Dharma Talk: The Four Noble Truths

By Thich Nhat Hanh

The first Dharma talk of the Buddha after his enlightenment was about the Four Noble Truths. They express the cream of his teachings and method of practice. The Buddha continued teaching the Four Noble Truths right up until his “great passing away” (mahaparinirvana). It is important for us to study and learn deeply the practice of the Four Noble Truths.


The first noble truth is dukkha, which means ill-being, uneasiness, pain, or suffering. All of us suffer to some extent: we have some malaise within our body and our psyche. We have to recognize and identify it, to acknowledge the presence of ill-being and to touch it. Sometimes we may need the help of a teacher.

The second noble truth is samudaya, the origination of ill-being: how our ill-being came to be, its roots. We suffer and we recognize that suffering is there, and then we look deeply to see its origins. Without first touching our ill-being, there is no way we can look deeply into it and understand the second noble truth of origination. “This is, because that is. This is not, because that is not.” It is very simple. There is no need to make it complicated.

The third truth is nirodha, cessation: the absence or extinction of ill-being. This is good news. IT means ill-being can be transformed or removed. If you think that Buddhism says that everything is suffering and that we cannot do anything about it, that is the opposite of the Buddha’s message. The Buddha taught us to recognize and acknowledge the presence of ill-being, but we must not forget that he also taught the third noble truth, the possibility of the cessation of ill-being. If there is no possibility of cessation, what is the use of learning and practicing Buddhism? When a doctor diagnoses an illness she also tells us how to remove that illness. That healing is possible is the third truth, and it makes both the patient and the doctor happy.

The fourth noble truth is the path, magga: Right Views, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. Just as the second noble truth is the origination of ill-being, the fourth noble truth is the origination of well-being.

To summarize: (1) This is dukkha, ill-being. (2) This is samudaya, the origination of ill-being. (3) This is nirodha, the cessation or annihilation of suffering. 4) This is magga, the path or way. It is important for us to understand the interbeing nature of the Four Noble Truths. To understand dukkha, we have to understand origination, cessation, and path. If we don’t know the three other truths, we don’t understand dukkha. In Buddhism, dukkha has a specific meaning that can be understood only when we also understand the truths of origination, cessation, and path.

When we look deeply into the nature of ill-being, we see origination. But we also see the cessation of ill-being and the path. In fact, we need ill-being in order to see the path. The origination of ill-being, the cessation of ill-being, and the path for the cessation of ill-being are all found in the heart of ill-being. If we are too afraid to confront ill-being, we cannot realize the path. Don’t try to run away from your ill-being. Make peace with it, touch it. The Buddha said, “The moment you understand the nature of your ill-being, the moment you know how your ill-being has come to be, you are already on the path of release from it.” (Samyutta Nikay 247) If you know what has come to be and how it has come to be, you are already on the way to emancipation.

We have to understand the language the Buddha used. Ill-being means the absence of well-being. When ill-being is there, well-being is not there. Cessation means the absence of ill-being, which is the presence of well-being. When night is no longer there, something else must be, and that is day. In the West, when you want to teach someone mathematics, you say, “I will teach you mathematics.” But in Asia we sometimes say, “I will remove the lack of knowledge of mathematics from you.” The meaning is the same, but the expression is different. In Buddhism, we always encounter language like that. So we have to understand that the presence of ill-being means the absence of well-being, and the absence of ill-being means the presence of well-being. If we prefer, instead of saying “cessation,” we can use the word well-being. They mean exactly the same thing.

There are two pairs of cause and effect – ill-being and its origination, and well-being and its origination. There is a path leading to ill-being and there is also a path leading to well-being. If well-being is there, if happiness is there, if you are able to smile and enjoy the here and the now, there must be causes for your well-being, for the origination of your well-being. The fourth noble truth, the path leading to well-being is called by the Buddha the Noble Eightfold Path. In Chinese and Vietnamese, we call it the Path of Eight Right Practices. This path leads to the cessation of ill-being and to the presence of well-being.

The second noble truth, origination, is also a path. We can call it the Ignoble Eightfold Path, or the Path of Eight Wrong Practices. So there are two pairs of cause and effect: (1) Ill-being and the path leading to ill-being, which the Buddha called origination (which we can also call the Ignoble Eightfold Path, or the Path of Eight Wrong Practices) and (2) the cessation of ill-being, namely the presence of well-being, and the path leading to it, which is called the Noble Eightfold Path, or the Path of Eight Right Practices.

To share the teaching of the Buddha with the people of our time, we should be able to translate it into the kind of language that even young people can easily understand. This is why we have retranslated the Five Wonderful Precepts, using language capable of conveying the meaning of the Buddha to the people of our time. Each era needs a new kind of language that can convey fresh insight and understanding. We cannot renew our tradition without insight, and when we have true insight, we need language that is appropriate to convey it. This has happened throughout the history of Buddhism.


In our practice, we learn the way to transform ill-being and bring about well-being. It is important for us to learn the Noble Eightfold Path and put it into practice in our daily lives. We have to penetrate the interbeing nature of the eight elements. Each element contains the other seven. We cannot understand one if we do not also understand all eight. In geometry, to define line we use the notion of point, and to define point we use the notion of line. A point is the intersection between two lines. A line is a point that moves. The Eightfold Path is the same. The first element of the path is Right View, but we cannot understand Right View if we don’t understand the other seven rights.

Right View means right understanding, insight, and wisdom, which are both the fruits of the practice and the base of the practice, the cause and effect. By practicing, we improve the quality of our views. In fact, if we continue to practice, we find out that all our views are wrong views. But we have to make the effort to have views that are relatively free from errors. We all have the seeds of Right View in us: seeds of understanding, awakening, and wisdom, but they may be buried deep in our store consciousness. Our parents may have treated us badly, as if we were not capable of anything. Instead of inspiring self-confidence in us, they gave us low self-esteem. Our teachers, friends, and society also may have only watered the seeds of our low self-esteem, saying we were stupid and good for nothing. The Buddha taught that each of us has in us the seeds of Buddhahood, the capacity of waking up and understanding the nature of reality. That see of understanding in us is the baby Buddha herself.

When we stand before another person, we can place our hands together to form a lotus flower, bow, and say, “A lotus for you, a Buddha to be.” We can recognize and touch the seed of Buddhahood in that person. This is not just being polite. We really touch the seed of Buddhahood in the other person and help it grow. When we bow to a child in that way, we help her grow up beautifully, with self-confidence. If we allow the seed of Buddhahood in us to be watered, to be taken good care of, it will grow and flourish.

Right View has to do with perceptions. When we walk in the twilight, without a flashlight, we may perceive a piece of rope as a snake, and we might even scream. We suffer because of our fear, which is born from that wrong perception. The degree of Right View in us depends on our perceptions. That person has love for us. She really wishes us to be happy, but we don’t see it. We think she hates us and is trying to destroy our reputation. That person may be your mother, your lover, or your friend. It happens all the time. We are unable to see things clearly. We have wrong perceptions that prevent us from having Right View so our level of understanding and awakening is quite low.

In daily life, we have to look deeply at our perceptions and not believe so easily in them. We must always return to our perceptions and question whether we got it right or not. To do that, we have to practice mindfulness and concentration in daily life. Otherwise we might take this sound or that image in ways that are opposite of what they really are, of what was intended.

I know one young man who suffered terribly because of a wrong perception. His father had been away, and when he returned home, he learned that his wife was pregnant. His neighbor had been visiting regularly and been very helpful, and the father was sure that the child was not his but his neighbor’s, and this wrong perception settled in so deeply that he became icy and distant from his wife. She had no idea why he had become so cold, and she suffered a lot. And of course, the baby within her also suffered. All three of them suffered, as did other members of their family seeing them like that. One wrong perception made many people suffer for many years.

The child was born and grew in that atmosphere of suspicion and wrong perceptions. When he was twelve, his uncle, who was visiting, commented on how much the boy looked like his father and only then did the boy’s father accept him as a son. Much damage had been done in twelve years to the whole family, and now, many years later, the extent of the damage continues to reveal itself.

We have to be very careful about our perceptions. We may think that the other person hates us, and much suffering can come from just one wrong perception. The Buddha said that most of our suffering comes from wrong perceptions. That is why we have to listen and look carefully and avoid wrong perceptions as much as possible. We must always go to the person who said or did something and ask him if our perception was correct. We have to learn to see things more clearly in our daily lives and avoid wrong perceptions as much as possible. Our Right Views have very much to do with our perceptions.


Wrong Thinking also has to do with wrong perceptions and Wrong Views. Because all eight folds of the path are linked to each other, we cannot practice just one. To practice is to practice all eight. We have to remember the nature of interbeing of the eight elements of the path.

