By Trupti Bhingare on
A Wake Up friend shares about touching encounters with Thầy through a TV interview, a book, and on retreat.
My first bell of mindfulness rang in the autumn of 2012 when I encountered Thầy. Mom and I loved watching Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday back in those days. A Zen monk by the name of Thích Nhất Hạnh was going to be interviewed for the upcoming episode. I come from a Buddhist family; singing gathas and listening to my grandmother narrate the Buddha’s stories was a big part of my childhood. Later, in my teenage days, I felt a growing wish to understand Buddhism more deeply. It was during this time that Thích Nhất Hạnh was set to appear on Oprah—I was very excited. After listening to Thầy for the first time, I felt I had touched the true essence of Buddhism. His peaceful smile and the way he spoke of profound things with simplicity mesmerised me completely. Like the sound of a mindfulness bell, Thầy’s voice resonated deep in my soul the first time I heard it.
My second bell of mindfulness rang five years later, in the autumn of 2017. I was exploring a beautiful bookstore in Dehradun, India, and out of hundreds of books on display, my eyes came to rest, naturally and peacefully, on Thầy’s book—At Home in the World. The black and white cover photo of Thầy’s smile was like a breath of fresh air in that room. At Home in the World became my portal into Thầy’s life in Vietnam, his spiritual journey, his teachings, and his practices; it impacted me deeply. My parents read the book too and also connected deeply with it. As a family, we came to love and admire Thầy for making Buddhist practices so simple and accessible, to us and to the world, in each moment.
At Home in the World inspired me to watch Thầy’s Dharma talks online, and then I started practising mindful sitting, mindful walking, and sometimes tea meditation. I lacked discipline, but whenever I or my loved ones experienced deep suffering, I found myself organically coming back to Thầy’s practices and teachings. Doing so always helped me stay grounded in the present moment and embrace suffering with tenderness.
The insight of interbeing and the Noble Eightfold Path made me look deeply into my consumption and my own actions, especially those that contributed to climate change.
I was inspired to expand my circle of compassion. Recognising that though I cared about the climate crisis, I also regularly consumed foods with a disproportionate carbon footprint like meat and dairy, I naturally started eliminating foods that directly or indirectly caused suffering to animals and Mother Earth. Awareness, like a mirror, continued to reflect more questionable actions: my usage of chemical products and single-use plastic wrapped products, for example.
To this day, I continue to make mindful shifts in my life. Often, they are not easy changes; mindfulness practices help me to take care of the habit energy involved in things like craving certain foods I have given up or choosing my comfort over the suffering of others. Like the breath taken after the mindfulness bell, Thầy’s practices have hit home for me.
My third bell of mindfulness rang this spring, in 2023, when I learnt the Banyan tree I was sitting under in Jamun Village, Dehradun (Plum Village India) had been planted by Thầy in 2008. Experiencing Thầy’s energy and continuation in that tree, as well as in the seven Brothers and Sisters that had come from Plum Village, France, was a surreal moment. I felt deep joy, gratitude, happiness, and peace, all at once. Before I knew it, tears were rolling down my cheeks. Amidst beautiful trees, bird songs, blue-grey skies, mountains, and rivers, we practised as a Sangha for four days as part of the Together We Build the Future: Wake Up Retreat organised by Plum Village monastics and Ahimsa Trust (founded by Dharmacharya Shantum, a Dharma teacher in the lineage of Zen Master Thích Nhất Hạnh). Being a part of the first ever Wake Up Retreat in India has been nothing short of life-changing for me.
I deeply enjoyed practising—mindful sitting, mindful walking, mindful eating, and mindful listening—as a Sangha. I loved listening to monastic Dharma talks, listening to facilitators share their mindfulness journeys, learning wholesome songs, and experiencing the energy of shared practice. Every moment nurtured seeds of compassion, joy, and peace in me. The experience helped me cultivate a joy of practice I had not touched while practising on my own. It was also the first time I practised service meditation, as we all contributed in our own small ways towards building Plum Village, India; it was incredibly special.
Like the mindfulness bells that help us nourish ourselves, this retreat nourished my life in ways I cannot put in words.
Over the past decade, my three bells of mindfulness (as I have come to see them) have transformed the way I see myself, others, and Mother Earth. I truly believe that Thầy’s teachings are what the world needs right now!
I aspire to be my true authentic self and to touch the miracle of life every single day. The retreat has offered me fresh nourishment to continue deepening my practice as I carry Thầy’s essence in my heart!