Dharma Talk: Armfuls of Poetry, Drops of Sunshine

By Thich Nhat Hanh on Poetry and Interbeing

Offered to Social Workers from Vietnam Visiting Plum Village in May, 2002

Sunshine rides on space and poetry on sunshine.
Poetry gives birth to sunshine, and sunshine to poetry.

Every time we use the expression armful it is usually used to refer to an armful of hay or an armful of logs but rarely do we say an armful of poetry.   When people speak about drops they speak of drops of rain or drops of dew or a drop of soy sauce but no one says a drop of sunshine.  This poem is an invitation to look deeply in an awakened way and to see poetry as an armful and sunshine as a drop.

Without sunshine how can we have poetry?  Without sunshine we would die.  How can we make poetry?  We feel sunshine also comes from poetry.  Poetry is not only pleasant and sweet, it can also be explosive, like thunder.  In sunshine there is not only the pleasant image, there is also a strong aspect.  Sometimes sunshine is also dry and burning.  When we read poetry we feel something sweet and it can also be like a shout denouncing  injustice.  In these two sentences we can see the interdependence of poetry and sunshine.

Sun treasured in the heart of the bitter melon,
poetry made of steam rising from a bowl of soup in Winter.

I wrote this poem during winter. In the previous summer we grew many bitter melons, more than we could eat. We put them in the freezer and in the midst of winter we took them out and made soup. The bitter melon stores so much sunshine within it. In the winter we could not see the sun at all, it was only gray and cloudy with a cold, sharp wind. We took a log of wood and put it into our stove. At that time in Plum Village we did not have any central heating. We only used wood stoves. We could not see the sunshine outside, but we could  touch the sun in the wood log and in the bitter melon in a hot bowl of soup.  Even in the depths of winter you know that the sun has never left you. In the warmth inside your home you see the sun in your bowl of soup; you feel the sunshine is still there.

We are eating but we don’t know that we are consuming sunshine. The sun is our father. Without the sunshine not a single being can survive on this planet. All the animals, vegetables and humans on this planet are children of the sunshine. When we eat the bitter melon we are also eating the sunshine. Our father is nourishing us.   Without  the sun our father we cannot have the Earth our mother and we cannot have food. The sun is our father and the Earth is our mother.

The wind is lurking outside, swirling.
Poetry is back to haunt the old hills and prairies.
Yet the poor thatched hut remains on the river shore, waiting.

When I heard the howling wind outside I thought of Vietnam with many poor thatched roofs. Of course there are also many good houses in Vietnam, but I thought of those families who are most destitute. I thought of the poor thatched roofed hut by the river shore waiting for our support. My mind is in touch with the wood log; my mind inter-is with the material things, the phenomenal world.  At the same time, when I heard the sound of the wind, it touches my store consciousness and I remembered the images of our country. When I left Vietnam, over thirty-five years ago, there were so many poor people living in huts like that. My mind is in touch with the bitter melon and then hearing the howling wind my mind touches the image of the day I left Vietnam, with many people suffering under the bombs and now they are still poor and waiting for help.

Spring carries poetry in its drizzle.
The fire sparkles poetry in its orange flame.
Sunshine stored in the heart of the fragrant wood,

Today it is May and we can see poetry everywhere. But in this poem it is not yet Spring, it is Winter and everything is dark, yet I am still in touch with sunshine and poetry in the bowl of bitter melon soup. There is poetry in each drop of rain in Springtime.  The poetry is stored in the fragrant wood. If you are practicing, you bring a piece of wood and put it in the fire and you are aware that you are putting sunshine into the stove. 

warm smoke leading poetry back to the pages
of an unofficial history book.

An unofficial history book is the book Hermitage Among the Clouds about the true story of Tran Nhan Tong, a Zen teacher in the fourteenth century. During that Winter I wrote that book and I ate the bitter melon soup. My poetry is what I have truly lived. You need to read that book; it is very beautiful. Poetry is everywhere.

Sunshine, though absent from space,
fills the now rose-colored stove.
Sunshine reaching out takes the color of smoke;
poetry in stillness, the color of the misty air.

It seems that sunshine is absent from space, outside it is so dark and gloomy, but sunshine fills the woodstove.  When you prepare the stove the heat that radiates out is poetry. The bitter melon soup is also poetry. That is the deep look that is not caught in the form. We have to learn to see things free from the form. When the person that you love is not there you think that he has died but when you look deeply you see that he or she is still there. We complain that there is no sunshine, but sunshine is there in the bowl of green vegetables, sunshine is there in piece of wood.

Spring rain holds poetry in its drops
which bends down to kiss the soil,
so that the seeds may sprout.
Following the rain, poetry comes to dwell on each leaf.

Every drop of rain in Spring enters into the leaf. In a drop of rain there is also sunshine.  During the Summer there is a lot of sunshine evaporating the water from all the ponds and lakes, forming clouds. Thanks to the cold air the clouds will become Spring rain.  We can say that the rain is kissing the Earth, but we can also say that the sunshine is kissing the soil because the sunshine is in each drop of rain. We see the deep connection between the sun and the Earth. In Plum Village there are so many stinging nettles. In winter you do not see this wild plant. But in spring all you need is the drops of rain and you will see it everywhere. Here in France they call them weeds but they are very good for eating.

Sunshine has a green color and poetry a pink one.
Bees deliver warmth to the flowers from the sunshine
they carry on their wings.
On sunshine footsteps to the deep forest,
poetry drinks the nectar with joy.
With the excitement of celebration,
butterflies and bees crowd the Earth.
Sunshine makes up the dance, and poetry the song.

Usually people  say  that  sunshine is golden yellow, but nobody says that sunshine has a green color. But with deep looking we can see that the sunshine is green. In the poem “Cuckoo telephone” I said that snow is also green. Why? When snow melts and becomes water it makes the plants very lush and green. If we see in a superficial way we only see that the snow is white. But if we look deeper we can see the snow is also green.

When we look at butterflies or bees you can see plenty of sunshine. What do they carry on their wings if not sunshine? Bees deliver warmth from the sunshine to the flowers.  The flower has plenty of sunshine. When the bees come and visit the flower the bees bring back honey. Bees deliver warmth to the flowers. If you look deeply you see poetry everywhere; it happens every second and every minute of our life. Things are happening in every moment in May.  If you have the time to lie down on the grass you will hear the excitement of spring. Every little being is inspired to sprout. The Earth is crowded with butterflies and bees and many other things. Don’t miss your appointment.

Drops of sweat fall on the hard ground.
Poems fly along the furrows.
The hoe handily on my shoulder,
poetry flows from my breath.
Sunshine wanes away down the river,
and the silhouette of the late afternoon lingers reluctantly.
Poetry is leaving for the horizon
where the King of Light is blanketing himself in clouds.

After being in touch with the beauty we are also invited to be in touch with the suffering.  We see the sweat of the farmer who works so hard to grow vegetables for us to eat and we see poetry in that beautiful act of the farmer. The King of light means the sun is going to sleep and he uses the clouds as a blanket. The sun going to sleep is a beautiful atmosphere.

A green sun found in a basketful of fresh vegetables,
a tasty and well-cooked sun smells delicious in a bowl of rice.

If you look at the basket of vegetables but you cannot see the sunshine you are not a good practitioner. Without the sunshine how can you have green, fragrant vegetables?  In Vietnam there is a variety of rice called, “eight fragrances rice.”  When you taste that delicious rice you know you are tasting the sun. You can see poetry everywhere.

Poetry looks with a child’s eyes.
Poetry feels with a weather-beaten face.
Poetry stays within each attentive look.
Poetry – the hands that work the poor and arid land somewhere far away.

When you are far away from your homeland and you eat some delicious rice you can see the hard work of the farmer; you can see the eyes of children, thin and malnourished. We have seen so many children without enough  food.  When we eat some delicious rice we see right away the hard work of the peasant and the poor children who don’t have enough to eat. While eating I can see the look of these children.

I remember one day when I was at Kim Son Monastery in San Jose, California there was a friend from the local newspaper, the Mercury News, who came to interview me about mindfulness.  The editor wanted to publish an article about mindfulness. This journalist was of Vietnamese origin but she was also very good in English.  She asked me, “How can I help you?  I am a journalist; maybe I can help you with my talent as a journalist.”  That day I was sitting under a redwood tree.  She sat next to me and I said, “Please do in such a way that every child in Vietnam will have one cup of soymilk to drink every day. That is my only wish.”  There are many of children in Vietnam who cannot grow up healthy and strong for lack of proper nourishment. This morning I received a photo of many toddlers from three to five-years-old taken in Do Linh village, the hometown of my mother which is in a very poor area. I see each child as my mother. My mother was a toddler, poor and undernourished like that. If these undernourished children can grow up properly, as my mother did because she had a good family, they can become a healthy person and give birth to someone like me. If I am a bit thin and small-boned it is because when I was a child I never had a cup of milk to drink. If you can help me every child will have a cup of milk.

Do Linh is just an illustration, but everywhere in Vietnam the poor hungry children could become good mothers if they have a chance like my mother had. Every child in every poor country could be my mother. If you give five dollars per month you can offer a child a cup of milk every day; cow’s milk or soymilk are both helpful. I look at every child in Do Linh as my mother, every child in Vietnam is my mother; every child in Thailand is my mother. I see that every child in Africa and everywhere could be my mother.  I wish that every child would have a cup of milk to drink.  When you look deeply you can see like that. That is what we call,  “attentive  look.”  Poetry stays within each attentive look.  With an attentive look you can see the toddler and you can also see the past and the future of that child.  hat child can become a strong mother who gives birth to a healthy child or a weak mother who gives birth to handicapped children.


There are farmers that work so hard but it is not enough to feed their own children.  You dwell in the present moment but you see far away all over planet. You dwell in the present moment, but you can see the past and the future. Dwelling in the present moment doesn’t mean that you are limited to the present moment.

The smiling sun brightening up the sunflower;
the ripe and full sun hiding itself in an August peach;
poetry follows each meditative step,
poetry lines up the pages.

A person who walks mindfully and beautifully looks like a poem. When you write a compassionate line that is poetry.

within closed food packages,
poetry nurtures love.

At the time that I wrote this poem it was impossible to send money to Vietnam. It was impossible to reach the poorest children, the elderly people. The government forbade our social work and charity work.  The work of the School of Youth for Social Service, that we had set up in Vietnam to help mend the wounds of war, was stopped and the director was in jail.  Many social workers were prevented from doing anything. Yet we found a way  to provide food to the poorest people  in Vietnam.  We bought ordinary French medicine.  At that moment all Western medicine was blocked from entering Vietnam. So we bought French medicine and each family received one kilogram that they could exchange into 300 kilos of rice to nourish the children. Sister Chan Khong and myself and others wrapped the medicine and sent it everywhere in Vietnam. If the person had the family name “Nguyen” for example, then we would give ourselves that name also. If we put our own names, Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong, the recipients would have been arrested.  So we addressed each package as if a family member had sent it. The communist government did not have the ability to check if that person was really in France.  We sent thousands of parcels like that to thousands of families. A parcel like that was like a gift from heaven; it could nourish the whole family. We did that work in the wintertime nineteen years ago.  We had to use many different handwritings or else the communist government would have been suspicious and arrested the recipients. We gathered twenty persons to write in twenty different handwritings. We included instructions on how to consume the medicine: like that is aspirin or multivitamins do not take more than a certain amount and also how many kilos you can exchange it with for rice. We did that work with a lot of love. We brought a hundred packages to the post office every day. The post office workers said, “You are Santa Claus. But why does Santa Claus come every day and not just at Christmas time?”

With the deep look of a practitioner every moment can be poetry, you can see very deeply and very far while dwelling in the present moment.

Today if I read that poem it is because there are a number of social workers who have come to Plum Village from Vietnam. They have helped me to transmit all of this to the poor people in Vietnam. They have worked in very difficult situations and they have encountered many dangers to be able to do that work.

Translated from Vietnamese by Sister Chan Khong.

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Poem: A Prayer for Peace


In beauty, sitting on a lotus flower,
is Lord Buddha, quiet and solid.
Your humble disciple,
calm and pure of heart,
forms a lotus flower with his hands,
faces you with deep respect,
and offers this heartfelt prayer:

Homage to all Buddhas in the ten directions.
Because of your love for all people,
have compassion on us.
Help us remember we are just one family,
North and South, [East and West.]
Help us rekindle our compassion and brotherhood,
and transform our seperate interests
into loving acceptance for all.
May your compassion help us overcome our hatred.
May Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva’s love
help the flowers bloom again in the soil of our country.
Humbly, we open our hearts to you,
so you may help us transform our karma
and water the flowers of our spirits.
With your deep understanding,
help our hearts grow light.

Homage to Shakyamuni Buddha
whose great vows and compassion inspire us.
I am determined to cultivate only thoughts
that increase trust and love,
to use my hands to perform only deeds
that build community,
to speak only words of harmony and aid.

Thich Nhat Hanh, 1965

This is an extract from a poem/prayer written by Thich Nhat Hanh in 1965.  It was used throughout South Vietnam in the “Don’t Shoot Your Own Brother” campaign to rouse the willingness to work for peace.  It was chanted and sung by young people as a means to unite their hearts and efforts to continue the work for peace.  Thich Nhat Hanh shares, “This chant aims at reconciliation and stopping the war.  It was a powerful way of working for communication.  This is something we can share with our Western friends.”

Found in Call Me By My True Names (Berkeley: Parallax, 1999)

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Letters From The Editors           

This past winter we have been standing on the brink of war. All of us have, in one way or many ways, practiced mindfulness to help the USA not to fall into that abyss of immeasurable and unnecessary suffering and drag many other countries into it with her. Many of us, whether monks, nuns, laymen or laywomen have been present in towns and cities to demonstrate our commitment to a solution of the problem between the USA and Iraq by peaceful means. From Plum Village Thay has led the Sangha in chanting the names of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas to send wholesome energy to break through the thick veil of war that surrounds the President of the United States and his advisors. Only the deep understanding and compassionate action of the bodhisattvas can break through the thinking which constantly sees war as the only solution. Let us all send out this energy to the President and others every day of our lives.

At the time of writing we are still not sure of our success in this effort. Whether we fail in our attempts to avert war this time or whether we are successful, there is a lesson for us to learn. We have to practice now to make peace for the future. Only peace in our lives right now can ensure there will not be another threat of war in five, ten or twenty tears. If there is a war in 2003 that is because in the 1980’s or 90’s or even before we did not practice peace in our lives. We have waged war in our own person, with our neighbors and even with our loved ones. Only mindfulness practice can help us recognize when our body, feelings and perceptions are not at peace in ourselves or with others. Sister Jina’s article is designed to help you with this important aspect of practicing peace.

Poetry is a call to peace, since writing and reading true poetry is a practice of pacifying our own mind and the minds of others. Our own teacher in Plum Village is a poet of the spiritual dimension. Poetry can put us in touch with the essence of the practice of mindfulness without us having to make any effort. At times when we feel close to despair, poetry can remind us that life is still beautiful, good, and true in some of its most wonderful aspects. Poetry that comes from a pure and peaceful heart is a non-violent means to wake people up to the need for peace.

Education is a wonderful field for engaged Buddhism. How can we bring mindfulness practice into the school and university so that the future generation does not have to make the mistakes that our own generation has made? Please read the articles by educators in this issue to inspire you in your own work with young people.

Forty-two new Dharma teachers received the Dharma Lamp Transmission from Thay in Plum Village in January of this year. A taste of the transmission ceremonies comes to you in this issue where you can read transcripts of Thay’s exhortations to a few of the new Dharmacaryas as well as his or her inauguration talk. There is a thirst all over the world for the spiritual dimension made real by mindfulness. Numerous Dharma teachers are needed to respond to this thirst. Transmitting and receiving the Dharma Lamp is a concrete step towards world peace.

Last but not least, have you signed up for a mindfulness retreat this year to support the spiritual dimension in your life? You will see some of the options available advertised in this issue of the Mindfulness Bell. We look forward to practicing with you at one of the retreats this summer or fall.

Sister True Virtue,
Green Mountain Dharma Center, Vermont.

Several of my Sangha members and I have been spending each Wednesday noontime dressing in black and standing in vigil in our downtown plaza. We Women in Black stand in silent prayer all over the world, inviting all who see us to consider deeply the costs of war. Standing in a group of 400 this week, the prayer for peace was palpable. Many people in cars, who were stopped at the traffic signal in front of us, offered supporting and grateful words. And many of them offered challenging and angry words. It was easy to stand in this Sangha with my heart open to all, offering lovingkindness equally to those who agreed and those who disagreed with me. I considered how different it would feel if I were standing there alone, receiving such angry energy from the passersbys. Now, more than ever, we need the support of our Sangha members to help us maintain our happiness and equanimity. I find great comfort in the simplest of our practices: awareness of my breathing, the sound of the bell, receiving and offering a gentle smile. I try to read the Discourse on Love every day. I recall often that our practice grew deep roots in the midst of war.

This week I learned that Martin Edwards, a member of the Fragrant Rose Sangha in Santa Rosa, California left on a peacekeeping mission to Iraq with a group called Voices in the Wilderness. They are committed to stay in Iraq if war breaks out, doing whatever they can to help. A Quaker, Martin took medicine and messages of peace from Americans who wrote letters that he will deliver to people he meets. I addressed my letter to an Iraqi mother, and Martin will try to bring back a photo of her. Each little thread of heartfelt connection helps weave a strong blanket of peace to our planet.

The next issue of the Mindfulness Bell will focus on engaged practice. An interview with a Vietnamese-American monk who served in the Gulf War; an interview with a practitioner who has a center helping people with the challenge of AIDS; and stories of Peacewalks around the world are just some of the features. We welcome your stories of how your mindfulness practice engages you in the world. And we would love to receive more poetry and art. Please send us your contributions by early May.

A tip to subscribers: check the label on this issue to find when your subscription expires, and go to www.iamhome.org to renew online.

Go in peace,  Barbara Casey, Jacksonville, Oregon.

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Sacred Clowning

An Interview with Didier Danthois

By Barbara Casey during the Hand of the Buddha Retreat in Plum Village in June 2002

Barbara: Didier, how did you create and develop the idea of sacred clowning?

Didier: For me the “sacred” added to clowning is a way to celebrate the eternal quality of our human nature, and ultimately, to share that eternal aspect through the art of clowning.

Barbara: How does the sacred part express itself in the clowning?

Didier: It connects with the clowning because of the way we prepare, the way we tune into ourselves, where we come from with our clown. This work is not about acting. It is about coming home to the present moment. We are interested in touching the quality of this moment. For example, how you feel, how you are, just now, as you are sitting, touching the floor, a cushion next to you. What is around you, and between us as we speak? All those nuances of experience are moving through us in this moment; maybe the shyness

I feel as I speak with you, or my joy. To honor all those qualities as a shared reality, as a ground to inspire us into creativity. An authentic improvisation is born, just from being present, open, receptive; not from an act. You are here, I’m here, and I feel that, and from there, a dance can start to happen. Sacredness to me is connected to honoring that essence of coming home to ourselves and each other.

Doing nothing is the main point for me when I work with people. Sometimes I have people who have had years of drama training and I ask them to do nothing and it is very hard for them. To be on the stage and just be, with your heart open. Do nothing, just feel. Unless we can do that, we cannot touch the truth about our relationships, our true connection to space, to the universe. All performances or work we do with patients in health care settings is based on that attitude. Trusting, being in the now, listening, letting ourselves be touched, rather than coming with an idea to fill up the gap when nothing appears to be happening. True creativity can only come from silence, from not knowing.


Barbara: So when you offer this, what is your hope? That people come into this space with you?

Didier: I would say I wish to meet people. I don’t hope that they meet me, because hope is an attitude which provokes certain reactions. We create an open space where we just intend to meet the other. And that means we might be rejected. If we meet our fears as they are, and don’t try to change the outside situation, or want something different, then there is the potential for transformation. In that attitude, we come to essence, by simply not expecting things to be a certain way, and engaging from a true emotional response to what is there.

And then, of course, we use our skills in movement to magnify what we feel. So we develop dance, we develop mime. We enter imagination and play mindfully. In mime, the essential point is to come to the essence, to the heart of a movement. We can come to essence through feeling, through being here now. So it’s another way to look, and that has been a great key in the way we work as sacred clowns.

This way of working came to me ten years ago, after working extensively with people with special needs. For eight years I worked with blind performers on stage, with people who had Downs syndrome and learning difficulties, people who are often considered to be unable to do anything. I worked with one completely blind lady, and in the show we had to cross the stage running. She saw nothing, and her hand was resting on my hand, and the weight of her hand was like a leaf. She had total trust. At one point we had to jump together, leaping across the stage. We could have run into the wall! I’ve really learned about trust from those students. They taught me so much. Working with them, putting performances together, rediscovering the true meaning of being present, not expecting something. They taught me how in putting the performance together, they were not bothered about the end product. I was, they were not! I went through a lot and over the years they showed me that actually each step is a gem, nothing is separate. Everything is part of the beauty unfolding.

I remember there was a beautiful man, about twenty years old, in a group of people with Downs syndrome. One day he shared a dream. And I took the whole group into creating the reality for his dream. The power of his dream was a teaching and a mystery, so we entered it. All the participants in the workshop created a magic story out of this dream. It was so moving. I was nearly crying by the end of it, it was pure, there was no ego. I did my best to have enough openness not to try to modify but to follow and serve that dream, to open and let go. These people took me back to what celebrates life and the eternal aspect of love and nature.


So how can we bring that quality to the population of supposedly “normal” people, like you and me? And that is where I look for the answers. What was the essence of that experience? Innocence, potency of feeling, presence, authenticity, very little thinking, and joy and fun. A lot of this attitude was coming from play. How can we resurrect play? How can we be in the present, how can we be in touch with our feelings? Then one day I discovered a man called Lex Van Someren who was teaching something called ‘The Dancing Clown.’ So I started training, and soon I was very involved in the humor of the clown and the ability to play with everything that creates it, which is your sadness, your joy, your depression, your wanting to hide behind the corner. All those qualities are not to be separated. The clown is about restoring the full picture. It is expressing opposite energies. One of the names for the clown in the North American Indian tradition is “contrary.” He has the ability to touch on what is not expressed, on the repressed, to bring back to life, to mirror to the society what has been forgotten.

Barbara: It’s like the court jester.

Didier: Yes. It is the same. The clown is to bring back what is left behind.

Barbara: Big job!

Didier: That’s a big job. So the courses we do, we reawaken that ability to get in touch with the present moment. Working with inner listening, rather than outer, and watching the breath, feeling the breath through the whole body.  And I apply that literally to movement. If you want to expand your mind right to your fingertips or your toes, you can do that. And then we get in touch with beauty. Your movement becomes magic because you are opening your consciousness to touch the air, to tickle the air, with your fingertips, or your toes. Then wonder is there and also innocence. We are touching innocence, which means spontaneous, unprepared actions. Those movements are the result of inner listening, of bringing back the sense to their inner source.

Barbara: When you go to a hospital, when you enter that space, how do you help to create safety for those people? How do you connect? Do you begin to express what you feel in the room? I always had a fear of clowns because there is a spontaneity there and a call for interaction, but I didn’t feel safe because I didn’t know what their motive, their agenda was. How do you create safety?

Didier: Another aspect which we train to develop as part of mindfulness is compassion, to really feel the other as much as yourself, and to move into action in response to the other with care. We learn to sensitize that muscle by practicing compassion. Breathing in, dissolving your own resistance, your own blocks, your own fears. And breathing out, offering care to the other. We practice that for each other as a team of clowns, and then for the patients or audience. We practice this weeks in advance as part of daily warm-up, which means the clowns, the artists, already feel relieved of a lot of fear and feel more creativity, more ease, more love. Something has been prepared on the invisible level. We include the staff, the patients, the whole surrounding in our preparations.

I feel this is a very important part of the way we work. And many people feel quite inspired by this way of working because it brings more understanding, more openness from the people we share with, whether it’s a hospital, or a street improvisation.

It touches people. And we are able to share some of the values we’ve forgotten in our society, like silence, stillness, expressing true feelings. Being in places where normally nobody stops. We use simple things of nature to share our experience. We smell a flower, then offer it to someone. This art is about stopping in order to experience the here and now. Sometimes we go into slow motion. A group of five, six clowns in slow motion, walking next to each other. Traveling, but not going anywhere. Enjoying being the Fool, being aimless. This is what I call “Fool at Heart”, the Fool who expresses a response from his heart, or her heart.

Barbara: Tell me about how you work in teams.

Didier: We work in groups with street improvisation and in parks. A landscape of clowns comes together, relating to the space, celebrating nature. This summer we are having a gathering of about thirty clowns. We are working with a group of children in Germany, and are going to create a magical journey of clowns through a garden. So we will lead the children into different mime-clown scenes, really connecting to nature. That’s one example of what we do together.

Another aspect of the work is stage performance. Every year we have a retreat in Scotland, and we offer a performance in a Tibetan monastery there. We offer a whole week of training at the end of the retreat and we also have a performance with the monastics. It’s so beautiful!

We also have a more committed aspect of clown training for the work we do in hospitals. It requires being very grounded in meditation, and true motivation to want to share something from your heart. The nurses are often over-worked and very stressed. You come as a clown, with your joy, playing music, and maybe invite a patient to sing, or play, opening the joy muscle. I have worked with groups of nurses, and through that I have realized how much compassion they have, but so often, they didn’t have enough support to help them integrate challenging experiences. After nursing a dying patient, they might have to rush immediately to the next one. No space, no sharing time, never.  So slowly, something tightens in their heart. But of course, their compassion is still there, underneath all the stress. As a result, the nurses might sometimes feel annoyed with the clowns, or at other times relieved to see them.


Barbara: How do you deal with that?

Didier: I’m a true Westerner, very independent, and I have a lot to learn about being part of an organism. That’s why I’m here in this retreat, and I have a lot of pain to clear. My family and my background never gave me a positive experience of being part of a group. And now I realize the next step for this work has to be in a Sangha, so we can be supported in our values. The teaching of this three-week retreat is just like pouring honey into my brain and my heart, and I’m clearing up so much pain of never having lived in a true family. Here we have a true family. Thay inspires me so much about Sangha building, and how we can celebrate the sacred, the true values of human life. But as soon as we touch those wonderful golden aspects of life, we release a whole cloud of suffering that’s been there for years and years, so we are still very much beginners on the path. How can we hold the sacred view in a society that is not seeing it? That is the challenge. That is why I am here.

Barbara: How many clowns do you work with?

Didier: There are eighteen trained clowns. Clown Care & Co. is composed of two groups in England, (in London and Bristol), and there are other Sacred Clown groups emerging in Holland, and Germany, (in Munich and Frankfurt).


Barbara: Didier, can you give me a specific example of seeing someone transformed or touched when you were clowning?

Didier: We’ve been working with the elderly in a Jewish center, with people between 65 and 100 years of age. It’s a big place, 300 residents, and we’ve been working with teams of clowns and it has been quite beautiful. The residents often say they are bored, watching TV all the time. Some are depressed, waiting for death not having much hope for anything else. Discretely we find a way, maybe over two weeks, to turn off the television. Then three, or four, of us may just mime how we see the residents we are visiting. I might sit there and wait a bit, copying their posture, just being there, breathing, making some eye contact, Not expecting anything in particular – the whole work of clown care is not to expect, but to trust, and doing nothing is doing everything, just being there. And then we can just make a little movement, and very soon there’s a kind of mirroring happening. They start to move, I will start to move slowly, and I start to play some music, singing an old Jewish song they have known in their childhood. We hum the melody, and they start to sing the words.  And as they sing the words, some joy comes into their body, and we encourage a little movement, just connecting to their neighbor, letting go of their feelings of isolation. So it builds up slowly from things that are meaningful to them.

We’ve had many who started to sing with us so loudly and full of energy. We might have two clowns who start to dance in the middle, softly, to the music. If someone is totally withdrawn, which can happen particularly with dementia, we might just start copying them, or for example touch their hand, to bring back the mind into the body. We have to feel how far we can go without disturbing their sense of security. So that’s how we work, we invite slowly, and we engage, in a very careful way, with music, mime, mirroring their feelings, in a true way until we open the door for a possible exchange.

Our mind/heart is a mirror. As you become a mirror, you are remembering yourself, especially when you are old and a bit lost in your mind. Here you are, and you’re fine as you are. And this true meeting is a stepping stone for playing creatively. Then we can start to relate to the invisible, as we touch empty space, letting an expansion arise from the meeting. It’s to expand our mind to a possibility that there is something more than you and me here. This is also the role of the clown. We are entering the invisible. As we enter this realm, something happens in the feeling, in the mind, and it has surprising qualities, it can transform. We start to relate to the invisible.

Barbara: That really helps me understand how you work and how the human process happens, the gift of being together, and the gift of presence. Didier, is there anything that you could offer to the rest of us, of how we could bring this sense of play into our lives, in our interactions with others?

Didier: What touches me so much is looking at beauty. What is beauty? And where does beauty come from? If you move and there’s beauty in your movement, anybody can be touched. Beauty is simply bringing the breath into the movement, and letting ourselves be touched. We often say we have to do something to express ourselves, but actually, to have an attitude of listening and letting ourselves be touched by what is, that is real beauty. The air as you move, the floor under your feet, all those things are the ground for beauty, a kind of beauty that gives joy, and costs nothing. What is art? Art is being simple. Like William Blake says;

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.


It is there. And if we can just really enjoy a flower, or a little shadow on the floor, or some dust in the air, you can enter it. We are very free already when we bring our minds to the smallest things. Developing mindfulness into an art form is the most wonderful gift. The clown is a master at coming back to being

truly human, embracing the sadness and the joy, so they unite and become one. This is the full spectrum, the full rainbow, sadness and joy, there is a quality of reverence in that experience, and it also becomes a potential for play. It is very simple. It is the practice of coming home, being touched and touching. In my performances I don’t work with things completely set, there are just little landmarks, and between them I connect with the audience. The audience is creating the performance with me. We are engaging and sharing a creative moment together, and it’s a mystery. And if we can hold that mystery, then we have true magic. The interaction of opening the space and holding it together, the not-knowing, is really a beautiful interconnection.