The poor father was so caught in his pride that he suffered enormously. Although he suspected that the child was not his, he did not have the courage to tell his wife. That is always a huge mistake. Don’t be so sure of your impressions. If you suspect something, go to the other person and ask. Pride has no place in true love. Do not let pride stand between you and that person. Always go to the other person and say, “I suffer. Please help me. Please tell me, why did you do that?” If you act like the father, you will cause suffering to yourself, to the one you love, and to many other people. The mantra I would like you to practice is, “Are you sure?” Are you sure of your perceptions? Don’t stick to that feeling, that perception, that belief, that impression. You will avoid a lot of suffering in the future if you are open to reexamine and explore each of your views.

In Buddhist literature, ditthi (Sanskrit: drsti, views) always means wrong views. Your view is from just one point. That is why it is called a point of view. If you go to another point, you will see other things. The first view was not complete and therefore not entirely a Right View. In the sutras the word “view” always means Wrong View. That is why we hear the expression, “All views are wrong views.” Our practice is to eliminate more and more the elements that are wrong from our views. If you have a view of something, be aware that if you look more deeply and practice more mindfulness, attention, and concentration, you will discover that the quality of your view can be improved.

Nuclear scientists have a view concerning electrons that they are pleased with, but they are careful. They continue to develop better accelerators, because they know that there is more to be discovered. They know that all views about the electrons are wrong views. We practitioners must do the same. We can never be sure of our views. Attachment to views is the greatest obstacle in the practice. We should be patient and careful, never too sure of our perceptions.

In each of us there is a river of perceptions flowing day and night. To meditate means to sit on the bank of the river and observe all perceptions. With the energy of mindfulness, we can see the nature of our perceptions and untie the knots that bind us to our wrong perceptions. All our suffering has its roots in our wrong perceptions, so please practice the mantra, “Are you sure?” Always refer to it, and try to look more and more deeply. Our views can be more or less wrong. When we have true understanding, we transcend all kinds of views, even our views of the Four Noble Truths. Looking deeply, we can appreciate the teaching of the Prajnaparamita: “no ill-being, no origination of ill-being, no cessation of ill-being, and no path.” It means we have to look again. Our view that the Buddha taught that life is suffering, that all existence is ill-being is not correct. If we practice the Ignoble Eightfold Path, ill-being will arise naturally, but if we practice the Noble Eightfold Path, our life will be filled with joy, ease and wonder. We will examine the other Right Practices later on.

This article on The Four Noble Truths is edited from a Dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh at Plum Village in July 1994. It will be included in a book on Basic Buddhism, to be published by Parallax Press in 1995.

First photo by Tran Van Minh.
Second photo by Lynn MacMichael.
Third photo by Therese Fitzgerald.

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

From the Editors

The Mindfulness Bell is always a community effort, beginning with submissions from readers describing their efforts to practice mindfulness in daily life. This issue is in remembrance of Charlie Malat, Hoang Phuoc, Sam Rose, and Anne Aitken, who passed from us in recent weeks. We begin with a Dharma talk by Thay on the transformation of suffering. Svein Myreng and Nora Houtman then illustrate practicing with Right Views, and Scott Mayer and Jim Fauss share insights on Right Livelihood. Jim Forest, Lisa Boken, and Father Mark Matthews explore mindfulness practice in light of Christian teachings, and others share practicing in relationships and other topics of personal interest. We are especially pleased to offer many photographs of the social work in Vietnam, thanks to the sisters from Hue, who hand-delivered them to us at Plum Village this summer. We hope you are nourished by this issue, and will share with us your own insights and experiences for our Fifth Anniversary issue, due out in February 1995.

—Therese Fitzgerald, Arnie Kotler, and Carole Melkonian

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Mindfulness of the Body

By Svein Myreng

Our bodies can bring us joy and pain, triumph and defeat, contentment and craving. We spend a lot of time getting our bodies “in shape”—through sports, health regimes, and beauty treatments, but somehow, they never seem to be enough. Living too fast and in unnatural environments, we become too easily estranged from just experiencing our bodies, and we become victims of the ideal of the perfect body as is marketed by the popular press, films, TV, and advertising.

Since real bodies aren’t idealized, having this idea of perfection creates a split in us. We struggle to reach it and we push away our feelings of failure. Huge industries of cosmetics, fashion, and workout studios bear witness to this, as does the sinister increase in eating disorders and cosmetic surgery. We are in conflict with ourselves.

In the Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, the Buddha offers a different way. This discourse is the classic catalog of mindfulness exercises, and about half of them deal with awareness of breathing and the body, which is also a door to knowing feelings, mind, and world.

Through being aware of our breathing and the positions and movements of our bodies, we unite body and mind and return to the present moment. We learn to live in our bodies and become intimate with ourselves on a deep level. We can reach a greater stability and calm, because we no longer are at the mercy of speedily changing ideas and feelings. We leam to experience what it means to be, rather than only experience ideas about being. As Stephen Levine has said, having an in-the-body experience is much more valuable than having an out-of-body experience!

At times, this can be difficult, since we store many old feelings and judgments in our bodies and our breathing. By giving attention to our bodies, we get to know these feelings and “internal knots” as well—and they are not always pleasant! So we practice mindfulness of the body with utmost kindness. When meditating on the body, we may become aware of thoughts or feelings like, “My breathing is too shallow,” “Who will ever love me when I’m so skinny (fat, tall, short, etc.),” or “I’ll never get enlightened with this terrible posture!” But we don’t practice mindfulness to change ourselves in accord with some preconceived idea, and we don’t have to believe thoughts like these. We only want to know ourselves—body and soul—and we don’t need to strive toward any specific idea. By being open, kind, and aware, slowly expanding our understanding, we open for transformation to take place at deeper levels than our surface consciousness.

Transformation is a process of nature. We just need to tend the garden of our body and soul, let in sun and fresh air, and give attention and affection to the many small creatures who live there. Then, nature itself will take care of our transformation. In fact, we are nature, much larger than our mind and body, and mindfulness of body can show us this. It shows that bodily sensations and impulses—as well as our thoughts, memories, and feelings—largely have their own life as natural beings. We need to spend a long time to befriend them and tame them (as Saint Exupery says in The Little Prince, to tame is to befriend). Attention and kindness are more useful than opinions, force, or willpower.

There are specific exercises that can help us see our connection to nature. By being aware that the four elements of fire, water, air, and earth are in us and everywhere around us, we can transcend feelings and images of isolation. It is curious that images of the body, often at a semiconscious level, can feel much more isolated than the actual experience of body-in-surroundings. At certain times in life, contemplating our body as a rotting corpse can help us see that our body also has a part in nature’s cycle of decay and new growth.


Mindfulness of body can be our great teacher in trusting nature—the nature of both body and soul. Trust, not because nature will never give us suffering, but because the ultimate, sacred dimension can be found right here. This offers deep healing on levels we may only be dimly aware of at the moment.

Svein Myreng, True Door, is a high school teacher and Dharma teacher in Oslo, Norway.

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Wrong Perceptions

By Nora Houtman-de Graaf

Two brother monks were living in a mountain temple—a master and his disciple, known as “One-Eye.” One night, a monk arrived at the temple asking for shelter. It was customary for a visiting monk to be challenged in Dharma combat, and if the visitor was successful, he would be given room and board. The master was tired and he asked Brother One-Eye to present the challenge.

Upon greeting the visiting monk, Brother One-Eye pointed one finger in the air. The visitor replied by holding up two fingers. One-Eye followed by holding up three, and after some hesitation, the visitor folded his fingers into a fist. Then One-Eye shoved the guest’s arm to the ground.

The visiting monk went to the master’s room. He told the master that since he lost the debate, he would be leaving. The master asked the visitor to tell him what happened, and the monk replied, “First your disciple held up one finger. I understood that to represent the Lord Buddha. I wanted to reply that the Buddha without the Dharma would be of no benefit, so I held up two fingers. Your disciple then held up three fingers, meaning that without the presence of the Sangha, the other two could not exist. I made a fist, meaning that the Three Jewels are one, but your disciple pushed me away, telling me that all such ideas are empty.”

The master went to find his disciple. When he met One-Eye, the young monk was shouting, “Where is that scoundrel? He insulted me!” Then Brother One-Eye told the master, “You know how others taunt me because I have only one eye? I knew this guest would do the same, so I held up one finger to say that I have only one eye. But he chided me by holding up two fingers to say that he has two eyes. I held up three fingers to say that together we have three eyes, but he made a fist threatening to smash out my good eye. So I pushed his hand down to the ground.”

This is a story about misunderstandings due to wrong perceptions.

Nora Houtman-de Graaf, True Fruition, is a Dharma teacher in Bilthoven, Holland.

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Listening to Nature

By Katla Hannibal

The years that I have been visiting Plum Village have been very rewarding to me, in terms of taking refuge in nature. In my meditation practice I realize more and more that I am in a state where no habit energy is disturbing me. But it is amazing how easy the usual “tapes” can sneak into you. As soon as I become aware of it, I take refuge in nature. To me that means to look, hear, smell, and feel what is around me, to be present through all my senses. I often experience that nature itself contacts me and reveals to me what I am doing. It happened twice during my visit to Plum Village this summer.

