Dear Thây, dear Sangha, One of my fondest memories of the 2004 Vietnam trip is the tea ceremony that closed the first monastic retreat. The setting is Hoang Phap Temple, a large Buddhist retreat center outside of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). But first I need to tell you about the opening day of the retreat, which was the only other day when we lay people were invited. Over one thousand Vietnamese monks and nuns from all over southern Vietnam attended the retreat. At dinner in a vast mess hall the fi evening, the atmosphere was solemn. We were told that in traditional Buddhism, the monks and nuns rarely interact; nuns do not make eye contact with monks.
Now imagine the scene five days later. In the huge Dharma hall one thousand monastics sit on the floor in rows. On the stage, two dozen monks and nuns, led by Brother Phap Tru, are performing — together — a traditional fan dance. Giggles and laughter fi the hall; the applause, hands fluttering in the air Plum Village style as well as clapping, is wildly enthusiastic.
Later, we learned that during one of the Dharma discussions monks and nuns had spoken together as equals for the first time. One nun said that if her teacher had known she would be talking with monks, he would not have allowed her to come. According to Sister Annabel, “One of the things Thây has done in the West is to renew the practice of Buddhism; in the monastic retreats both in the South, the North and the Center of Vietnam we saw this renewal being accepted by the monks and nuns in Vietnam.”
This spring Thây is leading another delegation to Vietnam — and you are invited (see page 44). The monks and nuns do a fabulous job of organizing the trip and making it easy, even for those like me who had never dreamed of going to Asia. What an honor to travel with Thây and the monastics as part of an international Buddhist delegation! I hope to go again this year.
Here at the Mindfulness Bell we have some changes to report. We are grateful to Susan Hadler and an anonymous donor for helping to promote our journal by reaching out to sanghas around the world (see page 3). Note our new e-mail addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org. For advertising inquiries write to email@example.com and for subscriptions write to firstname.lastname@example.org (gratitude to Kenley Neufeld for setting us up with “official addresses).
Another change is the necessity to raise the price of each issue by $1.00. Reasons for the increase are many, but the primary one is that the tiny salaries paid to the three people on staff (myself as editor, David Percival for managing subscriptions and ads, and Helena Powell, our graphic design wizard) haven’t increased in ten years. That said, even an increase in the price and a modest increase in sales won’t cover our costs. Feel free to help the journal become self-sufficient by buying some subscriptions or better yet, making a donation.
On a related note, you may have received an appeal from Thây and Sister Chân Không about the new monastic trust. As Sister Chân Không writes, “Our planet is so desperately in need of people who can help others discover that peace is possible in this world, there are concrete ways to make peace a reality in our lives, and we only need to learn and practice these methods to realize happiness for ourselves and everyone around us.... Please help us realize Thây’s deep wish to ensure the continued training of monastics in the tradition of Plum Village.” Write to email@example.com for more information.
May 2007 be a year in which peace and happiness and prosperity increase in your life and in our world. May all beings awaken from forgetfulness and realize their true home.