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Lions Roar : January 2016
The Teacher Within Naoki Miyahita is a tall thin man in his early fifties. With his spikey black hair, dark clothes, and strong features, he can seem severe—until he grins, which he does often. The ready smile is new, he says, a result of his experiences with Plum Village. A Japanese Shinto priest, Naoki encountered Thich Nhat Hanh during a Plum Village tour of Japan in 2011. He was struck by the lightness and joy he felt among the Plum Village monas- tics. Although the practice of smiling was difficult for him, espe- cially during retreat, he kept at it. Naoki went on to organize sub- sequent Japanese tours and has been to Plum Village a number of times, this summer bringing his elderly parents. With Nhat Hanh absent, Naoki says this was the first year he really saw the other monastics as teachers. “Thay is like sun- shine,” he says, “and the other teachers are like the stars in the sky. It’s natural that you only see sunshine half the day. Thanks to the sun setting and the night coming, we can see the stars.” He continues, “I am really in love with the starry night sky. I’m thankful to Thay for not being present, so I can see the stars and I can stop searching outside myself. This is the first year I really feel the presence of Thay within myself.” Thich Nhat Hanh has actively encouraged the monastics around him to teach, talk, and write about their own experience of Buddhist practice. There is no single heir apparent in the Plum Village tradition—and it would be not in keeping with Nhat Hanh’s teachings to appoint one—but there are many senior monastic and lay teachers with the skill and enthusiasm to give talks and share their life and practice. Sister Chan Khong is a significant Buddhist teacher in her own right and has written three books, including a memoir of her extraordinary life and two others focused on the specific practices she usually teaches: Deep Relaxation and a communi- cation and reconciliation practice called Beginning Anew. How- ever, Sister Chan Khong is in her late seventies, and much of her attention is taken up with administrative and procedural tasks, as well as mentoring and supporting the monastic sangha. Sister Dang Nghiem, a Vietnamese-born nun and physician who grew up in the United States, gives talks regularly and has written two books focusing on embodied mindfulness, love, and healing. Brother Phap Hai, an Australian-born senior monk living at the Deer Park Monastery in Southern California, has begun to teach more regularly, online and in person, and has written a book to guide people’s home meditation practice. None of these students has the life story or years of experi- ence to be like Thay, and there is no reason for them to try. Teaching from their own life experience, they offer a sense of the many different and inspiring ways that people develop and maintain a meditation practice. Informal walking meditation: It’s about a half-hour walk from the Upper Hamlet to the Lower Hamlet of Plum Village. SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2016 71