One morning I was asked to lead a short morning meditation. A staff member had to come in to take out some tables for breakfast. To make the event useful, I said “Let the noises around you help you to make your meditation still deeper.” The moment I said “noises” I knew that it had a negative connotation and I should have said “sounds.”

Afterwards, I sat under the linden tree and the “tape” was going on and on, while I repeated the situation in my mind. Then I felt someone patting my shoulder. I turned and no one was there. Coming to my senses, I realized that a breeze had just shaken the tree and a branch had touched my shoulder. Nature was telling me to be aware of what I was doing. The branch was a dead branch, and I felt as if the tree were saying, “Katla, you are at a dead end.” Later I apologized to the staff member for referring to him as “noise.” He said he hadn’t noticed and that what I did had been helpful to him. It was not easy for him to go in and get the tables during our meditation.

During walking meditation another time I was very much aware of the present, I thought. Suddenly I heard a big bee buzzing around me. My thoughts went like this: Why would it fly around me? What will it tell me? It said buzz, could it say “buzy.” Why busy? What did I do when it came. Oh yes, I was unaware and into thinking habit energy. I often name this state: busymind. The “buzz-bug” was my mindfulness bell. And it spoke to me in English!

We interpret nature in our own way. The message we receive is us.

Katla Hannibal, newly ordained in the Order of lnterbeing, is a nurse in Denmark.

Sometimes it can be difficult to practice mindfulness outside of a community. Where I live it is often very quiet. I now see an opportunity to enjoy the tiny sounds — mice scurrying on a bookshelf, the sound of snow settling, or the first sounds of birds on a warmer day — as bells of mindfulness.

Sue Austin
Tetonia, Idaho

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Work Enlightenment

By Scott Mayer

When I was 18, I was working hard in an Oregon sawmill factory. I was also ingesting hallucinogenic drugs with the incredible boredom of work, as I considered it “grave time,” a sacrifice from life. This conditioning still lingers. The Puritan in me looks to work for self-esteem and, at the same time, considers work an obligation that requires me to miss the present moment, to miss my life. Neither of these attitudes towards work touches the deeper opportunities for happiness and freedom that work offers.

Two summers ago I was asked to be the work leader at the Plum Village Summer. I dreaded asking the other retreatants to work during their vacation days. I preferred my previous job as a guest manager, where I could welcome people and see to it that they were comfortable. So I decided to make this my summer for developing fearlessness. I would muster my courage and ask people to work, all the while breathing consciously and smiling.

I was trying to make the work sign-up board clear, truthful, and beautiful. I was praying that this might ease the pain for people of signing up. But when it came time to put the title on the top, I was stuck. “Job Sign-up” was honest but boring. “Community Effort” was true but vague. “Work Meditation” was the usual heading, but coming from me it felt too euphemistic. So I left the space empty. On the first evening of the retreat, when I was to introduce our work practice to the community, the sign-up board was still without a heading. Sitting in the audience waiting to speak, I saw how stuck I was in my attitude towards work. By the time I was handed the microphone, a muse somehow came forth and helped me speak. My negative understanding of work vanished and was replaced by a compassionate, positive view. I saw that work, rather than an obstacle, can be a door to liberation. Since so many of us carry strong seeds of the work ethic in us and need to earn a living, why not use this for our practice of transformation? I envisioned three levels on which work can help cultivate liberation—”Three Stepping Stones of Work.”

First, I saw the “Mundane Stepping Stone,” doing work simply because it needs to be done, and as a way to be in touch with our bodies, our breath, and the physical environment Work at this mundane level is a form of prostration, a physical participation in the reality of human life.

The second opportunity offered by work is the “Mindfulness Stepping Stone.” With this stone, we can utilize our daily work as a field for awareness. Why limit meditation to sitting and walking? Why not include work also? But this is not easy. Today there are few jobs that offer the manual simplicity of chopping wood and carrying water. Late twentieth century work is characterized by time pressure and greatly varied conceptual demands. If we think that work meditation must be like wood splitting, work practice will be nearly impossible to integrate into our lives.

Mindfulness means simply coming back to the present moment. The practice is about awareness and acceptance of life as it is, in this moment, not about creating ideal situations. The practice of working calmly, quickly, and efficiently, while not rushing towards our goal, is fundamental to practice. Consciously following our breath and physical actions creates this awareness. I also try to stay in touch with the big picture while working on the little picture. When I find myself in a big hurry, I ask myself, “One hundred years from now, what will the important aspect of this moment be?” I often use a koan offered by Thay, “Where am I going?” Sometimes I just look up and see the perspective that the sky, the clouds, and the stars offer. When I have this larger perspective, even my work feels like play. Work becomes an end in itself, engaging and enjoyable. This present-centered-ness usually helps my efforts be effective. But even when it doesn’t, I still feel more alive.

When writing, I try to be aware of my body’s tensions, comforts, and posture, and to make the appropriate adjustments. At the same time, I periodically observe my mind to see if I am present with the task at hand, or dreaming, or getting nervous. Everytime I remember to return to the present moment, it feels as if a spring breeze is blowing over my mind and body, offering me a fresh start.

The third stone offered through work is the “Community Stepping Stone.” Taking refuge in a community helps us let go of our small selves and realize our greater body. I have experienced no better way to let go of my painful sense of an isolated self than by my working with a community for the common good. Working with a community is a manifestation of interbeing. We give of ourselves and we receive the benefits. For this stone to be effective, we have to do our share of the work, and we must practice giving generously. For work addicts, this may be unskillful, but for most of us, generosity is the only way. I tried this first at Plum Village, and now in my hometown with a tree planting group and in efforts at helping form a practice Sangha.

I shared this “sudden enlightenment” on the opening night of our retreat. Now my challenge is what to do with this insight. How can I nurture it into a realization? Is it possible to form a work practice community that can serve as a vehicle to manifest this practice right in the marketplace? By myself, I will certainly fail. With others, it may be possible.

The work sign-up board remained all summer without a title, but the Sangha filled in this lack of words, with a generosity in their work efforts. This was due to the good spirit of the retreat, Thay’s talks, Sister Jina’s direction of the Upper Hamlet, and to many of the members tasting the fruits of mindfully helping out, doing what needs to be done.

Scott Mayer, True Nonduality, is a tree surgeon in Portland, Oregon.

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The Small Red Heart

By Lisa Boken

Many times after driving from one place to another, I realize that I don’t remember most of the trip. I often eat a plate of food so unconsciously that I wonder where the food has gone when I awaken to an empty plate.

Here’s a “day-in-the-life” example: I have plenty of time and a friend and I are having lunch together. She is telling me about a movie she saw and how it relates to something that happened to her. She mentions something about a father in the movie and my mind wanders off thinking about my son’s father and then to my father, oops, I missed the next part of what she is saying. Back to listening. Then I see out of the corner of my eye the local librarian walk by and I remember a book I have that is overdue. I start to think about how I should xerox the pages I need for my next sermon and return the book to the library. Thinking of the sermon makes me think of my work at the church and I try to remember if I turned off the heat when I left this morning. Right about then I pick up on the conversation my friend is trying to have with me as she is ending a sentence with the cadence of a question. Well, I blew it again. I happened to get caught not listening this time. Quite often this goes on in my daily life—sometimes I am caught and sometimes not.

One time I asked my son, Zac, to draw a picture of life on a blank piece of white paper. I left him alone to do this and when I returned, in the center of the paper was a splatter of black ink, on the top of which were splatters of metallic gold and silver paint. Coming off the sides were little wavy combs of green and yellow. When I told him how much I enjoyed his picture of life he said, “I bet you didn’t even see the picture of life.” I was confused and asked if it was not the one on the kitchen table. He said that on that paper up in the left-hand side there was a small red heart and that was the picture of life but no one ever notices it because there is so much going on all the time. Sure enough, I hadn’t seen the small red heart of life. Once again, I was reminded of who I am and where I was at that very moment.

I have found that breathing helps me return to the present moment. When I feel ragged or disconnected, if I stop and take a deep breath and really let it go, I can relax my muscles and say to myself, “Lisa, Monday morning has not arrived yet,” or “You are not at that meeting you were at yesterday, you are right here. Take a deep breath and come back to where you really are.”

The seasons don’t hurry. The Earth does not turn more quickly because someone is impatient for the dawn. We can’t rush the seasons or the dawn of our understanding. The past is gone, the future is not yet here. If we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.

