intensely than ever. Unified by the urgency of the situation, and by our love for Thay and our lay brothers and sisters, we experienced a profound solidarity in our brotherhood and sisterhood. Every person stepped up to take on responsibilities that we might have hesitated to in other times. We realized that the success of the retreat depended on the energy of the whole community, the whole Sangha, and as monastic practitioners, we had to contribute our best.

    On the night of the orientation, all the monks and nuns arrived early. Without planning to, when we gathered on the stage to formally begin the retreat, we stood closely together as one unit. The entire Sangha was invited to listen to three sounds of the bell and to touch a spacious, calm place within.

    From his hospital bed, Thay had written a letter for the Colorado retreatants. Brother Phap Khoi read Thay’s love letter aloud very slowly and clearly: “My dear friends, I am writing to you from the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. I know the Sangha has manifested today in Estes Park. I miss the retreat. I miss the beautiful setting of the retreat. Especially, I miss the Sangha, I miss you….”

    Tears were streaming down many faces. One retreatant later shared that, in the moment she felt a strong urge to scream, but everyone around her was so still she didn’t dare. Others said they felt overwhelmed with disappointment, worry, and grief. But because everyone had already agreed to stay in silence until the next day, no one could complain! The practice of Noble Silence gave everyone an opportunity to listen to the unpleasant, painful feelings inside and to embrace them. Leaving the meditation hall that first evening, everyone walked ever so quietly and attentively.

    Did we come to a retreat to see Thay, like we’d go to a rock concert to see Madonna or to a basketball game to see the star center? If the rock star or sports hero doesn’t show up, we’re entitled to a full refund. Some people smiled and practiced “being home in the present moment.” Others were so heart-broken and angry, they didn’t feel they could stay. Out of nearly a thousand participants, eight individuals went home. Those who stayed held those who needed to leave deep in the heart of their practice. We regretted that we were not able to make the retreat what they needed it to be for their own peace and healing.