Barbara: I’ve been touched, by you allowing yourself to be touched.

Didier: Yes! Right. To not know, and hold it there. You know, hold it right now, just here — I don’t know what I am going to tell you, I’ve lost the track of it.

Barbara: [laughs]

Didier: Just enjoy it!

Barbara: Right!

Didier: You know, if I can just enjoy it, it’s okay.

Barbara: Right, right. It’s interesting how much discomfort there is, in that moment, for most of us.

Didier: Exactly. In that moment, I’ve lost the track. I can panic. Or I can enjoy it. Then we stay together and just trust each other. If you are on stage, with an audience before you, and you fill up the gap, then at that moment you are truly lost. If you are lost, you have also lost your audience. You have lost the inter-dependence. So it’s very important to not panic, but rather to rest there, and not judge the experience.

Instead of performing, we learn to be in the moment, and when nothing is there, just breathe! As soon as you have this attitude as the ground, you are never lost. You are always free, and you are always in total connection with your surrounding and the people present.

[plane flies overhead, making a lot of noise.]

I just lost what I was saying then, and I felt, okay, just felt it, [exhaling long], and I didn’t lose you. But in that moment, it would be easy to fill up the gap with doing.

Barbara: Right.

Didier: This is where we lose track.

Barbara:And especially, if you had kept going with what you were saying, ignoring that sound, you would have lost me, because it’s all happening right there, and we were in it together.

Didier: Yes.

Barbara: – and we need to be authentic with it.

Didier: Exactly.

Barbara: I’m going to try that. When I lose my train of thought, instead of trying to get it back, I’m going to enjoy that moment, that place.

Didier: Creativity is never lost then, because with this attitude, we will be touched, if we remember to trust.

Barbara: Sometimes losing your train of thought is a very good thing, because it takes you back into your store consciousness. And when you feel that the ground underneath you drops away, what you feel is where you really are—you’re coming from a much more authentic place then, a place in the moment.

Didier: Yes, exactly. It is a very important key. And often with art, we are frightened to become, to do, art. We are frightened to dance, especially in the West, everybody is more or less terrified to express themselves. At school, you’re asked to do a drawing, you have half an hour, and you try to do it right, yeah? You have never been told how to touch the magic. I never learned those things at school. I learned the opposite. I was beaten up at school.

Barbara:You just learned how to be judged.

Didier: Exactly. And also to judge myself. So one of the basic things to re-learn is to trust, and in doing nothing, we can let ourselves be touched. To touch the magic is entering that space of letting ourselves be an instrument. This is where art is born, I think true art. And if we can share some of our feelings in this way, in a park, in the middle of nowhere, this is very important. In the middle of a British railway station, there are three clowns, expressing just that. And very quickly, you have many people who stop, because they have been waiting for something to stop them for a long time. The clowns do slow motion mime, and it’s very beautiful to watch, because it’s not a movement from an idea. It’s a movement coming from being very present. It can touch deeply.

I’ve been very involved with teachings from the East. And now I am feeling and exploring where our roots are for mindfulness in the West. Where is it hidden, that understanding of being in the present moment? The archetype of the Fool is a very important Western archetype. Jesus was a Fool. There is so much of that Fool quality in his teachings. Many times here in Plum Village, when we are eating together in mindfulness, I feel that I’m eating with Jesus. It comes not as a thought, it comes like a feeling or a memory. To touch some essence of the Fool is very important. The clown is born from that. The role of the Fool in spirit as an archetype is extremely important, in resurrecting simplicity and joy, the pleasure of being in the moment, touching life, all of nature, in a very simple way.

Barbara: I was a fairly happy child and fairly happy adult, and then at a certain point I started feeling like I lost my playfulness, that a lot of my life was spent doing things I didn’t want to do, and I wasn’t very happy. I wasn’t seriously unhappy, it was just that a lot of what I was doing was not really play, not really fun. And I started looking at that. Where did that happen? Whydidthathappen? AndIfeelthattodayyouhaveledmeback into exploring play and being in a group, a Sangha, that plays together. And I think that the Fool is the one who has the ability to stop everything and play. That’s so needed because we have this idea that when we grow up, things have to be hard, and we have to work all the time, and we have to let go of childish things, and so we lose ourselves.

Didier: Yeah! We lose the sense of play.

Barbara:Yeah! And we lose our heart, we lose ourjoy. And it’s very sad when there are children who have lost that.

Didier: It’s very sad. It’s a big concern I have about play and children, and what is happening to them. I mean, what we are doing? We are taking away all drama in school, all physical education, and in England, they are selling playgrounds because they want the space to build buildings. This is absolutely mad. And the computer world has taken over the children’s world. They play not with people, they play with machines and in the computer games they learn to kill each other. This is very serious, if we realize that play is the beginning of spiritual understanding, the root is starting there when a child plays with another, in trust and not knowing.

Play, to my mind, is bigger than the individual. It is taking us on a journey of creativity. It is the first step in a perception of something beyond my individual self. And we learn to respond to emotions, to each other as we play. If we don’t let the children play in this way, what are we going to have in fifteen years? This is very serious. I have put together a questionnaire for school teachers to express what they feel is happening with our children, because the curriculum has become entirely academic.

We must become aware of the importance of play for the sake of the children. This is really the focus I have now for the work, to really bring awareness to the importance of play, as the birthplace for spiritual understanding.


Didier Danthois first trained in clowning and circus skills twenty years ago at the Fratellini Circus School in Paris. He studied Expressive Dance, and performed with Amici Dance Theatre Dance Company for five years. He is also a certified Biodynamic Psychotherapist and group facilitator. He trained in clowning with Lex Van Someren. Didier has been inspired by the teachings of the Buddha for the last ten years, first through his root teacher Sogyal Rinpoche, and then by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. He works towards creating an art which celebrates the beauty of authenticity, compassion and the interdependence of all things, and all people. Didier is the founder of Fool at Heart, School of Sacred Clowning, and teaches, performs and directs in England and abroad. He is presently involved in establishing ‘ClownCare & Co.’, an organization bringing Sacred Clowning into healthcare settings.

For future events, contact Didier at 32 Rosemary Avenue, London N3 2QN England  Tel: 020 8343 0255 E-mail: ScSacredClowning@aol.com

Barbara Casey, True Spiritual Communication, is a managing editor for the Mindfulness Bell.

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Dharma Talk: Knowing We Have Enough

A Dharma Talk by Sister Annabel
At Maple Forest Monastery, June 25, 2002
Photography by Jan Mieszczanek

This is enough, I know it well.
This is enough, I don’t need more.
The call of the bird
In the bleak gray sky
Is the bright pink rose in a sea of green.
This is enough.
I thought I needed more
But now I know I am so rich.
My teacher, my Sangha,
Are precious jewels.
Every moment a gem, alive or dead.
Health and sickness are precious gifts,
Doors of the practice for all to learn.
The great living beings are always there
To guard and to guide and bring us home.
You are enough, you know it well.
No need to do more, just come back home!
All that you want is already there,
Breathe and take a step to see your home!


Dear Sangha, today is the 25th of June in the year 2002, and we are in the Buddha Hall of the Maple Forest Monastery.

This morning I tried to find a new way to walk up to the Buddha Hall from where I was sleeping, and I lost myself in the heart of the forest! I was thinking, that I should not arrive in time for the sitting meditation that morning and maybe not even for the Dharma talk! I would go a certain distance and then I would have to turn back because the path was blocked by many wild rasp-berry brambles. Suddenly, my mind became very still. I did not know why, it just happened like that. I looked  up,  and  I  saw  the  Buddha Hall. I was just below it. That experience showed me that I often think that what is going on in my mind is disconnected from what is happening in the world. I perceive something outside of my mind. But now I see that the Buddha Hall is also in my mind, and the Buddha Hall symbolizes quiet and peace. When my mind is quiet and peaceful, then the Buddha Hall manifests itself. The hall was so beautiful with the white roof against the blue sky and the sun shining on it through the trees.

Dear Sangha, the practice of tri tuc in Vietnamese, means knowing we have enough. This has become a Buddhist practice, but in fact it was taught by Confucius. Confucius said that the important thing is to know that we have enough. The expression used by Confucius has the Chinese word tri meaning to know, to have understanding, or wisdom. Knowing when we have enough is wisdom. As long as we think that we do not have enough, we shall not have enough. When we know that we have enough, we have enough.

As a Buddhist practitioner, whether monk, nun, layman, or laywoman, knowing enough is an important part of the practice. In the Christian tradition when people take what is called the vow of poverty, it also means knowing enough. This practice belongs at least to Confucianism and Christianity as well as to Buddhism. It is a practice that our world needs very much at this moment.

Knowing enough is not just knowing enough materially – which is very important – but knowing enough spiritually and emotionally, too. Knowing that we have enough materially is based on knowing that we have enough emotionally and spiritually. Often it is an emotional need which craves more material things. Our craving comes from the feeling of insecurity rather than from a material need. That is why we have to practice mindfulness of our emotions in order to reach the root of our desire for material things. I wrote a very simple song about knowing enough. (see above)

When I feel discontent I need to look deeply at my discontent in my daily life. To do this I practice sitting still. As I sit still I begin to feel satisfied with the richness of my life. It is a very gray day with no sunshine, and I could think that the gray sky is not enough, and I need to have the sunshine. I hear the bird call through the sky, and I see that the gray sky is quite enough. The gray sky holds the call of the bird. And although the sky is so gray, there’s a pink rose, it’s very bright, and the grass is very green. The gray sky shows up the pink rose and the green grass. So I feel grateful for the gray sky. Looking deeply I see that the blue sky is always behind the gray sky. So I say to myself, “Well, this is quite enough.”

My thinking in the past made me say, “I need more.” But now I understand that I’m a very rich person already. I have an enlightened, awakened person to be my teacher, to show me the way. I have the Buddha, and all the ancestral teachers. I have my Sangha. It’s the most precious thing. One reason why my Sangha, my teacher, and my ancestral teachers are so precious is because they have taught me to be able to dwell in the present moment. The present moment becomes a most wonderful gem. Every moment is a gem.

The Treasures of Sickness and Death

I could think that when someone I love dies, I don’t have enough, because I have lost the person I love. But when I live deeply the present moment, I know that without death I cannot possibly be alive. When you walk through the forest, and see the dead leaves making room for the green leaves, it is so clear. In Australia, in forests of a special kind of eucalyptus, the seeds will only open and the new trees will grow when they are subjected to intense heat. So the forest fire makes the new forest possible. Without death there cannot be life, for death is something very precious. Death is a precious gem.

In my Buddhist meditation I have learned to look deeply into my fear of death, sickness, and old age. When I say that health and sickness are precious gifts, it’s because so many people who have come to me and have been sick have told me that it is the most precious thing that has happened to them. When we stand on the outside and we look in, without the experience of the people who tell us that, we say, “How can they say that ill-health is the most precious thing?” But that is what people have said to me. When I have been sick I have always been happy to be well again. Having been sick is an opportunity for me to appreciate good health and a wonderful opportunity to begin anew my life anew.

In the past people said that children have to be sick with measles, mumps, chicken pox, to develop an immunity to these diseases and not contract them when they were older when it would be much more serious. Today scientists have developed vaccines so that it is not necessary to go through the sickness in order to be immunized. Since scientists have seen the suffering they have compassion and do not want it to continue any longer. Without suffering there cannot be compassion and without compassion there cannot be happiness. When we know how to practice when we’re sick, then sickness can become a very precious gift. Although the experience brings us painful feelings we learn so much about ourselves and the great beings are always there to guard and to guide and to bring us home.


Faith in the Great Beings

I have faith that there are always great beings, the bodhisattvas, and I have that faith partly because I’ve recognized that in myself and all members of my sangha there’s a bodhisattva.  The doctors in Médecins Sans Frontières, Doctors Without Borders, are bodhisattvas. They do not confine themselves to helping people in their own country, but go to the countries where there’s the least medical supply, the least favorable circumstances for curing disease. There are also teachers without frontiers. Somewhere in the world there are always great beings who can show me how to love and understand. In myself there is also that great being, although it has not yet flowered fully.

You Are Enough

You are enough, you know it well! We think that we are not enough yet. We have to be something better. We have to go somewhere, do something in order to be enough. We don’t think we are enough just as we are. Not only do we have to know that this is enough, we have to know that I am enough, or you are enough. That is also a kind of wisdom.

In Buddhism one of the doors of liberation is called wishlessness or aimlessness. It means I know that I’m enough. We have the tendency to think, “If I could do more I would be enough, I would be better. I have to be doing more all the time!” But no, we have to say that I am enough already. You don’t need to do in order to be enough. Our world needs people who are, more than people who do, right now. We’ve been taught, “Don’t just sit there, do something.” But our teacher in Plum Village says, “Don’t just do something, sit there!” Our teacher has also told us how to look deeply into what is called our habit energy. My habit energy wants me to do something, to do more. He asks us to look where that habit comes from. It partly comes from what we have been taught and it is also handed down to us from our ancestors in our consciousness.

Transforming Our Habit Energy

In Buddhism we say we do not only receive our body from our ancestors, we also receive our consciousness, because our body and our consciousness interare. Our consciousness is part of our body and our body is part of our consciousness. We inherit so much more than our bodies from our ancestors. We inherit habit energy and consciousness. Maybe our habit energy to do something comes from a time when our ancestors needed to work very hard. If I imagine that I have come from Europe to New England, and I was one of the first settlers, I would probably have to work very hard in order to be able to have enough to survive. I have to plant this, I have to store this, I have to prepare this, in order to have enough for the winter. So taking care of the future in order to survive would become a very important internal formation with me. In times of suffering and stress, we create internal formations, knots in our consciousness, which we can hand on to future generations if we don’t know how to untie those knots.

Here is an example. Plum Village is our practice center in France. Every year there is a retreat that lasts for a month. Many, many families come and practice together, children and parents. We teach the children, “When you’re angry, don’t say anything, don’t do anything. Just breathe deeply, because if you say or do something you may regret it afterwards.” Some of the children, especially those who have come every year, learn how to do that. When they feel anger come up in them they can close their eyes and breathe deeply. Closing the eyes is an important point, because as long as you look at the person who is making you angry, it waters the seed of your anger. So you close your eyes, close your ears, close everything, close your thinking, just breathe.


In one family, the young boy had many difficulties with his father. This difficulty probably arose because his father came from a different culture than the culture the boy had been brought up in. His father had the tendency to be angry whenever the boy fell down and hurt himself. The son would say, “ I can understand my father being angry if I do something wrong, but I can’t understand my father being angry when I have done nothing wrong.” He thought that a good father would take pity on him and help him when he fell down. So he had a strong internal formation about his father.


One day at the retreat the boy was with his younger sister. She was playing in the hammock with another little girl and the hammock tipped and they fell out. When his little sister hit the ground she cut her head and it was bleeding. The brother was standing nearby and he saw all this, and he felt very angry. He wanted to shout at her, “How stupid! Aren’t you big enough to know better?” But fortunately, he had learned to shut his eyes when he was angry. He breathed, and he walked away from the scene. He thought the best thing he could do was move away from the scene while other people took care of his little sister.

He walked into the forest slowly, he looked into his situation to realize the truth of what was happening, and he saw that this anger was his father’s anger. He didn’t want to be angry, but he was angry because he had inherited that habit energy. He then realized that the reason his father was angry with him when he fell down was because his grandmother or grandfather used to be angry with his father when his father fell and hurt himself. No one in the family had yet managed to transform this habit energy. The young boy saw that if he was not careful, when he had his own children, he would be the same, and after him his children would continue to be the same. If he could transform this habit energy in himself he would not have to hand it on to his own children. He also wanted to talk to his father about the understanding he had come to that day. When he was able to talk to his father he was able to become his father’s friend.

With mindfulness practice we can undo the knots we receive from our ancestors.   When we undo those knots we do it not only for our self, but we do it for our ancestors, because our ancestors are still alive in us, and we are their continuation. It is a simple, and essential part of our practice.

There’s no need to do any more in order to be enough. We can undo the knots of always having to be doing something. We practice for our ancestors, but we also do it for our descendants, for our children and our grandchildren. Our world needs people who are, more than people who do.

When we can be with nature, we realize how precious it is, and we automatically take good care of our environment, preserving nature. Every morning before breakfast in the Green Mountain Dharma Center Sister Susan sits outside contemplating the mountainous scenery. It does not matter what the weather is like; rain, snow and wind may come but she is still there. For her that is a time of being. She is there for the mountains and the mountains are there for her. Someone who is as close to nature as that will never take thoughtless measures which will harm the environment. Our ancestors, who had more time to be, did not behave thoughtlessly towards the environment. When we are too busy to be with nature we do not recognize how precious it is, and therefore we are not in a position to preserve the ecology of our planet earth.

Where is My Home?

You don’t need to do any more. Just come back home. A Plum Village motto is, “I have arrived, I am home.” You might like to ask, “Where is my home?”

One time the Brahmins in India came to the Buddha and they said, “In our religion we aspire to live with the Brahma, the creator-god. Can you teach us how to do that?”

So the Buddha asked them a question. He said, “What are the qualities of Brahma?”

They answered, “The qualities of Brahma are loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity.”


The Buddha told them, “If Brahma is practicing loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity, and you want to live with Brahma, you will have to do the same. When you practice loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity you will already be living with Brahma.” These four qualities are called the Brahmaviharas the abodes of Brahma, and that is the address of Brahma.

The Buddha also has the qualities of compassion, love, joy and equanimity. The address of Brahma is also the address of the Buddha. In a place where these qualities abound we feel completely secure and our true home is where we feel secure. To help us develop love and joy we have to practice mindfulness. To practice mindfulness is to be able to live the present moment with deep awareness.

The Greatest Security

We have a deep insecurity. It makes us feel that we are not at home here and now, that here and now is not safe. We have to invest in the future. We have to safeguard to make sure that the future is okay, and then we’ll be secure. We sacrifice here and now for security in the future. If we look deeply at the world as it is, is there really any security? Can we guarantee our security for the future? Can anyone guarantee that security? If we look deeply we see they can’t. Do you know anybody who doesn’t die? We tell ourselves maybe, “Oh, I won’t ever die!” Do you know anyone who’s never, ever been sick? I think it would be difficult to find that person. Is there anybody who doesn’t day by day get a little bit older? All these things hap-

pen. They are the truth. They are the reality. We have to accept that.

With mindfulness we recognize that, “All that I cherish, everyone I love, is of the nature to change, and we cannot avoid being separated from each other.” That’s true. Nothing is secure. We know we have to be separated from our loved ones, and when we meditate deeply like that, it has a very positive effect. It is not negative at all. The positive effect is that we see that our loved ones will not be always be here, and so we love them even more.  We do our best for them today because we know that tomorrow may be too late.

When we practice the meditation on loving kindness we aspire first of all, “May I be happy, peaceful and light in my body and my spirit. Then we meditate: “May the one I love live in safety and security.” Finally we aspire: “May the one who has made me suffer be happy, peaceful and light in body and in spirit. We wish for all beings that they live in safety and security, because we know that is our deepest desire. We see clearly that if it is my deepest desire to be safe and secure, it must be the desire of other beings. Even of the tiny little ant.

The other day an ant crawled onto my toothbrush. I was not very happy with that ant. I wanted to clean my teeth, but there was an ant caught up in the bristles of my toothbrush! Probably there was something sweet in the toothbrush. So I banged my toothbrush rather hard to knock the ant out, and the ant fell out of the toothbrush and was quite dizzy. The ant went around and around in circles as if it was dizzy. I looked at that ant and I suddenly remembered that that morning when I woke up I had said a little poem to myself, and that poem had gone something like,

Morning, noon, and night,
all you little insects,
Please look out for yourselves.
If by chance
I happen to step on you by mistake
May you be reborn
in a pure land of great happiness.

I suddenly thought, I said that poem this morning and what did I do here? Knocked the ant till it became dizzy! I looked at the ant and I breathed on it, saying the name of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, and the ant said to me, “Did I really deserve to get a knock on the head like that, for crawling onto your toothbrush?” When I heard the ant say that, I had to say, “Of course you didn’t deserve it at all.” It’s very clear that even the little ants want to have safety and security. So I make a deep wish, “May all beings be in safety and security.”

The chant on happiness goes, “Although there is birth, old age and sickness, now that I have a path of practice, I have nothing to be afraid of.” The greatest security is the practice of mindfulness. I am secure because I know what I am doing, so that I’m less likely to have accidents. But accidents can always happen, even if I know what I am doing. That is part of my karma, part of the fruition of my actions, that things will not always go right. But, since I have the practice, even when things go wrong I have a kind of security. That is the security that I wish for all beings to have.


Enjoying Conscious Breathing

That is my home, the practice of mindfulness, to be in the here and the now. If I can enjoy my breathing, I am in my true home, my Brahmavihara, my Buddhavihara. Why do I practice conscious breathing? Is it because the teacher says I have to? Is it because the Buddha says people have to practice conscious breathing? Is that why I practice it? Or do I practice my conscious breathing because I enjoy it? I feel that conscious breathing is to be enjoyed.


One time when some of the monks were not practicing correctly, the disciple Ananda said to the Buddha, “They practice the wrong path that has brought them much suffering and brought the Sangha much suffering.” The Buddha said, “Ananda, did no one tell them how to enjoy their breathing?” Because the Buddha had so many disciples, he could not be with them all.  It was up to the eldest students like Ananda to show the younger students how to enjoy their breathing.

When we enjoy our breathing we do not expect a result in the future, because we already have the result right now. It is the same with our mindful steps; stepping into the present moment we have the result right now. We enjoy it right now. All that you want is already there. Breathe, and take a step, to see that you’re home.

This is enough. We see everyone we love, and everything we cherish as very precious, because we know that it will not always be there. As far as relative time and space are concerned they will not always be there. With conscious breathing we look even deeper and we recognize our loved ones in new forms. They just change their appearance, like the water. You may say, “Oh, my dear cloud, you’ve gone,” but in fact the cloud is still there in the rain. You go to the lake in the early morning when the sun begins to rise, you see the mists are evaporating from the surface of the lake, and that is yesterday’s rain going back to be today’s cloud again. No increase and no decrease is the teaching of the Prajnaparamita and that is why what we have is enough.

Sister True Virtue (Sister Annabel) is the Abbess of Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont. Transcribed by Greg Sever. Jan Mieszczanek practices photography in her homeland of Poland. She says, “I met Thay one lazy, warm and sunny day. I was sitting in my garden and I was reading Peace is every step. That was a five years ago. Today I take a lot from Buddhism. I try to help the people around me, including myself, my two daughters, and my grandson to find happiness.”

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Healing With Chronic Illness Practicing Mindfulness of the Body

Jane  Brockman

When I was first diagnosed with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia several years ago, I had no idea what a long and difficult road lay ahead of me. At times, when feeling exhausted of every ounce of energy, unable to absorb food, and vulnerable to every kind of illness, I questioned whether it was worth going on. Always, I came back to believing that it was. As I began to direct my energy towards healing, mindfulness become an integral part of my journey back to health. I soon realized that in order to truly heal, it would be necessary to bring a deep attention and awareness to every aspect of my life, not only on the physical level, but on the spiritual and emotional levels as well.

I began to be more mindful of the foods I ingested and tend better to the messages my body was giving me. I developed a deeper awareness about my thought patterns, moved towards work that was more in line with my true self and became aware of what brought me joy each day. Deepening my practice of mindfulness has been one of the unexpected gifts of my illness. It has helped me to cope in times when I didn’t think I could go on.

Honoring my Body

First I began to implement major changes to my diet. I’ve always considered myself to be a fairly healthy eater, but I now practice a much deeper level of mindful consumption, as Thay encourages us all to do in the Fifth Mindfulness Training. Over time, I’ve developed a heightened level of awareness concerning the foods I’m allergic to and how my body feels after eating them. Now I can tell almost immediately if my body doesn’t like something. I’ve eliminated many of my favorite foods, as well as sugar, caffeine, wheat, dairy and alcohol. This has demanded an enormous amount of discipline. At first, I thought I’d go crazy without these foods. Yet, as time has gone on, it’s become easier for me to be completely without these substances. I now understand the importance of listening and honoring my body. Breathing in, I honor my body. Breathing out, I smile to my body.

Honoring my body has also meant no longer pushing myself beyond what my strength allows and giving myself permission to rest when necessary. Doing this has been extremely difficult, as I’ve always been an over-achiever and a perfectionist. My illness, however, no longer allows me to live this way. I have had to let things slide. The house doesn’t get cleaned as often. The garden doesn’t get planted. I have to rely on my partner for assistance with the cooking and shopping more. I sleep a lot. I rest a lot. Last year, I stopped working. At times, it has felt like everything is falling apart. My lesson has been to learn to be okay with this and to let go of trying to do everything. It hasn’t been easy, but I know that I’m doing the best I can. Even for those who are healthy, it can be quite liberating to come to terms with being good enough rather than trying to be perfect all the time. As we place a higher priority on our peace of mind than on getting everything done, the result can often be a deeper, more meaningful experience of our lives, our relationships and of ourselves.

Receiving and Letting Go

A most challenging lesson for me throughout this journey has been to practice the art of receiving. At times when I was so incapacitated or when I deeply needed emotional support, it’s been extremely difficult for me to ask others for help. I was raised in a family who valued independence and self-sufficiency and relying on others was not looked upon favorably. Learning to ask for help and to receive from the Universe has been a new lesson. The constant love and support of a caring partner has been a tremendous blessing. I have learned to cultivate a broader network of support—friends and healers who assist me in my journey, including others dealing with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. I have also sought out those who have reversed their conditions and brought about their own healing. This has been a source of inspiration and strength for me.

While holding out hope for healing, I have become deeply aware of the importance of surrendering to and accepting my illness. At first, the two seemed contradictory. How could I practice acceptance on one hand and at the same time, work towards healing? As time has passed, I see that I can do both. I see how important it is to be present with what is and to accept fully what is happening in the moment. At the same time I hold a clear image of how I’d like to be. Only in blending the two can I be free.

As I work to practice acceptance, I have certainly felt my share of anger at being sick. There have been times when I felt rage at the limitations I have to deal with because of my illness. I’ve learned that it’s okay to get angry sometimes. In Being Peace Thay tells us to treat our anger with “care, love, tenderness and nonviolence.” The first step is developing an awareness of the anger, according to Thay. We cannot destroy the energy of anger, he points out, yet we can work to convert it to a more constructive energy, like forgiveness, understanding or love. In my own healing journey, I have found that by allowing the anger to surface and by staying with it, I’m eventually able to come to a place of deeper peace and tranquility.

Imagery and Exercise

The use of meditation and imagery has helped enhance my overall sense of peace and tranquility. Guided meditation tapes have become an important part of my daily practice, as lying down is sometimes all I can manage to do. I’ve developed a small collection of tapes which help to release tension in my body and help me to cultivate more positive thought patterns. They have also helped me discover some profound insights and awarenesses about my life and about changes that I need or want to make. In the beginning, I often felt resentful about having to stop in the middle of my day to rest and listen to these tapes. Now,

I look forward to this time of the day. It has become a sacred ritual, a time for quiet and reflection when I can renew and restore, stop, rest and practice mindfulness.

Recently, my intuition has led me to seek out forms of exercise and body-centered therapies which help to balance the mind-body system like yoga, Feldenkrais and T’ai chi. My body has gently given me the message that an increased measure of energy flow would be of much benefit and would assist in my overall feelings of well-being and health.  Slowly, I am learning to cultivate a deeper awareness of what is happening in  my body in the present moment, sensing into it and asking myself, “How are you feeling right now?”

Sometimes I feel tense, sometimes afraid, sometimes uncomfortable. Next I can proceed to address the messages that my body is giving me, asking myself such questions as: Do I need to set a deadline for an important decision in my life so that my body can relax? Do I need to cut back on my work to balance my life more? Do I need to change the way I react to stress in my life? This practice of having a conversation with my body helps me to anchor myself more in the moment and feel less disassociated from my body.

I’ve begun to look at my professional life with a deeper level of awareness and questioning. I have asked myself: Am I feeling weighted down by the work I am doing? I am also developing more awareness about the kinds of the people I surround myself with. A natural extension of my desire to heal myself has been to seek out individuals who reflect a positive attitude in the world and who also believe in the innate ability of the body to heal itself. About a year ago, I discovered a wonderful naturopath who practices medicine from the standpoint of listening to and following the body’s implicit intelligence. More and more, I have come to trust my intuition when pondering the next stage of healing.


Cultivating Joy

Perhaps one of the most important developments I’ve made during my healing process has been the ability to cultivate a deeper awareness about what brings joy to each day of my life and discovering more ways to bring these activities into my day.   At a workshop I attended recently entitled Getting Well Again, a fellow workshop participant shared how important it had been for her to bring more fun into her days. She would frequently ask herself, “Am I having fun? Am I enjoying myself?” I now allow more space in my life for those  activities  which bring me joy and nurture my spirit—like creative activities, reading, being in nature, spending time with friends, yoga and meditation. Each day I pose the question to myself— What will truly bring joy to this day?   And generally, when I’ve  taken time to do joyful activities which nurture in a deep way, I find that I’m able to bring more joy to others and to the rest of the world.

Living mindfully with chronic illness has been one of the most difficult challenges of my life. It has been a long and patient journey towards greater overall health and aliveness, a journey marked by many highs and lows as well as a lot of tears. Yet, my journey has not been without its gifts, and I acknowledge these rich blessings with deep gratitude and awareness. I now see what is truly important in life. I am more mindful of how my thoughts and reactions to things affect the health of my body, and I consciously strive to hold more positive mental formations. I give myself permission to rest more. I’m okay with being good enough instead of having to be perfect. And I’m more mindful about what brings joy to each day. As I continue to incorporate mindfulness into more areas of my life, I am watering seeds of peace, joy, freedom and love within myself and within those who surround me.

Jane Brockman lives with her partner, radio personality Eric Alan, and practices with the Community of Mindful Living in Ashland, Oregon.