I often wonder whether there is anything that corresponds to mindfulness in the Judeo-Christian religion. Much of the Bible is written with a view to the future, not encouraging us to look to the day we are in but to promised days and lands to come. Jesus’ words, as recorded in the gospels, are probably the most present-moment oriented, with such messages as, “Stop being anxious about your souls as to what you will eat or what you will drink or about your bodies, about what you will wear. Does not the soul mean more than food and the body more than clothing? Who of you by being anxious can add one cubit to your lifespan? So never be anxious about the next day, for the next day will have its own anxieties.” It was also recorded that on many occasions, Jesus was very present with the people with whom he was in contact. He would notice small children and talk with them. He spotted Zacchaeus up in a tree trying to get a look at Jesus through the crowd and called him down to talk and listen. And when the Pharisees demanded of Jesus to tell when the Kingdom was coming, he answered them, “The Kingdom of God is not coming with striking observableness. For look, the Kingdom of God is in your midst.” Luke 17:20-21.

Perhaps Jesus taught more about being present than is recorded. The word “spirit” in the Bible is said to come from the Hebrew word ruah and the Greek word pneuma. Both have root meanings in “to breathe” or “to blow.” Spirit is present in the breath. Life is in our breath and our breath is always in the present. We can think about yesterday or last year or next week, but we cannot breathe yesterday or tomorrow. Breath is always here and now. When it isn’t, there is much anxiety.

When we find ourselves living out of the past and into the future, it is not too late to take a deep breath and experience the present moment. This is where life is. This is the only place where the sacred can be found.

Lisa Boken is a Unitarian minister in Orleans, Massachusetts.

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Change of Vocation

By Lisa Boken

After the retreat at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, with Thich Nhat Hanh in September 1993,1 had a startling experience. The next day I returned to Harvard Divinity School to complete two more years of study. My experience at Harvard had been highly intellectual and for the most part, devoid of spirituality. I struggled daily with who I was and how to be a spiritual leader. During the retreat, I had felt much closer to who I really was, and the contrast was shocking. Despite the fact that I had spent six years working to become a credentialed Unitarian Universalis! minister, I decided to leave school. It was quite frightening but inside me was a sense of peace that I had not felt for a long time.

Two weeks later, I received a phone call from a church that was accepting applications for the position of minister and they requested that I apply. I told them I was not credentialed and I might not go back to school to get my degree, and they said they didn’t care. They had heard about my work and wanted to talk. (This is unheard of in the denomination and against operating practices, although not against written policy.) Soon after, I was hired and began the work of helping this small and growing congregation.

What this experience shows me is that life is too short to spend lots of time and money ($21,000 in school loans) on unnecessary activities just because someone says you have to. I knew in my heart that I could do something as a minister in the world, drawing from the resources that were in my heart and mind. I also knew that I wasn’t resistant to hard work, study, and learning if the learning was not in an ivory tower and dealt with the business of real life.

As expressed in her book Learning True Love, Sister Chan Khong’s life and spirit has been solace for me in my struggle with this step outside the system. When Sister Chan Khong told Thay Thanh Tu that she wanted to be a nun, he said, “I do not think that becoming a nun would suit you. Nuns have to follow the traditional discipline. You might rebel against it.”

I find the same problem with my friends at Harvard who will soon graduate and become ministers. They had so many ideals when they entered school. They wanted to be of real service to people, to confront poverty, classism, racism, and so on. Now they are more interested in not rocking the boat and getting a good job in a church so that they can pay back their school loans and relax. It saddens me. I am thankful I have learned to live on very little money and that I am free to act out of my conviction and with integrity.

Lisa Boken is a Unitarian Minister in Orleans, Massachusetts.

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The Eucharist

By Mark Matthews

Today I celebrate the Eucharist at the corralon in south Texas. The corralon is the Immigration Detention Center, the equivalent of jail. Several women, representing various Latin American countries, celebrate with me. Behind every face there is sadness and worry. They have not seen their children in months and they suffer indignities  daily in the corralon. Many have been the victims of crime. These women bear a loneliness that is tangible.

Our makeshift altar is adorned with Guatemalan cloth and a Mexican crucifix. As we reflect on the bread and wine placed on it, we begin to see that this Communion wafer and wine are offered today in El Salvador, Honduras, and Argentina. If we look closely, we see our children, our parents, and our friends in the grains of the bread and in the drops of wine. We see our village church back home in Mexico where we went frequently as children with our mother. When we celebrate Eucharist, we are close to those we love, both living and dead. My friends cry tears of relief as they see their town, church, and families in our small plate of bread and cup of wine. Standing in a circle around our altar, holding hands, smiling, we nourish the best elements in each other. For the first time in a long time, my sisters feel connected to each other and to the world outside. The healing elements of mindfulness transform some of their sorrow.

I still carry these women in my heart. I know they are a part of me, as they were even before I met them. I am more conscious now of what my role must be in a country that bashes immigrants. It is easy to dismiss people when you sit behind a television or read the newspaper. Looking into the eyes of real people and hearing the stories of what they live through, it is harder to exclude them. People are not statistics.

When I taste mindfully of the Eucharist, I see the bombed churches, the murdered family members. When I feel the pain, I know I have a part to play. Christ is still being broken and poured out.

Mark Matthews is a Catholic priest who works developing Christian Base Communities in La Joya, Texas. He is interested in corresponding with others who practice mindfulness in the Christian tradition.

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Daily Prayer

By Jim Forest

We live in what may be the busiest, noisiest, and most distracted society in human history, factors which make prayer much harder. Here are a few suggestions that come from my own experiences of coping with noise, busy-ness, and interruptions while trying to become more prayerful. Perhaps one or two may be helpful to you.

A less tidy life: “It’s too much for me. I always feel at my wit’s end, exhausted, irritable, and don’t even want to pray.” This is what a woman with a large family told Dorothy Day about her effort to maintain an immaculate, well-ordered house, meet everyone’s needs, while at the same time taking in homeless people. She asked in desperation, “What can I do?” Dorothy’s response was simple: “Lower your standards.” We will not be asked at the Last Judgment how tidy we were. Not that it doesn’t matter, but it matters less than we usually think. It may be that no one is more to blame than ourselves for our being exhausted and feeling we don’t have enough time for really important things. Minimal rather than maximal tidiness might be good not only for our prayer life but for a more responsive, attentive life in general.

Move the TV: In this time of acute sensitivity to various addictions, among the addictions least mentioned is television watching. Many homes center on the TV. In our own home there have been years of stuggle about television—countless arguments with our kids about what they watch, and a more hidden struggle for Nancy and me about putting the brakes on our own watching. A corner was turned for us a year ago last Christmas when we moved the TV out of the living room. Now the kids, the main viewers, watch TV in our bedroom, and Nancy and I watch what we want to as well, but all of us watch much less than we did when the TV was in the living room. Our living room is a different place: quieter and more restful. All of us do more reading than we did a couple of years ago, and there is more conversation (and less argument) in the house. It has made the house easier to pray in.


Prayer during chores: Still there are dishes to wash, floors to clean, and many other repetitive chores. Experiment with simple prayers while doing what is often regarded as boring activity. I still treasure the advice I once got from Thay Nhat Hanh: “Wash each dish as if it were the baby Jesus.” Tacked to the window above our kitchen sink is this reminder from Brother Lawrence: “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees before the Blessed Sacrament.”

The little way: Here is one of my favorite quotations from Dorothy Day: “Paperwork, cleaning the house, dealing with the innumerable visitors who come all through the day, answering the phone, keeping patience, and acting intelligently, which is to find some meaning in all that happens in these things, too, are the works of peace, and often seem like a very litde way.” Prayerful people are capable of taking the present moment so much to heart that they don’t even realize they have let go of those preoccupations that often make the people and objects around them seem ghostlike. Our prayer life has much to do with what we do with the details of life, the in-between moments. It has to do with the spirit in which we listen to others and see them, and the way we respond to interruptions and unexpected events.

Jim Forest, former General Secretary of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, is Director of Peace News Service and author of books on Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and others. He lives in the Netherlands.


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Right Relationships

By Richard Brady

The Third Precept: Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I vow to cultivate responsibility and learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.

Teaching a ninth-grade course on sex and sexuality has given me an opportunity to learn more about the Third Precept and to experience the support of my Sangha in doing so. During the first part of the course, Joan, my teaching partner, and I engaged the class in a discussion of gender stereotyping, showed an episode of a TV program that dealt with retaining virginity, invited a victim of date rape to speak to the class, and gave the class an article on teen sex to read and discuss. The students kept a journal and later shared their reactions with the class.

The discussion was distressing. Students dismissed the video as simplistic and the article as preachy. Our guest was seen as genuine, but no one cared to comment on her message. Finally, one young man told us that we were missing the entire point of the topic, namely love. “Love is beautiful,” he said, “and sexual relations are a natural expression of this beautiful connection.” But most of the students did not participate in this discussion. Those who did were primarily boys who spoke but seemed uninterested in listening to others’ points of view.

