In the summer of 1999, as a young woman, I set out to southern France towards Plum Village, a community that has grown to become the largest monastery in Europe. It was founded by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, known as ‘Thay’ by his students (a word that means ‘teacher’ in Vietnamese). My aspiration for the journey was a search for myself, to heal my and my father’s emotional wounds from the war in Vietnam.

As I watched and listened to Thay’s gentle voice, for the first time I felt pride in being Vietnamese. Because sitting in front of the meditation hall was a humble Vietnamese monk surrounded by hundreds of people and families of different races and cultural backgrounds – like sunflowers in the fields of Loubès-Bernac all facing in the same direction. But most of all I felt his compassion and love like rays of sunshine reaching to the refugee girl who was deeply buried inside me. His words echoed in my ears – that I can help my father’s suffering by taking care of mine. I knew I was at ‘home’, to reconnect, to look after my inner child by returning to myself with each breath and step to touch the seeds of joy from my ancestors, and from my father in the present moment.

Life for me is like a raft on the river, and Thay’s beautiful, insightful yet simple words in the Five Mindfulness Trainings (a guide to living a peaceful and compassionate life and to practise with and be supported by the sangha) are my oars, helping me to navigate through the water’s rapids, twists and turns. His poems and songs are my constant reminder to stop and float on its gentle flow, to look up at the passing blue sky, listen to the running streams, smell the sea breeze, and fully embrace Nature’s beauty. These are enough to make me happy.

Thay said, “If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating on this sheet of paper. Without a cloud there is no rain; without the rain, the tree cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist… So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are.”

Realising and touching the universal truth of what he meant by ‘interbeing’, our interdependence with all of life and Nature, had expanded my heart space, blossoming beyond compassion to self, to an openness for healing others and the Earth.

Thay’s love for Mother Earth so deeply resonates in his teachings and writings. My family recites this one before meals – The Five Contemplations:

This food is a gift of the Earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard and loving work.

May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude to be worthy to receive this food.

May we recognise and transform unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed, and learn to eat with moderation.

May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that reduces the suffering of living beings, stops contributing to climate change, and heals and preserves our precious planet.

We accept this food so that we may nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood, build our sangha, and nourish our ideal of serving all living beings.

Thay’s passing had signified a personal transition for me. His ray of sunshine had turned into a flame to light my candle so that he and I can continue to brighten my path and to those around me and beyond.

And looking back at the trail I have made in this life, I see at a far distance an unsteady set of solitary footprints had gradually become firm and joined with many footprints of others. Side by side with my sangha, I’m taking each step with Thay, each step touching Mother Earth, each step responding to our precious world with compassion and love.

The UK sangha is currently working to establish Being Peace, a Plum Village practice centre in the UK. For more information please visit

Phuong Quach is an occupational therapist living in London with her family. They practise together with Family Sangha.