I was lucky enough to go on all 3 retreats, one after the other, for 5 weeks - a wonderful, tremendously varied, eye and heart opening experience from beginning to end.
(Photo: at Tam Binh School)
Coming from winter in England, simply being back in the tropics – the sights, sounds, smells, – was enough to lift my spirits, but then there was everything else: The warm, welcoming people (both locals and fellow retreatants.) The fantastic scenery, from the glorious green mountains where we planted trees with Peace Trees, and climbed the sacred Yen Tu Mt. into the clouds; to the magnificent beeches and spectacular Ha Long Bay; to the vibrant cities of Hoi An and Hanoi, teeming with life and motor bikes.
(Photos: climbing Yen Tu Mountain, and tree planting in Quang Tri Provence)
My favourite city was Hue, on the banks of the Perfume River, where we stayed in a beautiful Eco Resort with organic gardens (fresh fruits and vegetables from garden to table in a matter of hours), fragrant flowering trees and enormous, luminous butterflies. Morning meditations and chanting were accompanied by the sound of the mindfulness bell, plus a million cicadas celebrating the start of another bright new day. Two new friends received the Five Mindfulness Trainings as the sun rose, clearing the mist from the Perfume River.
(Photo: staff and retreatants, Hue Riverside Resort)
Nearby is the incredible Tam Binh School for disabled children, where we painted a mural and cleared and prepared a plot for an additional playground. It was a joyful and heartwarming experience to meet and play with the children who are receiving such truly tender loving care from a skillful and dedicated team of caregivers and teachers.
(Photo: volunteering at Tam Binh School, Hue)
Also in Hue are the Dieu Tram Nunnery and Thay’s Root Temple, Tu Hieu, which we visited a number of times on both the Loving Work and Homeland Retreats. These were some of the most memorable and moving experiences for me: Dharma talks and deep relaxations with Sr. Chan Khong, singing with the sisters, silent walking meditations by the bamboo groves and big fish ponds, and ultimately the totally unexpected and deeply touching meeting with Thay.
(Photo: at Tu Heu, our Root Temple) (Photo: Paul shares his book with Thay)
Between the 2 retreats in Vietnam, we spent a week at Plum Village Thailand. Here it was hot, dry and beautiful. I remember the early morning and evening singing of the sisters with the big bell, accompanied by the “singing” of the temple dogs; the magnificent sunrises and sunsets; the pigeons nesting in the Dharma Hall; the Dharma talks and discussions; the sounds of the birds and wind chimes in the flowering trees; the smiling faces of the monastics.
(Photos: Plum village, Thailand)
From the spiritual to the “historical dimension”: It is impossible for anyone of my generation who remembers the war in the news, to visit Vietnam without strong, sad and guilty emotions. These were reinforced by the stories of the three Veterans and Dharma teachers who travelled with us to the museums, old mine fields and My Son area of the infamous massacre. Though painful and emotional, the experiences were meaningful, important and ultimately healing, as we witnessed for ourselves how the people have transformed their lives and are rebuilding their beautiful country. I was struck by the sign in Hanoi that proclaimed it as the “City of Peace”.
have taken away the smiles and graciousness of the hardworking and fun loving people we met and who welcomed us with such kindness and generosity.
Thank you to the Dharma Teachers and the organizers for taking such good care of us, and thank you to all the dear companions on this wonderful journey.