Joan and I were at a loss as to how to proceed. But before our next planning meeting, my Sangha met for its Sunday evening meditation and Dharma discussion, which always included an invitation to Sangha members to bring up problematic life situations for the Sangha’s wisdom. When I did, Mitchell commented that in our hopes of getting the students to talk openly with each other, Joan and I had abdicated our role of sharing our own mature perspective and understanding with them. Pam related the rewarding experience of discussing Thay’s commentary on the Third Precept with her own teenager. And Grace volunteered to speak to our class about the evolution of her own understanding of sexual relationships.

It was with a strong sense of support that I shared the Sangha’s discussion with Joan. We went on to read the journal entries from the previous class: “We’ve already studied this and aren’t learning anything,” was a typical comment from the vocal boys. William, who felt differently than his peers, said he had decided to go along with them rather than be ridiculed. Several of the girls said that they would not participate in discussions because they did not feel respected by the boys. Mitchell was right. We needed to step in and give the class some overdue guidance, but we needed to avoid preaching. Thay always says that all of the precepts boil down to just one: “Be mindful!” Mindfulness in relationships and all that this implies felt like the right basis for a Dharma talk to the class the following day. I volunteered to give it. Before preparing my notes that evening, I read Thay’s commentary on the Third Precept from For a Future to Be Possible and found in it the conclusion for my talk.

“Sometime in your life you will probably be involved in a sexual relationship,” I began. “As your teacher, there is one message I want to give each of you—that, whatever the circumstances, in order to be successful, it will be vitally important for you to look deeply at your relationship, to really understand it so as to be able to act well in it. This means looking deeply at who you are, examining your values and attitudes. If you find yourself reacting negatively to a class presentation, don’t dismiss it. Look inside and try to understand more about who it is that is reacting to it. Looking at a relationship also means looking at your partner. If you get involved in a heterosexual relationship, it will be with a person who has grown up receiving very different messages about sex and sexuality than you have. In any case, your partner will be different from you. Take advantage of the precious opportunity this class affords to really listen to how others, especially others who are really different from you, feel about this intimate subject” Finally, I underscored Alex’s remark about the fundamental role of love by reading Thay’s description of two kinds of love: tinh, passionate, self-absorbing love, and nghia, sustaining, solid, giving love. “Love is beautiful,” I agreed, “but when you are in love, in order to handle your relationship well, it is necessary to look deeply to understand the nature of your love.” This time the students really heard the message about mindfulness. Shennan, one of the least patient with our earlier efforts, expressed his special appreciation of Thay’s comments on mindfulness and love.

A couple of months before the course began, Grace, the Sangha member who volunteered to talk to our class, had shared with the Sangha what a challenge it was for her as a single woman in our society to practice the Third Precept. She said that when she looked deeply at who she was, it was exactly that precept that she needed. Most teenagers do not yet have the experience or the ability to see why the Third Precept is so important, but they are clearly ready to accept the challenge of being more mindful about their relationships.

Richard Brady, a mathematics teacher who is on sabbatical this year, is one of the founders of the Washington Mindfulness Community

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Investing in Harmony

By Allan Hunt Badiner

A commentary on the fifth of the Five Awarenesses that couples promise to practice upon being married: “We are aware that blaming and arguing never help us and only create a wider gap between us; that only understanding, trust, and love can help us change and grow.”

Looking deeply, it is easy to see that blaming and arguing do not help us. As soon as we hear the argumentative tone from anyone, the ego bristles, defenses tighten, and our reactive instinct kicks into high gear. The compassionate ear that one always expects from one’s partner suddenly seems paralyzed and dysfunctional. Aggressive and critical speech puts our case, however just it may be, up against an impenetrable barrier of fear, separation, and defensiveness.

But blaming and arguing happen. It is inevitable that we will experience irritation at our partner, and there is a compelling instinct that wants to blame the other person for it. Expecting to forever leave behind blaming and arguing is unrealistic, and may set one up to become even angrier. The key is to prepare yourself for its eventuality, and train yourself to deal skillfully with the negative results. Practicing the art of listening and loving speech serves us better. When we are suffering, we often feel blocked and unable to express love and sympathy for our partner. We want to be taken care of, and when we aren’t, it makes us feel unloved, unappreciated and angry. This is why it is so important to prepare for these times when communication is difficult, by practicing deep listening and loving speech daily, when everything is going well. Don’t wait until you are having problems.

This is the practice: First, encourage your partner, or loved one, to grow and change by watering the seeds of their happiness and protecting their self-esteem. Express your appreciation for the helpful things your partner does, even if they seem second nature or routine. Don’t wait for something unexpected to offer positive feedback. Every supportive and helpful thing should be acknowledged and appreciated. Take time to stop and listen to your partner. Be a loving pair of ears to hear the inevitable frustrations and difficulties that your partner will face. Loving someone in this way creates an environment of encouragement and stimulation to develop one’s compassion and character.

Secondly, when you feel pain, anger, or suffering, don’t try to express it right away. Breathing in, and breathing out, we can embrace our pain and suffering with mindfulness. Observe how these emotions make you feel, and what role you are playing in their creation. The base of suffering is within us, and it depends on our perceptions. We must recognize that our perceptions are colored by our unconscious desires and preconceptions. If we rush to tell our partner how we are feeling, we may miss the opportunity to examine the real cause of the suffering, and unjustly blame him or her for our pain.

At Plum Village, a practice has developed from this teaching called the peace treaty. We make a peace treaty by spending 24 hours with your suffering and angry feelings before trying to resolve the situation. This allows us time to reflect on and recognize our internal formations—old hurts and pains that have hardened into easily triggered patterns of reactivity—and contemplate creative solutions for whatever difficulties we face.

Thirdly, if the painful feelings persist, then we go to our partner and ask for their help. This is hard to do when we feel he/she is the cause of our suffering. When we are able to calmly tell our loved one that we are in pain and we need their help, it often destroys the obstacles to communication and creates the possibility of active compassion. Thich Nhat Hanh suggests we practice these words like a mantra: “My dear, I am suffering, I need your help.” The words summon the energy of love and invoke the sacredness of our mutual trust Fourth and finally, we practice breathing and smiling for ourselves and for our partner. People, like animals and even the insects, are part of communities of life. We need our communities in order to be happy and fulfilled. When we form a partnership with a loved one, we are creating a community of being. If our partner is not happy, there is no way we can be truly happy. Practice smiling to your partner at least once a day, not just for your partner, but for you too. When your partner practices walking mindfully, it isn’t for herself alone, but for you too.

If our parents did not know how to create happiness and joy in a family, then we will not know how to either. We must take the time we need to learn and share it with our partner. Making people happy is an art we can learn by practicing in a community, even in a community of two. Like plants in a garden, we need each other’s watering and care. We need to practice saying and doing things that make our partner happy, and not saying and doing the things that make him or her unhappy. As Thay often reminds us, “There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.”

When we practice the Five Awarenesses, like the Five Precepts, we bring protection, peace, joy, and happiness not only to ourselves, but to everyone. The happiness of one person or a couple is crucial to the happiness of the world, and by practicing the Five Awarenesses we cause the whole world to profit. When we recognize that our happiness is the happiness of those around us, and the birds, plants, and even rocks, we will do everything we can to make ourselves happy. It may well be that this experience of solidarity, of interbeing, of love and compassion, is itself happiness.

Allan Hunt Badiner, editor of the book Dharma Gaia, lives in Big Sur, California. This is the fifth in a series of five articles.

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Practice Back in the World

By Jim Fauss

I had the good fortune to be at Plum Village this summer. But leaving Plum Village and the support of the community was a serious challenge to my equanimity. In Paris, I missed my flight to San Francisco, and spent an extra two days there waiting for another flight. I arrived home at 12:30 a.m. exhausted, and had to be at work at 6 a.m. the same day!

I often ask myself, “How can I practice at home as I did at Plum Village?” I often seem to be more in forgetfulness than mindfulness. I am a bus driver, and I let myself get irritated at my passengers and at other drivers. To get off the bus at the next stop, passengers pull a cord above their head and a chime sounds. The sound of the chime is very irritating to me. It means I have to stop, and that can get me behind schedule. I know that some passengers even pull the cord just to annoy me.

So now, I use the sound of the chime as a mindfulness bell. Each time I hear it, I return to my breathing, and the more I hear it the more pleasant it becomes. When a vehicle cuts in front of me I smile wide enough so that the other driver can see it I also try to know when I am becoming tense, so I can remember to breathe.

I am not always successful in bringing mindfulness into my daily work, but sometimes even whole days are great—as if I’m still in Plum Village!


Jim Fauss, newly ordained in the Order of lnterbeing, lives in Modesto, California.

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Cherishing Each Day

By Howard Weamer

In 1992 my wife and I began raising Yeti, our first Canine Companion puppy. These dogs assist physically challenged companions by learning specialized skills like turning lights on and off, fetchings objects by name, alerting the person to sounds in their home, etc. Our job was to present CCI with an 18-month-old puppy that was well loved and socialized, liked to learn, and had basic manners. Yeti was a dog bred for intelligence and a desire to serve. She learned so fast that we felt the anxieties of parents with a firstborn; we were sure we were not working with her enough.

