Thay’s Eyes

By Pusanisa Kamolnoratep

photo by Pusanisa Kamolnoratep

I would like to share with you my moment with Thay during the 21-Day Retreat in Plum Village, and my reflection about this. Please take a few breaths before you continue to read, so you will feel as if you were there, too. This is my purpose for sharing this with you, my friends.

On June 14, I had a moment with Thay on the hill in New Hamlet.

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By Pusanisa Kamolnoratep

photo by Pusanisa Kamolnoratep

I would like to share with you my moment with Thay during the 21-Day Retreat in Plum Village, and my reflection about this. Please take a few breaths before you continue to read, so you will feel as if you were there, too. This is my purpose for sharing this with you, my friends.

On June 14, I had a moment with Thay on the hill in New Hamlet. We had a Day of Mindfulness, and Thay joined us to walk up the hill (his attendants pulled his wheelchair upwards, of course). We all sat there on the hill while Thay was drinking tea and enjoying the view and the people. I was close to him in the front, and I wanted to prostrate for him, but I was hesitating about whether to ask to do it because people just sat there and took pictures of him. No one did the practice of touching the Earth. Finally, I was brave and asked a senior nun, who was taking care of Thay, if I could prostrate to him. She said, “Yes!”

The nun called me to come closer to Thay, so I moved in front of him and did touching the Earth fully, in front of his feet. I thought of my mother and father’s presence inside me and invited them to prostrate with me. I imagined my mother blending with my body to touch the Earth together. Sitting down, with the backs of my hands and arms, my forehead, and my knees on the ground, I went back to the time when I was an aspirant last year. Then, I wore a gray robe and was preparing to be ordained into the three-month Stepping into Freedom program during the Rainy Retreat in Thai Plum Village. Later, as a novice, I wore the brown robe and practiced the daily mindful gathas (short verses that help us practice mindfulness in our daily activities) in the classroom. I also recalled the time when I smiled, holding a begging bowl in my two hands and walking down the village road. Then I remembered the moment of sitting in the meditation hall in the Lower Hamlet and listening to the chanting of Namo Avalokiteshvara on the first day of the 21-Day Retreat. Now, I was doing the prostration in front of Thay. I felt calm, light, and deeply grateful.

The moment I stood up, Thay and I made eye contact. For the rest of my life, I will never forget his eyes—true kindness and compassion, deep understanding, strong, solid, powerful with love. I felt so warm and safe. He transmitted trust, confidence, and love to me—and to his students, the encouragement to practice, be solid, and peaceful inside. I felt so moved inside my heart. I felt strong, and I melted at the same time. I felt that with this one look, he penetrated deep within me, and he saw me clearly and understood everything. Or this could have been the other way round; with this deep mindful look, I was the one who understood. I, myself, penetrated Thay deep inside me. I felt that the big tree inside me moved its leaves happily with the wind. The grass on the hill around us was also moving with the wind. It was a beautiful moment. All around us was a feeling of peace.

I continued to sit there in front of Thay while he drank his second cup of tea with his left hand. I waited there because I had a small stone from Thai Plum Village to give to him. On it, I had written in Thai calligraphy, “Smile.” Thay looked at me and nodded and nodded again. So I turned to his attendant, who then told me to go back to my seat to eat lunch. I replied to him, “But I have a stone to give to Thay.” I opened my hand and Thay’s attendant took the white stone and smiled so much that his eyes looked like they became two thin lines. He then handed it to Thay, and Thay tilted his head to see the little stone with a Thai word pronounced “yim,” which means “smile.” He nodded twice, and his lips turned into a smile. I think he remembered this word. It was a word he used to write as one of his calligraphies.

His attendant extended his hand again for me to go back to my seat, and then I started to eat lunch. Thay finished his cup of tea and made a sign for his attendants to take him down the hill. We all got up to our feet to bow to him. We continued to finish our meal and enjoyed the view there. After a while, it rained and we gathered ourselves to walk back to New Hamlet. After Thay left, I started to feel shy as people looked at me a lot and smiled. An auntie sat close to me and had tears in her eyes. She smiled at me, so I smiled back. After that, I didn’t look at anyone because I felt so shy and I felt my cheeks turning pink.

Not long before this, I had studied with Sister Chan Duc in Thai Plum Village during the three-month Rainy Retreat, and I submitted to her my homework about sitting meditation. She wrote on the back of the paper, “Thank you my dear. Keep going further, and bring it more into your daily life.” I didn’t know exactly how to bring the experience of the meditation into my daily life. 

When I came back to Thailand after the retreat, I shared with my Wake Up Bangkok group that I loved the look in Thay’s eyes so much; it was so powerful with true understanding, endless love, and compassion. One of my friends later told me that he was glad to hear about my eye contact with Thay, and that he also aspired to practice to have eye contact like that, even though it may not be as good as Thay’s. Our eyesight is a reflection of great transformation from suffering when true understanding arises. We all would like to have eye contact with Thay, or with the Buddha, and we are learning to have eye contact with everything in front of us, like the way Thay looks at a person and all beings in front of him. My friend’s sentences stuck with me ever since then; I knew I needed to again take a deeper look and to “keep going further and apply it into my daily life.”


On July 17, the Thai Plum Village volunteer team organized an activity to serve teenage boys in the juvenile detention home. We spent one full day there with ten young boys who caused trouble in the house and were separated from the large group. This activity enabled me to have a chance to listen to the boys about what they felt in their hearts. It also gave them the opportunity to listen to one another, so that they could understand their friends’ feelings and help each other to have a happier stay there. We split into smaller groups for each activity throughout the day and sat so that we could see each other’s faces. At the end of the day, we came together in one big circle. Many hours had passed, and we had gained more and more trust from the boys. At this point, I had direct eye contact with one of the boys.

In the boy’s eyes, I felt Thay’ eyes, too; that Thay’s eyes were also present in his eyes and that part of the look in his eyes was also the look I saw in Thay’s eyes after I prostrated to him. I knew in that moment I was looking at him deeply with Thay’s eyes in my own way. I understood now how to “bring it into my daily life.” Afterwards, I shared with the volunteer group that I wanted to listen to my younger brother at home, too, about what he had in his mind right now. When I got home later that day, I asked how he was feeling with his current life changes, and I listened to him deeply with my presence. I wish to continue the practice of looking at all beings with the eyes of compassion and listen deeply with all my presence.

Reprinted with permission from

Pusanisa Kamolnoratep, Sister Stream of Pure Cloud, is a Wake Up core member in Thailand and an Order of Interbeing aspirant. In 2015, she was ordained as a novice in Stepping into Freedom, a three-month ordination program. She is a freelance magazine writer interested in creative projects with goodwill to improve the community.

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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