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The Golden Well of Compassion

Light River of the Heart

I met the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha; I lived with them for five days. It was heaven on earth; powerful transformation, golden drops from the well of compassion entered my heart.

I wrote these words in my journal on the day I returned home from the 2002 Stonehill College retreat with Thay.   It had been an unforgettable week.  I had witnessed the retreat give birth to a national peace initiative. It was like watching a collective Dharma wheel turn toward peace and reconciliation. On an individual level, I experienced my own turn of the Dharma wheel. As I left the retreat, I vowed to make peace within myself. This decision has reverberated in my life ever since, with far-reaching effects.

Many elements of the retreat nourished my soul and inspired me to change my perspective. I loved Thay’s Dharma talks, the meditation exercises, the energy of the other participants, the relaxation and silence. Most powerful of all was participation in a survivors of abuse Dharma discussion group. The Stonehill survivors group came to embody the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha for me. It was a profound healing experience.

I had no idea of any of this when I signed up for the group, rather furtively and with some shame, on the day it was to begin. Later I learned that almost no one had signed up for the group in advance. On the first day, I positioned myself near the door to be able to make a quick escape if necessary. I watched the people as they entered the room, quickly trying to find their psychological weaknesses so that I could protect myself in case of attack. I made jokes to disarm them. My heart was beating rapidly.

Our leader invited the bell to sound, and then lay down boundaries. We were to strictly preserve confidentiality and privacy. We were to practice deep listening. We were not to solve others’ problems, but to offer our own experience if it could be of help. One by one, we began to share. It was soon apparent that every member of the group shared not only the childhood experience of physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse and its long-term effects, but also the sincere desire to embody spiritual values and to practice compassion and loving-kindness. There was immense good will, clarity, honesty, courage, respect, thoughtfulness, and humor in the group.

Many of us were reluctant to identify ourselves as survivors, feeling that this labeled us as victims, or that it would lure us into negative, blaming states of mind. For myself, I hated identifying as anything. I never wanted to be part of any group larger than two.  Being in a circle with twelve or fifteen other

human beings meant that I had completely lost control. I had grown up in the war-zone of a nuclear bomb family. Violence, rage, terror, grief, secrecy, blame and denial were part of my “normal” life. At an early age, my connection to other human beings had shattered. Trust was broken and never rebuilt. I took isolation, fear and distrust for granted. Terror was hardwired into my being. I never realized there was another way to be.

On one of the first days of the retreat, I did a guided meditation led by Thay. As I visualized myself “fresh as a flower, stable as a mountain,” I felt peaceful, calm and at ease. The energy of seven hundred other meditators in the room supported me. Suddenly I realized that pain, suffering and a continual state of hyper-alertness were my everyday state of mind. I knew how to protect, hide, defend, and retaliate, but rarely how to trust or relax. These behaviors had served a purpose when I was a child, but now they stifled my adult life.

Identifying myself as a survivor was a powerful healing tool. It made me able to participate in the group – an act which I think of as prayer in action. Showing up in the survivors’ group was a prayer to rejoin the human race and to heal myself fully.

Before I left for the retreat, I had a dream in which I found two polished amethyst stones that looked like stained glass windows in a cathedral. I heard Thay’s voice saying, “The city is now safe for people to walk in.” Participating in the survivors’ discussion group was like being inside a cathedral and watching light illuminate stained glass windows one by one. Each person offered his or her own slant of light. Listening to others and being listened to alternated in a natural rhythm. There was no agenda; we revealed ourselves as we were in the moment. Compassion arose naturally for each other.  Kindness and understanding blossomed everywhere. In an atmosphere of honesty and safety, bonds of friendship were forged and the illusion of separateness dissolved.

My sisters and brothers of the survivors group were all bodhisattvas for me; through them, I experienced the transformative power of compassion. The group was the Dharma in action, as we helped each other bring painful emotions into light and awareness. It was a Sangha, each individual person having integrity and wholeness, yet functioning in relationship to a greater community. The Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha were not ideals or abstract concepts, they were alive and present in me and around me. As old assumptions, fears, and wrong perceptions crumbled, new and beautiful feelings of connectedness, trust and wholeness began to emerge. Being part of this group of survivors was powerful healing medicine. It seemed like nothing less than a miracle.

On the long drive home, the group continued to “meet” inside my mind. I held a conversation with my friends, sharing the most painful things about myself and my family. Suddenly a shift in my perceptions took place: instead of seeing the suffering as mine, I saw the terrible suffering of my family as a whole. Compassion flooded through me for all of us. These experiences have strengthened my resolve to practice mindfulness, to develop a deep well of compassion within myself, and to take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

Light River of the Heart, (dharma name of the author) shares, “Since I wrote this article, many perspectives have shifted and I have begun to open my heart to family members. Healing is slowly and steadily taking place.”

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Poem: Container of Compassion


my teacher once asked me,
how can we package compassion,
wrap it up in a small parcel
to sell at the local grocery store?

carefully, I looked at the tree before me,
are you a package of compassion?
she stood silently,
leaving no room for doubt.

this morning, sitting,
the sky growing light,
i set my mind on compassion.
can my mind be a container of compassion?
a parcel of loving kindness?
can my breath be a solid, tangible
manifestation of compassion?

quietly i sat
allowing the mind of love and understanding
fill me, nourish me
the love of my teacher
the love of the air
the understanding that embraces a sister i struggle with,
an offering of peace.

my mind journeys to a recent day,
walking along the road leading to
the cliffs and ocean below.
with each person i pass,
i allow my heart to open lightly
some look easily, friendly
we say, “hi”
others caught in their thinking
not available to look each other
briefly in the face.

the dance of moving closer,
looking down, up, over
then allowing our eyes to meet
a warming of our faces, a half smile
sometimes a bow
and i pause, my two feet next to each other
giving space to our greeting
heads lowered, then a brief smile
eyes touch and we continue our paths.

can we walk all through the day,
the evening and the night
and allow our fresh hearts to greet each living being?

and as we greet the people, animals, plants and minerals
along our path, above and below
shall we also meet the subtle beings,
the mental beings –
our thoughts, our feelings,
our perceptions and our consciousness
with kindness, with warmth, and equanimity

and perhaps we may become containers of compassion,
parcels of light for each other.

sister steadiness, 2001

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Healing The Inner Child

Ian  Prattis

We prefer not to remember the sufferings of child hood, so we bury them and hide from looking deeply into their causes.

Yet we have to find a way to reach the hurt child and make her safe. Although we may now be adults, there is also a little boy in us, a little girl in us, who is so afraid and suffers deeply, no matter what kind of pretend happy face we present to life. This suffering child within our adult frame colors everything we do, generates our fears, insecurities and self- loathing, wounding us in our relationships and life. We must have the courage and awareness to bring healing to our hurt inner child and thereby produce a transformation for ourselves. And in this process we somehow connect to all wounded children – those in our blood line, our ancestors and descendants, and also with all wounded children throughout the world. For once we cultivate the seeds of mindful healing in ourselves, the energy of these seeds continues on into all that we connect with. It is a quantum leap from our cellular memories to everyone else’s throughout time and space.

Thich Nhat Hanh addressed the issue of child abuse in a question and answer session held in the Lower Hamlet of Plum Village, France on October 17, 1998. Very gently he spoke about the ignorance and pain of the abuser as well as that of the abused, and stated clearly that understanding was the basis of recovery. Not blaming or feeling guilt and shame, but seeing deeply and understanding that the person abusing must have lived under painful and deprived conditions. The power of ignorance was stronger than the person’s happiness and stability, and thus they were driven to do wrong things. If the abused person can begin to understand this, then their anger, shame and outrage can transform into compassion. Through mindfulness practice we can begin to understand and forgive. Our suffering decreases and can be transformed into compassion. Through this healing we can become Bodhisattvas, helping all children who need protection and helping to eradicate the ignorance which generates abuse. The energy of compassion for children will transform the pain and sorrow that came from our experience of being abused.

The Diary

One technique that helps to heal the inner wounded child is to start a diary for you and the inner child to write to one another. I recommend that it be practiced under the guidance of a therapist, shaman or spiritual teacher. The adult you will write using the hand that you normally write with. You begin by saying “hello” to Little John, to Little Allison. Tell your child you are sorry for having been neglectful; that you are grown up now and that you will provide a safe and loving environment.

Then with your non-dominant hand, the one you do not normally write with, allow the inner child to express herself. Do not edit. Just write down whatever comes out. It may be angry, blaming and abusive words and it is your job not to be shocked or defensive but to provide constant re-assurance, love and guidance. These are the seeds of mindfulness you consciously bring to support the wounded child inside you. The energy of these seeds works on the energy of the traumatized inner child to reduce his pain and suffering. Talk to him through your writing with love and mindfulness.

Details of trauma may be revealed that you were not conscious of, which is why you need the guidance of a trusted teacher or therapist to support you being a wise and loving parent to your wounded child. With time you will notice shifts and changes in patterns of expression as the child becomes trusting and starts to grow, eventually merging fully with you as an adult. In your letters tell your inner child about yourself and your life, take her on picnics, treats and give to that child all the care, attention and love you feel you did not receive when you were a little boy, a little girl. The suffering will diminish and you will experience a transformation. You may discover that your relationships with co-workers, friends and family start to change, and your fears and anxieties do not have the same force in your life and your relationships. When you notice things like this, tell your inner child “Thank you for being with me. That makes me so happy.” The experience of being with the inner child in the healing journey is a stimulus for this kind of happiness.

There are times you may cry, feel deep joy or despair, which is why you need that wise friend to keep you steady and mindful. I know, for I went through it. I am happy to say that it worked for me, as I experienced the painfully slow establishment of trust, then the exhilarating joy of safety and integration, until finally my inner child was the adult me, integrated with a freshness and vitality that I continually treasure.

Adapted from “Healing Journeys,” a chapter in Ian’s forthcoming book, Living Breath: Stories, Essays and Meditations.

Ian Prattis, dharma name, recently received the Dharma Lamp in Plum Village. Ian founded the Pine Gate meditation community in Ottawa. He gives dharma talks coast to coast in Canada and conducts retreats in Europe, India, North and South America.

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Poem: Armfuls of Poetry, Drops of Sunshine


Sunshine rides on space and poetry on sunshine.
Poetry gives birth to sunshine, and sunshine to poetry.

Sun treasured in the heart of the bitter melon,
Poetry made of steam rising from a bowl of soup in Winter.
The wind is lurking outside, swirling.
Poetry is back to haunt the old hills and prairies.
Yet the poor thatched hut remains on the river shore, waiting.

Spring carries poetry in its drizzle.
The fire sparkles poetry in its orange flame.

Sunshine stored in the heart of the fragrant wood,
Warm smoke leading poetry back to the pages
Of an unofficial history book
Sunshine, though absent from space,
Fills then now rose-colored stove.

Sunshine reaching out takes the color of smoke;
Poetry in its stillness, the color of the misty air.

Spring rain holds poetry in its drops
Which bend down to kiss the soil,
So that the seeds may sprout.
Following the rain, poetry comes to dwell on each leaf.
Sunshine has a green color, and poetry a pink one.
Bees deliver warmth to the flowers from the sunshine
They carry on their wings.
On sunshine footsteps to the deep forest,
Poetry drinks the nectar with joy.
With the excitement of celebration,
butterflies and bees crowd the Earth.
Sunshine makes up the dance, and poetry the song.

Drops of sweat fall on the hard ground.
Poems fly along the furrows.
The hoe handily on my shoulder,
poetry flows from the breath.
Sunshine wanes away down the river,
and the silhouette of the late afternoon lingers reluctantly.
Poetry is leaving for the horizon
where the King of Light
is blanketing himself in clouds.

A green sun found in a basketful of fresh vegetables,
a tasty and well-cooked sun smells
delicious in a bowl of rice.

Poetry looks with a child’s eyes.
Poetry feels with a weather-beaten face.
Poetry stays within each attentive look.
Poetry – the hands that work the poor and arid land
far away.

The smiling sun brightening up the sunflower;
the ripe and full sun hiding itself in an August peach;
poetry follows each meditative step,
poetry lines up the pages.

within closed food packages,
poetry nurtures love.

Thich Nhat Hanh

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A Life of Faith

An Interview with Sister Giac Nghiem, A Nun in Plum Village

By  Sister  Steadiness

You have said that you have two roots, Buddhism and Christianity. How do you integrate these in your life of practice as a Buddhist nun?

Sr. Giac Nghiem: I met the Buddha twenty-seven years ago. I was in Laos with my former husband. Early in the morning we woke up and my husband said, “My dear, do you want to see something beautiful, the sunrise over the Mekong River?” We went together and I was so happy. At the moment we arrived at the banks of the river the sun was just beginning to rise. Standing by the river we saw many Buddhist monks begging. They were walking very slowly in silence, very mindfully. They were walking on our right and on our left there were four ladies sitting on the ground with food in front of them. The monks came and opened their bowls and the ladies filled up their bowls. It is difficult to express how I felt at that moment.


I felt that I was the lady who was filling up their bowls. I was a monk bowing in front of the women. I was the sun. I was the river.  I was a buffalo drinking the water.  I was a young child taking care of the buffalo. It was like meeting someone after a long time and suddenly he is here. It was something very deep; I cannot describe it. I met Thay a long time afterwards. Between meeting the Buddha in Laos and meeting Thay I practiced yoga.

I met Thay in 1987. Sister Chan Khong had long beautiful hair and Thay was young. When I met Thay I met the Buddha again and I also met St. Francis of Assisi because they are the same. The first time I met Thay was at a two-day retreat in Lyon where he taught in French. He spoke about the piece of paper and seeing the whole world in it. I felt the teaching was familiar and I thought, this is my master. When I returned home my family asked me what happened during the retreat. I smiled and I said, I found St. Francis of Assisi again and I am free from the fear of abandonment now.

My Christian roots are very old.  They are older than me because they flow in the blood of my family, very deeply. When I was a child knitting a small blanket for my doll and I didn’t want to go to bed before finishing it, my mother would come and say, “My dear child, you can go to bed and perhaps Mother Mary or an angel will come and finish your work.” Sometimes in the morning I would see that the row I was knitting had been finished for me. And I knew for sure that it was Mother Mary or an angel who had done that. Perhaps it seems like nonsense but this kind of faith is in me very deeply. I really have faith about the capacity of the spiritual ancestors to take care of us. Even if something happens that is very difficult they are always here.

I am a Buddhist nun and I am deeply Christian too. I found the key to Christianity in Buddhism. For example, Jesus said, “Forgive the people who make you unhappy.” I try my best all the time to do as Jesus tells us, to be generous and so on.  But I did not know how to put Jesus’ teaching into my daily life. Thay, Sister Chan Khong and the Sangha gave me the key. The key is mindfulness, concentration, insight and understanding. When we have understanding we are free from our hatred, our guilt, and our worries. I am not free yet but I try. This key helps me.

One time Jesus came to a synagogue and there was a crowd who intended to stone a woman who had committed adultery. Before I encountered Thay’s teachings I thought Jesus said to the crowd, “If you look at yourself, you cannot throw stones at the woman because you have also made mistakes.” Now I see this story so differently. I can really see Jesus waiting for the man to come to ask his advice. He already knew what would happen. The young man told Jesus that they wanted to kill the woman and asked him what was the right thing to do. Jesus said, “The one who has never sinned can throw the first stone.” He said this lovingly. He did not speak out of anger; he did not want to teach them a lesson as we have the habit to do. He just loved them; he understood them and he wanted to put a clear mirror in front of them, a clear mirror full of love. This way of seeing more deeply comes from my encounter with Buddhist teachings. What I have learned here in Plum Village has enabled me to be closer to my Christian spiritual ancestors.

How was the transition from your family life to the monastic life?

Sr. Giac Nghiem: Thay, Sister Chan Khong and the Sangha offered me the opportunity to become a nun even though I had a lot of difficulties. Before ordaining as a novice I lived at Plum Village for a year and a half as a lay person. Then I became an aspirant and began to enter the monastic life of the community. During my stay before ordination the Sangha allowed me to go back to my hone in St. Etienne and Lyon to see my family, my Sangha, and our center for homeless people four or five times a year. I would stay with my family for three or four weeks before returning to the monastery. It helped me to be gradually less attached to the projects in my home Sangha. But it was very difficult. At the beginning our Sangha and our association for social work had the feeling that I was abandoning them. But I realized that though my family and friends are not physically here, they are here in my body. I really found them in me. Their feelings and their lives are in me. I take care of them through my own life and my own body. That is why it became easy for me to make the transition from family life to monastic life. But it was more difficult for them to experience me within them. For my beloved ones it is very big sacrifice but because of their love they have accepted to offer me to my way.

The monastic life is wonderful. I chose it because Jesus and Mother Mary and angels are very close to me. When I was a child I went into a church in Casablanca where the sisters of St. Francis are. They sang so beautifully and I thought, I want to become a nun and sing as they do. Often when I felt an aspiration to become a nun during my life I said to my children, “My love, if in the future I lose your dear father, my beloved one, and you grow into adults I will become a nun.” But when I felt a calling, in my mind I said to Jesus, “Oh, my love, you know I am so busy. I have a wonderful husband. I have wonderful children; I am so happy with them. Perhaps if you call me later I will be free to come to you.” And I would say, “Oh, my love, do you know I have such wonderful work. There are so many people who need me. We have an association; we have a Sangha; we take care of homeless people. I do not have time to become a nun.” I felt I really could not become a nun because I love so much my wonderful family. I thought about becoming a grandma, making jam for my grandchildren and taking care of the babies coming from our daughter or our son. But Jesus is very persistent. He would knock at the door and in my heart I would hear him say, “My child, now are you free to become a nun.” And I kept saying, “No, I have a loving family, the association, my friends and so on.” But he kept knocking at the door and finally I said, “Yes, I am so happy to come.” And then I said, “Oh, what am I saying? That is not a possibility.” I was really in touch with this kind of conversation inside of me. At that moment I felt so deeply fulfilled by love that all my resistances fell down.

Perhaps the biggest difficulty that I have to overcome is my feeling of inferiority. I feel the teacher, the place and the Sangha are so wonderful.  But many times I have the feeling that I do something wrong, that is not beneficial for the Sangha. Often I feel difficulty because of my perception about what I did or what I thought. But because the Sangha has a big heart and accepts me even if I have this kind of difficulty, I have the opportunity to transform myself and to find clarity on my path. I can walk on the beautiful path taking the hand of Jesus on one side and taking the hand of the Buddha on the other side. Now I have lived in Plum Village for four and a half years. I became a nun on the 4th of December, 2000. I feel at home. I feel loved and happy. I love the Sangha a lot.

How do you stay in touch with your family?

Sr. Giac Nghiem: At the beginning my suffering and that of my family was very strong, but now it is lighter and lighter. Some members of my family could accept my path and others could not. The best way for me to be in touch with my family is to telephone them once a week. When I hear their voices I can tell how they are and they know how I am. Recently, our mother, our daughter and her family and our son all came to Plum Village to visit me. Now they know that this is my home, it is our home. I hope they will take root in this home and come more often.

Did you ever think of leaving the monastic life and returning to your family?

Sr. Giac Nghiem: At the beginning I felt the desire to return and help my family, my Sangha and our association, and to be in touch with them with my body and not only with my heart. But because I can really find my family in me, this kind of desire has become smaller and smaller. Sometimes I dream that I am at my family’s home and am living with my family. It is okay for me to go in my dream to my family. But I did not come here to hide myself or to protect myself from suffering or from my life before. I have the aim to really become someone who is awakened, to help more people.

We have many people coming to Plum Village who are full of anger and despair, burned by the fires of craving and suffering. One day Thay said we are like nurses or doctors who take care of the people who come from outside to help them relieve their suffering and become healthier. We give them the key to transform their suffering into something wonderful and to find more ease in their family life.

Society for me is sinking like a big boat. I know that if I were in society I would not have the energy to transform myself enough to become someone who can help. It is because I have this ambition to help the most people that I can that I go on this path. I start with my family, but I want to help many more people. I know if I return to my family I would not be able to transform because so many  people already need me outside and I would not have enough strength to do it. My life in our temple, close to our master, to Sister Chan Khong and the Sangha gives me enough strength to  transform  myself,  to transform my difficulties. The loving-kindness of the sisters and the brothers is so wonderful. Often I make a mistake and I make someone unhappy. But they always find a way to accept and to help me to accept and to transform, and in that way we live together beautifully. I know that I have often made mistakes. I would like to take this opportunity to apologize in front of everyone. If I have made a mistake and hurt you, please forgive me.


Tell us about your experience with the practice of Touching the Earth.

Sr. Giac Nghiem: In November 1996 Sister Chan Khong offered me the practice of the three Touchings of the Earth. Soon after that my husband left me. Sister Chan Khong asked me to use this practice as medicine for twenty-one days. One sentence in this practice touched me so much, “I accept you as you are with your strengths and weaknesses as I accept myself as I am with my strengths and weaknesses.” This helped me a lot when my husband left.

I first practiced the five Touchings of the Earth in June 1997 when I came to Plum Village for ten days. I came to learn how to be compassionate towards my former husband. Since then, Touching the Earth has been one of my basic practices. I used the five Touchings of the Earth almost every day for two years. We say that reciting the Diamond Sutra cuts through afflictions. For me practicing Touching the Earth cuts through my afflictions and helps me to transform. It is my second diamond. I practice Touching the Earth to nourish myself. At the beginning sometimes I practiced it for one or two hours.

Before I practice Touching the Earth I look deeply into my spiritual ancestors and into my society. I know I am made of all the input I receive from my ancestors and my society. The collective and the individual are together in me. I want to transform many things in me for the benefit of my descendants,  my  children,  my grandchild, and my parents. I don’t want to transmit the difficulties I have had.   When I found the blocks of suffering in me I took care of them even if I had to cry a lot.  I always had a handkerchief close to me to absorb my tears.  I would only stand up after I could see something beautiful coming from the earth.

At the beginning I did not want to lie down on the earth because the child in me was afraid of getting dirty. When I was a child I often had a pretty dress on and I heard, “No, don’t get mud on your dress; don’t get dirty.” But Sister Chan Khong told me that if I can open every cell in my body, the earth will be very happy and will eat and drink from me and will transform my suffering. The young child in me is very fond of sweet foods. So only when I could see beautiful, sweet foods like strawberries, little mushrooms, and blueberries coming from the earth could I stand up and smile.

One time I found a way to touch the earth with more ease. I was in the Buddha hall and I allowed my imagination to touch the earth with me. I imagined that I was lying on a beach. I was feeling dirty and the waves came and washed me of everything I didn’t like in myself from my family and my society and from myself. The waves washed away all the dust and it was transformed into beautiful fish and coral, into beautiful colored sand and the blue of the waves. I felt so happy because the sea is really my ground, more than the soil.

At the beginning when I practiced for twenty-one days I had so many things to put into the earth, but day by day it was transformed. At the end of the twenty-one days I was very surprised because for the fifth touching of the earth, when I send my love to the one who has destroyed my life, I no longer had an image of anyone. At first when I practiced this I had the image of different people in front of me, but then finally there was no one left. That was a big transformation. Now when I touch the earth I don’t have many negative things to put on the earth; sometimes I have nothing to put on the earth because my difficulties have been so transformed.  I can see the beauty of my family and my society. It is like the practice of total relaxation. At first we need to take a long time to feel the relaxation, but after we have practiced for a long time, we just lie down and breathe a little bit and we experience the relaxation.

One time my father told me that my brother was suffering. I said, I will take care of him even if I am in the monastery. My father has faith in this practice because I have shared it with him. I went in front of the Buddha and Jesus together, because they are my two spiritual roots. I said, I want to touch the earth in the name of my brother because he is in every cell of my body. We have the same blood ancestors, the same education and civilization. I am him and he is me. It was absolutely successful. After practicing for twenty-one days in the name of my brother, my brother’s situation improved a lot. He became lighter. I put his suffering on the earth for him because he did not know how to do that for himself. I have done that for other members of my family as well. It is very important to understand that I’m not trying to transform them, just to alleviate their suffering. This practice is the key for me to make life lighter so that is why I do it and offer it in the name of others.


How did you begin helping hungry children in Vietnam?

Sr. Giac Nghiem: I was born in Morocco and I spent my childhood there. I lived with my family in Djema el Fina, the Medina, close to the marketplace in Marrakech. In the Medina there were a lot of handicapped people, without their legs or blind or diseased. One day when I was around four-years-old I went out and just outside our door I saw a very poor handicapped child. I asked my mom, “Why is this child like that?” She said, “My love, you were born on the other side of this door but if you had been born out here you might be like that too.” During my whole life I have had the desire to help because I know that that child could have been me.  All my life I have carried this thought. Helping people however I can is my way. Nearly ten years ago I had a dream, where I saw a beautiful young woman who was full of light. I remember with her left hand she showed me a young child, a very tiny, skinny child. I saw this child and my heart was filled with suffering. Then she showed me a candle and said, “One candle, ten days of life for a hungry child.” A few days before I had met a lady who decorated candles with the dried petals of flowers. They were very lovely and they seemed easy to make. When I woke up I was full of desire to help put an end to suffering in Vietnam and everywhere. That aspiration was already in me, but now I had a plan. I realized my dream could help me relieve suffering through my work. At that time I was a physical therapist working in the hospital and clinic with terminally ill patients.

I began making the candles as my  friend showed me. One day our son came into our kitchen and he saw me making the candles. He said, “What are you doing, my love?” He was very gentle. I said, “My love, for Mother’s Day I want to sell one thousand candles.” He said, “You are doing it alone?” I said, “Yes, but it is February and I have a lot of time to do it.” But I didn’t really because I had a lot of other work to do also. He laughed because he has faith in what I do even if it seems impossible. I tried to do a little bit every day. After one month four people came to our house and when they saw what I was doing they were so happy and they wanted to help me. For Mother’s Day we had one thousand candles and I was so happy. A lot of people came to help, but I didn’t think about anything but that the children need our help. That was ten years ago. I think the presence of Thay, Sister Chan Khong and the Sangha was a catalyst for my dream.

We gave Sister Chan Khong the money we raised to help the children in Vietnam. Sister Chan Khong is a big master for me. After that she gave us information about needy children so that we could find sponsors for them. I also received inspiration and support from Sister Minh Tanh, the abbess of a big temple in Vietnam who takes care of many children there. Our Sangha in St. Etienne created an association called it “Le Coeur a Vivre,” or “The Heart to Live.” Two or three years later we began to help the homeless people and others in difficulty in our country, who were close to our homes. Our bodhicitta grew because we watered the seed of loving kindness in us. Mother Theresa was also always dear to me and an inspiration for our work.

How are you nourished by the social work now as a nun?

Sr. Giac Nghiem: Because of the desire I have to help I suffer a lot here. Why? Because I feel the world is so full of suffering. Everywhere someone is suffering. Not to help our children, parents, family and friends and to let go of my work at the hospital where all of my friends are dying slowly or not doing anything for the homeless people because I am here: all of this filled me with suffering. It was very difficult for me. One time I said to Thay, “My dear teacher you can imagine my suffering because you stay in France and you cannot return to your home monastery in Vietnam to give your support.” I know my dear Sister Chan Khong can understand me too, because she also knows the suffering of not being able to help at certain times. I did not know if I could stay in the monastery because my suffering of letting go of my children, my mother, my father, and my mother-in-law was so deep. I felt I have so many people to take care of and I suffered so much. But I became a nun to help, to become someone very solid who can really help everywhere, not to escape from my own suffering or the suffering of society and of the world.

Sister Chan Khong gave me children from Vietnam to take care of. She was watering my bodhicitta to help others. She let me know that when we spend a lot of energy to take care of children in Vietnam, we can release a part of our suffering in the world. That is why I accepted with great gratitude to take care of the hungry children projects for France, Belgium and a part of Switzerland. I enjoy very much taking care of these children, seeing their little faces with different expressions. I read the letters about the children. In December of 1999 there was a big flood in Vietnam and the city of Hue was under water. Sister Chan Khong came and gave me a lot of children to take care of who were crying and asking for help. Now we have many sponsors and we wait for more because we have so many children who need help. They are so in need. We really need help. For instance, a flood during August and September devastated so many homes.

Sometimes I stay up late working. But I feel close to the children. I take one child’s photo and I say to him or her, “You know, we have a sponsor for you now. My love, do you know you can sleep and dream very well now. Do you see me in your dream?” I smile to him and I enjoy sharing good news like that. Every time I find one sponsor I am happy for many days. I think about the family who has so much difficulty and the child who needs to go to school, to have something to eat and to learn. I think that one day that little child will become a strong, beautiful man or woman and he or she will already know the key of how to help other people.

Sister Giac Nghiem, Adornment with Awakening, ordained as a nun in 1999.  She is French and often goes out to lead Days of Mindfulness and retreats in France.


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A Letter from Sister True Emptiness

Dear Friend, For this Lunar New Year (February 1st , 2003) we send you our wishes of peace and joy and thank you for your practice which makes life become more compassionate and more beautiful. Because of your generosity we have been able to give thousands of donations as a gift for the Lunar New Year to starving families in Vietnam. Following are brief news from a few regions where assistance is being offered.

Central Vietnam Thua Thien and Quang Tri provinces: This is the poorest part of the country, small villages are scattered in dry mountains with no running water adn no electricity or toilets. Families live on cultivating small plots of land and have to carry water from the village well or the river to irrigate their crops. But this is not enough to feed them properly. Two nunneries under Sister Minh Tanh’s guidance contribute with seventeen social workers, trained by Thay. They cover forty villages and collaborate with local groups, including two parents, one local authority and one young person.

South Vietnam Lam Dong and Dong Nai provinces have fertile red soil. The young people marry early, have children having only a small hut they build themselves and try day to day to find work on the tea and coffee plantations. We have created nursery and kindergardens. Our donations help to buy rice, soy beans (to make soy milk) and vegetables for feeding the children at lunchtime and to pay the salary of the school teachers and assistants. Eight social workers cover thirty villages on the high lands and in the jungle.

