A Teacher Looking for His Disciple

photo by Duc The Nguyen
I have been looking for you, my child,
Since the time when rivers and mountains still lay in obscurity.
I was looking for you
when you were still in a deep sleep
although the conch had many times echoed in the ten directions.
Without leaving our ancient mountain,

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photo by Duc The Nguyen
I have been looking for you, my child,
Since the time when rivers and mountains still lay in obscurity.
I was looking for you
when you were still in a deep sleep
although the conch had many times echoed in the ten directions.
Without leaving our ancient mountain,
I looked at distant lands
and recognized your footprints on so many different paths.

Where are you going, my child?
There have been times when the mist has come and enveloped the remote village,
but you are still wandering in faraway lands.
I have called your name with each breath,
confident that even though you have lost your way over there,
you will finally find a way back to me.
Sometimes I manifest myself right on the path you are treading
but you still look at me as if I were a stranger.
You cannot see the connection between us in our former lives,
you cannot remember the old vow you made.
You have not recognized me
because your mind is caught up in images concerning a distant future.

In former lifetimes, you have often taken my hand and we have enjoyed walking together.
We have sat together for a long time at the foot of old pine trees.
We have stood side by side in silence for hours,
listening to the sound of the wind softly calling us
and looking up at the white clouds floating by.
You have picked up and given to me the first red autumn leaf
and I have taken you through forests deep in snow.
But wherever we go, we always return to our ancient mountain
to be near to the moon and stars
to invite the big bell every morning to sound,
and help living beings to wake up.
We have sat quietly on the An Tu mountain1 with the Great Bamboo Forest Master2
alongside the frangipani trees in blossom.
We have taken boats out to sea to rescue the boat people as they drift.
We have helped Master Van Hanh3 design the Thang Long capital.
We have built together a thatched hermitage,
and stretched out the net to rescue the nun Trac Tuyen4
when the sound of the rising tide was deafening
on the banks of the Tien Duong River.
Together we have opened the way and stepped into the immense space beyond space,
after many years of working to tear asunder the net of time.
We have saved up the light of shooting stars
and made it a torch helping those who want to go home
after decades of wandering in distant places.

But still there have been times when the seeds of a vagabond in you have come back to life.
You have left your teacher, your brothers and sisters.
Alone you go …
I look at you with compassion,
although I know that this is not a true separation
(because I am already in each cell of your body)
and that you may need once more to play the prodigal son.
That is why I promise I shall be there for you
anytime you are in danger.
Sometimes you have lain unconscious on the hot sands of frontier deserts.
I have manifested myself as a cloud to bring you cool shade.
Late at night the cloud became dew
and the compassionate nectar falls drop by drop for you to drink.
Sometimes you sit in a deep abyss of darkness
completely alienated from your true home.
I have manifested myself as a long ladder and lightly thrown myself down
so that you can climb up to the area where there is light
to discover again the blue of the sky and the sounds of the brook and the birds.
Sometimes I recognized you in Birmingham,
in the Do Linh district5 or New England.
I have sometimes met you in Hang Chou, Xiamen, or Shanghai.
I have sometimes found you in St. Petersburg or West Berlin.
Sometimes, though you were only five years old, I have seen you and recognized you,
because of the seed of bodhicitta you carry in your tender heart.
Wherever I have seen you, I have always raised my hand and made a signal to you,
whether it be in Bac Ninh,6 Saigon, or the Thuan An seaport.
Sometimes you were the golden full moon hanging over the summit of the Kim Son Mountain,
or the little bird flying over the Dai Lao forest7 during a winter night.
Often I have seen you
but you have not seen me,
though while walking in the evening mist, your clothes have been soaked.
But finally you have always come home.

You have come home and sat at my feet on our ancient mountain,
listening to the birds calling and the monkeys screeching
and the mountain chanting, echoing from the Buddha Hall.
You have come back to me, determined not to be a vagabond any longer.

This morning the birds of the morning joyfully welcome the bright sun.
Do you know, my child, that the white clouds are still floating in the vault of the sky?
Where are you now? The ancient mountain is still there
in this place of the present moment,
although the white-crested wave still wants to go in the other direction.
Look again, you will see me in you and in every leaf and flower bud.
If you call my name, you will see me right away.
Where are you going?
The old frangipani tree offers its fragrant flowers this morning.
You and I have never really been apart.
Spring has come.
The pines have put out new shining green needles
and on the edge of the forest, the wild plum trees have burst into flower.

Translated from the Vietnamese by Sister Chân Đức (Sister Annabel), True Virtue. Originally published in issue 25, Winter 2000.

1 A holy mountain in North Vietnam, where the Bamboo Forest meditation school was established.
2 The master who established the Bamboo Forest meditation school in the fourteenth century.
3 The meditation master who, in the year 980, helped stabilize the political situation in Vietnam and prevent the Sung army from invading the country.
4 A reference to the poem “Kieu” by the poet Nguyen Du. Trac Tuyen is the Dharma name of Kieu who, when she could bear her suffering no more, threw herself into the Tien Duong River and was rescued by her elder sister and teacher in the Dharma.
5 A district in Central Vietnam.
6 The ancient capital of Vietnam in Bac Ninh province. It was a flourishing Buddhist center from the beginning of the Christian era.
7 In the hills near Dalat, where the author established the Fragrant Palm Leaves Practice Center.

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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