Letters to the Bell

Your newsletter has been important to us and a group of our friends who sit and breathe together. We share every issue. I have been a student of Patricia Dai-En Bennage of Mt. Equity Zendo, who lent me my first Japanese temple bell to use with eighty children I was teaching at a summer camp here in Pennsylvania. The bell was so well received that I have used it ever since with countless children, including poor urban kids who really need to find a peaceful place within themselves in their chaotic lives. Last summer my husband and I taught English through art and music to handicapped orphans in a rural area of Transylvania, Romania—an emotional challenge. The children of Spital Paclisa so appreciated the practices of bell and breathing that we introduced. It was easy to convey to them in our scanty Romanian that the bell was precious, and each of them was as eager as any American child to become the bellmaster for the day!

Lydia, whose hands were badly crippled, could not balance the bell upon her withered fingers. But she could mindfully invite it to ring by setting it on its little red cushion. When we departed the hospital and said goodbye to the sweet Romanian orphans in August, we left the bell for the children to use every day.

Judith Toy New Hope, Pennsylvania

The summer session at Plum Village was a deep experience of transformation and also very relaxing for me. I love children, and I find that when I listen and look with attention, I can learn a lot from them.

Back home, our small sangha consists of a few friends. It is not an organized one, because we are nearly all members of a Gnostic Spiritual School. We don't want to create a new organization. What is important for us is to "live" in the spirit of Thay's teachings. We support each other in loving kindness and stimulate our awareness to live mindfully. We accept the practice of the Five and the Fourteen Precepts. We share our experiences of applying them in our daily lives. Some of us meditate together on Thursday evenings in a Zen group. Others meditate at their own home.

Odette Bauweleers Antwerp, Belgium

I'm off to Sarejavo again. I would like to express my appreciation to the international sangha for moral and financial support.

John Bloss London, England

Your newsletter is a joy to me and a lifeline for those of us in the "hinterlands" without a large community. Thank you.

Sharon Brown Harrisonburg, Virginia

I am writing to express my gratitude for having been able to attend the Spring 1992 retreat in Illinois with Sisters Annabel Laity and Jina Van Hengel. My practice has been strengthened greatly and I notice this in my daily life as a mother of four (on the "Tantrum-ic Path"). I think this has happened to me because for the first time my teachers, Sisters Annabel and Jina, are not only excellent students of Thay but are Western women. It is almost as if the teachings were absorbed on some cellular level. It was so wonderful to see, hear, feel, and be present with the dharma as embodied by these compassionate women.

I trust that Thay will realize the wisdom of his decision to send Sisters Annabel and Jina to us and that we will have the opportunity to practice with them again soon.

Catherine Mandt Madison, Wisconsin

Just today I received the Mindfulness Bell about the environment. I am in the process of starting up a "Listening Project" concerning the use and sale of rainforest timber. I hope that Herb Walters will come to Holland to guide us. Eveline Beumkes Amsterdam, Holland

I appreciate the insights of those who share through The Mindfulness Bell and find that these insights have opened new doors and windows of understanding for me within my faith tradition.

Alan Cutter Duluth, Minnesota

I'd like to see a theme issue for the Mindfulness Bell be on Days of Mindfulness—various schedules, activities, etc. It was inspiring to learn of the variety of practices listed in the Sangha News section; for example, that the Santa Fe sangha includes writing practice and tissue paper collage as a part of their Days of Mindfulness. In telling our sangha about it, one member, a potter, suggested he teach us how to handbuild a piece on our own, then do a raku firing as part of a Day of Mindfulness.

Kathy Schwerin, True Dharma Love Carson City, Nevada

I very much enjoy the wholesome practicality of this compassionate sangha. I have seen the conduct of many teachers of the Dharma hurt others. Perhaps a "collective peace treaty" can be arranged. Maybe we can create a healthy community if we keep practicing. I promise to keep practicing for myself and for others.

Dianne Baca Boulder, Colorado

Walking for you in Vietnam. Just now it started to rain. So refreshing. Some sisters are chanting in the temple, the sound of the drum is steady and firm. After the one-hour chant is over, they sit quietly for a few minutes before inviting the bell. The rain continues to fall softly, making a song of its own. Am I drinking at the source? I feel more grateful every day. Children are playing at the foot of a hill. Love and fragrant Dharma to you all,

Jina Van Hengel Hue, Vietnam

I'm always refreshed when The Mindfulness Bell crosses my path. Thanks and keep up the fine work,

Chris Faatz Portland, Oregon

I have found The Mindfulness Bell an invaluable source of encouragement—a sort of a sangha-at-large, and I thank you for doing a great job.

Vinh Nguyen Vanier, Ontario, Canada

Thank you for your wonderful publication. Your last issue and Thich Nhat Hanh's simple words made me remember once again about always returning to myself.

