SnowFlower Sun July 2020

Where is Thich Nhat Hanh Right Now?

from a talk by Steven Spiro, Spring, 2015

Thay is known for saying that the next Buddha will be the Sangha. In Buddhist tradition the next Buddha is called Maitreya {from Sanskrit ‘maitri’, Pali ‘metta’, thus, the Buddha of Love]. Thay is the 42nd generation lineage holder of the Forest School of Vietnamese Zen. One of his solemn duties as leader of the lineage is to choose a successor. However he has never done this. Thay was and is a radical: the next Buddha is the Sangha.

What does this mean for us — for SnowFlower? None of us were born into Buddhist families. We came here through our own meandering paths in search of a spiritual home. In the late ‘80’s Thay told people at a retreat in the Chicago area, “Go home and form a sangha.” All these people had in common was a zip code – and the qualities of spiritual seekers. They had no idea how to form a sangha, but they did anyway. And here we still are, after some 30 years!

My wife Susan and I attended our first Thay retreat in 2000 in Vermont and were overjoyed to find a spiritual tradition that welcomed us “home” – into a family. We were edgy types and here we had walked into a whole group of edgy people like us, and had arrived home! It was very moving; we had found a spiritual family. But we all know what families are like. Families, for all the love and support, are also difficult. They are full of annoying people! We’re all annoying. And if you think you’re not, well, that’s VERY annoying! So I promise you two things about being in sangha. The first is that, sooner or later, you’ll hit the wall. Things will not be the way you want them to be. Then what will you do?

This is the root of our practice. We can’t change what will happen to us, we can only modulate how we deal with it. What will you do when you hit the wall and have to apply your practice to the situation, instead of expecting things to be as advertised? The second thing I can promise you in sangha is that sooner or later you’ll go through the wall. Your practice will create enough peace in you that you don’t get caught in old habits, and for that moment you are free.

All of us are in the process of transformation. We transform together, each in our own ways. None of us are monastics or cave dwellers. We’re deeply embedded in life and practicing as best we can. We’re the sangha now, for each other. And we need to step up and help each other – to be a true community of practice. There’s individual sitting practice, and there’s sangha practice. This sangha practice is the next coming of the Buddha that Thay offers us.

So where is Thich Nhat Hanh right now? We all know that we are more than our bodies. How do we continue after the body ceases to be? We continue through every thought, word, and deed. These radiate out from us just as a pebble dropped into a still pool does, and affect everything else in a profound way. That is our real continuation. How will SnowFlower continue once Thay has gone into another dimension? It takes every one of us to individually embody the Buddha and the Dharma in our own way. That’s how the tradition stays alive – by individuating moment to moment.

The next coming of the Buddha is the Sangha. The Sangha contains the Buddha. Thay is in us. There is no separation. We lose nothing. Shakyamuni died 2600 years ago, yet here we are, gathering togethering to practice. What gifts have you received from the Three Jewels? What gifts do you offer?

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