Mekong Delta in Dong Thap, Cao Lanh, and Moc Hoa the soil is marshy but fertile. There is food (fish) but also sicknesses, snakes, and mosquitos. Special rice can be grown here when the water is 50 cm, but for five years floods have reached two meters high and stay for two months and a half. Humanitarian help has gone down since 11 September 2001 and many children have died. But all your contributions have arrived to help many of those out of work and starving families. Five social workers work together with local groups.


In North Vietnam Sister Dam Nguyen and twenty of her disciples visit poor families, typhoon victims and lepers.

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The Touching and Helping Programs in Vietnam


Touching and Helping Programs in Vietnam Sponsorship Form





Zip code                 Country                     Telephone                      


I wish to sponsor  (please circle and fill in appropriate lines):
~ for $6 a month or $72 a year
A preschool toddler in a daycare center or a 5-yr-old child in kindergarden to receive 2 cups of milk and lunch every day at school ____boy(s) ____ girl(s)
A young college student ____boy(s) ____girl(s) or a destitute elderly or handicapped person ____male(s)        ____female(s)

~ for $25 a month or $300 a year
A teacher(s) going to remote rural areas to teach children in kindergarten through grade school levels (ages 5-12) ____a teenager(s) to receive vocational training in traditional Vietnamese crafts: woodworking, embroidery, tailoring, carpentry, mechanics and electricity ____boy(s) ____ girl(s)

~ donation amount _______(specified by you)
Sponsor development programs in rural areas to build schools, build bridges, plant trees, dig wells, and make roads Support victims of monsoon floods and natural catastrophies to receive medical support and food and blankets

Please make your check payable to Unified Buddhist Church, a non-profit organization.

All money will be given to the persons who need help. No charge is deducted for administrative costs. Please send to or for more information contact Touching and Helping Committees
Europe: Plum Village, 13 Martineau 33580 Dieulivol, France
East Coast USA: Green Mountain Dharma Center Box 182 , Hartland-Four-Corners, VT 05049
West Coast USA: Deer Park Monastery, 2499 Melru Lane, Escondido, CA 92026

You are helping many people to lessen their hunger, to feel the love of humanity and to improve their lives. This act will continue its way to strengthen hope, understanding and compassion in each of us. Our way of living and relating to the world in the present is the base for social changes. We look forward to receiving support from you.

A lotus for you, Sister Chan Khong (True Emptiness) and the Touching and Helping Committees

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Loving the Whole

Reflections on Touching the Earth

Leslie  Rawls

Mist drifted across the Pacific mountain meadow as Sister Chan Khong’s voice guided several hundred retreatants in the practice of Touching the Earth beneath towering redwoods. It was 1993 and my first encounter with a practice I came to treasure: The Five Touchings of the Earth. This beautiful practice has transformed my ability to offer love and understanding to myself and others in ways I never dreamed possible.


Touching the Earth involves two parts: a guided meditation and a yogic posture of physical prostrations. The prostrations are a kneeling bow with your forehead on the floor, hands alongside your head. The physical prostrations deepen and enrich the practice for  me,  but  in  our Sangha and on our small retreats, I invite people who are not comfortable with the postures — for physical or other reasons — to experience the practice as a guided sitting meditation.

We begin in a standing posture and practice mindful breathing to center ourselves for a few breaths. “Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.” Then, we begin the guided meditation portion of the practice by focusing our attention on a different aspect within us for each touching, and standing with this awareness for a few moments before we move into full prostrations and continue the meditative focus. In my experience, even those who begin with some skepticism taste a deeply moving connection and wholeness through this practice. It may help to schedule time so the touchings are followed by Noble Silence or sitting meditation in order to allow each practitioner to absorb the experience.

In the first three prostrations, we touch our roots – first the roots of our blood ancestors in ourselves, then the roots of our spiritual ancestors, and finally the roots of our land ancestors. In the last two touchings, we send the positive energy of our ancestors, first to those we love – including ourselves – and finally, to those who we believe have caused us harm.

Each of the first three touchings presents both joy and challenge. For example, part of my blood ancestry is deeply rooted in the American South.  I descended from people who moved from Massachusetts in the mid-1700s. It is possible this white branch of my ancestors participated in slavery; I know they fought in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War.  Of course, I do not defend or condone the cruelty and degradation of slavery, bigotry and hatred, but these things are present in my blood ancestry. In Touching the Earth, I accept and acknowledge both the beauties of my ancestry and this shameful heritage, so that I can undertake to transform it in my life. This practice connects me in a loving way with both the positive and the negative aspects of all my ancestors. I see they suffered and I see how their suffering spilled over to others, including me. With this acceptance I am ready to transform the suffering and to cultivate the positive qualities of my ancestors in my own life.

Touching our Ancestors

The first touching invites us to connect with our blood ancestors, recent and ancient. I have long seen my late father when I looked in the mirror or at my hands. But this practice invites me to touch him in a completely different way – not to see myself as a finished person with a physical resemblance, but to find my father directly in every cell of my body, in my breath, in my entire being. In Touching the Earth, I experience the truth that I am part of the stream of life, not a finished product that stands alone.

Some people feel a lot of pain around their blood family. This first touching can help heal that pain, but for a few of us, the pain is so strong that it is extremely difficult to touch our parents’ presence in us this way. When our parents were physically or sexually abusive, a gentler approach may allow our awareness of this root to unfold more slowly and lovingly. Perhaps it is best to skip a generation or choose another relative to focus on as we begin to take up this practice. We could touch our grandparents or an aunt of uncle who offered us love. If even this approach is not possible, the practitioner may try to connect with themselves as small children, and slowly move into awareness of our blood relatives as children rather than as adults who frightened, shamed and hurt us.

Touching my second root – my spiritual ancestors – I connect with many teachings of love and compassion. Throughout my life, I have been blessed by connecting with beautiful, living spiritual teachers. I am fortunate that my childhood church focused on love and service to others. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” These were my first lessons in treating others with love and respect, taught both in my home and in the church. Very specific faces come into my mind as I touch my spiritual roots – faces of people I have known, loved, and respected. Some are people who are in a teaching position with respect to me – Thay, my church ministers, Sunday School teachers, and so forth. Some are more my peers – my Order of Interbeing brothers and sisters, my Sangha-mates here in North Carolina, my friends in many other spiritual practices. Some people lived before my time or are strangers to me – Martin Luther King Jr., Mary Magdalene, Abraham’s wife Sarah, Meher Baba, and so forth. Some are even children. And my spirituality is deeply rooted in what I have learned from all of them, and they are each part of the spiritual energy of my daily life.

Thay has encouraged us to recognize that perhaps those who taught us in our root spiritual tradition made mistakes, that they were not always able to transmit the teachings well. In this touching, we are encouraged to forgive this very human limitation and see the positive qualities offered by these ancestors, transmitted in the teachings that have nourished us. As we reach back through the stream to see our connection to spiritual teachers from earlier times, we connect with the spirit of love and compassion, the heart of the teachings transmitted to us. We see these teachings as present in our teachers and through them, in us. These ancestors touch us not through our blood, but through our tender hearts.


The third touching brings us in contact with our land ancestors – those who built our homes and schools, those who help feed us, and so forth. I always feel enormous gratitude in this touching. While I find the American Confederacy in my blood family, here I connect with the slaves of the American South and recognize how much they are part of me, and I am grateful. I see my friends and colleagues who work to preserve the Earth and its bountiful life. I am aware of the many hands that work to put food on my table and nourish me. I see the migrant farmworkers who pick the fruits and vegetables. I remember that many of them are children. In my touching, I feel deep gratitude for their efforts. I know that I have been nourished by their sweat and their tears, as well as the fruits of their labor. I see the hands of the farmworkers in the food I eat and also, in my whole being. Truly, they are me and I am them.

Reaching Out

When we connect deeply with these three roots, our hearts brim with the loving, wholesome qualities of each. We naturally begin to reach out, and with the fourth touching, we consciously share this energy with those we love. Sister Chan Khong adds “including my own small self,” when she leads this meditation. It’s a beautiful reminder that we need the love, too, and in my experience, an important part of this fourth touching.

A curious aspect of the fourth touching is that we may find ourselves sending love to ancestors we touched in one or more of the first three prostrations. My mother is present in this touching as well as each of the three earlier touchings. The “stream” becomes circular and our interconnectedness even more apparent and beautiful.

Some people like to add another touching, in the spirit of the metta meditations, and send this energy to one for whom we have neutral feelings. This can be a very powerful method to transform neutral feelings into positive, loving ones. What a wonderful way to enhance our daily interactions and promote peace in the world.

As many of us might expect, the last touching can be the trickiest: offering wholesome, loving energy to one who has caused us harm. But the more we work with this practice, the more spacious our hearts become and the better able we are to offer love to even this difficult person. In her book, Learning True Love, Sister Chan Khong writes of difficulty with a bureaucrat when she was working with the School of Youth for Social Services in Vietnam. She tells of reminding herself that even he was a “buddha-to-be,” although, she says, “a difficult buddha-to-be.” I smiled when I read this the first time, knowing that I had encountered my own “difficult buddhas-to-be” and even been one myself, no doubt. It’s a true and useful reminder that perhaps can help us defuse anger or frustration we might feel toward someone with whom we experience difficult relations. Thinking of him or her as a buddha-to-be, though perhaps a difficult one, can help our hearts begin to open wide enough to include this person.

Over time, as our practice deepens, we clearly experience ourselves as part of the stream of ancestors, and we see that others, even those who have caused us great harm, are also part of a stream. While we may still choose not to put ourselves in a dangerous situation or remain in a situation that is toxic to us, through this fifth touching, our hearts can become as vast as the ocean and we are better able to offer love completely and unconditionally, even to those who have caused us harm.

Encountering  Difficulties

I am aware that Touching the Earth practice is sometimes difficult when our suffering is great or intimately associated with our direct ancestors. For example, it can be a tremendous challenge for people who were abused as children by someone they loved and trusted. Practicing with a group of supportive friends – a Sangha – can help somewhat in this regard, even when the other folks don’t know our specific difficulty. Two other perspectives may help. Thay suggests that we see our mother and father as innocent children, and recognize that they too suffered. Sister Chan Khong has offered the image of our parents as young men and women full of love, hope, and promise. Both of these gentle approaches help open our hearts to those whose suffering has spilled over and hurt us so deeply, whether our parents or another person.

Loving my Children

One of the most valuable gifts of this practice has been its power in my relationship with my children. I have beautiful, wonderful children, and we are not biologically related. My husband and I adopted our children when they were babies. When I first touched the earth in that Pacific mountain meadow, I knew this was a practice I wanted to share with my beloved children. At the same time, I wondered where I would fit into their touchings if they took up the practice.

I learned that some people include adoptive parents in the blood family touching. While this may work for some people, it feels unsuitable to me. At one time or another, an adoptive parent is likely to wish that their precious child was also their biological child. Our love for our children is so strong, so woven into the fabric of our beings that the wish naturally arises. To include myself in the blood family touching seems to encourage this fantasy, which I do not find beneficial. Eventually, I realized that if my children pick up this practice, I might belong in their spiritual family. Each time I touch my own spiritual family, I begin with “the one who first taught me to love” – my mother – so seeing myself in this touching for my children was a natural extension.

But my own practice of Touching the Earth gave me another, unexpected benefit with regard to my children. As I came in closer and more loving contact with my own ancestors, I began to see the presence of ancestors in people around me, including my children. I began to see that my children’s biological parents are in every cell of their body, in their movements, in the light of their eyes and the bells of their laughter. Immense gratitude wells up in me for the gift of life that these people gave to my children.

I cannot imagine loving anyone or anything more than I love my children. Thanks to the practice of Touching the Earth, I love them wholly. I can touch their biological parents present in them and offer love and acceptance to this aspect of their being. Through this practice, I have become capable of loving my children as whole beings.

Like all our practices, each person’s experience with Touching the Earth will differ. The truth is found in our own experience, not in duplicating the experiences of others. I love this practice enough to want to share it. In my experience, it is a doorway through which we can experience wholly – holy – love and offer it to others.


Leslie Rawls, True Realm of Awakening, lives with her family in Charlotte, North Carolina. She practices with the Charlotte Community of Mindfulness, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary. She is an appellate lawyer, and teaches mindfulness meditation in workshops, retreats, and prisons. Leslie was the editor of the Mindfulness Bell from 1997 to 2000.

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The Five Touchings of the Earth

Developed by Sister Chan Khong and the extended Plum Village Community

The following text can be used as a guided  meditation, which can be read by one member of your Sangha while others practice touching the earth. Or if you are practicing alone you may like to record the text and listen to it on a tape. As Leslie Rawls mentioned you may practice in the touching the earth position (either in the Tibetan style prostration in which your whole body is stretched out face down or the child pose like in the photograph on this page) or sitting up. Over time as you become familiar with the essence of the practice you may create your own text and words that touch your particular situation. The practice should be relaxing, nourishing and beneficial. Enjoy!



In gratitude, I bow to all generations of ancestors in my blood family. (BELL) (TOUCH THE EARTH)

I see my mother and father, whose blood, flesh and vitality are circulating in my own veins and nourishing every cell in me. Through them, I see my four grandparents. Their expectations, experiences, and wisdom have been transmitted from so many generations of ancestors. I carry in me the life, blood, experience, wisdom, happiness and sorrow of all generations. The suffering and all the elements that need to be transformed, I am practicing to transform. I open my heart, flesh and bones to receive the energy of insight, love, and experience transmitted to me by all my ancestors. I see my roots in my father, mother, grandfathers, grandmothers and all my ancestors. I know I am only the continuation of this ancestral lineage. Please support, protect and transmit to me your energy. I know wherever children and grandchildren are, ancestors are there, also. I know that parents always love and support their children and grandchildren, although they are not always able to express it skillfully because of difficulties they themselves encountered. I see that my ancestors tried to build a way of life based on gratitude, joy, confidence, respect, and loving-kindness. As a continuation of my ancestors, I bow deeply and allow their energy to flow through me. I ask my ancestors for their support, protection, and strength.

In gratitude, I bow to all generations of ancestors in my spiritual family. (BELL) (TOUCH THE EARTH)

I see in myself my teachers, the ones who show me the way of love and understanding, the way to breathe, smile, forgive,and live deeply in the present moment. I see through my teachers all teachers over many generations and traditions, going back to the ones who began my spiritual family thousands of years ago. I see the Buddha or Jesus Christ or the patriarchs and matriarchs as my teachers, and also as my spiritual ancestors. I see that their energy and that of many generations of teachers has entered me and is creating peace, joy, understanding, and loving-kindness in me. I know that the energy of these teachers has deeply transformed the world. Without the Buddha and all these spiritual ancestors, I would not know the way to practice to bring peace and happiness into my life and into the lives of my family and society. I open my heart and my body to receive the energy of understanding, loving-kindness, and protection from the Awakened Ones, their teachings, and the community of practice over many generations. I am their continuation. I ask these spiritual ancestors to transmit to me their infinite source of energy, peace, stability, understanding and love. I vow to practice to transform the suffering in myself and the world, and to transmit their energy to future generations of practitioners. My spiritual ancestors may have had their own difficulties and not always been able to transmit the teachings, but I accept them as they are.


In gratitude, I bow to this land and all of the ancestors who made it available. (BELL) (TOUCH THE EARTH)

(Substitute the names of ancestors appropriate for the country in which you are practicing)

I see that I am whole, protected, and nourished by this land and all the living beings who have been here and made life easy and possible for me through all their efforts. I see George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr, and all the others known and unknown. I see all those who have made this country a refuge for people of so many origins and colors, by their talent, perseverance, and love – those who have worked hard to build schools, hospitals, bridges, and roads, and to protect human rights, to develop science and technology, and to fight for freedom and social justice. I see myself touching my ancestors of Native American origin who have lived on this land for such a long time and known the ways to live in peace and harmony with nature, protecting the mountains, forests, animals, vegetation and minerals of this land. I feel the energy of this land penetrating my body and soul, supporting and accepting me. I vow to cultivate and maintain this energy and transmit it to future generations. I vow to contribute my part in transforming violence, hatred and delusion that still lie deep in the collective consciousness of this society so that future generations will have more safety, joy and peace. I ask this land for its protection and support.

In gratitude and compassion, I bow down and transmit my energy to those I love. (BELL) (TOUCH THE EARTH)

All the energy I have received I now want to transmit to my father, my mother, everyone I love, all who have suffered and worried because of me and for my sake. I know I have not been mindful enough in my daily life. I also know that those who love me have had their own difficulties. They have suffered because they were not lucky enough to have an environment that encouraged their full development. I transmit my energy to my mother, my father, my brothers, my sisters, my beloved ones, my husband, my wife, my daughter, and my son, so that their pain will be relieved, so they can smile and feel the joy of being alive. I want all of them to be healthy and joyful. I know that when they are happy, I will also be happy. I no longer feel resentment towards any of them. I pray that all ancestors in my blood and spiritual families will focus their energies toward each of them, to protect and support them. I know that I am not separate from them. I am one with those I love.


In understanding and compassion, I bow down to reconcile myself with all those who have made me suffer. (BELL) (TOUCH THE EARTH)

I open my heart and send forth my energy of love and understanding to everyone who has made me suffer, to those who have destroyed much of my life and the lives of those I love. I know now that these people have themselves undergone a lot of suffering and that their hearts are overloaded with pain, anger, and hatred. I know that anyone who suffers that much will make those around him or her suffer. I know they may have been unlucky, never having the chance to be cared for and loved. Life and society have dealt them so many hardships. They have been wronged and abused. They have not been guided in the path of mindful living. They have accumulated wrong perceptions about life, about me, and about us. They have wronged us and the people we love. I pray to my ancestors in my blood and spiritual families to channel to these persons who have made us suffer the energy of love and protection, so that their hearts will be able to receive the nectar of love and blossom like a flower. I pray that they can be transformed to experience the joy of living, so that they will not continue to make themselves and others suffer. I see their suffering and do not want to hold any feelings of hatred or anger in myself toward them. I do not want them to suffer. I channel my energy of love and understanding to them and ask all my ancestors to help them.


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Drinking Tea

Savitri  Tsering

There are times in my day that my actions are like ritual moments that help me remember to come back to the present moment. Some of those critical times are when I ride my bike to and from work, when I go for a walk at lunchtime and, most important to me, the time in the morning when I sit and drink tea with my partner, Tsering.

At our house we serve Indian sweet tea – now well known throughout the world as chai. Drinking chai became a habit of ours prior to our meeting. Tsering grew up in India and he has done this since childhood.


And I have had chai drinking come in and out of my life since my first trip to India in 1984. Most anyone you meet who has traveled a while in India will tell you of significant moments they have spent over a hot cup of chai. Most likely they were sitting inside a shop which resembled a large hole in the wall, sitting with locals, breathing in the steam and holding the hot cup as though for a moment one held in their hands the nectar of the gods.

When Tsering and I get ready to go to work in the morning, making the tea is an integral part of our preparation to leave the house. When I come to my cup of chai, often I am behind schedule and need to head off to work shortly after. Our time drinking together is very important to both of us. If one of us has the day off we still get up to drink tea together before the other has to leave. Sometimes when I have to leave very early in the morning to go to a meeting in Milwaukee, I will make the tea and then go up to our bed and sit and drink it while Tsering sleeps.

When the tea is ready, one of us brings it to the table – the location of where we sit varies with the season. And for some time the tea sits. Steaming hot, cooling and letting us know the moment to drink is coming soon. When I am able to take the tea in my hand, there is a shift in my consciousness. I become more present. I become more aligned.

I feel the treasured jewel of life and the present moment in my hand. I feel the warm cup and the heat of the hot liquid enter into my body through my hands. This warmth spreads and touches my whole being, bringing me in contact with the joy and realization that I am here again, another day. Lucky to have the chance to sit and drink tea, lucky to have this moment of quiet and rest before I head out into the world.

The knowledge of impermanence sits with me too, holding this warm cup. I become aware that time passes, that my dear Tsering sitting next to me won’t always be here as he is today. That thought makes me pause and look at him with the great love I have for him and appreciate the fact that for this moment, this day, he is here and I can touch that.

I know, holding the cup in my hand, that I cannot stop the pace of time – soon the cup will be empty and I will need to go.

That this moment, even though it is treasured, cannot be clung to and that circumstances in the future may prevent me from being able to enjoy this pleasure in the future.

In this cup, I can find the whole universe. The cup of tea puts me in contact with the world – tea plantations far away, spices grown in other countries, milk from cows in Wisconsin.

In the cup I hold are the friends and family I have shared  cups of tea with before; in the cup I hold are friends I have drunk tea with that have moved or passed away; in this cup there is sunshine, blue sky and earth.

When I drink the tea, I can know that I am not alone. Most times I am with my partner and that is dear to me. But there are countless people from countries all around the world drinking tea too, finding a moment to sit and drink. There are countless others coming in contact with a hot cup of warmth that soothes something deep inside of them, something that needs comfort and warmth, something that provides them with nurturing during a difficult moment or during a quiet time.

This tea drinking is so important to Tsering and me that when we travel to visit family, we take what we need to make our tea. We have purchased tea for other family members so they can drink it too. We have created a recipe so that it can be repeated in the same manner that we do each morning. When we traveled to Spain our tea and cups came with us. When we go camping our tea and cups join us. Perhaps it is symbolic of our intention to bring ourselves fully into our lives. I am not sure. It could just be a warm and cozy habit.

As I sip the tea, I feel the joining of my mind and body. I am here with the tea. The tea and I inter-are. The tea, Tsering and I inter-are. Our lives and the lives of others in that moment interare. We are touching the miracle of life in that moment.


We talk about our day ahead. We talk of friends and family. We talk of hopes and dreams. We sip our tea. We feel the warmth. We hold the present in our hands. We sit in silence. We sit with the slurping noise. The sound of blowing, cooling the hot liquid and the sip, sip, sip. We note the color of the leaves outside, the squirrel running up the tree.

When the cup is empty I feel satisfied and ready. I feel grateful and full. I have appreciated this encounter and can move into the next moment with peace and satisfaction. I vow not to leave myself behind. Body, mind and spirit are one, moving into my day.

Savitri Tsering shares, “I have been part of SnowFlower Sangha in Madison Wisconsin since its beginning. I work in the area of public health.  I greatly appreciate the deep feeling of connection and community that Sangha gives to our lives.”

Two Recipes for Chai

Savitri’s Chai:

We use tea that is available at most Indian food stores. Buy Brooks Red Label tea and Lipton’s Green Label tea. Mix together in 1 to 1 proportion. For the spices, we usually use cardamom but you can use also use ginger, cinnamon sticks or ground cloves, in any combination.

For 3 cups of chai:

5 green cardamom pods 1 1/3 cups of water,
teaspoons tea mixture<
green cardamom pods (ground with a mortar and pestle) Boil the tea and Add 1 2/3 cups of milk (at least 2% milk, for a real delight use whole milk organic milk is best).

Bring to a boil again. In Indian chai stalls they let it come to a boil, lower the heat, boil again three times.

Add sugar to taste. And drink with joy!

Helena’s Chai:

2 cups water
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon black tea
1/2 teaspoon descoriated cardomon seeds, or 10 green with skin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper corns 1 thin slice ginger root
1 stick cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
optional: pinch garam masala, or 1 teaspoon fennel seeds

Add spices to the water in saucepan over a moderate heat until it comes to a boil. Allow this to slowly boil for about 5 minutes. Add the milk to the saucepan and bring back to a slow boil. When mixture begins to boil, lower the heat and allow it to simmer for a few minutes to reduce the volume by 1/3 and condense the milk. Remove from the heat and add the tea, let this steep 3-4 minutes and strain. Sweeten to taste.

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Ask The Dharmacharya

mb33-Ask1What does being a Dharmacharya mean to me?

Joanne Friday  and  Ernestine Enomoto

So far, it has meant a time of deep reflection and practicing don’t-know mind. Sangha building has been my main focus for the last ten years. During that process, there were times when I was attached to outcomes and things were not going as I’d hoped or thought they should. I had no idea what to do.  At each of those junctures I’d realize that all I could do was deepen my practice by doing beginning anew for myself, seeking out teachers, being more mindful, etc. It was almost miraculous how the problems would work themselves out when I would take care of my own business. So first, I look at the transmission to be an invitation to deepen my practice.

With the invitation to receive the lamp transmission came many teachings. Initially, I felt unworthy – that a mistake had been made. I knew how imperfect my practice was. Then I realized that Thay and the monastics and my Sangha brothers and sisters knew that too. The fact that I was loved and accepted as I was, and that I was being trusted to do my best, was tremendously healing for me.

My habit energy would normally cause me to lack confidence and be fearful. However, almost immediately I experienced a deep sense of non-self, which led to non-fear and deep gratitude. I knew this ordination was not about “me,” it was about all of my non-self elements. When I considered that Thay, the fourfold Sangha, all my ancestors and friends were alive in every cell of my body, it was unthinkable to feel not good enough or fearful. To be a Dharma teacher seems a huge responsibility, but not a heavy burden because “I” am not doing it. The one who bows and the one who is bowed to are both empty! When I think of how incredibly fortunate I am to have had all these wonderful teachers and teachings become part of me, the gratitude is almost too much to hold.

I have learned how strong our Sangha is. That has been my deepest happiness. Everyone has been the embodiment of sympathetic joy and has supported me in every way. Two members even came to France to be my attendants. While we were there, the other members worked together to organize and facilitate all the Sangha meetings. It was clear that there was no them and no me and that we were receiving the transmission.

It has been easy for me to see how much I don’t know. In order to practice compassion for myself, I have also looked at what I do know. The main thing that I know is that I have come from a place of deep suffering and that by practicing, I have been able to transform my suffering into joy. I have complete confidence in the practice, based on what I know is true from my own experience. So overall, when I look deeply, what it has meant so far is a deepened confidence in the Three Jewels, a new understanding of emptiness, and a wonderful opportunity and invitation to deepen my practice.

Part of the gatha Thay offered me is “All gifts will be given and received without attachment… You meet all beings with love and compassion.” That seems to me to be a wonderful assignment. My Dharma name is True Gift of Joy. In Vietnamese there are a number of different words for gift. The one in my name means a gift given with no expectation of anything in return. I feel that that is how the Dharma has been given to me. It has been a true gift of joy. My deepest aspiration is to be able to pass it on.

Joanne Friday, Chan Lac Thi, True Gift of Joy, practices with the Clear Heart Sangha in Matunuck, RI.

mb33-Ask2It’s Tuesday evening and instead of being at Sangha as usual, I am home in bed with stomach flu. In nearly four and a half years of steady attendance at our Tuesday evening sits, I am missing my second Sangha meeting this year. So what does this have to do with being a Dharma teacher?

For me, the message is to let go and allow Sangha members to lead the evening as they have done so wonderfully in the past when I was unable to attend. It means stepping aside and nurturing from the sidelines, rather than from the front and center. It means acknowledging the maturing of members who have been coming regularly over these past four years and are now assuming leadership roles.

It was only last fall that we decided to meet weekly as a Sangha, rather than twice a month. To take this step, I needed to trust in the maturity of the Sangha. Becoming a Dharma teacher has meant acknowledging the collective wisdom of the greater Sangha body. We trust that together we can learn, grow, mature, and unfold like the petals of the lotus bud. Individually, we need to put stock in that trust and know that if we take care of our part, the rest will unfold.

An example of this occurred during my travels to Plum Village in January to be ordained. I live in Honolulu, Hawaii, where we enjoy a mild tropical climate year round. The temperature hovers between seventy and eighty degrees Fahrenheit. Knowing how cold it can get in Plum Village, even in May and early June, I found daunting the prospect of flying to France at the beginning of January even for an ordination ceremony to become a Dharma Teacher. I also would need warm clothing that I do not possess. Prior to my departure, one of our Sangha members, Wilma, offered advice based on her years of traveling in cold places like Tibet and Nepal. She loaned me a cap, scarf, gloves, and a couple of sweaters to keep me warm. But the need still seemed somewhat unreal when sitting in eighty-degree weather.

I departed for France on January fifth, a balmy Sunday evening in Honolulu, flying to San Francisco and then on to Paris. The connection to Bordeaux was tight and although I made it, my luggage did not. As we later learned, a snowstorm had blanketed Paris days before, delaying air and other traffic. Fortunately I met others bound for Plum Village – Terry, Patrick, and Travis from Parallax Press, all standing in line to claim lost luggage at the Bordeaux airport. We would not see our luggage for the entire ten days that we were in France!

I arrived at the Lower Hamlet of Plum Village with only a backpack, some toiletries, and an extra-large t-shirt. Not only was I tired and jet lagged but I had no warm clothing. Feelings of upset, anxiety, and worry arose; the practice of mindfulness allowed me to return to the present moment. I let go and asked for help. Terry from California gave me a pair of long underwear and an extra washcloth. Elizabeth from Boston loaned me a lovely silk undershirt and underwear. Sister Eleni collected a coat, some sweaters, pullovers, and woolen socks from the Plum Village clothing stockpile for me. Joanne and Richard from Providence gave me a green down vest to wear under the coat. Soon I was layered and warm. Had my luggage arrived as planned, I would have frozen because my Hawaiian wardrobe was inadequate for the cold weather. I might not have asked for help. Letting go and trusting the Sangha, I was able to stay warm.

My luggage was finally delivered to Upper Hamlet on the afternoon of January fifteenth, after I had departed for Bordeaux. Fortunately friends Feifei and Brandon delivered the luggage to the airport the next morning in time for my departure. This story reminds me to trust the Sangha and release my worries about how I sometimes think life should be, and instead enjoy life as it truly is -miraculous, wondrous and ever changing. I suspect that becoming a Dharma Teacher will continue to evolve in that way.

Ernestine Enomoto, True Mindfulness of Peace, practices with the Honolulu Mindfulness Community in Hawaii. Each month, she leads Days of Mindfulness with walks along a white sandy beach.

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Shooting Stars

A Children’s Well-Being Radio Show
David M. Nelson

“Living your dream,
not somebody else’s.
Instead of reaching for the
stars, be one.
We are still growing.
Enjoy life because it doesn’t
happen twice.
The hopes and dreams to be
someone, to shine and go
somewhere unimaginable –
We are stars because we
shine bright.
After we are born, we keep
going and going until we
can’t go anymore.
Be happy and glad you are
School children’s responses to what it means to be a shooting star.


