By Leo Rumball
They say there are six senses in Buddhism: sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch, and the sixth sense—which we Westerners don’t believe is a sense—is the mind. Now I’m going to tell you how I experience these senses when I am on retreat in Plum Village as well as the Family Sangha, which is nearby.
When I close my eyes and I think of Plum Village, I can see the big pond with shining gold fish. Long ago I made a deal with the monks that I can catch them but must put them back with no harm.
I can see Maggie the magpie pecking on all the red berries scattered on the floor, when she zooms into the meditation hall just before the Dharma talk begins and pecks on the microphone and listens to the talks from the Christmas ornament hanging from the ceiling.
In the air the soapy smell of rice cooking in the steaming kitchen, which clatters with pots and pans being washed and given to the chef to put the boiling yellow curry in.
I can smell the thin incense sticks placed neatly in a dark, metal pot of sand that stands just below the statue of Buddha. The incense has the scent of roses and cream and drops as wax of a candle.
I can hear the sound of the bell when everything goes quiet. This is the time when you concentrate on your breath, be still, and spare a moment to think what you are doing here and now.
I can hear the pure, green parakeets with dark beady eyes swooping overhead.
As I wait in a line impatiently for my food, I can touch the worn scratched dinner bowls, remembering to say thank you for my food and for those who prepared it.
I can hold the warm bony hand of Brother Phap Hien taking me into the secret monks’ place where there is a tree, which looks like a huge snake curling into the sky. I can also feel the mark on the paper from the pencil which he drew with, to make a beautiful drawing of me and him, my sister, and my little brother staring into the pond.
I can feel the hard floor under the comfy soft cushions in the huge hall when I struggle to sit still and silent during the Dharma talks.
I can taste the sweet crunchy sugar crystals at the bottom of the peppermint tea in my cold hands during Christmas week.
After dinner I race to the ice cream bar and politely ask for a chocolate tub for me and my sister with a monks’ discount. It tastes filling and yummy and so difficult to share!
As per my sixth sense, the mind, when I am in Plum Village, I feel very safe when I am fishing by the glistening muddy lake. I know the fish who live in the pond will look after me when I help out with the cooking, ready for lunch.
When I am in Plum, I feel happy when I am listening to all of the monks playing the instruments in the music yurt whilst I light the stove. When I am in Plum, I feel loved when I sit next to the monks at dinnertime. When I am in Plum, I feel free to play and to go on adventures in the woods. When I’m in Plum, I feel restored when I wake up in the morning and I hear the bell.
Another thing we do in Plum Village is loving speech. Loving speech is when you say something kind and obviously loving which makes people love you even more. It makes them feel good about themselves and makes you feel happy too, like, “I really like your sparkly dress.” To be honest I’m not very good at loving speech. Unfortunately, when I’m in an argument, especially with my sister, I get so upset that most of the time I forget to let it go. My mum says that to be able to speak I have to open the four gates of speech and ask myself if what I am about to say is kind, if it is true, if it is necessary, and if it is the right time to say it. But, because I talk a lot, it’s very hard to remember the four gates of speech.
My family and I feel blessed that we have had the great chance to go to Plum Village and experience the happiness, the freedom, the relief, the calmness, and the unconditional friendship of the monks and everyone we met there. Hopefully we’ll be back soon.
Leo Rumball, age nine, practices with the Family Sangha in London. He likes furry animals. He spends most of his free time outside and dreams of living in the forest when he’s older, observing birds. Every Sunday throughout the winter he plays rugby, rain or shine. He’s the only person in his class who hasn’t got the sports video game FIFA17.