Along with the puppy, you acquire some obligations. You pay for food and medical care, which cost us about $2,300. You are provided a manual of instructions which gives you a schedule for introducing about 60 commands and suggestions on how to teach them to the puppy. You also have telephone backup from a training center in Santa Rosa, California.

Yeti spent months in the Sierra Mountains of California, went backpacking, attended college classes, ran innumerable miles in the grasslands and on beaches, and went with enthusiasm wherever our lives took us. Because we knew the parting was inevitable, we cherished every day we had Yeti. We knew that our pup would bring love and joy into someone else’s life as she had ours. Yet eight months after we let her go, the tears still fall. The devotion we had to the program during the months of training had to carry us through the graduation, when our pup entered her life of service to another. Before returning Yeti to CCI, we attended a graduation. It showed us the incredible challenge, opportunity, and independence these dogs now offer their new companions. We await our second adventure with another puppy and hope we can do even better next time. Yeti is now living with a ten-year-old autistic boy who is paralyzed.

Howard Weamer lives in Yosemite, California

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The War of Alcoholism

By Thich Duc Thien

Thanks to mass media and historical research, everyone can know the death toll of troops and civilians killed during both World Wars I and II, and the wars in Korea, Indochina, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and the Persian Gulf. But do we know how many people have been killed by alcoholism?

Andres Escobar, the well-known Columbian soccer player, was killed by a drunk driver on the night of July 1, 1994. If Humberto Mufioz Castro hadn’t drunk alcohol that day, surely Escobar would not have died so tragically. The murder of Andres Escobar was widely publicized because of his fame. But countless other victims of alcoholic violence remain unknown.

Drinking alcohol is an established practice in both Eastern and Western countries. We drink to celebrate weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, ancestors’ day, farewell parties, welcome-home parties, and many other significant events. In North Vietnamese pagodas, alcohol is offered to Anathapindika, who wasn’t a monk. Therefore, people believe he will accept offerings of alcohol.

A man who doesn’t drink is considered to be a coward. “A man without alcohol is like a flag without wind,” says a Vietnamese proverb. In the Chinese novel 108 Heroes of Liangshan Mountain, the medieval knights are described as superhuman: strong in the martial arts and able to drink heavily. Like Robin Hood and Jesse James, they plundered the rich to give to the poor. But after drinking, they also killed many innocent people, including women and children. Lucky Luke, “the poor lonesome cowboy who drew out his revolver quicker than his own shadow,” was also a heavy whiskey drinker.


As Buddhists, we practice the Five Wonderful Precepts. The Fifth Precept states, “We are determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant.” Alcohol is the cause of many accidents and crimes. If everyone all over the world practiced the Fifth Wonderful Precept, such crimes and accidents would surely decrease.

To initiate an international movement for mindful consumption in order to avoid the suffering caused by alcoholism, I urge the United Nations to declare July 1st as International Day against Alcoholism and Intoxication in memory of Andres Escobar. I hope you agree with my proposal.

Thich Due Thien was a captain of the Vietnamese (Communist) Army during the Second Indochina War 1965-1975. He became a monk in 1989 and now works for handicapped children in Hanoi.

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Finessing Anger

By Bill Clarke

My most cherished memory of my father is in this picture: we are sitting on the green lawn in the sunshine in front of our military housing. Between us is a fawn-colored rabbit. My father is handsome, but it is his demeanor that is most striking. His whole face is a gentle smile. His body leans forward in affection and caring for me and the rabbit. It was 1946, and World War II must have seemed far behind him. I was three years old.

The rest of my memories of my father are quite different. When I was five, I filled his bourbon and Coke with pepper to try to convince him to stop drinking. He routinely stood me at attention so I could meekly and mutely receive the instructions and corrections he hammered at me like a drill sergeant. Insubordination was the unpardonable sin. My rewards came from being very good and acting as nice and grown-up as my father wanted me to. So I got good grades, shined his shoes and his brass, made up his uniforms every night, said “Yes, Sir,” and “No, Sir.” As a result, we got along. He could be charming while sober, but his sober moments came less and less frequently. When drinking, his rage at the world, two wars, and his depressed wife came boiling forth. Then, I was mercilessly criticized and belittled.

The night after Dad returned from the Korean War, I heard my mother screaming, “Help me! Help me!” I ran to their bedroom and threw open the door. My father was on top of my mother, holding her hands over her head. She yelled to me, “Help me!” and Dad raised his head, snarling, “Yeah, son, what are you gonna do about it?” When I was 14, my favorite aunt asked me, “Doesn’t it bother you when your father yells at you like that?” The question was electrifying inside—You mean this stuff can bother me?! But mere knowledge didn’t help me feel what I never had been allowed to, and I was too well trained to act differently. Even as an adult, my anger, while valued, has had a constricted feeling to it.

During a mindfulness retreat in Montana last spring, Therese Fitzgerald shared an experience about being attacked while riding her bike to work. Within a few blocks, she noticed two men walking on the bicycle path in front of her. They separated, forcing her to ride right between them. One of the men was carrying a long, wooden stake, the kind used to support saplings, that he swung violently at her. With horror and time only to grab hard to the handlebars, she was struck as she rode through them. The stake broke on her upper arm! Because of her determination, she wasn’t knocked off the bike and escaped anything worse. She was glad she hadn’t seen the man’s face and wouldn’t have to remember his look of violence. At the time of the retreat, Therese was still unable to use her left arm fully. What startled me most was that she said she had never been angry at the man, either at the moment of the attack or at any time since.

That night, after hearing Therese’s account of the attack, my dreams were intense. In the last one I remember, I was in a riot. Everyone and everything were cruelly impinging on me, demanding and irritating. At one point, I had to traverse a narrow area between two boulders. It was going to be hard to get through it at all—it was going to take all my effort—and there was a person behind me pushing, shoving, and yelling at me!

I felt something rise in me that I had never felt before, like boiling water surging out of a seething interior. I was filled with hot energy and determination. I turned to my left, swinging my right fist for his face with all my might and I smashed my fist into my bedside light and stereo system, sending them crashing to the floor and waking me with a start. My right hand hurt.

I found my flashlight and looked at the mess on the floor. My hand was bleeding, and slowly I comprehended what had just happened. For the first time in my life I had been able to feel my anger fully and strike back! It even produced a physical release in the midst of a dream! I was glad that I had the days of the coming retreat to meditate on what had happened.

At the retreat, I recalled a time when I’d been run off the road in my car. The woman with me jumped out of the car and screamed at the two men in the other car, but I just sat there, immobilized. Most of my life I have hated myself for being a “chicken” in such moments—especially coming from a military family where cowardice is the worst dishonor. I realized from the dream that I wasn’t a chicken. Not having the ability to express anger was what my father trained me to do. I had to “forget” such feelings to survive. I was just glad I came into my anger in a dream, so no one really got hit.

In addition to repressing anger and expressing anger, there is the Buddhist approach of transforming it. We can meditate on our experience to find what is needed to transform it. At the retreat one woman felt that we were not hearing enough from Therese and expressed this in an accusatory note that was read to all. Because of the anger it “threw” at us, I got angry as well. I wrestled with my anger, knowing I didn’t necessarily want to respond from anger, but—coming from my past—I didn’t want to discount it either. Finally, I was able to speak in the group about the event with as much Right Speech—true and helpful, in the spirit of the Dharma (loving and understanding}—as I could muster. It was very satisfying that during this retreat period, I had accomplished a complete cycle with anger from full expression to full transformation!

Bill Clarke is a writer in Missoula, Montana.

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Fragrant Mountain Ordination

By Sister Eleni Sarant

In the midst of the Summer Opening at Plum Village from August 3-11,1994, there was a series of ordination ceremonies called Fragrant Mountain, named after a place of spiritual pilgrimage in northern Vietnam that is believed to be the home of Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of Great Compassion. At the Opening Ceremony, we chanted her name to elicit support, protection, and strength.


The ceremony began at 7:00 a.m. Mindfully, with great respect, the Pratimoksa texts of precepts for monks and nuns were carried from Dharma Nectar Meditation Hall by two young members of the Order of Interbeing. Yellow and red parasols were held over the texts. The Sangha was led by high monks and nuns from many countries and followed by the monks and nuns of Plum Village wearing their yellow sanghati robes. Core members of the Order of Interbeing were seated around the bell tower, and the hundreds of retreatants were behind them. In the great silence, the sound of birds chirping joyfully and the Plum Village flag flapping gently filled the air. Thay Nhat Hanh invited the large temple bell to sound as he chanted gathas in Vietnamese to awaken us to the wonders of the present moment and officially inaugurate the ceremonies, during which more than 100 practitioners received the Five Wonderful Precepts, nearly 70 were ordained into the Order of Interbeing, and 35 bhiksus, bhiksunis, and novices were also ordained, including 12 visiting nuns who follow the Tibetan path of practice. Full ordination for bhiksunis in the Tibetan tradition has heretofore only been available in Taiwan and California. This was followed by four days of Dharma Lamp Transmission ceremonies. We were deeply moved and inspired by the Dharma talks given to us by the new Dharma teachers.

