7 September 2012
Visit of the Monks and Nuns of Plum Village to University College Cork, Ireland April 2012
Last April the chaplaincy in UCC was privileged to host the visit of 6 young Buddhist Monastics from the famous Monastery of Plum Village in France. They were travelling as part of the Monastic Sangha, or community that accompanied the renowned Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh on his recent visit to Ireland and the UK. “Thay” as he is known by his disciples, had given permission for the monastics to come to UCC as he firmly believes that mindfulness, being in the present moment in a peaceful way, is an important skill that should be offered to all young people so as to assist them in negotiating the treacherous waters of adolescence and adulthood. Furthermore, as a practice, basic mindfulness is one that transcends all religious traditions, being found as a key element in the contemplative and meditative practices of all the faiths. As such it is a wonderful tool that may be used to bring people together and to open them up in a compassionate way to their common humanity.
Buddhist Monastics from Plum Village, France in UCC
This was what we witnessed as throughout the day our six monastics guided nearly 600 people of all ages through gentle meditative exercises that put them in touch with their breath and gave them some insight into the need to slow the pace of life a little and become centred on who they really are. The issues of how to deal with anger, resentment, depression and even suicidal thoughts, so present in the life of young people today, were gently and effectively dealt with. Not through any promised quick fixes but through an encouragement to never despair and to practice mindfulness deeply so as to understand the gift that this human life is to ourselves and to others. While around us the busy life of the campus continued unabated, the Devere Hall became an oasis of calm where people began to remember what it is to simply be in the present moment, aware of the breath and connected to the ultimate dimension of life. The day was a wonderful success. It revealed to many in UCC and the surrounding community the benefits of being aware and awake to the present moment, thus touching life deeply in every moment of each day.
I would like to share the following reflection on breathing which is central to the life of the monastics.
Our breathing is the stable, solid ground that we can take refuge in. Regardless of our internal weather – our thoughts, emotions and perceptions – our breathing is always with us like a faithful friend. Whenever we feel carried away, caught in a strong emotion or scattered in worries and projects, we return to our breathing to collect and anchor our minds.
We feel the flow of air coming in and going out of our nose. We feel the natural lightness, the calm and peace of our breathing system. At any time while we are walking, gardening or typing we can return to this calm and peace. We may like to recite:
BREATHING IN, I KNOW THAT I AM BREATHING IN.
BREATHING OUT, I KNOW THAT I AM BREATHING OUT.
We do not need to control our breath. We simply feel the breath as it actually is. It may be long or short, deep or shallow. With our awareness it will naturally become slower and deeper. Conscious breathing is the key to uniting body and mind and so bringing the act of mindfulness into each moment of life.
As well as benefitting from the public teaching of the monks and sisters we had a wonderful time in between the sessions learning from each other and chatting about the similarities and differences between religious life in a Buddhist and Christian context. It was interesting to note that the three western monastics, while brought up in the Christian tradition, had never had any dealing with Catholic or Orthodox monks or sisters until they had entered Buddhist monastic life. However the first thing agreed upon is that community life can have its challenges regardless of one’s tradition! In and through our conversations it became clear that the practice of mindfulness does contribute in an enriching way to the quality of our relationships in community.
Thich Nhat Hanh
As the monastics departed Cork University, I was left with a renewed conviction of the value of mindfulness as a means to living in the present moment. From my time with the monastics, it was evident that the practice of mindfulness brings deep peace and serenity for which our world hungers so deeply. I was touched by how the monastics did the ordinary simple tasks in an extraordinary mindful way. Simple acts including washing the dishes or drinking a cup of tea can be transferred into acts of meditation. This awareness and gift can bring us into the presence of God as we live and move through each moment of each day.
For information on resources and upcoming events, contact www.mindfulnessireland.org
Patricia O’Donovan RSM, Southern Province