This week we received some sad news from Mrs. Nhung (Maple Village) announcing the passing away of Sister Giải Nghiêm on December 27th in the afternoon. She was 52 years old. My first words to my wife when I read Mrs. Nhung’s email : 52 years old is quite young to die. I feel sad. We had known that Sister was ill for sometime but we could not believe that the cruel moment has come that fast.
I met the young lady Quỳnh Phương for the first time at the first retreat led by Thầy in Canada in 1987. Quỳnh Phương was Sister Giải Nghiêm’s name before she took her Samanera vow (or novice ordination) in Plum Village with Thầy in 1994. The retreat took place at Camp-Les-Sommets in the Eastern Towships (Québec, Canada). The pictures below showed the young Quỳnh Phương with her beautiful long hair (she is on the extreme left with her white robe):
It was also during this retreat that I received the 14 Mindfulness Trainings from Thầy. I was among the 7 newly ordained practitioners. During this retreat, Thầy also officiated the wedding ceremony for Chân Huy and his beloved wife Xuân Mai. It was a very joyful ceremony.
Two year later, we hosted Thầy to lead a retreat at Maple Village during Thầy’s second trip to Canada, as the picture below shows. Quỳnh Phương is in the first row, fourth from the left.
In the picture below, we were invited by Thầy to have a gathering in his hut at Maple Village. Quỳnh Phương is on the extreme right in this picture :
I was on the front row. On my left was my brother Chân Văn. Then on the back row we have Ms. Thùy-Nhung (from Ottawa), Dharma Teacher Chân Hữu, our elder brother Dr. Chân Hội (who passed away on January 12th 2018), Chân Sinh (passed away), Chân Nhã, and Dharma Teacher Chân Cơ. That was quite a privilege for us to be so close to Thầy and to receive all the wonderful teachings from him during an intensive week when Maple Village opened its doors for the first time to the public.
At the conclusion of the retreat, we gathered together in Maple Village’s meditation hall to have a group picture with Thầy. In this picture, Quỳnh Phương is sitting in the first row, third from left.
Quỳnh Phương later left for Plum Village where she took her bikkhuni vows (also known as the monastic great vows) in 1994 and was ordained as a Dharma Teacher in 2000 in PlumVillage by Thầy.
Sister Giải Nghiêm came back to Canada around 2004 to be close to her parents who were getting older. She established Diệu Không Temple (“Marvellous Emptiness Temple”) first in a small residence near Pinecrest and the second time in a bigger and spacious place on Slack Road.
The Ottawa Pagoda Sangha was welcomed to practice there and we had our weekly sessions at the Temple for almost 5 years before Sister decided to close it as she was moving on to a new monastic practice journey. Our sangha greatly benefited from Sister Giải Nghiêm’s teachings and wisdom for all these years. She left Thầy’s tradition in 2010 to establish and devote herself in another Vietnamese Buddhist Tradition under Thầy Thiện Hiền’s guidance (he is from Montréal).
When Thầy Nhat Hanh came back to Canada in 2005, he led a retreat at Bishop’s University and then stopped at Maple Village for a Vietnamese retreat before he left for the USA. Here below is a picture of Sister Giải Nghiêm in 2005 sitting on the lawn of Maple Village, together with Sister Hoa-Nghiêm, Sister Dinh Nghiêm, and Mrs. Tường Liên (our elder brother Chân Hội’s wife):
Below is another picture our brother Andre Vellino took in 2007 when Sister Giải Nghiêm was visiting Ayya Medhanandi in her residence in Ottawa.
Written by Chân Ngộ (Ottawa, December 2019).