Being Thây

What are the times when we need to be Thây?  How often do we find ourselves in situations for which having Thây Nhat Hanh present with us would be very helpful – situations in which the only Thây present is the Thây within us?

Our SammaSankappa Sangha (California Medical Facility State Prison) was approaching its first Five Mindfulness Trainings Transmission (June, 2009).  As facilitator, I wanted the sangha to appreciate the honor of having three Dharma Teachers join us for our Transmission.  I spoke with the inmates about the designations within the Order of Interbeing.  I described what it meant to receive The Five Mindfulness Trainings, receive The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and receive Lamp Transmission.  I explained that I had received both The Five Trainings and The Fourteen Trainings but that I was not a Dharma Teacher.At our next week’s gathering, as we were settling in for our evening, a young Vietnamese member of this sangha came to see me.  He knelt down in front of me, we offered lotuses for each other and then he said, “I have a question for you.”  I offered a “go ahead” nod after which he asked, “May we call you Thây?”

My perception was that the previous week’s comments regarding “status” had not been adequately clear.  Not wanting to misrepresent myself, I began to explain that I was not a Teacher.  As I began to go through our Order’s designations once again, he stopped me and said, “You need to understand – you’re the only Thây we have [here].”  I bowed to him and thanked him for helping me better know what it meant for him to want to call me Thây.

For me, this young man had touched the essence of our collective engaged/applied practices.  His comments were a good response to, “Why do we practice?”

In some situations, we are fortunate to have the physical presence of other sangha members to help us manifest “Thây-ness.”  In other situations — although we have the support of the Sangha — our solo, personal presence needs to achieve this manifestation.

Before the next sangha gathering, that young man was transferred to another facility.  I hope that wherever he is, in this present moment, the Thây he needs is available.

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