Sister Eleni is a nun resident of Plum Village.

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Deepest Aspiration with Regard to our Ancestors

We gather to practice lighting up the lamp of awareness of ancestors. We offer them our gratitude, and we feel our obligation to them and to our native land which lies deep in each of us. As we practice looking deeply, we see our ancestors and our grandparents within us. We see the truth that, wherever the children and grandchildren are, the parents and grandparents as well as the whole ancestral line are there. The seeds of love, understanding, the skills and capacities as well as the happiness of our ancestors have been handed down to us, and it is our deepest aspiration to water these seeds every day so that we and our children may grow in peace and joy. We also see the seeds of suffering, anger, grief, anxiety, and fear which are in us, and we are determined to practice to transform these seeds. We know that in this way we are being loyal to the expectations of our ancestors. There were wonderful things which our ancestors longed to do but were not able to do, and we want to do something towards accomplishing these things.

The trees have their roots. Water has its source. Birds have their nests. And human beings have their ancestral lineage. We know that we are alive today because of our ancestors and that the foundations of our way of life were laid by our ancestors. Ancestors, please be witness to the sincerity with which we offer our gratitude. We shall never forget the source from which we come. We promise to maintain the treasure of our native culture whose foundations were laid by you. We promise to use the riches of our culture constructively and hand them on to our children.

This text is read during the Ancestors’ Festival at Plum Village

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Kid’s Stuff

By Mark Vette

Sleeping bags and bodies twisted and tangled upon one another, and moonlight on the beautiful faces of children  sleeping under the stars, awakes the child within me. I sit like a sentinel at meditation reflecting on the evening before, of enjoying hot chocolate and cookies while telling stories and jokes. A young one wakes and joins me in meditation. Together we roll over the others to wake them at 5:20 a.m. We begin our morning doing “Tai Chi stepping” across the hamlet to the east side to meditate on the rising sun. A monk coming across the field in walking meditation bows to the children respectfully. Finding our spot just below Thay’s  hut, we settle in. Looking across the young Buddhas-to-be, I see their beautiful faces revealed and highlighted in a dawn reflecting the exquisite scenery of forest, grapes, and sunflowers. A true scene of awakening, the birds chorusing and Thay doing his morning meditation on his deck above us and radiating his pure serenity and peace.


We had a few weeks of joyful afternoons together, swimming, training, dowsing for water, walking in the bush, climbing, talking, laughing, and meditating with nature. It was a little bit of a standing joke how Uncle Mark was going to weave Thay’s teachings into the activities of the day. One of the most meaningful aspects of Thay’s teachings for me is that you can include them in any activity of your life. I believe children in particular need to experience the Dharma in everyday activities and not have them imposed too formally or in too structured a way. My experience is that children learn best with activity, spontaneity, and fun. Time needs to be spent establishing true friendship and trust to be accepted as any kind of guide. They also need to be included in planning and making decisions on the program. I was deeply impressed with how much commitment and significance Thay placed on the children’s program. The first hour or so of every talk was dedicated to the children. Much wisdom has been transmitted, and there is a need to find out from the kids how they responded to the teachings, and to compile this in a way that is easily understood by children.

During the retreat, Thay asked us to look more carefully at how we could develop materials for the children’s program and find out what the children liked most. We discussed these issues and came up with the following findings. The activities they enjoyed on this retreat were Tai Chi, Kung Fu, Yoga, swimming, sports, nature walks. Other activities included, storytelling, tea ceremony, skits, a discussion group for kids, activities with Thay, sleeping out, pebble meditation, games, visualization, and nature meditations. In one popular project, the children creating greeting cards and sold them to the community and donated the proceeds to support the work in Vietnam. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with Thay and discuss these ideas, and he offered some great ones of his own. We visited his hut and were welcomed in. I was struck by how childlike Thay became in the presence of the children, and especially how he communicates so directly on their wave length. Thay offered us his “childhood cookies,” which we ate mindfully. The children each had a say airing their suggestions. Thay also made some suggestions the kids were pretty excited about. He suggested a pool and a theater, and possibly a video production program. We finished the meeting with a hugging meditation each with Thay. I cherish that special time and know the kids do too.

The retreat changed my life. The presence and teachings were deeply profound and at the same time so down-to-earth and practical. I feel a deep sense of gratitude to have been ordained into the Order of Interbeing. I have a strong sense of coming home. Going for refuge to Thay and this very special Sangha with an interpretation of the Dharma that truly touches my heart and inspires me.


I sit back here in New Zealand on the other side of the world and think how lucky I was to make many lovely young and older friends. I would like to send them all my love and appreciation. Looking back over my retreat notes and names, I smile as all the beautiful new friendships I made come rushing back into my awareness.

During the retreat I had many periods of effortless mindfulness and this practice has strengthened my ability to carry this back to my family and the Long White Cloud Sangha in New Zealand.


I would like to finish with strong words of encouragement to all the young people. A children’s section of The Mindfulness Bell called “Kid’s Stuff” would be a great idea to communicate kids’ practice. Let’s all put pen to paper and write about what’s up in your life, Dharma discussion, raising money for needy causes, the environment, other retreats, book ideas, and humorous stuff, and send your writings and drawings to The Mindfulness Bell in Berkeley, California.

Mark Vette, newly ordained in the Order of lnterbeing, cares for dogs and cats with behavior problems in Clevedon, New Zealand.

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By Lucy Sauer

I am so glad my husband and I attended a course on the Five Precepts in Little Rock last June with Therese Fitzgerald. We have many struggles in our life as a couple, and I know that working on the precepts together helps us. It was also great that our five-year-old daughter Hannah was able to meet Therese, as she has a deep reverence for life, and Therese’s teachings encourage and nurture this.

This morning a cricket was drowning in our dog’s water bowl. It was not enough just to rescue it We also had to be sure it wasn’t under the car when we left for school. A few nights ago Hannah was too excited to go to sleep. I sang our standard hypnotic lullaby, but she didn’t calm down so I asked her if I could sing the Two Promises song about love and understanding. She happily agreed, and we lay in the near-dark together while I sang it over and over. She joined in with “mmmm-ahh” every time and periodically chastised, “You forgot the ‘ding,'” because I didn’t go “understan – ding!” Eventually she fell asleep. What a wonderful meditation for me!

Lucy Sauer is a medical doctor in Little Rock, Arkansas.

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Tribute to Charlie Malat

By Friends

Charles A. Malat, known to many hundreds at Plum Village as Charlie, died among friends and family in Ithaca, New York, on September 25,1994, of cancerous tumors discovered just two months earlier. He is survived by his parents, Doris and Hyman Malat, his brother David, many relatives, and an international network of close friends.

Charlie was bom on November 16,1961, and grew up in Oceanside, Long Island, a short distance from New York City. His rare combination of spirit and depth blossomed during his college years. He first studied drama, and later continued on for a Master’s degree in philosophy, seeking answers to the existential questions of life. As an adult he found many ways to celebrate and protect life: as a health-restaurant cook, food co-op manager, Big Brother, suicide counselor, leader in Ithaca’s Men’s Network, sexual abuse counselor, AIDS counselor, and especially as a close, caring friend.

In 1990 Charlie went to Plum Village for a summer retreat and then lived, studied, and stayed, on and off, for most of the next four years. Thay’s teachings and the life of Plum Village challenged and comforted Charlie, and in return he gave himself totally. In 1992 he was ordained into the core community of the Order of Interbeing and given the Dharma name True Energy.

Charlie had many bodhisattva-like qualities. Like Avalokitesvara, he could listen with wholehearted attention and hear both what was said and what was left unsaid. Like Manjusri, he could look deeply and understand the roots of suffering in himself and others. And like Samantabhadra, he often could find the compassionate and appropriate action—the warm glance, the cup of tea, the helpful suggestion.

To celebrate Charlie’s life, and to comfort one another for his too-early passing, The Mindfulness Bell asked many friends to share how Charlie touched their lives.

Jayne Demakos, Ithaca, New York

I feel as if I have known Charlie for a very long time. In reality, I only knew him for a year and a half. I met Charlie upon his return from France in the Spring of 1993. We formed a close relationship, often playful and for many reasons difficult When we met, Charlie said to me, “I am a very rich man, and I have no money.” Some of the riches I received from him were the teachings of Thay which came alive for me through Charlie. Another gift was the honor of being able to participate in Charlie’s journey during these last months of his illness and dying.

