I thought a lot about fame this morning. Celebrity status is strange thing. For spiritual leaders, it must be even stranger.
The dawn meditation session was brilliant, and a scrummy breakfast followed. Then we travelled to New Hamlet, where we met up people from the other three hamlets. Thay gave a phenomenal talk, and off we went for some walking meditation.
The children of Plum Village always walk beside Thay, followed by some of the monks and nuns. We started moving through lines of vines stretching up a hillside. Some people trot quickly past me -- trying to catch up with Thay, I guess, to get a glimpse of him.
When he reaches the top of the hill, Thay sits down under a plum tree and looks down onto the Bordeaux landscape, meditating. We all sit too, but we’re not watching what he’s watching. We’re not meditating at all. We’re watching him. And we're taking pictures: with phones, cameras, dvd camcorders...
He glances around at us, gives a little laugh. I realise how stupid it is to sit watching someone else meditate. I turn to the landscape and relax. Some others do the same. Thay takes a little bell and rings it, and gradually the people settle down, looking over occasionally in case they’re missing something - in case he’s started glowing, or juggling or something. The woman in front of me doesn’t sit down at all. She stays up on her knees, gazing intently at Thay the entire time.
After 10 or 15 minutes we’re on the move again. Two children take Thay’s hands, the rest move around him, and we walk back to New Hamlet. He walks up the steps of the belltower and turns to the long line of people. We wait. He bows deeply to us. We bow to him. We wait. He pauses for a moment, then gives a little wave. I imagine subtitles for him: Seriously folks - we are done here. Please disperse. No-one moves. He smiles again, then turns and walks away from us.
“Did you see?” says a voice to my right, “He came around the tree the other way -- I got really close!!”
Of the visitors, the children are the ones who treat Thay normally - they’re not in awe of him, and they’re not nervous around him. He’s like a favourite teacher, but they’re still kids: they get bored and a bit restless. And they’re always happy to run off and play in the sunshine.
We're having a Festival for Peace tonight - part of it is to mark the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings (their anniversaries are on 6th and 9th August). Each of the hamlets are having their own festival, so Thay won't be joining us. Which bizarrely, will mean that we're more mindful.
And that's a shame.