A couple of weeks before I attended the UC San Diego retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh and the Sangha, I looked up into the clear, dark and expansive high-desert sky of northern Arizona, where I live, and saw a memorable shooting star. In that moment an opportunity to share mindfulness to children flowered in me.

Every year, as a public health and nutrition educator for the U.S. Indian Health Service, I write songs about being healthy, taking care of ourselves and enjoying this life, to bring into local Hopi and Navajo Reservation classrooms. Over the years many schoolchildren have sung my songs about mindful consumption, right speech and effort; with titles such as We’ll be eating lots of Good Food, the Fat Cat and Skinny Little Lizard, and (I Get Up on the) Bright Side of the Bed. Sighting the star watered a creative seed in me for a new song to sing with school children and adults. I shared the song with my San Diego retreat Dharma discussion group.

After the retreat, I assembled a group of children and adults to record the song, which was aired on the Hopi Reservation’s public radio station, KUYI. I am a volunteer at the station, developing life-affirming public service announcements and playing inspirational music. From my work there and the inspiration from this song, a new show emerged, focusing on a children’s well-being, entitled Shooting Stars. Each day on the show we encourage children of all ages to enjoy life’s journey, be happy, flow with inevitable changes, let go of anger, and continually exercise their power to grow – physically, mentally and spiritually. Broadcast from seven to eight am since the first week of October 2001, listener-ship extends across the Hopi and Navajo Reservations and to nearby border cities including Flagstaff and Williams, AZ. The show is underwritten financially by local businesses and the Hopi Foundation.

Each episode includes children’s songs, stories and lessons from both well-known and local contributors. I’ve recorded local singers, authors, educators, elders, parents and Hopi Health Care Center’s staff. Key to the show’s success is having local children and elders share their beauty and wisdom. Listeners are encouraged to mindfully overcome socio-economic disadvantages and high risks of health problems with laughter and finding inner peace and knowledge about what is going on around them. Love and support from family, friends and other indigenous role models is promoted.

With respect and sensitivity to the Hopi’s and Navajo’s distinct religions, which many missionaries have tried to take away since coming to America, reference to the Buddha is minimized. Hopi language & tradition is promoted with lessons from the Cultural Preservation Office and other tribal leaders. Through ancient tales from many tribes including Hopi, Navajo, Cherokee, Apache, Lushootseed, Tulalip and Assiniboin, legends describe why nature, people and animals are they way they are. Life’s pitfalls are learned through the clowns and tricksters, such as coyote and Inktomi.  Children learn indigenous paths, such as how songs and stories are true medicines as important as herbs and prayer. Tales from Occidental culture are also included, such as Aesop’s fables, Mother Goose, Sesame Street, Dr. Seuss, Irish fairy tales, and Italian/Sicilian stories of connecting our known world with the unknown.

Excerpts of Thay’s dharma talks for children are included, as are stories and lessons about the Dharma from many teachers of Engaged Buddhism. Excerpts of Thay’s writings from A Pebble for your Pocket, Under the Rose Apple Tree, Each Breath a Smile, and Peace is Every Step are read by myself and others. Listeners are exposed to the healing practices of positive seed watering, stopping and being in the here and now, and creating and using a breathing space to come back to our true home.

While the show explores and promotes the wonders and joys of this life, sources of pain and suffering are not ignored. Stories told by those with handicaps or physical impairments, children of alcoholics and those who have been abused have been sensitively told on the air. In this way sources of suffering are named, allowing a healing light to shine on them. Children are encouraged to have compassion and find forgiveness for themselves and others through practices such as Beginning Anew. Health issues such as diet, exercise, teeth brushing, hand washing, and wearing seatbelts are shared by doctors, nurses, and other health workers. Shooting Stars’ intention is to shine a positive light on life.

Through Thay’s inspiration and the accessibility of his teachings, I have had an opportunity to share the practice of mindfulness and being peace with children of all ages in my community. These beautiful lessons will continue to live on through the airwaves, up to the stars and beyond.

Shooting Stars

We are shooting stars on a new moon sky,
on a real dark sky, we are shooting stars.
See us twinkle and shine as we drift by.
As we swiftly drift by, see us twinkle and shine.
At this moment we are young,
but watch us grow into wise elders.
Brother, sister you are a shooting star,
a shining, shooting star just like me.
At this moment I am glad.
At this moment nothing is sad.
At this moment I’m not mad.
At this moment I’m completely glad to be alive.
We are shooting stars…

David M. Nelson, Compassionate Guidance of the Heart, shares, “I attend the local Flagstaff, AZ sangha, monthly. I have spent my adult life teaching others to be well and happy.”

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Apple Meditation

Adam  Bernstein

I lead a jazz department at a private school in Brooklyn, New York.  Our school is very overcrowded and the atmosphere is often tense. The students and faculty often speak of the tension and when an opportunity to slow down occurs, we all    benefit.

I have just begun my fifth year at the school and have always used mindfulness practice as a part of my teaching. Every year I’ve led meditation workshops for the students (grades 7 – 12) and many of them claim to enjoy it. They have interesting questions about spiritual life and they seem to be searching for a way to be more at home within themselves.

Recently I’ve begun to sound the bell in almost all my classes. I explain that this is a time to come back to ourselves, to relax and focus. I tell the students it is a time to enjoy doing nothing. That is a real surprise to them — I want them to do nothing! We breathe together for a few breaths and it never fails to settle all of us down. It’s very helpful to the spirit of the class and often there is a light humorous feeling. Many of the students think I’m a bit loony but I don’t mind. It’s true, I am.

Our school decided to have a Peace One Day assembly in solidarity with the program endorsed by the United Nations. I was asked to lead a short meditation so I decided to offer an apple eating meditation. We bought 600 organic Gala apples from the local food co-op. We really enjoyed washing them! We passed them out at the assembly and I spoke about mindful eating. The students and faculty were happy to be doing something so unusual and were very attentive to their apple. When I told them to take the first bite, a loud crunch sounded and all 600 of us began laughing. Everyone remembers that assembly to this day.


I have much gratitude for the practice and feel genuine happiness sharing it with my students and co-workers.

Adam Bernstein, Radiant Joy of the Heart.

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My Mind is a Stage

Introducing Mindfulness to High School Students and Teachers

Richard  Brady

I grew up on Chicago’s Northshore, the area which, I later learned, had the highest teenage suicide rate in the country at the time. My own high school years were uneventful, but my younger brother’s were very troubled. I suspect that this was a major reason why I chose to devote my life to working with teenagers. After teaching high school mathematics for thirty years, I realized that there was something more I needed to do with my life. I took a year off to discover what that might be. Only a few weeks after receiving a leave of absence I found out what it was. My friend Sue Anne called to tell me about the tensions the students and teachers were experiencing in the schools in her area. “Someone should teach them meditation,” I heard myself reply. It immediately dawned on me, I was that someone.


The following is an account of this teaching and some of its outcomes.

Whether or not you are a teacher, if you would like to share mindfulness practice with others, you may be able to use some of my ideas. Perhaps you can share them with teachers you know.

During the last three years I have been given a number of opportunities to introduce mindfulness practice to students and teachers in my Quaker high school as well as to student and faculty groups in other private and public high schools. I usually advertise my presentations under the banner of stress reduction, since this is a fairly widespread issue for both high school students and faculty. Underlying these presentations are the following premises: high school students and their teachers are seldom aware of how their minds work. When given the opportunity to examine their minds, they enjoy doing so. The experience will in many cases reveal sources of stress which meditation can alleviate.

An Experiment in Awareness

I have presented a forty-five minute assembly to my entire high school and a workshop of similar length to high school faculty members in two other schools. In each case I have begun by suggesting that our minds play a significant role in our wellbeing. I then lead an exercise to give people an understanding of how this may be. “When I talk about mind,” I say, “I am talking about awareness.” It helps people to think of their awareness as a stage. On that stage a variety of things make an appearance: thoughts, feelings, perceptions, physical sensations. I tell the group that we will conduct a short experiment and watch what is playing on our personal stages. After the group gets comfortable, I ask them to close their eyes and tune in to whatever may be on their stage of awareness. I ask them simply to try to watch whatever thoughts, feelings, perceptions and sensations arise during the next few minutes, observing them, but not getting carried away by them.

After five minutes I invite a bell and ask people to slowly open their eyes. Then I ask for a show of hands to a series of questions. How many of you were aware of physical sensations: sounds, smells, tastes, your contact with your seat, your heartbeat, your breathing, your feet, your mouth, you hair? How many of you were aware of emotions or thoughts? More than one thought? More than five? More than ten? How many of you saw a thought arise, a thought end? These are very intriguing questions for many of the participants. Returning to feelings, I ask how many people experienced negative feelings, neutral feelings, positive feelings, then negative thoughts, neutral ones, positive ones. Focusing on the negative feelings and thoughts, I ask how many had to do with things that have already happened, things we are upset or guilty about. Usually quite a few relate to this. I then ask how many negative thoughts and feelings had to do with the future, things we are anxious about. This also gets a good response. Finally, I ask how many negative thoughts and feelings had to do with the present. As a teacher, I want to be open to the discomfort some may be having with this experience.

What our minds do during this particular five minute interval of our waking life is repeated about 70,000 times each year. If we multiply the number of negative thoughts and feelings we observed by 70,000, we might understand why the mind plays such a significant role in creating stress. However, if we are able to become more aware of the negative thoughts and feelings that enter our minds and develop ways to replace them with positive ones, we will be able to live happier, less stressful lives.

I explain that meditation is one way to help our minds turn more readily to healthy thoughts.

Math  Meditation

At this point in the presentation, in order to make a connection between meditation and the high school experience, I speak about how I came to do meditation. I tell the audience the following story. When I started reading The Miracle of Mindfulness fifteen years ago, I found Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings so compelling that I began starting each math class with a short reading from the book. The students greatly appreciated these readings, so I went on to read them The Sun My Heart. It all sounded great. However, the way of living portrayed by Thay in these books felt so different from my own that it seemed to me that I could not begin living this way just through reading.

At the end of the school year when the seniors returned from three weeks off campus working on senior projects, one of them offered a presentation on his three-week project at the Zen Center of Washington, DC. Here, I thought, is someone who is actually doing meditation. Perhaps I can learn something about how it works from him. The student, named Chris, began his presentation by telling us that a classmate and he had been reading Eastern religion and philosophy books since seventh grade. Recently Chris had discovered the local Zen center, and “decided to put my body where my mind was.” I felt Chris talking directly to me.

Chris spoke of his experience with tremendous enthusiasm. He showed pictures and recounted some dramatic experiences during a three day intensive meditation retreat he attended as part of his project. At the conclusion of his talk, another student, noting Chris’ enthusiasm, asked him whether, besides doing a lot of sitting on cushions now, his life was different in other ways. Chris first responded by saying that meditation had affected him in many ways. However, most were so subtle he couldn’t put them into words. After a pause, he went on, “I can tell you that I am less angry.” Chris’ presentation, especially this last statement, was very moving to me. As I thanked him, I made a promise to him and to myself that I would try to meditate. Thus Chris became my first meditation teacher.

During the following six years I met Thay, helped establish the Washington Mindfulness Community and attended two Plum Village retreats. On returning from the second, I was invited to give an assembly about my experiences there. This assembly featured a slide show and stories about Plum Village life. I concluded my presentation with a brief meditation focused on the breath.

I conclude the personal part of my presentation by reading from an article which Audrey, a senior, and I wrote for The Mindfulness Bell. In the article we described how a few days after the Plum Village assembly, as our high school sat in its weekly Quaker meeting for worship, Audrey spontaneously rose and spoke

out of the silence. She told the students how closing her eyes and focusing on her breath had dispelled her feelings of stress late the previous night. She concluded, “The action is so little, but the reward is tremendous.”

This last story provides a good opportunity for me to invite the participants to move, as I did, from learning about meditation to practicing it. I then lead the group in a ten minute guided meditation, meditation, using Thich Nhat Hanh’s gatha:

Present Moment/Wonderful Moment

I prepare the group for the meditation by having them sit erect, shoulders relaxed, both feet on the floor. Then I ask them to focus on their breath and to coordinate their in and out breaths with the phrases of the meditation verse. I use a bell to begin and end the meditation and to signal each transition. At the conclusion of the meditation, I ask the participants to turn to a neighbor and share their experience.

I have found this short introduction to be effective in emphasizing the importance of awareness of the mind and using this awareness to tune the mind to healthy channels. I’ve encountered a variety of reactions. In one faculty workshop, a teacher told me he could not even begin to focus on his breath and the words I gave him because he was so riled up about an interaction he had just had with a student. This verse is one of many possible meditations, I replied. The breath can also assist us in being with strong emotions, helping us hold them in our awareness without getting lost in them. However, our meditation practice needs to be strong in order to do this. If we are able to embrace our emotions with our breath, we may learn some valuable things about ourselves and relate to our emotions in a less stressful way in the process.

Basketball  Meditation

The members of the Physical Education Department at my school were not able to come to my meditation assembly, so they invited me to do a special workshop for them. I started in a similar fashion, inviting them to observe their minds. Then, since the group was interested in developing concentration and it was lunch time, I invited them to do eating meditation with raisins. Later, the boys’ varsity basketball coach asked if there might be something I could do with his team members to help them improve their foul shooting. A week later I was with the team as they stood in a row facing a basket, each with a basketball in his hands. I asked the players to assume a comfortable position with eyes closed. When I blew the coach’s whistle, they began watching whatever was passing through their awareness and continued doing this until I blew the whistle a second time, five minutes later. Although they never repeated this meditation during subsequent practices, the coach told me the team’s foul shooting did improve.

Encountering  Suffering

Several years ago an invitation to share mindfulness practice with her twelfth grade class came to me from a religion teacher at another Quaker school. The class had been studying the events leading up to the Holocaust and would soon be reading disturbing, graphic accounts of the Holocaust. To help prepare the students to be open to the suffering they would be encountering, I told them that mindfulness practice could provide them a way to be with suffering without being overwhelmed by it. I described the process of holding emotions in one’s awareness like a mother cradling a crying infant, holding the emotions with great tenderness.  Class members then chose personal experiences of suffering, perhaps an argument with a friend, or receiving a low test grade,. After establishing themselves firmly in their awareness of their breath, they got in touch with their suffering and held it gently for five minutes. Afterwards, some students chose to share their experiences with the class.

I took a different approach in working with two other classes. The eleventh/twelfth grade Peace Studies class students had gotten advance word that I would be coming to teach meditation. I was a surprise guest in ninth grade English class. I began both classes by telling the students that I taught high school math and also taught meditation to students and teachers. I wondered what reasons their teacher might have had for inviting me to teach meditation to their class. In both classes a number of hands immediately shot up. I took notes on all the students had to say. When they finished, I used the students’ comments to shape my remarks and, to some extent, my choice of meditations. One student in the English class suggested that I had been invited by his teacher because the class tended to be restless. This gave me a great opportunity to invite the class to do a short meditation on restlessness.


Following my meditation assembly I offered a twelve week introductory mindfulness course, which a ninth grader from my school and two faculty members took. Like Chris fourteen years before, this ninth grader is a young man who needs to deal with his anger. Mindfulness practice has provided him a much-needed tool for doing so. My two teacher friends reported that meditation, when they take the time to do it, gives them relief from stress they experience at work and at home. A few other students, who have not pursued meditation in a formal way, have mentioned using it to reduce their anxiety before tests. All of the students and teachers have experienced meditation as an inner resource which they might recall and draw upon at some future time when their lives signal to them a need for change.

Over the last few years my own understanding and practice of mindfulness has been affected by my teaching experiences. I began using the stage metaphor for consciousness as a way of helping my students be more able to step back and observe their minds. The more often I use this image, the more real it becomes for me. These days I find it easier to get some distance from the goings-on on my own stage.

My teaching has also developed. I first approached my students with the notion that negative thoughts and feelings not only lead to stress but are intrinsically bad. Watching their negativity was part of a sales pitch I was making for the guided meditation to follow, a means of changing the mind’s channel. Now I find sitting back and just watching whatever is on stage tremendously important in and of itself. I continue to call it an experiment in my presentations, though I see it as a valuable skill to develop and employ. To the extent that I am able to watch without engaging, I have less need to tune in to a different show. I can see both negative and positive scenes on my stage as transitory products of my mind, whose primary significance lies in what I make of them. I no longer present the guided meditation as a means of escaping negative mind states. Rather, it is a form of enrichment, a pick-me-up, which my students and I might use at any time.

My foremost goal in teaching meditation and mathematics is the same, to offer my students opportunities to be mindful – mindful of their minds, of their breath, of mathematics and math problems, of other students. If I am successful, students will find their own personal meaning and values in their experiences. The effects will mostly be subtle and evident only over time, just as they have been for me.


Dear fellow teachers and educators you may be interested in joining the Mindfulness in Education Network (MiEN) listserv by sending a message to MiEN-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Richard Brady, True Dharma Bridge, is a member of the Washington Mindfulness Community and the Mindfulness in Education Network. He teaches high school math in Wash, D.C.

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Creating Villages of Peace

Summer Camp in Texas

Terry  Masters

One day at my  summer  camp for gifted children, MasterSchool, the children created different villages from around the world. Using their imaginations and whatever materials they could find around the ranch, they built villages in Mexico, India, Israel, France, and Japan.


In France, in addition to several houses and a lumber yard, there was a sidewalk cafe on the River Seine (a three-legged card table propped on a stump beside a dry creek.) A small protestant church, which was constructed mostly of imagination, stood between the café and someone’s cardboard box home.

There was, in Mexico, a large field of corn (rocks painted yellow) and pumpkins (orange rocks) on the outskirts of the village. On the plaza in town stood a simple Catholic church (a painted refrigerator box topped with crosses made by tying branches together with yarn) and a busy mercado.

The residents of Israel built a kabutz. A child brought his cello from home and played traditional Jewish pieces while his friends taught us tourists to dance.

The girls in India painted their hands with henna and wore saris made of old bed sheets. There were brightly painted Hindu gods perched in trees around the houses where the natives of India lived. Flower petals were strewn on the path leading to the village.

In Japan, next to a computer factory (old computer parts inside a circle of stones,) a child named Tommy designated the space between two trees as a Buddhist temple and announced that he was a monk. He hung lengths of blue yarn from a low branch to the ground, forming the door to the temple. Just inside the door, in a fork of a tree, he placed a Tupperware sandwich box filled with holy water from the swimming pool. Angie brought incense and a candle from home.  Laura shaped a beautiful Buddha from mud. On a length of butcher paper, with a black magic marker, Jane copied from a Zen painting a tiny canoe in a calm lake, rimmed by huge mountains in the morning fog. A fisherman lay in the canoe, not fishing. Jane tacked her painting between the two trees in the temple. I told Tommy that I knew a Zen Master. Would he like the Zen Master to visit their temple? Oh yes, he said, he would!

The next morning I dug through the costume box and found a black high-school graduation gown with the zipper torn out. I put it on backwards, wrapped a man’s tie around my waist and walked slowly and peacefully to the temple. Several curious children followed me. I walked through the blue yarn door and bowed to the mud Buddha. Watching me, the children put their hands together and bowed, too. We sat cross-legged on the dirt, except for Joshua who lounged in the fork of the tree above the holy water. Tommy lit the incense and the candle. We sat together quietly.

Finally, I smiled and bowed to the assembly. I complimented monk Tommy on his beautiful temple. He smiled monastically. I said that Terry had invited me, the Zen Master, to come.

“I have come to listen to your stories and to tell you some of mine,” I said, smiling.

“When we students of Buddhism want to talk,” I continued, “We put our hands together like a flower and we bow. We use the same sign to say we have finished talking. But this offering of flowers is not just a way to get attention, because when we make our hands into a flower, we are also saying to our friends, ‘You are as beautiful as a flower; you are a flower and I want to hear what Flower You has to say!’”

The children sat still, listening respectfully, moving only to swat fire ants away. “Would you enjoy doing this while we talk today?”

The children said nothing, but they smiled and nodded their heads.

Looking around the temple, I nodded to Jane’s beautiful painting thumb-tacked between the trees.

“I enjoy looking at this fisherman’s special place. Does anyone in this temple have a special place like that?” I asked. Hands together, I bowed. The children bowed.

After a pause, Laura put her hands together and bowed. We all bowed to her. She told us about a place under her grandmother’s porch at her lake house.

“No one knows about that place,” she said, softly. “It is cool there, even in the summer time. I can see out but no one can see in. I can think there.” Laura paused, then carefully put her hands together and bowed. We bowed to her.

Each child, very quietly, very earnestly took turns telling about their special places: in a closet behind the coats, in a special chair in the living room, at the back of their yard at home, behind some trees, in tree branches, under the bed. After each story we bowed, honoring each child’s contribution. I then told about my special place, in the rocking chair on my front porch. The candle and incense burned.

After a while the bell rang for our camp to have our morning recess. No one in the temple moved. I smiled and rose slowly. The children smiled and rose. We bowed to each other. Then slowly and mindfully we left the temple through the blue yarn door.

A little teary with joy, I walked back to the costume box where I left my robe and sash, relieved in a way to be out of the hot polyester. When I walked back to the playground, Joshua called, “Hey Terry! I met a Zen Master that looks just like you!” “Really?”  I said.  “Yep!”  He grinned, putting his hands together and bowing. “Oh my,” I said as I bowed back, smiling, honoring the flower in him.

Terry Masters, True Action and Virtue, lives in Manor, Texas and practices with the Plum Blossom Sangha in Austin, Texas.

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The Singing Bell

Jane  Olivier

I received a bell from a friend while attending a summer re treat with Thich Nhat Hanh.  I received the encouragement I needed to use the bell in my class during my discussion group with educators.

Six hundred elementary school students attend my music classes. As students arrive, many need to be quieted and focused. First I ask them to sit silently in a circle. I request them to sit like a mountain. I tell them that when they sit like a mountain, they are being the best that they can be. I tell the students when they are aware of their breathing, they will learn to sing and play instruments very well.  Before ringing the bell, I ask them to think “in” when they breathe in and “out” when they breathe out. When the bell stops vibrating, a student brings the bell to my desk. Students love this. It calms me.

Does the bell and the breathing consciously help me teach music? It reminds me to be in the present moment and it seems to do the same for my students. My class is very focused but filled with fun. Students play recorders, Orff instruments, tin whistles, and percussion. They sing and dance. The reminder of the bell helps us all to be in the present moment.


Jane Oliver is a music teacher in the Barrington Elementary School, Barrington, NH.

Robert Harrison, photographer, has just finished high school and will enter college to study photography this coming fall. We appreciate his many photos from Plum Village that he has contributed to the Mindfulness Bell, especially his photos of young people and young monastics in Plum Village. Robert’s photos appear on pages 22, 43, 46, 47, 53 and back cover.

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Education for the Present

Transforming a University Class with Mindfulness

Jana  Brooks,  Michelle  Leduc, Angeline  Timmerman

We, the students of Honors course 407, Exploring the Art of Mindful Living, included a football player, biologists, a newlywed, future teachers, a skeptic, a shaman, a comedian, Christians, a cancer survivor, mothers, a vegetarian, a future physician and a ballet dancer. To our surprise, as class began desks gave way to meditation cushions, shoes were given a rest from their owner’s harried strides, and an array of bells beckoned discussions rather than the voice of a professor demanding attention. Term papers were assigned with a twist: each student was to incorporate how mindfulness applied to his or her area of study. The usual PowerPoint presentations and scantrons were abandoned in favor of practicing mindful eating, tea ceremonies, guided meditations, and depicting the concept of interbeing through art. The traditional architecture of the classroom was abolished as we spilled out onto the lawn to practice walking meditation. As our class wound through the yard, our soft footprints became the trails of our transformation.


Through mindfulness we have begun to learn that we can change harmful emotions such as anger and frustration into positive energies. With the awareness that we possess these feelings, we can embrace them and know that emotions do not possess us. We can choose not to water harmful seeds and instead water the seeds that are positive and compassionate. Recognizing we can choose to do the work to transform our negative feelings, we have also become aware that while we were suffering, we failed to enjoy the pleasures life offers at this very moment.

Realizing that happiness exists in the present moment, our definition of “time” began to take a new form: “time” is simply moments that come and go, but it is what we chose to do with these moments that count. For example, one of the mothers in our class said: “I have two children, ages eleven and two, and through this practice I have realized that my children teach me about being in the moment. When walking to get the mail with my children, they both walk with a meditative stride, studying all that there is to see under their feet. Without their slow pace beside me, I would not have taken the time to stop, breathe, and notice that moss has begun to grow under the red leaves that have fallen from the trees.” One classmate pointed out, “By watering positive seeds in young minds, children will learn to think positively, and those seeds cannot be over-watered in today’s society.” Making the most of the moments that come and go in our lives, we discover the pleasures that exist in the here and the now.

The textbook for the class, Essential Writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, introduced us to the concept of “historical dimension” and “ultimate dimension.” We learned that the historical dimension contains our daily stressors: course load, work schedule, and family commitments. By learning to deeply touch our stressors in the present moment, we became aware of the possibility of touching the ultimate dimension.  The awareness of liberation that came with this understanding was one of most meaningful lessons we took from the class.

The pre-med student in our class said, “My mindful practices of breathing, eating and walking have been my remedies for stressful days. It wasn’t until I began to look deeply that I realized these methods are a means of stress prevention.” When students learn that success in life is not about where they are going, it is about how they are getting there, it is the experiences that we have along the way that become important. With the study of the historical and ultimate dimensions, we have begun to realize that by living fully and deeply in the historical, one is able to make contact with the ultimate dimension.

Challenging the typical course offerings that provide students with an education solely for the future, our professor has focused on education for the present. He has given us the opportunity to be heard, exuded the quality of compassion, and shared the concepts every college student needs in order to enjoy the path of life, not the destination.

Enrolling in a Mindfulness course provides an opportunity to find community or as we now call some of ourselves, “Sangha Sisters.” A foundation of intimacy needed for building relationships can quickly be developed when students come to realize that by listening to each other instead of merely the professor, they are able to bond in ways that are not typical in a university setting. Students truly realize the nature of “interbeing” and recognize that their choices and behaviors affect the entire community. Our search for happiness and success that was previously satisfied by achieving an end, has been transformed by the recognition that “happiness is in the here and now.” At the start of the term, our professor led a group of individuals down a single path guided by mindfulness. Now that the term has ended, our single path has diverged into many. What began as a random group of students transformed into an interconnected community unified through the Art of Mindful Living. We breathe, realizing that this is a wonderful moment!

The Art of Mindful Living was an experimental course developed specifically for the Honors Program at Western Oregon University, where Dharma teacher Jerry Braza is a professor of Health Education. Twenty students from various disciplines attended the class, which met twice a week for ten weeks. The course will now be offered regularly within the Health Education curriculum.

The course’s theme was the integration of mindfulness into daily life. Each session began with sitting practice, followed by exploration of such practices as walking, eating, and tea meditation. Students read and shared insights from the book, Essential Writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, discussing how mindfulness can be applied to education, sports, medicine, and psychology. A journal assignment required students to reflect on how their “moment by moment” actions impacted themselves, family, friends, and the planet. For additional information on mindfulness and a copy of the course outline see: http://www.wou.edu/mindful

Jana Brooks, Michelle Leduc, and Angeline Timmerman are students at Western Oregon University where they recently completed an Honor’s Course on Mindfulness taught by Jerry Braza, Professor of Health Education at Western Oregon University. Jerry Braza, True Great Response, is also an Order of Interbeing member and Dharma teacher.

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The School of Interbeing

Twenty-first Century Life Skills

Hanneli Francis

Interbeing  has  emerged  as  a  new  philosophy  of  creating social  change  and  healing  in  our  personal  and  global  con sciousness.  We need to realize our interbeing nature, to recognize the significant part we each play in the larger web of life.

This is the core philosophy of the School of InterBeing, a vision that is in the process of manifesting in southern Oregon. We will offer courses that inspire, revive and enliven the human spirit. Our focus is to provide trainings that are practical in nature, to support the whole human being in contemporary society. For example, imagine what your life might have been like if you had gone to a month-long course at the beginning of your adulthood that had taught you how to do a daily meditation and yoga practice, how to eat mindfully, and how to communicate clearly, with compassion and honesty? And further that you had been introduced to the possibility of natural construction and organic gardening, of working in harmony with the land through permaculture, and you had received the tools to sustain these skills long into the future? How might a course of this nature have changed the path of your life? How might it affect your life if you did it now?

In the first week of our course, students learn essential elements of self care: yoga, meditation and mindfulness practices, intuitive nutrition and self-massage. The second week we explore the Self in Relation communication, conflict resolution, and respectful touch and relationship. Once a healthy and effective way of relating is established, students are ready for the Self in Relation to Nature – natural construction, organic gardening, alternative energy, permaculture, and earth-based ceremony. Finally, in the fourth week, we focus on Integration & Holistic Activism, examining core societal beliefs and offering tools to keep our new skills rooted in our beings.

Mindfulness practice as taught by Thich Nhat Hanh is woven into the curriculum throughout the month.

The 21st Century Life Skills School is our gift to this generation and the next. We hope to offer tools to build understanding, confidence, and clarity, that will bring stability, inner peace, and the awareness of our true nature, the nature of interbeing. For further information, go to: http://www.wildpeace.com, or write interbeing@wildpeace.com.

Hanneli Francis is a certified Anusara yoga teacher, retreat facilitator and enthusiastic student of life, who currently thrives in southern Oregon.

D’vorah Swarzman is co-director of the School of Interbeing. She is a Thai massage practitioner and teacher, and practices with the Community of Mindful Living, Southern Oregon in Ashland, Oregon.

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Rivers Academy

Judy K. Harmon


I would really love to share the story of Rivers Academy with the world. Rivers Academy is not a Buddhist school, a mindfulness school, a parochial, or a non-parochial school.

