Sneha reviews the recently released documentary about Thich Nhat Hanh and his Plum Village located near Bordeaux in southwest France, the first monastic community founded by him in the West.
One of the things Thich Nhat Hanh keeps repeating in his talks and lectures is:
“Touch life deeply in the Now.“
This wonderful documentary is essentially a meditation, and touched me deeply.
The film shows Thich Nhat Hanh’s monastery Plum Village in the south of France where the filmmakers had unprecedented access over 3 years and we as spectators get to see the life of the monks and nuns living there. With lingering shots of a stark tree in winter, of the moon or candles floating on a lake, we sink deeply into the moment. We join monks and nuns in the meditation hall bowing down in their brown robes. We stand in line with novices waiting to be ordained by this beautiful gentle teacher (called ‘Thay’, which means teacher). And we see him with scissors in hand to cut their hair, after which their head gets shaved; and we look into the faces of these newly ordained monks and nuns, some trembling, tears in their eyes.
These pictures touched me in my core, remembering how it was to take sannyas and to wear orange and the mala. To commit oneself to a Master is such a jump into the unknown which can be dared only when the longing is deep enough – as it was with me. With Osho it was an explosion into the totality of life: Zorba and Buddha. Thich Nhat Hanh’s monks and nuns walk the more traditional Buddhist path, vowing brahmacharya, training to stay present moment to moment. In Plum Village, the ‘Mindfulness Bell’ sounds every 15 minutes and everybody stops all activities for several breathing moments. Even a string quartet of monks and nuns playing Mozart stopped playing, and smiled!
On this visit to Plum Village we go on a nature walk with Thay and his people; the energy of mindfulness is radiating and brings you to feel your own breath with every step they take. We observe a nun cooking a meal for Thay and hear her speak about cooking and how she sometimes gets bored always to be cooking the same, having no new inspiration. Yet the meal she cooked looks utterly delicious!
Thich Nhat Hanh is somewhat an elusive presence in this film. One sees him in some scenes, talking only rarely – for example to a little girl who is sad because her “doggy” died. Regrettably this is a very short talk – I would have liked more of him. But his thunderous silence and gentle, simple presence is to be felt throughout this film.
The sound track reinforces this by sparse musical background – very meditative – and by the sonorous voice of Benedict Cumberbatch reading lines from Thich Nhat Hanh’s beautiful and poetic notes from his journal Fragrant Palm Leaves written between 1962-66 when he lived in exile in the USA.
In the second part of the film we accompany Thich Nhat Hanh and some of his monks and nuns on a trip to New York, where he is to give talks. Here also we see Thich Nhat Hanh – sweet and calm – only backstage before his talk. We join a nun visiting her wheelchair-bound father in an old-people’s home; the loving and smiling way she talks and does a breathing meditation with him is utterly moving. Another young monk visits his family and they look at a journal he wrote as a teenager where he planned his whole life, ending with “at 40 I am rich and have reached everything.” And he cries out he has succeeded! I loved watching these beautiful people in this big crazy city. Their calm, serenity and joy are so vivid, touchable. And through his disciples you can feel Thich Nhat Hanh’s silent strength and loving, deep clarity.
Film directors Max Pugh and Marc J. Francis managed to capture the essence of his teaching so beautifully conveying it atmospherically through slow passages in silence. I felt imbued by the energy of mindfulness and awareness throughout the film and am so grateful for the journey with this living Buddha, who presently lives in Thailand after having had a stroke three years ago.
It is a jewel of a film.
This film was only played twice on afternoons in Munich and with hardly any advertising. It is hard to understand that so many crappy, violent films draw so many people and when there is one that presents a real treasure, it gets shown only once or twice! What a shame.
The film is to be released in cinemas worldwide throughout the year.
German-born Deva Sneha lived in California for a decade, became an Iyengar yoga teacher and learned Tai Chi at Esalen. After returning to Germany, “Osho found me,” and she took sannyas in 1979. During the eighties, she successfully ran the Vihan Meditation Centre and Zorba the Buddha Disco in Berlin. Today she lives in Munich and does what she loves most, making available mindful moving classes and meditations in a beautiful meditation room of a Protestant church.