From Germany- Looking Back and Forth

Michael Wagener & (correction Mauro Hernandez- Canada ) - 30 august 20123
My life is good, but why am I always thinking that it is incomplete? Why do I always think back of mistakes I’ve made or think of the future ahead of time? Is such type of behaviour normal or am I being influenced by the media?

I tend to chance on people both on trips and in Germany. At the beginning of the year, I was sitting in a small snack bar close to my job when I suddenly caught sight of a group of brown-clad Asian monks ordering a pizza. Strangely enough, the scene was a flashback from my experience with Buddhism while in Asia. Sure enough, my curiosity was piqued: Who were these monks, looking quite out of place in a run-of-the-mill Turkish kebab bar?

They turned out to be members of the EIAB, the European Institute of Applied Buddhism. Waldbröl, the small town where I teach art, is home to one such center. The founding father is Thich Nhat Hanh, who has also built the Plum Village Meditation PracticeCenter in the south of France. This Vietnamese Buddhist monk, scholar and writer teaches how to put into practice non-denominational Buddhism and mindfulness “so that we can bring more peace, harmony and stability to our family, our society and the world.” His work during and after the Vietnam War and while on a peace mission both in Europe and the U.S. during the sixties led Martin Luther King to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize. “I have experienced the war, so I can enjoy the peace.” ("I have experienced the war so that I can enjoy the peace" has another meaning.

During my visits, I wanted to research the motivations leading not only Vietnamese but also some American and Dutch monks to settle on far-off shores and devote their lives to Buddhism. In addition to a language barrier, little time has probably prevented me form engaging intensively in the monastic life. However, these visits have granted me an insight into the uniqueness of a monastery.

That said, it seems to me that the EIAB conscientious teachings show a contrast with modern society’s views towards Buddhist monks. Their principle is based on the rediscovery of the simple things in life, focusing on the moment in the present time and pushing aside past mistakes or long-term outlooks. That is called the acceptance of the present.

Although I was mostly an observer with a camera every time I visited EIAB, its peace and friendly Asian smile definitely captivated me. On my first visit, I was welcomed by an elderly Vietnamese nun with a lovely smile who promptly invited me to a relaxation meditation. She said to me: “Now you’re already in the cave. So, fight against the Dragon and catch the elixir… Persuaded. Breathe, be here and now. Feel your body.” Simple as they were, these instructions invigorated me and eventually allowed me togo back to sleep straightaway. (est ce qu'il était en train de "dormir", car il n'y aps mention de ca nul part. Ou il a voulu dire qu'il refermait les yeux pour méditer?)

On a historical note, the presence of the Order of Thich Nhat Hanh in Waldbröl is fascinating.  The EIAB is housed in a former army building, which operated as a “KDF” hotel in the hands of the Nazis and still carries relics of the Nazi era. For example, all the Nazi propaganda on mosaics is now challenged by images of cotton hearts. The brown clothes worn at the Order seem not to tie in with the Buddhas in a sitting position, in the same way the hulking structure of the main building clashes with the delicate architecture of a pagoda and the vivid nature all around.

All things considered, you feel in a different place… away from the everyday life:  You are here, now. 

Photos Michael Wagener

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