My Life with Thay

Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh in Plum Village in 2000, Photo by Jerome Freedman

My life with Thay (Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh) began in a small church in Berkeley, California in 1984.

By some strange coincidence, I happened to sit next to him is the second row before he was introduced to speak.

I became a solo practitioner in Thay’s tradition on that day.

I was shy and did not know how to relate to other Buddhists, although I did start attending Sunday morning talks at Green Gulch Farm of the San Francisco Zen Center.

I knew so little about the Community for Mindful Living which was forming in the East Bay that I attended only once.

It may have been at that talk or one a few years later in a huge auditorium in Berkeley that I heard him say, “If the west stops drinking alcohol by 50%, we can feed the whole world.”

When I heard this statement, I committed to not drinking alcohol at all, and that commitment is still strong today.

In 1997, the year I was first diagnosed with muscle invasive bladder cancer, I attended my first retreat with Thay at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

It was there that I met Sister Chan Khong and Roshi Joan Halifax and spoke to them about my cancer.

During one morning of walking meditation, I felt a strong need for healing from Thay and held his hand, like a child, as we walked back from the beach to the dining tent for breakfast.

Three years later, I was in remission from cancer and sent to India for work.

On my way home, I stopped in Plum Village and arrived just in time for the Vietnamese New Year celebration called Tet.

During one of the morning consultations with the oracle, a tradition in Vietnam during Tet, I was able to ask Thay about my friend who was suffering with a glioblastoma – a fatal brain cancer.

Thay told me to tell my friend to live the rest of her life with as much mindfulness that she could muster and enjoy all of her remaining days.

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P. S. I was inspired to write this article because of the wonderful tribute to Thay in this month’s issue of Shambhala Sun.

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