Temple of the Three Gates: With Thich Nhat Hanh in Vietnam
by Jackie Randolph
The internet, Sangha, temples, Stupas, healing the chasms, 2 factions of Buddhism, Precepts Recitation, wonderful people, beautiful people, DMZ, agent orange, dynastic meals and culinary delights, Dharma talks, Tet, the Oracles of Kieu, walking mediations through Đông Ba Market and downtown Ho Chi Minh City, Generosity, gifts given, gifts received, large and small. Phap Van doing the Hokey Pokey, Br. Doung Minh, Thay's nephew, farewell songs from monks, Brother from the hood—Calihood. Video, pics, standup Buddhist comedy, jokes about a busload of "silent" Buddhists, Bao Loc, Fragrant Palm Leaves, mountains, Perfume Rivers, motor bikes, bus drivers, Nunnery Dieu Nghiem, Dharma sister of 92 years, Thành Trung's Ancestral Altar, Linh Mụ and releasing fishes to pray for longevity, Grand Palace, the Imperial Citadel, dynastic tombs, Vietnamese wedding pudding, hand made Origami coconut leaf boxes, Sr. Chong Kong's tour of special places at the root temple, retreats in a pine forest, Supreme Venerable, the 3 Gates, we have arrived—no place else to go.
TEMPLE OF THE THREE GATES
Từ Hiếu PAGODA—The Eden of Thay's youth. This was the most compelling reason for me to make this journey. To be there, to witness and to partake of homecoming, the root temple and to history. However it was only upon departure with tears of joy intermingled with tears of sadness, did I begin to realize that I was home, our home, my root temple, our root temple. In every heart-space, on many levels, for many lifetimes.
Greeted at the airport in Hue by monks in saffron robes. Thousands of Sangha members bearing roses, Buddhist flags, bows and lotuses, and great hearts full of gratitude and prayerful anticipation. Embracing at last, one who has been their venerable teacher for so long—from so long ago.
After the airport procession, we retrieved our luggage and reconvened at the buses that would take us to the 1st Gate. Assembling the 4-fold community, the International Sangha representing over 30 countries; evidence and living examples of the Way of Mindfulness.
A Great Bell announces our arrival. Yellow umbrellas tasseled with rainbow fringe are held uprightly. Novices carrying flowers and perfuming the air with incense, while musicians clad in traditional costume, blue as an indigo sunrise playing instruments and songs of yore.
Through the gate a beautiful site to behold for as far as the eye can see! On either side of the narrow road, gray robes solemnly holding candles uprightly. There were so many of them! Young and old, yin and yang, little ones, middle ones, parents, elders, and those marked by agent orange—still—3 generations later . . .
Up, up, up we go, carry-on luggage in tow. The weight of which was lightened by eyes so full of reverence and love, and staffs of tall pine trees lining the path upon which we tread, the same path all beings here shared. "Where does it end?" I asked, "Where does it all end, when does it end?"
At the top of the hill a brilliant red-lettered banner declaring: RESPECTIVELY WELCOMING HOME THE MOST VENERABLE THICH NHAT HANH THE SUPREME ELDER OF TU HIEU ROOT TEMPLE AND WELCOME TO THE INTERNATIONAL BUDDHIST DELEGATION OF THE PLUM VILLAGE SANGHA.
"Ah," I thought, "at last we've reached our destination." We processed beneath the banner through a Second Gate, but "had my eyes deceived me?" More robes and floating candles as far as the eye could see, again! It was like looking beyond a small valley, down a mountain, then up—again! "Perhaps there were thousands here, not hundreds." I was near disbelief. It was difficult to gage in this familiar yet unknown place. Repositioning the very heavy attachments on my back and shoulders . . . I marched on. (Later upon reflection I wondered, why were the temples we visited all situated atop a hill? At end of each town or hamlet was a beautiful pagoda, beyond which there were forest and nothing much else. Ummm . . .) Not quite a hundred yards from where we trekked, down the hill the pavement bordered the threshold of . . . well . . . we clearly had arrived at a special place, as if we weren't already there. Where the pavement met the red dust. Just a small patch about ten feet long and as wide as the structure before us. Red dust that greets us: "are you here as a reminder of what we leave behind? Red dust of a material world, over which we cross to another place and time?" A few paces across this sparse and inevitable chasm we pass through the triple arch—the Third and final Gate.
Behold the Half Moon Pond! Across the pond is Thay, smiling broadly, waving and delighted to be on the steps of his beloved pond. Warm eyes recollecting the fond memories of a young novice and monk who last tread these steps a lifetime ago. Didn't that say it all?
We lingered at the pond a short while, a chance to catch our breath and survey for the first time this magical place. Pine forest, cherry bamboo, lotuses floating upon more ponds, a thatched hut retreat, a vegetable garden. All the scents of home sweet home. Continuing up the hill a narrow path leading to steps, the first steps mounted on this journey from the now distant caravan of buses.
A pause, a breath, a tender touching of the stone balustrade at the culminating point of the final ascent. A touch to steady, to prepare, to step mindfully upon entering the center space of the temple grounds. As witnessed so many times before, paying homage at the alter, touching the earth, sharing gifts, and a reciprocal honoring of Thay; but this time in the place where it all began.
A little while after the formalities were over, I saw a child moving faster than I've ever seen, hardly able to contain the joy within, peeking in, peeking out, looking this way and looking that way. A door creaks open, a head and ears peers through, the door widening as eyes recognize and remember a place—still and unchanged.
Pictures from the Plum Village website. Other photos available from Thay's trip to Vietnam.