Weekend retreat draws 1,000 to hear ‘Thay’ 10/1/2013

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Weekend retreat draws 1,000 to hear ‘Thay’

By Emily D. Williams

One of the world’s foremost Buddhist teachers, Thich Nhat Hahn, led 1,000 people in a retreat at the Magnolia Grove Monastery in the Red Hill Community in the center of Panola County over the past weekend.

Participants came from as far away as Israel to hear the 86-year-old peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The 32 monastics who live at Magnolia Grove have been planning the retreat for over a year. The local facility is one of three in the U.S. affiliated with Nhat Hahn’s foundation.

Known as “Thay” to his followers, he is a Zen Buddhist monk who has authored more than 100 books. Long active in the peace movement, and exiled from his native Vietnam, he advocates nonviolent solutions to conflicts.

The retreat focused on mindfulness, which, in the Buddhist tradition, is an attentive awareness of the reality of the present moment.

Sessions were held outdoors and also inside the 10,000 square foot stone meditation hall, built especially for Thay’s visit and completed this summer. The centerpiece is a round stained-glass window picturing the Buddha.

There was complete silence in the new Rising Tide Meditation Hall when, during an open discussion, a teenager asked Nhat Hahn, “How do I help a friend who has problems with his parents and has suicidal thoughts?”

“We have to have compassion,” the leader said. “Usually people lose themselves in a strong emotion and become overwhelmed. That is not the way to handle emotion, because when that happens you are a victim of emotion. In order not to become a victim, breathe and retain your calm, and you will experience the insight that an emotion is only an emotion, nothing more. This insight is very important, because then you are no longer afraid.”

With tears in her eyes an Israeli woman asked, “How do I remove myself and family away from an environment that we do not feel safe in?”

Nhat Hahn explained that in any environment peace within one’s own soul must be accomplished.

“We must have compassion,” he replied softly.

Another asked, “How do I handle my fear of dying?”

“I think there’s a way of training ourselves in order not to become the victim of fear and grief,” the teacher said. “Live for right now. You are alive now. Life is available only in the present moment.”
The retreat began each day with morning mediation at 6 a.m., relaxation exercises, working meditation (washing dishes) and dharma talks.

Nhat Hahn led meditation walks through the hardwoods around the 120-acrecampus, where hundreds had camped during the retreat.

Magnolia Grove was co-founded by Bihn Ho, a Batesville business owner who said he was inspired to bring Nhat Hanh’s teachings to North Mississippi.