Celebrating Thich Nhat Hanh’s Continuation

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Dear Still Water Friends,

This week marks two years since our dear teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) transitioned at the age of ninety-five. This month, Plum Village monasteries and practice centers worldwide are holding ceremonies to remember and celebrate Thich Nhat Hanh and his legacy.

This week in Still Water’s Thursday evening group we will have the opportunity to express gratitude for Thay and his teachers. We will share how his life and teachings have touched and transformed our lives. You may wish to bring a memory, poem, story, quote, or song to share with others.

We may be aware that Thay taught that we are his continuation and he is our spiritual ancestor. But what does it mean, for each of us, to be Thay’s continuation?

Thich Nhat Hanh writes about continuation in his book The Art of Living:

I remember one time when I was in London, doing walking meditation along the street, and I saw a book displayed in a bookshop window with the title My Mother, Myself. I didn’t buy the book because I felt I already knew what was inside. It’s true that each one of us is a continuation of our mother; we are our mother. And so whenever we are angry at our mother or father, we are also being angry at ourselves. Whatever we do, our parents are doing it with us. This may be hard to accept, but it’s the truth. We can’t say we don’t want to have anything to do with our parents. They are in us, and we are in them. We are the continuation of all our ancestors. Thanks to impermanence, we have a chance to transform our inheritance in a beautiful direction.

Every time I offer incense or prostrate before the altar in my hermitage, I do not do this as an individual self but as a whole lineage. Whenever I walk, sit, eat, or practice calligraphy, I do so with the awareness that all my ancestors are within me in that moment. I am their continuation. Whatever I am doing, the energy of mindfulness enables me to do it as “us,” through interbeing, not as “me.” When I hold a calligraphy brush, I know I cannot remove my father from my hand. I know I cannot remove my mother or my ancestors from me. They are present in all my cells, in my gestures, in my capacity to draw a beautiful circle. Nor can I remove my spiritual teachers from my hand. They are there in the peace, concentration, and mindfulness I enjoy as I make the circle. We are all drawing the circle together. There is no separate self doing it. While practicing calligraphy, I touch the profound insight of no self. It becomes a deep practice of meditation.

Whether we’re at work or at home, we can practice to see all our ancestors and teachers present in our actions. We can see their presence when we express a talent or skill they have transmitted to us. We can see their hands in ours as we prepare a meal or wash the dishes. We can experience profound connection and free ourselves from the idea that we are a separate self through the conscious recognition of interbeing.

In April of last year, as I was emerging from months of COVID hibernation, I attended an in-person fundraising concert, “The Way Out is In.” Several Plum Village monastics, along with the hip hop singer Born I, performed songs based on Thich Nhat Hanh’s poems and meditations. That evening, I experienced great joy in being surrounded by Sangha members and feeling the power of Thay’s continuation in each beautifully crafted piece of music. The transformation of Thay’s powerful words into a new, invigorated form helped me understand again–in a visceral way–what continuation means. Thay’s essence carried through in the songs, and yet they now contained the voices and hearts of the musicians as well.

This week on Thursday night, after our sitting, we will watch a rehearsal video of one of the songs from the April concert. It is based on Thay’s poem “Little Star.”

You are warmly invited to be with us!

The text of the “Little Star” poem is below.

Peace and Blessings,

Eliza King

Thich Nhat Hanh

Where have you been, little star?
I have been looking for you everywhere
out of my window among the dark clouds.
Where have you been?
I feel so forlorn, like a small bird lost on a foggy island.

It has been raining for nights.
The town is so chilly and deserted.
Late at night on the sidewalk
I see the silhouettes of lonely, wet forms.

Resting my head on a stack of books
like the ancient poets,
I have tried to call up your image
from deep in my consciousness,
while the rain and the wind continue to rage.

Tonight as I bend over my desk,
my head held in my two hands,
I cannot imagine that the wind
has carried away all the clouds.
The sky is clear.
The rain has stopped longing for your call.
I am surprised to see you are there
through the window.
You have returned.

Dear little star,
you have been through such storms, rain, and wind.
Where did you go?
For how long and on what strange land
have you been weeping?
You have come back.
Your eyes are still lost in surprise
as you watch me through the window.
Where have you been on these stormy days?
Your little body, battered by countless winds,
still shivers with cold.
Resting peacefully at the bottom of the crystal cup,
with tears in your eyes, you recall:
“Today the Kingdom of Heaven held
a great festival for thousands of stars.
The sky is clear.
The clouds have all blown away.
I went up to that kingdom
and knelt down for our homeland and prayed
that the anguish, the killing,
the disasters of flood, fire, and cruelty
in our poor land would end.”

Your voice has reached millions of stars
that all transformed into wonderful teardrops
trembling in the air.
I am sending deep thanks to ten thousand little stars
whose faith is diamond-strong.
You are like flowers blooming,
shining brilliantly in the vast realm of consciousness.
My little star, you are back home.
With tears in my eyes,
I call your name
and feel the warmth in my heart.

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