Laura Siegel Pacifica, California

I practice with the Lotus Bud Sangha in Australia, which is like being in an extended family. We had retreat with Sister Annabel last January which was wonderful. Although I have been active in my practice for about a year, I feel as if this practice has been a part of me forever. Thich Nhat Hanh's tradition of engaged Buddhism is the door I entered, which has touched me deeply. I am looking forward with happiness to going to Plum Village in the Summer of 1994. My heart feels warm and tears of joy are experienced as I think of my first visit to Plum Village.

I am working in a women's health center and practice counseling and therapy with women who have low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and general feelings of dissatisfaction in their lives. I have found that approaching this work by applying the practices taught in Thay's books have helped these women work through many painful issues. Until a year ago, I used to suggest people express and release their frustrations in therapy sessions. Then I understood deeply the damage this can do through strengthening the seeds of negative habit energies in the store consciousness. And now, thankfully, we work on these feelings differently. It would be helpful to hear from others who work in the psychotherapeutic arena about ways they have worked with Buddhist concepts and psychology, and how it is received in the therapeutic relationship with their clients.

Maria Bakas Booker Sydney, Australia

I was recently delighted to receive a further copy of The Mindfulness Bell; so very inspiring, so many good people sharing their experiences, and their knowledge of the Buddha's teachings. Isolated from the mainstream of Buddhist activity, I regard it as a golden link connecting me to the loving kindness of others.

David Roberts Victoria, Australia

I was just making a copy of the back cover of The Mindfulness Bell to send subscription information to a friend when I read, "Let us know if you enjoyed this issue." This is to say, yes, I enjoyed issue 8. The graphics are beautiful; typeface, spacing, placement, illustrations are all very fine indeed. But even more important, the content is having an impact on my life! My thanks to everyone who contributes.

Martha Johnson Santa Clara, California

I miss the sangha and would like to renew old ties. I'm back in blooming health after a period of struggle. Looking forward to hearing from each of you who know me. I am there with you, you are here with me.

My deepest bow, and a warm smile,

Jim Lakewind Higher Ground, Inc. 2000 Wells Street, Building #4 Fort Wayne, Indiana 46808

Being abandoned by my father when I was two-and-a-half, and my mother sometime before, I was brought up in a foster home without love or real care. Therefore, I developed no familial roots. However, I have always felt a strong connection to events, situations, people, and nature that went beyond and indeed compensated for the emotionally deserted environment in which I lived. As a child I spent many hours at night fascinated by the stars and planets, particularly Mars, feeling alone but never lonely.

Two years ago I walked into a bookshop, not looking for anything in particular, but found myself sitting on the floor looking through the bottom shelf (not a usual position for a casual browse) and I met Thich Nhat Hanh in Being Peace and The Heart of Understanding. I have now read and reread all his books and all of the issues of The Mindfulness Bell. The joy of the simplicity of the spirit and the warmth of caring has, for me, unearthed and nourished more roots. I look forward to receiving The Mindfulness Bell immensely. I have gained a great deal of enjoyment and pleasure from reading it. Particularly, I like the articles written by other readers about their own experiences.

R.A. Poolman Claremont, Australia

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I was most interested in the article on changes in religious "freedom" in Vietnam. In particular, the letters from Thich Huyen Quang were interesting and actually served to answer the question, "How can I be of service to the reconstruction effort of Vietnam?" I was in Vietnam in 1966 as a combat infantryman in the First Cavalry Division. As such, I served most of my tour in Binh Dinh province. On November 3,1966,1 was severely wounded in an ambush near Bong Son, Vietnam. I harbor no resentment towards the man who shot me. As a Zen practitioner, an admirer of Thay, I am hopeful there is some way that further healing can occur.

I would be most appreciative in knowing what the price for a hectare of rice fields is that was referred to in his letter. I would like to try over time, to help Thich Huyen Quang buy a hectare for a ricefield. Additionally, I am going to a Vietnam Vets reunion in September and might be able to set up a booth to help collect funds for this effort. Therefore, any pictures of the monastery and monks would be very helpful. Many, many veterans know Binh Dinh province and Bong Son, as it was a very deadly place to be. Many Americans died there. There is a lot of hostility still, but many vets are trying to reconcile this issue. The price of a rice field would be good to show, and it would be a "goal" to work towards.

Jerry Eagan Yellow Springs, Ohio

This is probably a good time to thank you all again and again for your work in keeping The Mindfulness Bell ringing. As a potter involved in self-expression of sorts, the bitter rut of self absorption is always close at hand. The responsibility of taking pieces of this planet and shaping and firing them into fire hardened vessels, is one I take seriously. Thay's words have helped me clarify the importance of making "from the heart," and face the paradox of making pots that will hopefully help people turn from the endless sadness of consumption. In a culture that is so full of stuff, that is fueled by dissatisfaction and satisfied with next year's novelty, the potter's challenge is clear—If it doesn't come from the heart, don't put it in the kiln.

Kevin Crowe, Amherst, Virginia

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