Letters to the Mindfulness Bell

On my drive home from the Open Way Sangha retreat at Loon Lake, Montana, I stopped in Deer Lodge to stretch and rest from the no-speed-limit limit in Montana. I pulled up nearby the prison and found myself thinking about the people inside, what sort of misdirection, difficult childhood, etc. brought them to such a place, what their lives must be like inside, perhaps their only freedom being the freedom that mindfulness can bring. I thought of Thay's poem, "Call Me By My True Names." It was lovely to return home and find the Spring issue of The Mindfulness Bell. I was especially touched by Mark French's essay written from inside that very place, Deer Lodge Correctional Facility. (Ed. note: see p. 14, issue number 16; p. 10 this issue.) I also loved reading Lee Swenson's and Richard Gilman's essays about the Vietnam War Veterans Writing Group. Every time I read these kind of stories I am brought to tears. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend the last two veterans retreats at Omega with the help of scholarships. These men and women and their stories helped me rediscover my own. I know those moments Lee Swenson speaks of, when it seems impossible to breathe. I smiled then when I read Thay's Dharma discussion and thought how I have looked longingly at the top of another mountain, this three-year community of writers on war. Thay helps me to sit still and happy right where I am. Thank you for this issue of The Mindfulness Bell. Susan Austin Tetonia, Idaho

The new Mindfulness Bell arrived today. It is beautiful! This issue seems different in ways I can't quite pinpoint. It feels like a fragrant, ripe tangerine, each section promising a sweet taste of the universe. Many thanks for all you do to make it available to us. Leslie Rawls Charlotte, North Carolina

I was given the book Peace Is Every Step by a guest speaker who attended the Ashram class that is taught here in the facility where I am presently incarcerated. It is the first book I have read by Thich Nhat Hanh and I was deeply moved by the step-by-step teachings in this wonderful book. Over the last six months I have become aware of the need to obtain inner peace. I have read many books by many authors, but none of them has moved me as much as Thich Nhat Hanh. Peace Is Every Step has given me a much clearer view of what life really is and what true peace is all about. Mark Rice #95A4228 Elmira, New York

In response to a recent request for feedback about The Mindfulness Bell, I offer these thoughts. As an inspirational journal focusing on the positive aspects of practice in various settings and situations, the Bell serves the Sangha well. As a journal that takes a hard look at important issues, I would say the Bell leans towards the benign, and often sugarcoats the reality of practitioners' lives and their daily struggles with Buddhist practices and their applications.

I would love to see the Bell document how Buddhist practice has the power to transform lives and awaken people to new realities and not simply make their lives better in a psychological sense. I must admit, I sometimes wonder if anybody in the Sangha is having traditional spiritual experiences in meditation, "awakenings," experiences of emptiness (sunyata), which have been the experience and hard-won fruits of Buddhists for thousands of years, especially in the Zen lineages. Not to negate the importance of daily life experiences, but also to give weight to the truly transformative experience of waking up! As a practicing psychotherapist, I note that many of the benefits that members glean from mindfulness practice seem to fall within the same realm as the benefits of good psychotherapy. This is not to fault either system, but to yearn that Buddhist practice can take one "beyond" the personal and interpersonal, and yet be able to enrich both.

I would also appreciate longer and more in-depth articles, as opposed to the short and often "lite" articles that fill up much of the Bell. I can't imagine that in a young and growing community there aren't issues that need to be fully examined in the light of awareness and compassion, matters that plague all communities and organizations: money, power relationships, special interest groups, hierarchy, and decision making. How are things decided, who makes decisions, and under what authority? In the vacuum of openness and clarity, other less noble motivations can dominate. Those of us involved in Buddhist communities over the past 30 years can attest to this unfortunate reality.

When I was a young Zen student and met Thay over 20 years ago, he emphatically emphasized that for Buddhism to become truly American, it must be nourished by new energies, new models of practice, and not simply replicate foreign models (which are often in disrepute in their own cultures). Thay's message was a powerful fresh wind that blew away the restrictive concepts dominating my Buddhist practice. His message is as relevant today with a community numbering in the thousands as it was when he was living almost as a layman in a small apartment outside of Paris.

I am using this letter to formulate the unformulated within me, and in no manner intend any negativism towards the wonderful manifestation of Dharma that The Mindfulness Bell represents. For me, to live the Fourteen Precepts means to be able to speak and listen honestly and constructively, in a spirit of compassion and love, so that we can all benefit from the warmth and wisdom of the Sangha. Fred Eppsteiner Naples, Florida

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