Rivers Academy is just a school, a place where people maintain as much mindfulness as they can. It is a place where the twenty-five to forty students ages six to seventeen, and eight to ten teachers all know what the word mindfulness means to them. The word is in our vocabulary. We even know it in sign language. It is a wonderful word. Teacher: “How do we enter or leave a building?”

Students: “Mindfully!” Teacher: “How do we cross the street:” Students: “Mindfully!” Teacher: “How do we treat each other?” Students: “Mindfully!” Teacher: “What are the two things you should do when you hear the mindfulness bell?” Students: “Stop and breathe.”

“Mindfulness and Rivers Academy are truly one and the same”, says office manager, Shawnne O’Brien. “The center of Rivers Academy is our hearts. Within our hearts is the center of our mindfulness. Every breath, smile, school lesson, phone call and conversation is one of awareness, not just with ourselves, but with those around us. In the silence of the school day, the energy of love and unity, through each breath, is absolutely miraculous.”

Mindfulness is applied in practical ways when we take walks to the nearby parks and recreation centers. We walk with space between us, each student practicing silence, and awareness of breath and space. We keep a mindfulness bell in our classroom. When anyone invites the bell, everyone stops for a moment and takes a breath.  We have learned sign language for “mindfulness bell”.  One day a teacher reported seeing a student catch another’s eye across the room to remind him with sign language to be mindful. Our yoga class offered tea ceremony to the other students, parents, and staff on the last day of school last year.

We are fortunate to be a school that is not limited by law in our expression of faith, religion, and prayer. Last year two Thai Forest monks visited our school. We walked silently behind them, many of us barefoot, through our inner city neighborhood. They spoke to us, answered many questions, and spent the afternoon with us. As schools all over town were dismissed early due to one of the worst sandstorms in recent history, these gentle monks comforted us all in their gentle loving presence. In our part of the world there is a strong culture of Catholicism.

Many of our students are Catholic, and prayers to Jesus and the Blessed Mother frequent our hearts and altars. The family and friends of one Baha’i student offer presentations and gifts according to their faith. These are only some of the faiths openly expressed at our school.

When I asked our students how they believe mindfulness helps them to be happy, two of them responded that there is no fighting, no bullies, no name-calling, no meanness. If discipline is needed, we stop and breathe, sit and talk. One student said learning is easier. Mindfulness helps us remember to be quiet. One teacher has her students stop and breathe before activities and tests. She states that when students are mindful, it is easier to get their attention. Lessons are easier to focus on, not rush through. One student sums it up. She says, “We have to be mindful while we work. That means being aware of our surroundings.” With all this talk about quiet and silence, let there be no misunderstanding. Joy and laughter fill our days, for there is space for that joy to manifest. The expression of our joy is complete and visible in many ways. Mindfulness in a school atmosphere allows the human elements of joy and happiness to emerge in beautiful ways through creative projects. Certainly conflict arises continually, for happiness is not the opposite of conflict. Our happiness reflects our commitment to peaceful conflict resolution.


When asked to give examples of conflict resolution, at first I was stumped. We sit, we breathe, we talk, hug. That is all. Or is it? As I pondered this question, I came across an article in the Sun Magazine (February, 2003) by Marshall Rosenberg. Dr. Rosenberg teaches people how to act in non-aggressive ways. His method is known as Nonviolent Communication (NVC). There I saw a description of what we do. NVC has four steps:

observing what is happening in a given situation; identifying what one is feeling; identifying what one is needing; and then making a request for what one would like to see occur. Seemingly simple, the key, as I see it, is mindfulness. Only through the practice of mindfulness can an individual have enough presence of mind to observe and identify feelings and needs, much less to make a request based on those feelings and needs. In NVC, there is no blame, no retribution, no punishment. When we tell families our school is safe, we are not just referring to the protection from outside influences and criminals. Children are safe because violence is not tolerated, in speech or action. Once you experience this kind of safety, the heart opens.  This is where our work begins. It is the heart connection, the connection to another’s life, that opens the door to communication. Communication is the door to education, as well as to healing. The educational program at Rivers Academy is called the DeLta System© of Dynamic Literacy.  Dr. Stephen Farmer of New Mexico State University, and mentor to Rivers Academy’s founding director, Nema Rivers LeCuyer, created and developed the DeLta System© in response to his work in the field of communications and speech/language pathology. Recognizing that all true education depends on making sense of one’s world and the ability to communicate with others, Dr. Farmer also recognized the innate compassion in such true education. Therefore, the system of Dynamic Literacy embraces all learners, inclusive of their individual learning styles, type of intelligence, and learning preferences. It does so through the use of curiosity conversations and grasp levels, which replace grades. It is a non-fearful type of education, as it precludes failure and teacher versus student scenarios.  Marshall Rosenberg uses the term “domination culture” to describe power structures in which the few dominate the many.  Schools, religions, workplaces, and governments are examples of structures where authorities sometimes impose their will on other people. Punishment and reward are the strategies for the authorities to get what they want. Why was I stumped when asked to describe conflict resolution? Embraced by the loving atmosphere in which I am blessed to work, I could almost forget that the ways of the DeLta System© and of Nonviolent Communication are not just common sense. It will take time for schools such as Rivers Academy, and others that use nonviolence as their basis, to change the world.  But one child at a time, one family at a time, living one moment at a time in mindfulness, as Thay so beautifully teaches us, makes a future possible.

Rivers Academy is a non-profit school, serving the wealthy and poor alike. We depend on grants and donations and often experience financial struggle. Due to the faith and devotion of staff and board members, we celebrate our seventh year in 2003, and our mindfulness practice serves us well, as we focus on the present moment.

Do we ever forget to be mindful? Yes, all day long. Do we remember to be mindful? Yes, all day long. Will we forget tomorrow to be mindful? Yes. Will we remember tomorrow to be mindful? Yes.


How long will we continue to practice this mindfulness? As long as the moment lasts. As long as it takes. As long as the breath goes in and goes out. As long as it takes to smile. As long as it take a tear to wet your cheek. As long as it takes to help a friend. As long as it takes.

Judy K. Harmon, Deep Vision of the Heart, is a teacher who practices at Daibutsuji Temple in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

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Elementary School Bodhisattvas

Clay  McLeod

There is a movement in education today called “global education.” It originated in the peace education movement, but it has now grown to encompass teaching students about social justice, human rights, equality, and ecological sustainability, as well as peace and harmony between people. The idea of global interdependence is fundamental to the approach that global education takes in the classroom, and this idea mirrors the Buddhist teaching of interbeing. The similarities don’t stop there though. As an elementary school teacher who uses a global education approach, I have found that the similarities between global education and engaged Buddhism are striking, and I have adopted the practice of global education as part of my mindfulness practice.

Global education is an approach to teaching that stresses the interconnection of all things on this planet. According to the theory behind global education, we are all related to one another in a network of links, interactions, and connections that encircle the planet like a web. Global education stresses the importance of looking at the world and the relationships of people and things in the world as integrated systems that are dynamic and inseparable. It exposes the relationship between and unity of familiar dualisms like “local” vs. “global” and “past” vs. “future.” According to the theory of global education offered by Graham Pike and David Selby, building on the ideas of physicist David Bohm, everything causes everything else, and what happens anywhere affects what happens everywhere. The reality of global education exists on two levels, described by Bohm as the explicate and implicate orders. At the explicate level, objects seem to be separate from one another and discrete, but at the implicate level, looking deeply into the relationships between things, we see that the whole of reality is “enfolded” into every part of reality.

This precisely mirrors the Buddha’s teaching of interdependent co-arising and interbeing. This is, because that is; that is, because this is. All dharmas are conditioned and are really the continuation of other dharmas. This is the reality of impermanence and non-self. In Transformation at the Base: Fifty Verses on the Nature of Consciousness, Thay also discusses David Bohm’s explicate and implicate orders, and he compares these “orders” to the Buddhist teaching about the historical dimension or relative reality (samsara) and the ultimate dimension or absolute reality (nirvana). Global education touches this insight and attempts to open students’ eyes to it.


Global education also touches the insight of the four noble truths.  Through the lens of global education, students are encouraged to look at the world clearly and see the reality of suffering, like the unequal distribution of wealth, the existence of sweat shops where workers are abused and exploited, the devastation of war, and the consequences of racism, sexism, and discrimination. More importantly, it is an approach that encourages students to do something about the suffering that they see in the world. Global education tries to encourage social responsibility by teaching students how to shape the future through their actions in the present moment.

This penetrates the third noble truth; there can be a cessation of creating suffering. The idea of effective action that reduces injustice, oppression, and suffering is central to global education. Students are encouraged to realize that their choices have consequences and that they can change the world with their actions. This parallels the practice of engaged Buddhism. When a bodhisattva sees suffering, she is moved by compassion to act in order to reduce that suffering. This is the aspiration of global education; to create a culture of bodhisattvas who see the relationship between their well-being as individuals and their character and actions as these things relate to the well-being of the planet. Through the development of students’ character, knowledge, skills, and abilities, it aspires to transform the things in the world that lead to suffering.

In my classroom, I have a poster that represents the four immeasurable minds. It’s title is “Friendship Tips,” and it says “Be friendly and kind to everyone that you meet (loving kindness); be happy and joyful (sympathetic joy); be caring, and think about other people’s feelings (compassion); try to stay calm, even when things aren’t going your way (equanimity).” These are the values that I try to personify and teach in my classroom. When I was learning to be a teacher, one of my practicum teachers told me that the students probably wouldn’t remember much of what I actually taught them, but that they would remember how I treated them. In my interactions with my students, I try to offer them a kind and loving example of how to treat others. Global education is an approach that allows me to try to explicitly teach them the knowledge and skills that they need to live these values. Through global education, I try to make what I teach them match the example that I attempt to provide through my actions.

Every year, I begin the year by teaching my students how to be good friends and how to respond to bullies. My hope is to create a safe and supportive classroom environment where students can grow in confidence and feel that they belong. One of my central classroom expectations is that students solve their problems peacefully. Through brainstorming, role playing, reading, writing, and drawing, we explore ways to be kind and friendly and ways to respond to violence with communication rather than an escalating cycle of violence. The students practice their basic reading and writing skills, developing literacy and the ability to communicate effectively, while also developing their ability to get along with others, perform as cooperative members of a group and a community, and solve problems in peaceful, constructive ways.

Throughout the year, we study various topics and themes that address the goals and aspirations of global education. While we address the learning outcomes required by the curriculum, we create a classroom community of caring and support, and we learn about peace building, deep listening, loving speech, equality between people, the relationship of people and animals to their environments, the interactions and interdependence of elements in the ecosystem, and ways to stay calm and resolve the conflicts that we have with each other through discussion rather than violence. Through global education, I try to cultivate and nourish the seeds of love, compassion, joy, understanding, and peace in my students and myself. To me, the practice of global education is an essential part of my mindfulness practice.

Clay McLeod practices with a Sangha in Chilliwack, B.C., Canada, where he teaches grades three and four. He and his wife Meaghan look forward to watering seeds of joy and happiness in their own family “classroom” when their first child arrives in July.

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In Memoriam

Don Uber
September 3, 1939 – November 4, 2002

Don first came to the Potluck Sangha four years ago, and soon this shy, sweet man rarely missed a chance to be with us.  Hosting a study group one time, he confessed, “We tend to develop isolation as a coping mechanism early in life. Sangha models openness, acceptance, peace, joy, and inclusiveness.”

Once, on a Sangha nature walk, a flock of swallows descended, flew in a circle around Don’s head, rose, descended again, and one bird sat on his shoulder. It rose, came back, and sat again, this time chirping in Don’s ear. Don listened, and when there was a pause, he whispered back, and the wild bird listened.

When Don told our Sangha about the cancer growing inside him, many of us offered support. Joanne offered to accompany Don to his appointment with the surgeon where he would learn the details of his planned surgery. At first he said it was not necessary, but then paused for a minute and softy said yes, he would like the support. Don was discovering how to let people be there for him. Don asked his surgeon if it would be all right to travel to a meditation retreat in San Diego with Thay. The surgeon said yes, that spiritual practice is the best preparation for surgery. At the retreat, though a little hesitant, Don talked about his cancer with his Dharma discussion group, and received much support and compassion.

Near the end of October Don was in chemotherapy and radiation and having a very rough time. Though we had been doing what we could to help out, we felt that he needed more support, and planned to ask him how we could help him full time. But we never got to ask him, as he was suddenly back in the hospital, having suffered a heart attack and then a stroke. Late one Saturday night we heard the news, and many Sangha members gathered around his bedside, telling him of our love and appreciation for him, and singing songs. Though the hospital staff said he was in a coma, his hand lifted as we said our names and spoke of our good times with him. When we sang, his eyes became moist, like ours.

The evening following Don’s death, the Sangha gathered with his sisters, who had traveled from New York, to sit, recite the Heart Sutra, share stories, songs, and a meal. We talked of what Don would want in a memorial service. Several of the Sangha members created a beautiful ceremony, attended by about 60 people. We lit candles, had a short silent meditation, read some poems, sang songs, and shared stories about Don. Being able to be with Don during his illness, his dying and his memorial gave the Potluck Sangha members a deepening love and appreciation for all our moments together. Let us be joyful, let us be kind.

What to say of a man so gentle
A wild bird lights on his shoulder
To speak into his ear?
Let his kindness go ahead of me.

Offered by members of the Potluck Sangha in Oakland, California: Caleb Cushing, Joanne Connelly, Lennis Lyon, Sarah Lumpkin, Denise Bergez.

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Dharma Talk: Brotherhood = Reunification


Thich Nhat Hanh was invited to address the audience of a monthly Peace Forum on March 19th, 2003 held for leaders and representatives of various religious communities in South Korea on the topic of “Spiritual Reflections on War and Peace.” The following introduction was given:

Since the winter of 2002, the North Korean nuclear issue has created conflict between the North and the U.S. Since the terrorist attack that occurred in the U.S. on September 11th, 2001, many countries have tightened up their security policies. During this crisis, the people of North Korea continue to suffer from famine. Threats between the U.S. and the North have not resulted in any progress towards a workable solution. The economic blockade and nuclear tension continue. Neither North Korea nor the U.S. is ready to make any concessions. Koreans are concerned about the possibility of military conflict on the peninsula. Meanwhile, there is also a potential war in Iraq. The Peace Forum of January 28th made a national declaration that went along with the international wave of appeal for peace. People desire a world without war. The Peace Forum with Thich Nhat Hanh will address these complex issues. Based on his personal memories of the Vietnam War, Thich Nhat Hanh will share his beliefs and practice to lead Korea on the path of peace.

We are invited to enjoy our breathing. Our breath is a bridge that connects our body and our mind. When we go back to our breathing, our mind goes back to our body and we become fully alive, fully present. Breathing in, I feel I am alive. Breathing out, I smile to life.

Dear friends, peace is something that we can cultivate in our daily lives. It is possible to cultivate peace in every moment of our daily lives, while we walk, while we talk, while we sit. I know that peace is made of two elements. The first is understanding and the second is compassion. Cultivating peace means cultivating understanding and cultivating compassion. Every time we go back to ourselves we have the opportunity to do the work of cultivating peace. Every time I breathe in or I make a step I have an opportunity to go back to myself and become fully present in the here and the now.


When you drink water, mindfulness helps you to see that the glass of water that you hold in your hand is real. In that moment of mindful drinking, you have no other thought, you are present just for the act of drinking. Mindfulness is the kind of energy that helps us to be aware of what is happening in the present moment. What is happening in the present moment is that I am breathing in or I am making a step or I am drinking water. The energy of mindfulness brings the energy of concentration, and with mindfulness and concentration you have the opportunity to understand reality deeply.

My definition of the Kingdom of God is not a place where there is no suffering. I would not like to live in a place where there is no suffering. I know very well that without suffering there is no way for us to cultivate understanding and compassion. It is by getting in deeply touch with suffering, it is by understanding suffering that compassion arises in our hearts.

Understanding is the Basic Work for Peace 

The Buddha advised us not to run away from suffering. Instead we have to confront suffering and look into the heart of suffering. Understanding the nature and cause of suffering is our practice. Suffering is the first Noble Truth; understanding is the second Noble Truth. Without understanding of suffering, the fourth Noble Truth, the path leading to the cessation of suffering, would not be possible.

Suppose we talk about terrorism as suffering. Looking into the nature of terrorism we see fear, we see anger, we see wrong perceptions. If you want to wage a war against terrorism you have to identify the causes of terrorism, namely fear, anger, and wrong perceptions. With fear, anger, and wrong perceptions in you, you become an instrument of terrorism, of war. Your action is motivated by that fear, that anger, and that wrong perception but you think you are acting in the name of truth, the name of justice, and the name of God.

The people who destroyed the twin towers in New York City on September 11th believed they were acting in the name of justice, in the name of God. The people who have gone to drop bombs in Afghanistan, who are going to drop bombs in Baghdad think they are acting in the name of justice, of civilization, of God. But the fact is that we cannot remove fear with fear, we cannot remove anger with anger, and we cannot remove violence with violence.

Imagine you are a citizen of Baghdad and you feel that your country is surrounded by troops and guns ready to attack your country at any moment. Sleeping in Baghdad for just one night with that kind of fear and despair is very damaging to our physical and mental health. Imagine our children who have to live in that situation of fear and despair for several months. In the last few months the people of Iraq have lived in such a situation of anguish, of fear, and of anger. Although the United States of America has not dropped any bombs, the damage can already be seen. It is the U.S. army that is terrorizing the people of Iraq.

If the population of America understood that the people in Iraq are living in anger, in despair, and fear they would not support their government starting a war there. I have many friends who are U.S. citizens who are enlightened, who know that waging a war against Iraq is a wrong thing, but they belong to a minority. They are doing their best to wake up their fellow citizens and they need our help. It is not by shouting against the American government that we can help the cause of peace. It is by doing whatever we can to help the American people to understand what is really going on – that is the basic work for peace.

Reducing Fear 

We know very well that the cause of terrorism is fear and wrong perception. I don’t think that the bombs and the guns can identify the cause of terrorism. I don’t think that the military forces can remove wrong perceptions; in fact they can strengthen wrong perceptions. The only way to remove wrong perceptions is to establish a dialogue. The two instruments that you need to use to restore communication are deep listening and loving speech.


The government and the people of the U.S. can say, “Dear people, we don’t know why you have done such a thing to us. You must have suffered a lot, you must have hated us a lot in order to have done such a thing to us. Have we done something wrong? Please tell us of your suffering, of your anger, of your despair so that we understand and we will be more skillful in the future. If you tell us about your suffering, your difficulties, maybe we shall be able to do something to help. Now it is our deep desire to listen to you, to understand your suffering, your difficulties. We want to understand why you have done this to us.” The government of the United States of America has not used the peaceful methods of deep listening and loving speech. Every time there is a problem, right away they think of using armed forces to solve the problem.

Our political leaders have been trained in political science but not in making peace, inner peace and outer peace. We have to support them to bring a spiritual dimension to our political life. The United States of America may ask this question: Why, when the people of North Korea do not have enough to eat, do they spend money to make nuclear weapons? If we ask this question with all our heart we will find the answer. The answer may be something like this: We are hungry but we have to spend a lot of money and time to make weapons because we are afraid that you will attack us someday. If the Republic of Korea makes it very clear that they are not going to attack North Korea, that declaration will transform fear into brotherhood. I think that the path of peace can be seen clearly if we make some effort to look deeply into the situation. We have to make efforts to help people realize that North and South Korea are brothers, sons of the same mother.

The government and the people of South Korea might like to use an instrument of peace called loving speech. “Dear people in the North, we know that we are brothers and we do not want to see you suffer. As your brother in the South we will make the commitment not to attack the North. It is based on the realization that you are our brother and it would not be correct for a brother to attack a brother. If anyone makes an attempt to attack you, as your brother we will try to protect you.” The people and the government of South Korea can make such a pledge and that will reduce the amount of fear in North Korea. The Government and the people of South Korea can do better; they can convince the United States of America to make the same kind of commitment. I am sure that after the commitment is made, the people of North Korea will not spend more money on armaments but will use that money to better the lives of the people in the North.


A Proposal for Peace and Reunification 

I propose that the Buddhist communities, the Christian communities, and other spiritual communities in South Korea come together and make this proposal to the government and the parliament. You may want to buy a portable telephone and send it to the president of North Korea as a gift. The people of South Korea can request, “Mr. President, please use this phone to talk to our president in the South for ten minutes. We have also sent our president in the South a portable telephone and we have urged him to talk to you for ten minutes every day.” If communication is restored then fear will diminish and the hope for peace will grow. This is an example of skillful means to promote the cause for peace. This is an act of watering the seed of brotherhood that is in everyone, North and South. If we follow this practice of peace then peace will be possible in just a few weeks. This proposal is something that we can do. Religious communities in the South can come together and offer the presidents of North and South Korea one portable telephone and urge their presidents to talk to each other every day about peace, about the hope for reunification.

Dear friends I would like to leave time for some questions and discussion.

Questions and Answers 

Q: I am Sister Kim Sunan and I am a Catholic sister. About ten years ago I learned walking meditation from you when you came to Korea. Since then I have been practicing and I have taught some of my students; Christian, non-Christian, and Buddhist and they really appreciate it.

This evening you said that you don’t want to live in a place where there is no suffering because suffering is one way we can learn compassion. I agree and I try to accept suffering and to find meaning in it. In Christianity we have the mystery of the cross, but I have never thought about not wanting to live where there is no suffering. I agree but at the same time I wonder about those people who are not able to bear their suffering, and are deeply hurt by it. What would you suggest for them?

Thay: This is a very good question. First of all, suffering and happiness go together. Without suffering there is no happiness; without happiness there is no suffering. They inter-are. If you don’t know the suffering of separation it is impossible for you to realize the joy of reunification. If you don’t know what hunger feels like, you don’t know the joy of having something to eat. It is against the background of suffering that we can recognize the existence of happiness.

Happiness is made of nonhappiness elements. Suffering is made of non-suffering elements. It is like a flower – a flower is made only of non-flower elements. Nonflower elements are the sunshine, the clouds, the seed, and so on. A flower is made only of non-flower elements; it does not have a separate self. I always remind my students that Buddhism is made only of non-Buddhist elements. If you return the non-Buddhist elements to their source there is no longer such a thing as Buddhism. That is what we call the non-self of Buddhism.

If there is no garbage there cannot be flowers, because garbage is used to make compost which will bring the flowers to us. If you can look deeply, then when you look into a flower you can see the garbage that has helped to make the flower possible. If you look into a heap of garbage you can see cucumbers, lettuce, and tomatoes because you know that it is possible to transform garbage into vegetables.

There is garbage in us, namely violence, jealousy, and anger. But if we are good gardeners we will not be afraid of this garbage because we know how to transform the garbage in us into flowers, the flowers of understanding and compassion. The practice of spirituality is not one of running away from suffering. It is the practice of learning how to transform suffering into well-being. A good practitioner knows the exact amount of suffering that she or he needs. If we allow suffering to overwhelm us we will die; that is why we need the exact amount of suffering that will help us to understand and to love. If the amount of suffering is huge in our society, it is because not many of us know how to transform the garbage back into flowers.

My definition of the Kingdom of God is a place where there is understanding and compassion. And it is thanks to the amount of understanding and compassion that we have that we can transform suffering into well-being. I think that a healthy spiritual tradition dispenses the teaching and the practice that can help us to transform suffering with the instruments of understanding and compassion.

Restoring Communication, Restoring Harmony

Q: Thay, I would like to make a very honest, heart-felt confession to you. When I listened to your Dharma talk, I felt deep shame, guilt, and humiliation as a Korean religious person. Our president called Mr. Bush and said, Korea supports American policy on Iraq and we will send soldiers in case you start war against Iraq. The U.S. government told us, if Korea does not support the U.S., we will pull our soldiers from the Korean peninsula. I feel a deep shame because people all around the world protest against war in Iraq, but my government supports it. I feel guilty when I think about the Iraqi people and what is happening to them. I also feel humiliation because when the U.S. says they will pull out of Korea, this is a hidden threat.


In South Korea we have fifty years of suffering due to the division of our country. We have had this contract of military support with America because they helped us during the Korean War and we are very afraid of future war and violence. After fifty years of meditation and practice you have attained liberation and enlightenment. But we don’t have long years to practice. Within fifteen to twenty days we have to make a decision in our congress whether we will send our soldiers to Iraq and I don’t know whether we Korean people have enough courage to oppose sending soldiers to Iraq if it results in the American soldiers leaving Korea. Please advise us Korean people who have only fifteen days to make a decision. Teach us what to do.


Thay: Enlightenment is not a matter of time. You cannot talk about enlightenment in terms of months or years because enlightenment can come in an instant. We call that sudden enlightenment. Enlightenment to me is a deep understanding of our true situation. There is division, discrimination, and suffering in our countries. That is true everywhere. Even in the United States of America there are many people who feel they are victims of discrimination and injustice. Separation, hatred, and anger are present within the population of America. This is because there is a lack of understanding and compassion, based on the lack of communication. Even in a tradition like Buddhism there is separation, there is misunderstanding, there is anger. The same is true in the Christian religion. There may be separation, anger, and hatred between members of the same family. That is why restoring communication is the most urgent practice for peace.

If there are feelings of shame, of unhappiness, that means there is not true communication within ourselves. We don’t understand ourselves; there is no harmony between the elements of our body and our mind. Restoring harmony within our body is very important for a good practitioner. Restoring harmony in the realm of our feelings and emotions is a very important practice. Without communication, there is no harmony and no well-being. In this state, you cannot do anything to help your family or society. If we know how to bring peace within ourselves, then we know how to bring peace to our family. Once we have restored harmony and communication within ourselves, we will be able to help society. That is why it is very important that different factions of our community should try to communicate with each other. If there is harmony within the people of the South then communication to people of the North will be much easier. If there is harmony and mutual understanding between people of the North and the South, no country in the world can be a threat. Thank you for the question.

Can There Be Peace Without War? 

Q: You have mentioned that there is no happiness without suffering. When I change these words we might consider that there is no peace without war. Does this mean that we cannot avoid war; we should just accept it as unavoidable karma? Should we just keep silent and breathe in and out mindfully? What would you do when there is war?

Thay: This is an excellent question. War is not just the bombs falling on us. Every time you have a thought that is full of anger and misunderstanding – that is war. War can be manifested through our way of thinking, our way of speaking, and our way of acting. We may be living in war, not knowing that we are fighting with ourselves and the people around us. With the war in yourself and the war that you inflict on other people, there is suffering within you and there is suffering around you. Maybe in your daily life there are a few moments of ceasefire. But most are moments of war.

Suppose there is a couple who quarrels all the time except when they are very tired; these moments of not quarreling are not exactly peace, they are a ceasefire. Then suppose a friend comes to visit and asks, “Why are you living in war twenty-four hours a day? Why don’t you try living in peace?” And the couple says, “We don’t know. Tell us, what is peace? What can we do in order to have peace?” And the friend tells the couple how to practice in order to bring back harmony into their bodies and into their emotions and feelings and they begin to have a taste of peace. Supported by the friend, the couple’s peace grows every day until one day they say, “It is wonderful, we know what peace is now.” But if there had been no experience of living at war, then how could they experience peace?

Thanks to the mud, the lotus flower is able to grow. The feeling of well-being and peace is possible only when you have experienced the feeling of war. As someone who has lived many decades in the midst of war, I know what war is. And elements of suffering in war have helped me to arrive at the state of being in peace today. If I did not know some practice of peace I would have died in the war of suffering.

We know that we are co-responsible for the situation of our society. By the way we live our daily life we contribute to peace or to war. It is mindfulness that can tell me that I am going in the direction of war and it is the energy of mindfulness that can help me to make a turn and to go in the direction of peace. That is why I have translated mindfulness and concentration as the Holy Spirit; it can transform your life.

The Light of Compassion 

Q: Today you told us to imagine we are living in Baghdad and to understand the hearts of the people there. Yesterday I read that Mr. Bush wants to start the war in Iraq, and I couldn’t sleep. I went up into the mountains and I walked all night. I did not have fear; I did not have anger; I did not have misunderstanding. I was frustrated and sad. I have a strong feeling that I want to send a word of consolation and encouragement to the people in Baghdad, but I cannot find any words. I want to hear your consolation and encouragement to us and to the people in Baghdad. I also want to hear what is your action of consolation and encouragement to us and to people in Baghdad?


Thay: It is very important to maintain compassion in your heart and not to allow anger and frustration to take over. On that foundation you will find things to do to help the cause of peace. You can write a love letter to your congressman and to your president, urging them to help with the cause of peace. You can contact a friend and urge him or her to do the same. Allow the light and the compassion in your heart to go out to many people around you. In the Bible it says, “If you have the light, display it in a place where many people can see it.” That light is the light of understanding and compassion. Live your daily life in such a way that understanding and compassion can be shared with as many people around you as possible. Cultivating peace is not a matter of days; it should be cultivated generation after generation. Your children and your grandchildren will be your continuation as practitioners of peace. The question is not how much you can do; the question is whether you are doing your best. If you are doing your best then you are in the Pure Land of the Buddha, in the Kingdom of God. You don’t have to worry anymore.

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To request permission to reprint this article, either online or in print, contact the Mindfulness Bell at editor@mindfulnessbell.org.

