It was Q&A with Thay this morning, in English. We go to the meditation hall straight from potwashing. The hall quickly fills to capacity - all of the hamlets are here. Thay arrives and sits down. A fellow potwasher leans over, “See the flowers?”
There’s an arrangement before Thay’s chair. It’s ours, from last night. It’s been upgraded from tin can to proper vase, but it’s ours. I am thrilled.
The first part of the morning is all about the kids.
Now, at times this week they've driven us crazy. The teenagers often ignore 'noble silence', and they chat noisily in the bathroom, putting on make-up and straightening their hair - while the rest of us are getting ready for bed. I’ve had no contact with them, and I wonder: did any of the teachings sink in? Was their sole purpose to help us practice patience? At times, the younger children have run riot as well, unsupervised by parents. And they've been asking for money: my first day I met boys at a table by the bamboo grove - selling rocks. To help the hungry children, they say. I’m fresh from Dublin, hyper-suspicious. I give them money, but figure I’ve been scammed.
First the kids come up to Thay. They’ve raised 701 euros this week - for the Hungry Children's Charity, in Vietnam. They had a sale of work – things they’d made and painted and drawn - and they sold those rocks all week long…
The teenagers follow: they’ve raised nearly 1500 euros from a sponsored 26-km walk. They perform for Thay - an original composition. I recognise it from the Peace Festival. It’s funny and fast, and the teachings of the week are all squodged into it. Thay is so pleased, he asks them to sing it again.
Both groups blew me away. I was suffering from a wrong perception, as Thay would say.
Then the questions started. The youngest went first:
> You do so much - how do you not get tired?
> How did it feel to not be allowed to go home?
> Why can’t the Dalai Lama go home, like you did?
> Why do monks not make children?
The adult questions were as eclectic:
> I work with people who hate homosexuals, who think violence against them is a good thing. How can I help to change their perception?
> If we have past lives, why can't we remember them?
> If I just had 5 minutes to speak with you, I feel I would be a better person. How do I leave Plum Village without feeling that I’ve missed out.
> What is the nature of dreaming?
> Is there a conflict between Christianity and Buddhism?
> My friend’s daughter has committed suicide. She was 35 years old. She’s left a small son. What can I say to her? How can I help?
A woman comes and sits in the question-chair. She’s clearly petrified.
> What advice would you give to a mother whose child has not met his father because he is at war?
She’s American, and heavily pregnant. The room holds its breath.
Thay pauses before each answer. For some he takes ten or twenty seconds before speaking. And then he speaks carefully, thoughtfully, compassionately.
And he gives us enough to think about for a lifetime.