Village des Pruniers or Plum Village in English is a mindfulness practice centre in Southwest France. It is led by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, a global spiritual leader, poet and peace activist, revered throughout the world for his powerful teachings and bestselling writings on mindfulness and peace. He was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize by Dr Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967. If you want to know more about Plum Village and Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, you can visit their official homepage here (http://plumvillage.org).
I understand how odd it might sounds for people when they heard me visiting a Zen Monastery in France, almost 15,000 km from where i live. People even asked more questions once they knew that i was still under 30 years old. It seems that there is a perception which imply people who visit Zen Monastery is someone who feel stressed, depressed, crazy, or just weird. Although most successful people (Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg) visited India to get profound insight about life, most people do not really talk this kind of visit to their circles; simply to avoid unnecessary questions or wrong perception.
To got there, i took 1 hour train from Gare St. Jean (Bordeaux) to Sta. Foy La Grande. Beforehand, i have requested transfer from and to Plum Village when i registered for Autumn Retreat in New Hamlet. All required information how to get to Plum Village is well described in the website. The volunteers also were very helpful in providing necessary documents for my visa application. There was time when i was very unsure with my path, just before i departed, and i read an email from Marie-Ann, “Breathe, you are on your way.” And somehow, i felt calmer after i read that.
I knew this place because i read a lot of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books, for e.g. “The Miracle of Mindfulness”, “Anger”, “Savor”, “Fear”, “The Art of Communicating”, and “No Mud No Lotus”. His books were made sense for me. I admired his way of life and his teachings. And, i wanted to know more about his community here in Plum Village. When i was really curious, i put my effort to find it.
Oh, i didn’t have any expectations here (and the whole trip), i just wanted to let it flow, let it be. I didn’t have ambition to be enlighten in two weeks nor being a completely different person. If i wanted a change in me, its simply to be my better nature self. Why nature self? We are much shaped by our society where we live. We try so hard to fit the mold and be someone expected from people around us. In the process, most of us lose ourselves without realising it. It comes into a point where it is hard to differentiate which who we really are and which one is the mold from around us. Or in simple sentence, to have our real opinion on a particular matter without thinking what people might think about our response.
I spent two weeks in here, two amazing weeks. I came alone but left with a whole family, literally. The community was welcoming each of people who wants to learn about Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching, who called as lay person or lay friend. Male monks are called Brother and female monks are called Sister. This what i love about this place, with this greeting from and to one another, this community felt like a big family to me.
I met an Indonesian family in here too. They were a family of 4, parent with two daughters. One of the daughters has become a sister and the other one is showing a noble intention to become a sister. I learnt another tradition of Plum Village. When a sister being ordained, her parent become the community’s parent, especially the sisters and brothers who ordained at the same time. So, when i got there, everyone called them “Mama” and “Papa”, including me. A fun fact is Indonesian and French call their parents with same greeting as above.
In one of the lazy days, i was luckily invited to go to a trip to Sarlat with Indonesian family and other brothers. Sarlat is a beautiful medieval town in southwest France, about 3 hours drive from Plum Village. We had lunch picnic near the side of the river. Two of the brothers was cooking late at night and early in the morning for this lunch (wow!). And they served Indonesian’s food like, nasi kuning (yellow rice), telur balado (eggs with chilli sauce), and many more. I never imagined myself to have this food here in France with brothers and sisters from Plum Village. Their company along with these food and lots of laughs were an unforgettable memory for me.
This was the aspect i love about Plum Village, the togetherness in the community. Inside the monastery, there were calligraphies about this. It said “Proteger notre Terre Mere” or “Nourishing our Togetherness”, the community’s theme in last two years. In my past experience, in Asian countries, Buddhist monks are well-respected, but also feels a bit distant at the same time. There is this invisible separation between lay person and Buddhist monks. In Plum Village, on the contrary, there was this real feeling of inclusiveness. We practiced Zen teachings together and we learnt from each other. This what i love the most about Plum Village.
Second thing i love the most were the people i met. Here are some of their names: Suriana, Gim Hung, Adi, Marc, Mirella, Lieselotte, Mary-Ann, Marie, Jamie, Brenda, Minh, Emily, Leila, Memme, Michele, Helen, Anu,Illiona, Pascale, Linda, Sr. Tinh Mac, Sr. Tin Yeu, Sr. Dong Hai, Sr. Sinh Nim, Br. Bao Tang, and many more. We came from very different backgrounds, but ultimately with the same purpose here. We listened to each other stories and hope to ease each other burden in a way. This might be the first time i opened up myself to strangers that fast. They are now my parents, brothers, sisters, and close friends.
Third thing i love was the location itself. To understand how remote this place, we need to wear traffic vest from and to the main monastery location when we walked from the guesthouse where we slept. It was because the road was really dark in the morning and night. However, it gave another advantage. In the darkness, i could saw the stars shone really bright. In the morning, i enjoyed the mist in the middle of plum trees. The air was really fresh and cold. The landscape was mesmerising.
In this trip, i didn’t buy any European card for my phone. Yes, for the whole 67 days. Each time i traveled, i always tried my best to be off-the grid. I relied on free public wifi from multiple places, especially from accommodation i stayed. And that was more than enough.
Didn’t you feel bored? No, because of this habit, i did something out of technology. I talked with people. I walked in nature. I took nap amongst the trees. I wrote simply with pen and paper. And, at the end, i connected more with things around me. Real connection – something very rare these days.
So, what did i learn from Plum Village in two weeks?
I learnt to embrace myself. Slowly, i accepted my unique background. I was raised in Catholicism and Buddhism. I was influenced by multicultural families – i have a Bataknese ‘grandfather’. I accepted the devil inside me – ambitiousness, disappointment, sadness. Not to dwell in the past, but more to acknowledge that i am still human and have range of emotions – not only ‘good’ ones. I accepted that because of all above, i have this unique perspective of life. No human are the same and no thoughts are the same. This might sound a bit paradoxical, I don’t need people to understand my perspective, but i found people who understand this in some dimensions. We might be not that different after all.
In the next post, i will talk more on the practice i had in Plum Village to give you an idea how it is like. Have a nice day everyone!