Letter from (one of) the Editors

Dear Brothers and Sisters on the path,

in this moment my heart is clear,
not because i have attained much understanding,
not because i am able to love all without discrimination. my heart is clear because i have a path to go.

a path that is rich and full of learning,
with many companions to support me and protect me. i know that i am best protected by our practice,
by our capacity to calm, to embrace suffering and pain to bridge the chasms of separation and fear,
to relax into connection.

dear friends, dear companions,
i am aware of your presence, of your sincerity and care.

i am in touch with a source of peace, a source of energy,
not dependent on the great elements of earth, air, water and fire.
yet not independent.
our energy arises from our aspirations,
our sincere wish to understand, to love, to hold as one.

i touch the earth, i touch my life source with gratitude, with concentration,
with joy.
and i am nourished,
to continue. to grow. to love.
i acknowledge my weaknesses, my mistakes
and i make the vow to lay all my suffering on the earth,
to transform everything i have received from my ancestors,
from my society into a great source of peace and presence.

dear brothers and sisters,
please enjoy this small booklet in your hands.
it is an offering to you.
it is an opportunity to meet your friends on the path of practice,
to smile to each other,
to simply acknowledge each other’s presence,
as real.

peacefully, your sister steadiness

July 8th, 2003

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Singing a Dharma Talk, Writing a Song

Joseph  Emet

On June 8, 2002 during the Hand of the Buddha retreat, Thich Nhat Hanh shared an experience of music: “When the Sangha comes together, the silence, the deep mindful breathing, is music. We enjoy that music very much. There are times when we sit together and we don’t do anything. We don’t work hard at all. We just produce our being, our full presence, and become aware of the Sangha. That is enough to nourish us and heal us. If you know how to allow yourself to be embraced by the Sangha, to become the Sangha, to be penetrated by the music of the Sangha, then transformation and healing can take place. Music sometimes can be silent. It can create harmony. It can calm things down. It can heal.”

Our mindfulness songs are healing songs. They sing of the wholeness of the self, the wholeness of the family and the community, and the wholeness of nature. They point to this wholeness for a brief moment, remind us of yesterday’s insights and vows, and turn the silence that follows into practice.

Each of the songs in the Basket of Plums collection at the time I discovered it or wrote it, expressed for me the essence of my current practice and of my emerging insight. Dharma songs can be Dharma talks in miniature. After a Dharma talk, what stays with me is a feeling of dedication, or a particular Dharma door that it opens. I remember that feeling of openness, and a phrase or two stays in my mind to haunt me. One can expand a gatha into a Dharma talk, or contract a Dharma talk into a gatha. Dharma talks are given by nature also: by rivers, meadows, mountains, flowers, and birds. People are no exception. Sometimes they give Dharma talks just by their presence. This kind of Dharma talk creates the same feelings in me as a verbal one, and offers the same haunting memories. As I walk under the spell of such a feeling, phrases suggest themselves.   These phrases are struggling to express truly the essence of my experience. As I hold on to the feeling of the experience, I compare the words that come to the experience, to see how closely they reflect it. Sometimes the words are true to the experience from the beginning. At other times, I find that my mind is latching on to clichés, or other verbal habits I have, and it is trying to fit the experience into words, instead of the other way around.

I usually decide from the outset whether what I am working on is going to be a song or a poem. If it is to be a song and no melody comes humming along with the words, I make up a simple tune and fit the different verses as they come into that melody. I just hum the simple tune to myself, and sing verses with it. The advantage of this method is that even if I change the melody later, the verses all have the same rhythm, and will all fit the same melody, whatever that turns out to be.

I’m fortunate that soon afterwards, usually while I’m asleep or engaged in some other activity, the right tune will come. The music for the “Gatha for Planting a Tree” was put together in my sleep. We were staying at the Gao Minh temple in China with Thay, and the plan for the next day was to each plant a tree in the courtyard of the temple as a memento of our trip. So Thay gave a talk in the lecture room on this theme, repeating the gatha several times. As I was heading towards my room afterwards, I decided to stop by the main temple. There, a monk with a lovely voice was singing a traditional Chinese gatha over and over, and striking the enormous bell of the temple with each repetition. The bell was about the size of a Montreal city bus! I stayed there for several hours under the spell of his singing and of the sound of that bell, and at some point, noted the melody in my notebook. I went to bed around eleven o’clock.

I woke up abruptly at about three thirty in the morning. In my sleep, I was singing the monk’s Chinese melody with the words of Thay’s gatha, and I had made them fit! The singing got louder and louder until it woke me up. All the necessary adjustments and the scanning were already done, and all I had to do was to write it down.

I think we have to use the whole mind. So much of our life goes on in the so-called unconscious mind, while the conscious mind is the steward and caretaker. The conscious mind has to listen as well as talk to the unconscious mind. I enjoy always having a question of some kind for my unconscious mind to work on. It could be a simple question like: How can I make these words fit this melody? Or it could be a more complicated question like: What does this Dharma talk really mean? If I offer my unconscious mind a song to write, when I come back to it later, I usually see things in a different light, and the song goes through another version. I always marvel that each new version of a song feels final to me until the next day!

Joseph Emet, Peaceful Concentration, lives with his partner Suzanne in suburban Pointe-Claire, in the Montréal area in Canada, and is a founding member of the Mindfulness Meditation Center. He was ordained as a Dharma teacher in January, 2003. He enjoys discovering and sharing new raw food recipes.

Basket of Plums is a collection of songs available through Parallax Press. A new version is available with twelve pages of new songs by Sr. Annabel, T.B., Irene d’Auria, Sr. Trung Nghiem, Joseph Emet and others.

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Opening the Voice with the Practice of Chanting

Brother  Goodness

When I was in grade school and high school I attended chorus classes, but I never paid much attention. It was a wonderful time to goof around, and for my classmates and I it often turned towards playful endeavor that tested our teachers’ sanity. I was not aware of the opportunity I had in that moment. But as much as I tried to avoid and resist it, then and at other times, learning to open my voice in speech, song, and chant has become a great part of my life.

Many seasons flourished and faded away while I lived under the great fear of simply opening my voice and singing. I sensed that when we do this we reveal ourselves; our voice transmits to those around us a direct experience of what is going on inside. What is in us vibrates in the listener, and it can be frightening when we are revealed like that to others, and even to ourselves.

This is a fear of being in touch with the reality of ourselves. And this fear is based on the belief that we are individuals, separate from others. We cannot avoid the perils of such misperceptions. Now we are learning that these beliefs and fears are at the root of much suffering and that they can be addressed directly by our practice of meditation. I have experienced that the practice of cultivating mindfulness of the voice can help us grow through this fear to a deeper understanding from which no bitterness and suffering arises.

I cherish a comical and yet inspiring memory of my father as he listened to German and Italian operas while cooking dinner. He would mimic these vigorous and committed voices as they coursed passionately through passages of misfortune and glory. He was being funny, but he was also singing his heart out, and as a child I could sense the intensity and power in his voice. My father is not an opera singer, but when he loved what he was doing and he was happy, he could put aside his inhibitions and his voice soared out in full vibrato. He didn’t know it, but it marked me, and it challenged me.

As a teen-ager, faced with self-centered awareness amidst my peers, this challenge grew into fear. There were many liberating moments when I was alone, at home or in the car, and turning the volume of the stereo up very loud, I sang along with my favorite bands, fully committed to letting my voice shine out. I thought nobody could hear me, but I was wrong. I could hear myself. Through this listening relationship to my own voice, I secretly began to teach myself to sing.

Many of us hold onto these self-centered fears for our whole life. We are afraid to open our voice; we simply do not know how to do it. We always feel uncomfortable and stifled when we are with others who are singing and especially if we ourselves are asked to sing. I was lucky. I found a safe way that slowly, bit by bit, stabilized my faith in my voice. Until one day I was strong enough to really sing out and enjoy. In that moment I made a leap, uncertain where I would land, but hopeful nevertheless. My voice wasn’t very beautiful but I had to make that first jump. Then I had to do it again and again. I had to thrust myself onto the path. And thus a great fear that had once chosen dark corners for me to hide in now opened many doors. It offered me a chance to be honest and accepting of much in me that previously was hidden and unwanted. Since that time my voice has always been a great teacher and a great joy, as it continues to unfold the marvels of challenge and freedom.

Entering monastic life, I met the practice of chanting, and it was then that my voice really opened. It was then that I began the process of liberating my voice, setting it free from the sorrow and loneliness that colored it deep within my heart. For the voice carries in it all the shadow and glimmer of our consciousness, afflictions as well as wholesome seeds. Without careful awareness and training we transmit many things to others through our voice frustration, anger, longing, and despair among them. On my own path, the liberation and transformation of my voice settled itself on a regular practice of sitting meditation, conscious breathing, and mindful movement. Soon after, it leapt joyfully into the arms of chant. I found that all aspects of spiritual practice and lifestyle will affect the voice. Likewise, all spiritual endeavor with the voice, such as the practice of chanting, will strengthen the other aspects of our practice.

Chanting as Meditation

Chanting is a meditation practice. If it is not a practice then it is not really chanting. For it is not the notes on the page or the text and font that make up the chant, it is the living voice inspired from the depths of consciousness and summoned from the relaxed and stable posture of the body. Chanting is the realization of the teaching sent out to the world in every syllable. It is the resonance of many voices held together by attentive, listening ears. It is the delicate ringing of harmonic layers left hanging in empty space, and it is the silence which fills up an open heart when it seems that tone is no longer heard.

When we chant well we are moved straight into the beauty and wonder of life without any emotional push and pull. We are moved, but not in the direction of longing, comfort, or excitement, as we are by many musical expressions these days. We are moved towards realization in the practice, towards freedom and clarity. When we chant well we remain grounded in our breathing and our practice of mindfulness. Thus the chant releases tension and knots in both body and mind, transforming us, drawing us into the current of awakening. It helps us let go and be flexible, capable of opening our heart to what is there in the marvelous moment. It reminds us of our resources and the strength of our compassion. It offers us inspiration to persevere through challenge and hardship; and it leaves a peaceful smile on our face.


In the Buddhist practice there are three realms of action in which we cultivate awareness: action of the body, action of speech, and action of thought (mind). In truth, there is no action that exists solely in one of these realms. They all have much to do with each other. The practice of chanting is a practice that consciously brings together all three realms of action into one, and does so in a very pleasant way that can be shared among many people simultaneously. Thus chanting has the potential to generate both concentration and joyful togetherness. Spiritual traditions around the world have recognized this for thousands of years, and almost all have some form of chanting as a substantial part of their practice.

The Realm of the Body

There are many ways to approach the practice of chanting in terms of techniques and methods. Yet there are certain elements of the practice that are important to any method. One of these is the breath.

It is essential in meditation practice, and especially in chanting, that the breath be relaxed and easy. If we can succeed in this then the breath, of its own accord, becomes full, deep, flexible, and strong. To relax the breath we need also to relax the abdomen and the abdominal organs. Thus the diaphragm muscle (which is an elastic membrane separating the lungs and the lower internal organs) can move (drop) easily and allow the lungs to expand to full capacity. If the belly and its contents are relaxed, then the diaphragm muscle can move downwards with very little effort more like letting go than making an effort. Then the chest can gently open, from the inside out, to accommodate more air. This allows our chanting, which relies on the firm and steady force of the out-breath, to come from the center of the body. It comes from the natural upward movement of the diaphragm, rather than the forced constriction of the chest. In this way we avoid using a lot of tension and unnecessary energy for a process that is designed to be relaxed and easy. If we breathe only with our chest, expanding it with the in-breath and contracting it with the out-breath, then we make unnecessary effort. Granted, this can help us to add to the total volume of air in our breathing, but it is not the natural mechanism for the lungs.

This is my experience of the natural process of breathing and its effect on chanting. You can help yourself to enter into this experience of the breath by learning to truly follow your breath without manipulation and keeping your abdomen flexible, warm and relaxed. Allow the diaphragm to draw the air down towards the belly and relax completely into the process of breathing.

Healthy breathing is encouraged by eating in moderation, massaging and stretching the torso of the body regularly, and by an upright and relaxed posture. It is very nice to stand while chanting, softening the knees a little to stay grounded and balanced. If you practice while sitting, be sure not to slouch.

We can also cultivate an awareness of the throat, larynx, neck, and ears. Be gentle, soft, and open in these places. Do not strain the neck forward while chanting. Do not force tones out of your throat. Chant the middle way, not too strong, not too soft. Chant in such a way that you can hear your own voice and also the voices of people chanting with you. Keep the neck and head warm and relaxed at all times. These things will help make it possible for the healing vibrations of sound to work in the body and transform the voice. It will also help to prevent tearing and scarring to the vocal chords and damage to the inner ear.

The Realm of Speech

The practice of chanting lies at the crossroads of spoken word and song. A chant is not a poem and is not just recited. A chant is not a song and is not simply sung. It is expressed with wakefulness somewhere between these two as a powerful poetic recitation and as an uplifting song, carefully blended. When we chant well we benefit from both the clarity of shape and texture and the steady, light, and yet grounded feeling imparted to us through tones.

When speaking and reciting in the English language we primarily use consonant sounds. The consonants sculpt and develop the texture of the voice. The consonants give shape to the meaning of words and can be powerful, beautiful, and sometimes emotionally unsettling.

When we sing a song, we are expressing primarily in vowels. You cannot sing a consonant; you can only sing a vowel. Singing out the vowel sounds, we express the meaning of the song directly in the realm of feeling. Thus, the significance of a song comes to us less from the message in its lyrics and the shape of its consonants, and more from the way its melody and harmony make you feel. This is very important, because the vibration of the tone has no filter before it impacts us. It goes straight past reasoning and we must embrace it as it is. Sometimes the intended meaning of a song and the actual feeling it gives us are in conflict with one another. For example, the lyrics express something light and uplifting but the melody and harmony of tones give rise to sadness and nostalgia. And even if the melody and harmony are appropriate, the voice of the singer can be influenced by his or her state of mind and emotions. Thus the song may not bring about the intended or appropriate feeling. The feelings brought about through the expression of the vowel sounds have great potential. They can be healing and transforming or agitating and even painful. We need to be aware of these things so that the healing spirit of the practice can shine through our chanting and singing.

We can develop awareness of these things by cultivating mindfulness in the act of chanting, as well as at other times; practicing the mindfulness trainings, carefully choosing what we listen to, watering wholesome seeds in our consciousness. Slowly we tear away the veils of our conditioning, and we begin to recognize truth and beauty in music and the voice that carries it. Slowly we bring a spiritual quality and resonance into our own voice and music.

The Realm of Thought

Our thoughts play an important part in chant. Of course the message of the chant is influential. Its content gives rise to energy, inspiring a kind of movement. We might describe this movement as the opening of the heart or stilling of the mind, a beginning anew, the settling of afflictions, or the cooling of desire. These phrases describe not emotions but spiritual activity, an entering into the realms of happiness that lie beneath our busy worldly affairs. The presence and practice of our spiritual ancestors are found in these thoughts expressed in chants. The stability to be gleaned from tradition and lineage is contained in these thoughts as well.

But the very thoughts that enter our mind during the moment of chanting are equally important. We should always remember that chanting is a process of meditation. Do not allow the mind to wander aimlessly. Maintain concentration on the breath, the posture of the body, and the content of the words you are chanting. Then your authentic presence and the chant join together into a living vibration that is shared among all present; and indeed, even those not present will benefit.

It is easy to be distracted by imperfections in your own voice or in the voices around you. Try not to be carried away by such judgments. You do not need a trained and controlled voice or “perfect pitch sensitivity” to chant well. Chanting is about being right where we are, and practicing. Chanting is a process, an unfolding into the present moment. This present moment is a place where many powerful things can happen, especially with the support of our spiritual ancestors and our community of practice. Because chants carry with them the understanding and the compassion of the ancestors, if we don’t feel skilled or confident, we can lean on them. The ancestors and our community are there for that.

I have discovered that a talented singer with a beautiful voice can sing horribly, wounding the heart and ears of the listener. I have also listened to people chant, whose voices, according to technical evaluation, were horrible. But because they chanted with full presence and sincere intention, what came out of them was something spiritually inspiring and beautiful. Talents are often the learning of behavior that brings one the love and recognition one needs, and not necessarily an expression of truth or something beautiful, because what hides beneath the talent is a fear, a longing it is suffering. This untended and unwanted suffering has twisted itself into something acceptable in an attempt to gather recognition that fills the emptiness inside, the void of loneliness. I believe that an artist who meditates must understand these things and take on the path of transformation in order to purify their talent, to make it a conscious, well -tended, and fully embraced expression of their life.

Some people, especially those with some talent or training, find it difficult to chant with others whose voices are not technically skilled. There are many ways to remedy this. The best is to do away with our idea of how things should be. Then happiness reveals itself. It is only difficult to chant with those who have unskilled voices because of our expectation, desire, and on a deeper level, because of the fear of what is not harmonious in us. So leave expectations and desires behind, and do not be afraid to rejoice in the reality of what is there. Start simply, with basic chants suited for the whole community. Have the Sangha practice lots of recitation, reading the texts aloud together. As a community, take up some basic training for the voice; there are huge resources available for this. But most important, always endeavor to do these things as ways to strengthen your practice and the practice of your community. This is cultivating wholesome thoughts in the practice of chanting.


Suggestions for Chanting in Community

Here are several suggestions for individuals and Sanghas to aid in the practice of chanting:

Take time to memorize the words and learn the content so that you can concentrate easily during the chant. Be aware of what you are saying so that you enter into a process of realization and are not simply repeating the text.

Take time to memorize the melody and the basics of the rhythm and dynamics of the chant so you do not have to rely on a piece of paper to remind you of what you are doing. Then you can begin the process of unfolding the tapestry of the chant.

Stay in touch with the process of breathing; learn to take deep and relaxed breaths while chanting. The point is to remain truly present and to cultivate stability and insight while chanting, not to get out of breath and make a flawless performance. If you need a breath, take one, it’s okay to miss a couple of words. Maintain awareness of body posture, holding yourself up right in a relaxed way. Every few breaths check to make sure you are not straining the neck, throat, and facial muscles. Soften them, relax them, and smile.

Listen carefully to other chanters around you as you chant.

All who are chanting must learn to chant with one voice.  This is a very deep and wonderfully fruitful practice. Chant lightly, not too loud, so that it is easier to hear those around you. This encourages togetherness.   When we chant well together we can begin to allow the expression of the chant to change subtly according to the experience of the content.  The chant then becomes something totally alive and the collective experience of being together in freedom can arise very easily. In the Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book, when practicing the chants marked “breath by breath,” be aware that each breath is usually for one phrase and there is space to draw an in-breath between phrases. We do not need to maintain the rhythm continuously through the chant each phrase stands on its own. They are not marches, and they should express the natural rhythm and dynamics of the English language. Only general guidelines are given as to how long each note is held or how much volume it receives. These chants are open to the expression of the chanters in the present moment and require a lot of listening to each other. They are inspired by the Gregorian technique, but they are not truly Gregorian.

When practicing other chants in the chanting book, we can follow the standard music notation more closely, adhering more to the timing and dynamics that are scored. There are no breath marks, but do not rush to take breaths in between notes. There is no need to worry about saying every syllable or word, skip one or two if necessary in order to take a real in-breath and maintain calm and presence.  Remember to listen carefully to those around you as you chant. Rely on the group to carry the chant. We don’t have to do it all by ourselves when we practice as a Sangha.

The musical notation of a chant cannot contain its vitality. The notes and the technique are used as a guide to learn and transmit the basic form of the chant, but we should eventually let them go in order to truly live the chant. Please remember that chanting is not about getting somewhere or attaining something. Come home to the wonderful moment, open your voice, and enjoy!

Brother Chan Phap Hien, True Goodness of the Dharma, ordained as a monk in 1996 and became a Dharma Teacher in 2001.

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Poem: The Song of the Wind


As the wheels leave the miles behind
in a flash of lights in the darkness

As the scene of the quiet night
floats past the windows

I want to be the humming of the engine
and the song of the rushing wind

My body throbs with the vibrations
I can feel the breathing of my fellow travelers.

The wind carries the breath of the world,
singing of love, and love only.

I am the song of the wind,
and nothing else.

Sankar Sitaraman is a member of the Washington Mindfulness community. He is a math professor at Howard University, and is originally from India.

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Poem: The flower

blooming opening with joy
to the caressing light of the sun
My petals extend

delighting in the warmth, the fragrance,
and beauty of being alive

Deep within
a sweet nectar is gurgling
rising slowly

Oh! I want only to offer
and offer
and offer again
all my sweetness
fragrance and beauty

Take me! Take me!
I am yours!
Please enjoy me, drink me
it is my sole desire
my deepest longing

I am full, so fresh
brimming over

Sister Chan Chau Nghiem, True Adornment with Jewels, is a nun in Deer Park Monastery, CA.

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Peace Song Circle

Tricia  Diduch

The entire Sangha had been praying for sunshine for months leading up to this day. Yet, when I woke up and peered out the window, I was greeted by gray skies and a light drizzle. Had it been a few months ago, I surely would have panicked. Instead, I donned my raincoat, decided to adopt a sunny attitude and headed out the door to Ottawa’s Parliament Hill to begin setting the stage for the first annual Peace Song Circle organized by Pine Gate Sangha and Friends for Peace. It would be the culmination of three months of effort by the organizing committee. A total of seven local choirs, one dance group and three soloists would soon assemble to share a message of peace through song with their community and the world. With a sense of excitement and just a little nervous anxiety, I could hardly believe the day had arrived.


Early in December, when Ian Prattis, the founder of the Pine Gate Sangha, first proposed the creation of a Peace Song Circle, I was skeptical about the plan. He envisioned several local choirs singing in unison in the name of peace, along with members of the community, other peace organizations, and spiritual groups. The assembly would create a sense of solidarity and strength during a time when we were all feeling increasingly powerless to change the course of world events. It would be a reminder that through our daily practice of mindful living we are doing our part to help create a better world. I fully supported the purpose and need for such an event; I just didn’t see how it would be possible. I suggested it was highly unlikely that we could assemble enough choirs to attend with only three months’ notice. It would require too much rehearsal time and coordination.

A week later, Ian asked for volunteers to help organize the event in Ottawa, on Saturday, March 22. Jean, a woman new to our Sangha, was the first to volunteer. Her contagious enthusiasm set off a chain reaction and a committee of seven organizers was established. I too found myself volunteering to take an active role in this project. I don’t know what possessed me. With a full-time job, how on earth would I find time to contribute?

The organizing committee adopted as our motto, “Stand for Peace, Sing for Peace, Be Peace.” Since Ian was preparing to attend a two-month retreat in India, he was leaving the initial planning entirely in our hands. Now, not only would I be assisting with communications, but I also volunteered to recruit choirs to participate. Having never been involved in such an activity before, I felt overwhelmed.

I was also experiencing a personal crisis in my life after having been laid off from a position I had held for five years. As we were discussing plans for the Peace Song Circle at a committee meeting in late January, I shared my recent news over tea and cookies. Fighting back tears, I offered to devote more time to the project. Soon, I was overcome with emotion. While I hadn’t been happy with my employment situation for some time, I regretted leaving behind talented co-workers with whom I had developed close relationships. I also considered my departure a personal failure, feeling I hadn’t been able to live up to my employer’s expectations of me. As I let the tears fall, the entire group offered their support. As the meeting wrapped up, Jean said to me, “Divine intervention is at work here – just trust in it. You are simply needed elsewhere.”

Through these words, I realized that losing my job was a blessing. During the preceding months, I had often been overcome with work-related anxiety. Being asked to leave brought with it an enormous sense of relief. It eradicated a lot of fears, offering me an inner peace I hadn’t experienced in a long time. And now, I had been given an opportunity to better employ my talents, helping the Sangha to organize the Peace Song Circle. From that point on, I made a conscious choice not to focus on the past, but on the task at hand.  When I actually shifted my energy to organizing the Peace Song Circle, I felt a sense of purpose, which my life had been lacking for a long time.

Organizing tasks began to fall into place. Our first major obstacle was finding a sound crew and system on a non-existent budget. Somehow, one miraculously materialized. Next, we had to recruit the performers. Although I received many, many rejections, we eventually did end up with just the right number of choirs and soloists. When two choirs backed out three weeks before the event, I stayed relaxed, and within two days, two more choirs offered to participate.

And then, there I was, on Parliament Hill, as the final preparations for the Peace Song Circle were underway. The sound system was assembled, and all of the choirs and individual performers had arrived.

As the clock on the Peace Tower struck 10:00 am on March 22, Chris, the master of ceremonies, launched the proceedings. Ian came forth and thanked the two or three hundred gathered for having braved the weather to join us in our stand for peace. He invited everyone to remain strong in the face of the overwhelming feelings of fear, anger, and hatred that tend to arise during such difficult times. Given that war had actually begun just days before, uniting to convey this message of peace seemed more crucial than ever. As I stood at my post near the sound booth, I was grateful to Ian for having had the leadership and vision to initiate the event. The Peace Song Circle had already created an enormous impact on my life; I just hoped it would have an equally powerful effect on everyone gathered to share in it.

As the first choir broke into song with, “All Within Me Peaceful,” the atmosphere began to transform. With each graceful sway of their arms, the accompanying dancers cast a calming spell over everyone. In turn, each performing group shared its unique talents and message with the audience. Whether it was through the middle-eastern flavor of the music of Jeanette de Nazareth, the spirited rhythms of the Ottawa Community Gospel Choir, the aggressive guitar riffs of the local rock group, Nir Blue, or the gentle folk melodies of the Oddities, the call for peace was strong and consistent. Throughout the two hours, children in the crowd danced happily as their parents joined in the singing, lending further strength to our call for peace and attesting to the healing energy that had been generated.

During the final performance, it dawned on me that the light rain was appropriate for the occasion. The sky seemed to be weeping tears of joy on the colorful array of umbrellas assembled, thankful for the peace offering we had just made. I too shed a joyful tear, grateful that, despite my fears and anxieties, everything had run so smoothly and that I had been able to contribute to this special event. I surrendered to the beauty of the moment. And in that moment, I found peace.


A one-hour documentary of the Peace Song Circle is available, please contact: kburton@cyberus.ca.

Trisha Diduch practices with the Pine Gate Sangha in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. After four months of unemployment, Tricia is now happily working in Ottawa’s tourism industry.

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In Gratitude

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“In Gratitude” was composed by Irene D’Auria for a gathering to support Ernestine Enomoto when she was moving from Washington D.C. to Hawaii.  It was brought by members of the Washington D.C. Mindfulness Community to Plum Village during the 21-day “Hands of the Buddha Retreat” in June,  2002.

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From Soldier to Buddhist Monk

Brother Phap Uyen shares his path of practice

from Brother Phap Uyen’s writings and an interview by Sister Steadiness

My mom and I met Thay at a retreat in Redlands, California in 1989. I took the five mindfulness trainings and received the name Tam Houng,

Strength of the Heart. Two years later I joined the military. I was seventeen and a half and I didn’t really practice the five mindfulness trainings. Though my friends didn’t understand why I went into the military, it was my way of repaying the American servicemen that came to Vietnam and gave their lives so that I could come to the United States when I was two and have a better chance for education and a better way of living.


Entering Monastic Life

After coming home from the military and getting married I worked long hours every day because it helped me not to think about the problems I was having. Soon after Deer Park Monastery opened, my mom sent me there for two and half months to relax and try to change this habit.

My step dad and I had a hard time communicating when I was growing up. He went to Plum Village for the 2001 winter retreat, and when he returned we started trying to improve our communication. He suggested I go to Plum Village, so I went in the spring of 2002. I had fun during the Francophone retreat and the Vietnamese retreat. I started spending more and more time with the brothers.

I was planning to stay for the summer retreat and then return to the U.S. to start Chinese medicine school. After being trained to kill people in the military, I realized that I would rather use my hands to help heal people than use my hands to hurt people. I went to school for massage therapy and I wanted to study Chinese medicine as well. But when Thay’s Dharma talks started sinking in, I began to realize that if I became a monastic then I could help heal people’s mental problems or problems within themselves.

I wrote my letter requesting to be a monastic about two weeks before my ordination. I called my mom and when she heard that I was getting ordained she was very happy. She and my step dad, my sister, and my grandma came to Plum Village for my ordination, which made me very happy. My mom said, “If you love me then you will always take care of yourself and I hope being a monastic will make you happy.” Every time my mom calls me she asks, “Are you happy?”

Military  Training

It was January of 1992. I had just arrived at the Naval Recruit Training Center. It was 0200 hours. We were all tired, but there was a drill instructor yelling and screaming at us. We were up until 0400 hours filling out papers, being put into companies, and finding out where we would be staying while we were being processed. We arrived at our barracks at 0415 hours and at 0530 hours a drill instructor came in banging on a metal trashcan to wake us up. We were the low-life of the military; we had not yet earned the right to be called sailors.

We had three months of training to learn to go into full combat situations with firing practice and live rounds. We had biological weapons classes and had to go through the gas chamber without our gas masks on. We also studied firefighting. Putting our lives in the hands of one another really united us. It broke our habit of being individuals and taught us to work together to achieve our goals.

After graduation from basic training I went to SEALS Training School. SEALS stands for Sea, Air, and Land. I enjoyed my time in the SEALS Training Program. I was in the best physical shape of my life. But there was something missing. I was getting physically stronger, but I was also becoming a non-human being. I was trained to do one thing: to kill and ask questions later. We were taught many ways to get into enemy lines undetected, blow things up, and neutralize targets and people. So when I was almost through with my training I reported that I wanted to leave.

During my SEALS training we would run, swim, and learn to paddle inflatable boats against the waves.  We did a lot of push-ups, sit-ups, and ran five miles a day in the sand carrying eighty-pound packs. We studied first aid, hand-to-hand combat, a martial art called ninjitsu, firing different guns, blowing things up with explosives, and learning to make our own bombs. We learned how to use special weapons like machine guns, handguns, and knives. We were trained to kill people without them making a sound. We learned different joint locks and pressure points, how to jump out of planes, free fall sky diving, face first rappelling, map reading, how to communicate using military sign language, and how to disarm missiles, rockets, and bombs. We went through a survival program twenty-one day exer cise, where we were supposed to rescue a helicopter unit that had crashed on an island. Our instructors played the enemies. If we were caught we would become prisoners of war.  They would torture us by hitting us with sticks, put bamboo sticks in between our fingers and squeeze them together, give us electric shock treatment, starve us, or lock us in small cages.  They would try to get information from us, like where our command post was, which person was in command of the operation, or our mission briefing information. If our focus was strong then we would state our rank, our military branch, and our social security number, repeating this until we passed out. We were graded on this exercise and our leadership abilities as part of our graduation requirements.

In the last part of our training we went through hell week where we stayed up for the whole week, taking vitamins to help stay awake. To test our leadership abilities, we were put in a combat environment with guns and grenades exploding everywhere. We were trained to always rescue our fallen comrades and bring them home with us.

