by Mary Hillebrand
I was fooling around on the Internet a while ago, following links that sounded interesting, avoiding whatever work I “should” have been doing at the time. Turns out, I was right where I “should” have been at that moment – I stumbled upon a web site called Zencast.org, which offers podcasts of talks from various teachers, free for downloading. Yes, Thich Nhat Hanh was among them. So, of course, I downloaded several of Thay’s dharma talks, for listening while I dharma walk (the dogs, that is).
The first one I listened to was a lesson in non-attachment. The podcast’s subject was not exactly non-attachment. Its title was “Refreshing Our Hearts,” and I recognized it once I got over my initial surprise at the format of the podcast itself. That was my lesson in non-attachment! When I pressed “play” on my aptly named “Zen player,” which is similar to an iPod, this mellow music with a new age-y beat flowed into my ear. The faint voice of Thay started slowly repeating “Let us visualize…” from somewhere within the heathery, swirling image forming in my mind. Thay’s voice sounded like it was coming from down deep in an aluminum-walled well, breathy and echoing, which soon brought to mind the image of Darth Vader – not something I ever expected to conjure from Thay’s voice!
This went on for a minute or so, to the point where I half expected Thay to deliver a dharma rap in time to the music at any moment. Instead, he expanded the sentence to “Let us visualize a lake in the highland among mountains” and seemed to begin his dharma talk, music and funky beat continuing behind his oddly distorted voice. But after four or five sentences, as if reading my mind, another person spoke, sounding so much like Darth Vader that my ears reflexively strained for the swoosh of his light saber. “The ultimate experience. The ultimate… Zencast!” Darth Vader said, startling me out of my reverie of Thay wearing a shiny black helmet.
Then someone started chanting/singing and the music became a little more complex, with some violins joining the dreamy mix. I felt so disoriented. “This is not what I expected,” I thought to myself. “It’s not the Spartan recording I’m used to hearing, unadorned except for the occasional cough or chuckle from the audience.” And this was only the introduction. “What’s next?” I wondered warily. Again, as if reading my mind, the sound in my ear shifted to Thay, up close, normal voice, no background noise, delivering that old favorite teaching about us being clear water, reflecting what is real. It was like the podcast creator said to me, “Okay, joke’s over. I was just testing you.” Funny thing is, by that point, I had actually let go of my attachment to the sound of the recorded dharma talks I had become accustomed to at the Vihara and was ready to try to enjoy this funky new version, even if Thay might start rapping at any moment.
Good thing, too, because suddenly in the middle of his talk, someone sang some kind of folksy rock ‘n’ roll song… a nice, sorta mellow one, but… rock ‘n’ roll?!? “I ordered a dharma talk! What’s the deal with the interruption?” I wondered. Thay talked some more, interrupted later by someone chant/singing in French – Sister Chan Khong, I later learned from the web site. Then more talk from Thay, followed by one last, brief, startling word from Darth Vader, reminding me that the recording came from Zencast.org.
If you’re looking for free dharma talks online, this is one of many places to go – Googling “dharma talk podcast” will bring up plenty of choices. I haven’t taken a chance on a second recording from this site yet, so I can’t say if they all feature such an unusual format. But I can tell you it was fun to be shaken out of my mindset, even if I didn’t realize I needed it.
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