After making it through hell week, I had two weeks left of training before graduation. But instead I left. I saw that a lot of my friends were becoming meaner and more aggressive. It felt as if we had a switch that we could flip to change from being a nice person to a very dangerous, killing machine. Sometimes I saw that the switch could get stuck and we could not change back into a nice person. I felt like a wild animal because all I was doing was being trained to kill. Usually a SEALS class starts with about 300 to 500 people, but only ten to fifteen people graduate. I would have graduated at the top of my class.

Comparing Monastic Life to Military Life

The military and the monastic life are similar in some ways. In the military we woke up at five in the morning. In monastic life we also wake up at five o’clock to do sitting meditation. It helps us to concentrate and to reflect on ourselves. That is what I spend a lot of my time doing. In the military we didn’t have time for self-reflection because we were always busy.

As monastics we have time to rest. We do walking meditation, which I enjoy. We study our fine manners and our ten novice precepts.1 One of the most important things we do in Upper Hamlet is to build brotherhood. We also have a novice council. We talk with the elder brothers and decide what we want to do as novices. That way we have a say. When I was in the military we didn’t have a say in anything. The officers of the unit would just tell the lower ranks what to do.

Transforming  Unwholesome  Habits and Anger

I picked up some bad habits while I was in the service, like drinking and smoking, which I now have given up. A lot of special services people engage in unwholesome things like drinking, having casual sexual relationships, gambling, and spending money. Instead of living our lives to the fullest, knowing that we might not be around the next day, we did these things to forget and to not feel.

After I left the military my life was not good. I saw that I was losing some of my human qualities. Since I didn’t get along with my father, I didn’t go home. I hung around with some people that weren’t very nice. Some of those people still write to me, but I don’t respond to them like I do to other friends.

Military life is very aggressive. When I was in the military we were taught to react first and ask questions later. For example, if we had a problem with somebody else we wouldn’t talk to that person. Usually we would go to the bottom of the ship at night and fight it out until only one person was left standing. Other people would come down and watch the fight.

Even though I am a monastic now, still sometimes that energy of anger arises in me.  When that happens, I try to come back to my breathing.  I know that I shouldn’t say anything when I am angry. Instead, I do walking meditation or I go back to my room, make some tea, light some candles and incense and just sit there and enjoy the tea, looking out my window. Now I can control my temper much better. That is a big change for me. Another practice that I like is Beginning Anew. Every night before I go to bed I light some incense and candles on the altar in my room and I practice Beginning Anew from our Plum Village chanting book. I begin with the incense offering and go through the whole ceremony. In it, you repent for things that you have done wrong in the past, not just in this lifetime but for countless lifetimes before.  You want to be brand new again.  I also do Touching the Earth, which has helped me release a lot of anger and resentment towards a lot of things that have happened in the past between me and my family.2 It is also a big help to have supportive brothers and sisters, and my mentor who I can always talk to and ask for help.


Practicing with Physical Pain

One difficulty I have struggled with is that my knee, my ankles, and my back are pretty messed up due to the violent nature of my military and martial arts training. When I was younger I never thought about the effects that this training would have on my body. When I was training in martial arts, my instructor would make us break bricks and wooden boards with our bodies.  As you advance in rank you can’t just punch the board or chop the brick with your hands, you have to use different parts of your body. I would always use my legs, since they were the strongest part of my body. That is why my knees are pretty messed up.

In addition, the bones on both sides of my vertebrae are cracked, so often it hurts a lot, especially at night when I sleep. I can get up in the morning to go to sitting meditation, but it hurts. Also I don’t want to disturb my brothers when they are sitting in meditation so I just sit in my room.

As monastics one of the main things we do is sit in meditation. Since I can’t sit very long, I feel isolated from the Sangha in some ways. But Thay Abbot, my mentor, has encouraged me to sit with the whole Sangha. If I can’t sit for the duration, he said to just sit for half the time and then do walking meditation. Or he suggested that when everybody else is sitting, that I do walking meditation instead of staying in my room. That is why I like to go for long walks as my way of doing meditation. I practice to embrace my pain when it is there. I am also aware that my pain is not always here; I can run; I can play volleyball too.

My Relationship with My Mentor

I can talk with my mentor, Brother Nguyen Hai (Thay Abbot), about problems that I am having or about problems with any of the brothers. I ask him for suggestions on how I can help build brotherhood between the Western brothers and the Vietnamese brothers. He is very understanding about the problem with my back.

I am also his attendant. It is a great opportunity for me because it helps me focus on the practice. When I walk with him it is like walking with my teacher and I am mindful of my steps and aware of what I am doing. He told me that I still need to learn to walk in a gentler way, because from the military I developed a strong way of walking.

Facing Another Challenge

During winter retreat one of my close friends came to visit. She’s been a practitioner of Plum Village for a long time. It was a little hard to be with her now that I am a monastic. During the holiday season she asked to give me a hug. I went over and asked my mentor and he said, I guess she can hug you, but it would be best if she didn’t. So I asked him to come and stand next to us while she gave me a hug.

She kept forgetting that I am a monastic now, so while we were walking together she would try to hold onto my robe. I would have to remind her not to do this. The feelings that came up in me were there for a couple of weeks after she left. Talking to my mentor and reflecting on my life I see that I care for her still, but my love for her is not romantic now. As Thay has said, we are human beings so sometimes that energy still arises and we have to know how to take care of it. I have talked to my mentor about it a lot.

Re-establishing  Communication with my Dad

One of the biggest things that happened for me as a monastic is that I wrote a letter to my real dad in Arizona. It was the first letter I have ever written him. It has been really hard for us to communicate because he is a very traditional Vietnamese and he has a hot temper. That is probably where I get my temper. I have been trying to keep in contact with him because I know that my dad and his side of the family are suffering a lot. My dad is the eldest son in the family, which makes me the eldest grandson and I am the one who is supposed to carry on the family line. But now that I am a monastic that is not happening. My only sibling is my sister and my only child is a daughter, so I have no descendants that carry the family name. I know that has hurt my father. I try to explain that I have become a monastic because I don’t want to be a monster of society anymore; I want to help people and their suffering, and first I have to help myself.

It was very hard for me to talk to my dad because he regarded his viewpoint as the best one and he didn’t listen to what I said. In Asian culture when the grown-ups talk the children are expected to just go out and play. In the past when I tried to talk to my dad we would begin arguing after five minutes because we didn’t understand each other. But slowly that has changed. I call my dad every once in a while and ask how he is doing, and I tell him about my happiness. I don’t preach to him because I know a lot of my family members on my father’s side don’t have a strong faith in the church or in the Buddhist religion. Being Vietnamese, since we were small my grandma took us to the temple, so we say that we are Buddhist but a lot of my father’s family doesn’t have energy or faith in the practice. My mom has said that my being a monastic can hopefully change that energy on my dad’s side of the family.

My Relationship with My Daughter

My daughter’s mother and I divorced when my daughter was less than a year old due to our cultural differences. Her mother is Catholic and Hispanic and I am Buddhist and Vietnamese. We didn’t understand each other so it was really hard for us. When my daughter was born I was working and going to school at the same time. I would get home at eleven o’clock at night. As soon as my key touched the lock my daughter would wake up. I would play with her and she would smile. When we divorced my ex-wife moved to another city with my daughter, so I didn’t get to see her very often. Before I became a monastic I sold a car and set aside that money to pay my daughter’s child support. My sister and other relatives offered to help visit and take care of my daughter so I could become a monastic.


My mom is coming to Plum Village this summer and she will try to bring my daughter with her. In some ways I feel that being a monastic is the best way that I can help my daughter. I would rather be fully present for her one month of the year than to be around her twelve months out of the year and not truly be present for her.

Serving in Kuwait / The Suffering of War

I was in Kuwait from June to December of 1992. I now see that we were over there not because of the suffering of the people of Kuwait, but for the oil. I have met a lot of Iraqi people. They are great people, some are very friendly. Yet I also remember meeting some Iraqi villagers that were very hostile towards us American soldiers, and I couldn’t understand why. I thought we were trying to help them end the suffering that their government was causing them. I now know that they might have rather put up with the treatment from their government than have us come and cause more suffering.

In 1985 the United States sold biological weapons to Iraq. Iraq then attacked us in the Gulf War with our own weapons. A violent act towards others will bring a violent act towards you. So when the United States attacked Iraq during the Gulf War it helped September 11th to manifest for the United States. And when Iraq attacked the United States they were also causing suffering for their own people. They launched biological weapons into the air, which infected the Iraqi people and their food as well as their enemies. That is a big price to pay for oil and holding onto a point of view.

The biological weapons used in Kuwait on the United States service people affected some of my friends. The United States won’t admit that some of us contracted this illness, called Desert Storm Syndrome. I have two friends that have severe problems.

One is a sergeant in the Marine Corps. Two weeks after returning from Kuwait he lost forty pounds and experiences a burning sensation inside his body. His wife told me that he may have only two years before he continues in a new manifestation. He is only twenty-eight years old.

Another friend is also a sergeant in the Marine Corps. She has burning, red spots on her skin that break open and leak yellow pus. The doctors have given her some experimental medicine, but it is not helping. She is having problems with her boyfriend because she can no longer have a child. She is suffering a lot. She feels very alone now. I told her that she is never alone. She always has her parents, herself, and her close friends to help her and that we will always be by her side.

Insights From the War

When I look back on being a soldier, I see that we do protect the freedom of our country. But we must also protect the freedom of all other people and things. We shouldn’t see ourselves as higher or better than anyone else. All of us have come to be what we are due to a lot of things. The rich are not separate from the poor, the just from the unjust, the first world from the third world countries. We are like this because they are like that; they are like that because we are like this. To protect and support ourselves, we have to protect and support others. We are made of each other. We are each other. We experience the same suffering of violence, fear, anger, hatred, and discrimination. My experience in Kuwait taught me that much.

I believe that if our president and political leaders were the ones leading us into battle, putting their own lives on the line, then they would think more carefully before they go to war. They would have seen first-hand, for example, the suffering and destruction that happened when our missiles went off target and wiped out small towns.

I believe instead of fighting each other we should work together to end poverty, hunger, malnutrition, and homelessness. We should educate the children, care for the sick and old, and work towards peace for the world instead of fighting over oil, which doesn’t really belong to anyone except the cosmos. We cannot take oil with us when we die. We fight so hard for oil because we are greedy and fixed in our own point of view. Instead we need to focus on what is actually worth working for: peace and harmony in the world.

Serving as a Monastic / Helping Others

My martial arts training has helped me come back to myself. I don’t practice the styles that I learned in the military because they can easily make a person become violent. Now I practice tai chi and aikido to become centered. I am beginning to share this practice with the Sangha. I also learned how to cook in the military, and now I cook and bake cakes for the Sangha.


I am very interested in helping teenagers. When I got out of the military, I thought about becoming a teacher. I see that if we help the younger generation to build their wholesome seeds then we don’t need to be afraid. But if we help them to water their negative or harmful seeds then we have a lot to worry about because they are going to be our future leaders.

It brings me great joy, especially during summer retreat, to help Vietnamese teenagers. Even though I am twenty-nine years old I am still young, and at the same time, I have had a lot of life experience. I have been through the military, I have been married twice, I have a seven year-old daughter, and I have lived on my own. Many young people think that their parents are old and don’t understand what they are going through. They think they want to get away from their parents and live on their own, but they don’t understand what it is like to live on their own. Hopefully, by sharing my experience they can understand both the positive and negative sides of leaving home.

I know that I have a lot of transforming to do. A lot of people joke about my name, Dharma Garden. I asked Thay one day when I was his attendant, why Dharma Garden? He said, because you have a lot of seeds in you, both wholesome and unwholesome. As the gardener you have to transform the unwholesome seeds.

My Joy as a Monk

My biggest joy as a monk is being around Thay and my brothers and sisters. Sometimes I am sad about what is going on around me, because occasionally my brothers and sisters don’t act as I expect them to. But I am reminded by my elders in Upper Hamlet that just because we are monastics, we’re not saints, and we all have shortcomings. Sometimes I get discouraged because a brother might talk to me a bit harshly. But, if I truly care about that brother I will find out why he is acting that way. Often it is just because he is tired or has something on his mind.

One of my joys is offering massages to my brothers. Sometimes a brother will ask me why I don’t get tired, giving so many massages. But I don’t feel tired because doing this helps me connect to the brother that I am massaging. When we massage Thay, we follow Thay’s breath, and that is how I massage my brothers. Sometimes when I massage my mentor and I am not following my breath he will stop me and say, “What are you thinking about?” And I become aware that I am not totally focused on what I am doing.

Another joy is drinking tea with my brothers. Every day it is busy in my room because all the brothers stop by and we drink tea, we laugh and play. My room is like grand central station for the brothers before they go to other activities in Upper Hamlet. It is a real joy to have my brothers around.

Brother Chan Phap Uyen, True Dharma Garden, ordained as a monk in 2002 and lives in Upper Hamlet, Plum Village.

Sister Chan Thuong Nghiem (Sister Steadiness), is a nun in Plum Village.


  1. To read the ten novice precepts and the forty-nine chapters of fine manners for novices see Stepping into Freedom by Thich Nhat Hanh.
  2. See article in the Mindfulness Bell 33 about “Touching the Earth” practice and A text of Touching the Earth is also in the Plum Village Chanting Book (Berkeley: Parallax, 1999.)

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A Vietnam Veteran’s Story

Vince Rogalski,  Sr.


I am a Vietnam combat veteran. I grew up in a strict Catholic family, the second of five children.  We were poor, living in a two-bedroom house in a rough neighborhood. My father worked hard all his life; my mom was a full time wife and mother.

As a young Catholic, I was an altar boy, choirboy, and even considered joining the priesthood. But I was not an angel by any means. In our neighborhood, you needed to be tough or at least appear to be tough to get along. I got along. I always disliked school, even though I did pretty well most of the time.

I left college in 1967, and that November I was drafted. Five months later I was in Vietnam. My story is like many who saw heavy combat.  It’s enough to say the experience is one I have never forgotten. I will always be a Vietnam veteran.

I returned in May of 1968 with an Army Commendation Medal, a Bronze Star, and some Purple Hearts. But the pride and honor I felt was short-lived, and I soon realized that the wounds I came home with weren’t the kind that bled.

I was married two weeks after returning. My wife and I spent the remaining six months of my service in Colorado. We wanted a family, and my son was born in 1970, and my daughter two years later.

It was a struggle to make ends meet and the situation became desperate in 1973 when I was diagnosed with serious ulcers. I had three major surgeries and spent twenty-five days in the Intensive Care Unit where I almost died.

After that, I was out of work for a long time. We lost the house we had been buying. With creditors knocking on our door, I went back to work against my doctor’s advice. I sank into a depression but was too proud to seek professional help. I felt that since I had gone through a war, I should be able to handle anything. I felt that the government didn’t care about me so I couldn’t turn there for help.

For a couple of years I did everything I could think of to improve our situation. I took a second job, I worked overtime, I went back to school. But our situation didn’t improve. So I resorted to escaping in drugs and alcohol to numb my pain. In 1976, I got a bunch of pills and a lot of booze and tried to kill myself, but instead I spent sixteen weeks in a locked ward at the Johns Hopkins mental hospital. There I was diagnosed with a war neurosis. I’d been having nightmares at night and in the daytime too. They called them flashbacks.  I called them day mares. I got out of the hospital but I was still messed up. I finally started to see a psychiatrist through a new government outreach program for vets. I’ve been in some type of professional therapy ever since.

For the next twenty-two years, with the help of medication and counseling, I managed to keep my head above water, but just barely. During all these years, I couldn’t get close to people. I thought I didn’t trust them. What I came to realize was that I didn’t trust myself. After my parents died and my children were married, I left my wife. I honestly believe she’s better off without me. I knew that she could never forgive me or forget or let me forget. That was a big part of the problem. I couldn’t forget! The memories, the depression, the loss of my faith and self-esteem, all bore down once again. I was determined not to see the new millennium. This time I was going make sure my suicide attempt was successful. A bottle of liquor, all the pills I had at my disposal, and my quiet apartment was all I needed. But once again I failed. A worried friend came over and found me unconscious. This led to six months of intense treatment in four different mental institutions and six shock therapy treatments.

During this time, my son sent me a copy of a book titled Being Peace. The author was a Vietnamese monk named Thich Nhat Hanh. I am not a reader, but I had a lot of time on my hands at that particular moment so I read it. I felt a change in my perspective. I got another book called Touching Peace. After I finished it, I realized that I was thinking about the things I had read at least a little each day. I had never meditated before, but I tried it. I was still depressed and very unsure, but I seemed to be becoming calmer and more at peace.

The following year, 1999, my son told me about a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh at the Omega Institute. We went together. There was a veteran’s group there who welcomed both me and my son, which surprised both of us.

We experienced that though the people in the group were not all vets, they were all connected somehow. Not just connected by the war but connected to one another in a much more special way. Soon my son and I felt connected too. They were warm, loving, and honestly caring. Then we heard Thich Nhat Hanh speak about the way this Sangha practiced together and we began to understand more. We became a member of their family. It felt good to be hugged and in a very short while, I felt as if I’d known these people all my life. But more than that, I cared about them and somehow, I knew they really cared about me. It was hard to leave.

We went home and shared our experiences at the retreat and the next year we returned, bringing my daughter. She experienced the same warm welcome. It was a great thing: my son, my daughter, and I were having this experience together. I have never felt closer to my children. They have always been the center of my life but this practice has brought us together in a way that is hard to explain. We went to the retreat again last year and I’m sure we’ll go again.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a powerful, yet soothing teacher. His teachings haven’t solved my problems, but they have allowed me to slow down enough to see myself and others more clearly. I still feel much pain, guilt, and regret about the past. I also feel there is much to be thankful for. If it were not for my friend finding me unconscious, I would not be here now. I would have missed knowing my children, their spouses, and my three terrific grandchildren.

I’m not sure what a miracle is but for me it’s having hope where once there was none. I am now struggling with the realization that I have been diagnosed with leukemia and more recently Hepatitis C. I don’t expect miracles. I am only trying for hope and peace. Thich Nhat Hanh, the veterans’ Sangha, my daughter, Amy, my son, Vince, and my friend Kathy, have given me hope. I will always be a Vietnam veteran. I can neither forget nor change that. I now feel I have the strength to be other things. I hope it’s not too late to find peace.

Vince Rogalski, Sr. lives outside Baltimore, Maryland, where he is a government audit coordinator at Northrup Grumman. He continues to practice mindfulness with his son and daughter, and their families.

The Veteran’s Scholarship Fund is used exclusively to assist those who wish to join the Veteran’s Sangha at Thay’s retreats who otherwise might not be able to attend. The Veteran’s Sangha is committed to helping vets and family members process their feelings concerning the trauma of war. Contributions would be gratefully appreciated, and should be sent to Green Mountain Dharma Center, c/o Joyce, PO Box 182, Hartland Four Corners, VT 05049

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A Celebration of Peace

Mike  McGuire

Speech given at a peace rally in Veterans’ Park, Medford, Oregon in February, 2003

My name is Mike McGuire, and I am a veteran. Nearly thirty-five years ago I took an oath to my country and myself that I am still committed to uphold. Ironically, in substance it is very similar to the oath taken by George W. Bush as he officially assumed the role of Commander in Chief. In my case, the oath was on the occasion of receiving a commission to become an officer in the United States Navy in 1968. That oath to which we both swore our allegiance was to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America from enemies both foreign and domestic. It was clear to me then, as it is clear to me now, that it is this magnificent document, this Constitution, in particular the Bill of Rights, that makes America the country I would be proud to serve.

Much has changed in those thirty-five years. Much has changed in the last two years. It troubles me deeply that George W. Bush apparently did not take that oath seriously. Since his appointment as Commander in Chief two years ago, many of our basic Constitutional rights have been gutted.

Against everything that our founding fathers envisaged, it is now legal for an America citizen to be “disappeared,” with no right to legal council, no notification of arrest, no information as to where they are being held, and no safeguards against any misconduct or torture at the hands of their captors. All that is required is that the Executive branch of government or the military label you a “terrorist” and you are gone. No different than those countries whose actions we call inhumane and barbaric.

From an historical perspective, I believe the service given by a warrior to his society has been a heroic and honorable endeavor. It has been traditionally a selfless and necessary activity of maintaining borders and protecting women, children, and the necessities of life from the immediate dangers of invasion. But there is no honor when that warrior is instead ordered to murder large numbers of innocents in order to facilitate the theft of another sovereign nation’s resources in this case oil for the exclusive profit of the wealthiest multi-national corporations. Instead, this action turns into murder-for-hire.

How did we get to the point that the greatest threat to the U.S. Constitution is from within our own borders? How is it that the document which guarantees the human rights of American citizens is being erased before our very eyes? We each need to contemplate this question deeply. But what I want to address now is what we can do about creating a solution.

Reduced to its simplest form, this theft of our freedoms and rights has been accomplished through the calculated use of fear. Who doesn’t carry this fear? My personal fear is less about what Osama Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein has done or will do, and more about the direction my government is heading. But fear is fear. Where it gets projected is less important than how its effects cripple my sense of peace. Often it seems that the common assumption is that peace is the absence of war. But if I’m obsessed with fear, what peace can I experience?

Sometimes it seems all too easy to assume that peace is lacking because of George Bush or members of his administration. But that’s because in that moment I perceive those circumstances as being more real than the simple reality that I am alive and breathing and that in that breath lies the experience of true peace.

If the anti-war movement is to evolve into a true peace celebration, it will be because we as individuals know peace more truly than we know the fear we are being fed. It will be because we know an absolute standard by which to evaluate all else. That is the infinite and beautiful gift of life. I am capable of respecting another’s life only to the extent that I am respecting my own. If I want peace, I am capable of creating peace only to the extent that I know peace.

So I reach out to each of you to look to that which provides for you the greatest feeling of peace and well being in your lives. Take time to listen to that small wise voice within and the silence beyond. It may be most easily heard through your spiritual or religious practice. It might be through activities in your community; it might be spending time in nature only you know what nourishes you.

I believe that when enough people know the value of their own lives, that the values of this country indeed the world will be respect, dignity, compassion, peace, and freedom.

In conclusion I say that fear is the enemy. And that only peace prevails over fear. I invite you to know that peace within you and rise up with peace in your hearts and celebrate life.

Mike McGuire lives in Talent, Oregon and practices with the Community of Mindful Living, Southern Oregon. He is an active member of Peace House, the local chapter of  Fellowship of Reconciliation.

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Engaged Buddhism: Learning Nonviolence in Cambodia

Shelley  Anderson

How do you help people facing grave injustices to develop compassion in action?

This was the challenge facing me and the Buddhist nonviolence trainer Ouyporn Khuankaew, when we were asked to lead advanced nonviolence training for Cambodian activists.

The advanced training was to follow up on a nonviolence training Ouyporn and I had co-facilitated in Phnom Penh in the year 2000. That training had involved a challenging mix of nineteen university students, mostly younger women, and five illiterate older Buddhist nuns. The participants had belonged to two very different social groups that seldom interacted. The advanced training, too, would bring together groups that seldom mixed: university students from the urban center of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, and villagers from some of Cambodia’s poorest provinces.


The request to help facilitate the advanced training was exciting for several reasons. Since the first nonviolence training, the university students had been conducting their own trainings. They called themselves the Women Peace Makers group, and first aided girls in factories in the capital who were organizing for better working conditions. They then learned of villagers in rural areas who were struggling non-violently to stop illegal logging or land grabbing, and began to reach out to those communities. The advanced training would be a wonderful opportunity to learn more about these struggles, which seldom receive any attention from the international community.

Even more important, both Ouyporn and I were eager to learn more about engaged Buddhism in Cambodia. We are both Buddhist practitioners and especially influenced by Thich Nhat Hanh’s call to bring Buddhist perspectives to contemporary social problems. The desire to relieve suffering and to further develop the practice of Buddhist active nonviolence motivated us.

Bringing the Temple to the Streets

Cambodia has its own history of engaged Buddhism. Cambodia’s Supreme Patriarch, the monk Maha Ghosananda, has also called upon Buddhist practitioners to “bring the temple into the streets.” Similar to Thay’s work to end the devastating war in Vietnam, in 1987 Maha Ghosananda led a group of Buddhists monks and nuns to the United Nations’ sponsored peace talks in Indonesia. There he told all the fighting factions that he would form a fifth army. But this would be an “army of peace” whose ammunition would be “bullets of loving kindness.” “It will be an army absolutely without guns or partisan politics,” he announced, “an army of reconciliation with so much courage that it turns away from violence, an army dedicated wholly to peace and to the end of suffering.”

Since 1992 thousands of nuns, monks and lay people have joined Maha Ghosananda’s annual peace marches throughout Cambodia, called Dhammayietras. The first Dhammayietra played a very important role in de-escalating the atmosphere of violence during Cambodia’s first election. They have helped spread the values of nonviolence and compassion, and spread life-saving information on landmines, AIDS and the need to stop deforestation.

Many of the participants were surprised during our first training in Cambodia when we talked about Cambodia’s long history of active nonviolence, citing the example of Maha Ghosananda. They expected to hear instead about new, Western ideas on conflict resolution. But nonviolence, sometimes translated in Asia as ahimsa or “non-harming”, is evident in every culture and is as old as humanity. One aim of nonviolence training is to promote awareness of the values and resources that make for a culture of peace and nonviolence in the participants’ own culture.

This was especially important in Cambodia, where the scars of war remain unhealed. Between 1975 and 1979, at least one million Cambodians died of executions, forced labor, malnutrition, and disease. This was the period of the Khmer Rouge, the armed Cambodia force that outlawed money, schools, private property, and law courts. In this country where ninety-five percent of the population is Buddhist, the practice of religion was outlawed. Monks and nuns were forced to disrobe or be killed. An estimated 60,000 Buddhist monks died from starvation or execution during the Khmer Rouge years.


In the 1990’s Buddhist groups, such as the U.S. based Buddhist Peace Fellowship and the Thailand based International Network of Engaged Buddhists, helped to rebuild Buddhism by bringing in teaching materials on the Dharma and by supporting the education of Cambodian monks and nuns. Today, in a Cambodia where both politics and the courts are corrupt, the ordained Sangha is one of the few social institutions ordinary people trust.

Compassion in Action

Buddhism was obviously an important tool that the thirty-nine participants in the advanced training, held in August 2002, could use. We encouraged participants to use the Four Noble Truths in the training session on ways to analyze a conflict. First, identify the conflict, then look at the causes of the conflict. Then realize that solutions to the conflict were possible. This third truth could not be over estimated, because it is the basis of hope. There is mass corruption in Cambodian society. The rich, who may make their money from drugs, prostitution, or the exploitation of Cambodia’s dwindling natural resources, often bribe officials, while the poor can be picked up and thrown into jail at the whim of police. There was brutalization on a mass scale during the Khmer Rouge years. The trauma remains and violence is still common in Cambodia. Maintaining hope in such a situation is no small feat.

The fourth step in conflict analysis based on the Four Noble Truths involves identifying concrete ways to a solution. Tools to help the participants discover ways to find just solutions to social problems were explored. Many skits and practical exercises were held during the six-day training. They were all based on practical problems that the participants faced in their everyday lives. These problems included how to continue a nonviolent struggle after the villagers’ first action had failed; how to encourage people to try nonviolent methods rather than violence; and how to continue a nonviolent struggle even after the leaders have been killed.

The villagers, and the students who supported them, faced possible imprisonment. Corrupt police would be paid to put them in jail, or to beat them up. The deep belief in Buddhism gave some of the participants the courage to continue their struggles in the face of such massive odds. One of the participants was an older man, the leader of a village. In his village people make their living from fishing. But businesses were threatening their livelihood. Illegal trawlers were fishing in the traditional areas, capturing or killing all the fish. After their many complaints to the police were ignored, the villagers confiscated the trawlers, carefully explaining to the trawler crews why they were doing this.

The businessman, who refused to meet with the villagers, filed a court case, claiming they had destroyed his property. He also threatened to kill some of the villagers.  This was no idle threat: in some villages there are many widows whose husbands have been killed after protesting illegal fishing.

During the training, the village leader said, “The Buddha teaches us that everything will change. He teaches us that we all will die. So why should I be afraid of being killed? Since I will die, I would rather die for something important, rather than for something unimportant.” The entire room full of participants clapped and cheered this statement.

In addition to tools such as deep listening and conflict analysis, Ouyporn and I encouraged the participants to cultivate meditation. This tool to help cultivate inner peace would support the activists when dealing with the inevitable strong emotions of anger and fear. Every day we would begin by sitting in silence. Many participants had never meditated before. They were awkward at first, shifting uneasily on the bamboo matting which covered the floor.

After each silent sitting, we invited questions. “Why concentrate on the breath?” “Why do my thoughts constantly go back to my boyfriend, who made me very sad?” “My back hurts, am I doing something wrong?” “Why do you ring a bell; the meditation teacher at my temple never does this?” Were some of the questions.


Ouyporn and I shared our experiences with meditation, and repeated why it is important for activists to be still and reflective. Meditation is a tool as useful as conflict analysis models or any other organizing skill, we said. It can help us develop the inner strength to continue the struggle for peace even when everything and everyone around us says to give up.

This inner strength was especially important for the women in the training. Although women are now sixty percent of the population, because so many men and boys were killed by the Khmer Rouge, women have little power or respect in Cambodian society. “Cambodian women should be gentle, modest and shy,” said one woman. “Choosing a husband is the responsibility of the parents, not the daughter herself. A woman’s role is to know how to cook, take care of the children and serve her husband.” The women students (who form a minority in the country, as only fourteen percent of university students are female) talked about family pressure to give up their studies and social change work, in order to marry. Some participants cried when they also told how some villagers assume the women students must be prostitutes, because how else could a woman be free to travel from the city to the countryside?

At the end of the advanced training some participants said that the meditation was one of the most useful tools they learned. Ouyporn and I learned much from all the participants, especially about perseverance and courage. All of us learned a little more about how the rich insights of Buddhism can be applied to the most destructive problems of the modern world.

Shelley Anderson, True Great Harmony, coordinates the Women Peacemakers Program of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation and lives in Holland.

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