When Charlie was well, we shared strengths and weaknesses and supported each other as peers. In facing his death, Charlie deepened and matured beyond his years—and mine. He struggled with his fears, anger, and sadness, and uncovered layers of shame around his illness. He watched his body become sicker and sicker. He had pain. He couldn’t eat. He faced chemotherapy. He also faced difficult issues in his life, relationships that needed healing. Then there were all the little and big indignities of being ill and needing care. But there seemed to be some great teaching going on for Charlie and for those close to him. We witnessed a deep transformation in Charlie as he met each challenge, each day of his illness, with grace, courage, humor, and, above all, great honesty. As days passed, I saw anger and bitterness wash away, and I often felt Charlie’s deep love, unencumbered by the usual baggage. His face, though sad and thin, looked beautiful. To the overworked hospital staff, Charlie showed kindness and tolerance, always saying “thank you,” even under the most difficult situations. Behind each mundane task, Charlie touched the human being who was present. It is testimony to the depth of Charlie’s practice that even in those times when he had no will to “practice,” loving kindness was present, Charlie was present.

During the illness, Charlie was never alone. Friends came from all over the world to see him, and a handful of close friends provided 24-hour care in rotating shifts, sensitively responding to his needs from physical to spiritual and offering help. This, along with the love and support of his family, allowed Charlie very deep rest. He expressed his gratitude many times in many ways.

Those of us who helped care for Charlie were deeply moved by the experience, and Charlie is still present in our relations with each other and the comfort we find there. He is present in the depth of the life teachings we learned from him and he is in our grief, in our sense of the preciousness and precariousness of life. I feel Charlie’s presence when I come back to my breathing, especially when sitting in my car in heavy traffic, when I laugh, and also when I sing. Charlie said to me during his illness, “If you lose your ability to smile, it would make me very sad.” So I practice through my sadness to smile. I practice for Charlie and, when I can, for myself. I practice for those around me. I practice the way I play Bach for someone on the piano—each time the spirit comes alive again.

Scott Mayer, Portland, Oregon

Aitken Roshi said, “In a very short time, we all slip from life onto a piece of paper, into a photograph.” In front of me now is Charlie’s photo taken during the last week of his life, with Metta and Gaby sitting with him. As I look at it, I feel this empty space in my heart and console myself in the ways Charlie still lives in me, or through me, beyond this paper image.

I can see Charlie in my cooking, especially in the lemon and cayenne he taught me to use. He saved me more than once from near culinary disaster in the Upper Hamlet. (Saving burnt pea soup is no easy feat.) But the deepest part of me that carries Charlie, the one that is the saddest and aches the most, is my lost brother in our shared struggle to reconcile the apparent conflict between our love for the teachings of Buddhism and our life’s ambitions, desires, and assumptions. I The words “sexuality,” “relationships,” and “competency frequently peppered our conversations. Charlie knew himself well enough and was too intelligent to unquestioningly accept any easy formulas for his life. When his understanding of the teachings didn’t fit with his experience, he knew it and would struggle, and many of us heard. In times of my deepest doubt and despair, I came to turn first to Charlie for an ear. He was open to my difficulties, he understood. Charlie got to me. He has not only slipped into this photo, but into me.


Mitchell Ratner, Takoma Park, Maryland 

After I spoke with Charlie on the telephone a week before he died, my wife looked at my face and said, “You really love him, don’t you?” I nodded, “Yes.” I came to know Charlie during two winter retreats at Plum Village. We spent many hours talking by the dining hall stove or walking together to the Lower Hamlet, discussing our understandings of the Dharma, our deepest questions, and our emotional responses. Charlie was wise in the ways of Plum Village. I liked being with him and learning from him. He had a wonderfully good read on me. Some of his wisdom is in me now.

Charlie was totally honest with himself. He could admit when the teachings as he understood them didn’t match his own sorrows and joys or his sense of fairness and justice. Charlie’s spirit was large enough to acknowledge and explore the many doubts and questions while committing himself absolutely to the practice of mindfulness. I miss my good friend dearly.

Ivar, Plum Village

Charlie often shared songs when we gathered for walking meditation. One of his favorites was:

And when I rise,
Please let me rise,
Like a bird,

And when I fall,
Please let me fall,
Like a leaf,
Without regret.

For me, this will always be Charlie’s song.

Matthew Wiener, Tucson, Arizona

Charlie and I met around 1980. It was a time in our lives of great confusion, exploration, and excitement—we called it college. We grew to be fast friends, but even more than that, we became intellectual and aesthetic coconspirators. We fancied ourselves as artistic terrorists in the corridors of the theater department. We auditioned for the same plays and were hardly ever cast. We discovered a mutual pleasure and passion in arguing about everything. We inhaled Bertolt Brecht and William Shakespeare, we devoured Harold Pinter and Samuel Becket, and we chewed on Jean Genet and Eugene Ionesco.

I directed Charlie in what may have been his last acting role in college. He was one of the Players in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, by Tom Stoppard. I recall that he and I were fascinated with one particular passage. In response to the question “What do you know about death?” the Leading Player responds: “It’s what actors do best. They have to exploit whatever talent is given to them, and their talent is dying. My own talent is more general. I extract significance from melodrama, a significance which it does not in fact contain; but occasionally, from out of this matter, there escapes a thin beam of light that, seen at the right angle, can crack the shell of mortality.”

Later on, in graduate school, I was taught that the job of an artist is to be an archeologist of the soul. Charlie was an artist of the highest order.

Wendy Johnson, Muir Beach, California

I met Charlie during the June 1990 retreat at Plum Village. My 18-month-old daughter Alisa was with me, and she took a real shine to Charlie. They used to go together to the old bam to visit the litter of newborn “yeows,” as Alisa called the tiny kittens. “I think that name is a combination of ‘meow’ and ‘yeow-wee!’ which is what I always yell out when she picks up the kitties by their ears,” Charlie mused, as Alisa locked him in a vice-like hug from behind his knees.

Long after we’d returned to California, Charlie sent Alisa a little pink and white engineer’s cap. It was big on her but she loved it. She knew just where it came from. One day she turned around in her stroller to !ook at me. The cap covered the right side of her face. “Go see yeows, Mama,” she whispered, holding onto her cap.

Svein Myreng, Oslo, Norway

Dear Charlie! How much poorer life would have been without your friendship, your willingness to help, and your songs and great funny stories. I remember the mini-Dharma talks you humorously inserted into many announcements at the Summer Openings and the tender moments we shared in reflection on the Dharma on how to live this life with all its joys and difficulties. As a true friend you live in us all. Blessings for your further journey of no coming-no going.

Patrick Lacoste, Plum Village

Just before Charlie left Plum Village at the end of the winter, I gave him money to buy and send me a pair of Teva sandals, the kind that many of the retreatants wear during the summer. I received them and wore them almost every day throughout the summer. Every time I put them on, I felt grateful for my fellow bicycle rider who made possible this small daily pleasure of walking comfortably.

When Charlie got stuck in his hospital bed with swollen legs and feet, I told him on the telephone how he made me happy. Then, remembering an exercise Thay gave, I said, “You know, Charlie, I walk for you.” I heard, from over the ocean, his soft laughter overcoming for a few seconds his pain and exhaustion, and it touched me deeply. Since then, I have been walking for you, Charlie. I don’t need the sandals anymore to remember.

Brother Gary Stuard, Plum Village

What I remember most about Charlie was his bigheartedness, his attentiveness to the needs of others, and his ability to be playful and to laugh. During the summer retreats at Plum Village, Charlie would always be available to listen and respond to those who had problems, needs, and concerns. His presence and practice made a deep and joyful impression on many people. Once when I co-facilitated a discussion group with him, I saw how remarkably gifted Charlie was in discerning who was having difficulties and really needed attention, as well as his ability to share his experiences in the practice in an honest, simple, and humorous way. Like a mother hen, Charlie watched over and tended his fellow Sangha members. Charlie was, and still is, a big brother to me. He taught me much about being honest with myself and others, being willing to be vulnerable, and the importance and joy of not taking ourselves too seriously. Thank you, my friend.

Jorgen Hannibal, Hilsinge, Denmark

Hello, Charlie! What a lesson in impermanence. A line from one of Mike’s songs comes to mind: “When you leave the room, please close the door with care. You may never pass this way again.” I remember one time when you were guiding us through a total relaxation meditation. In apparently deep relaxation, someone passed wind and a few people started laughing. You handled the situation very mindfully by encouraging everyone to have a really good laugh, and huge waves of laughter rolled through Transformation Hall. The relaxation that followed was very deep. Thank you, Charlie, for everything.

Ellen Peskin, Oakland, California

At Plum Village, a deep, gentle bond quickly developed between us, as we found ourselves sharing our innermost desires and grappling with challenges. We shared many laughs, some tears, and innumerable heartfelt hugs. I will carry you with me always, my sweet brother.

Shalom, Plum Village

In the silent light of morning meditation,
we hear you calling.

In the trees, the wind,
and the fullness of the ripening plums,
we hear you calling.

Pausing in the sweat of the midday sun,
waking suddenly in the night,
we hear you calling.

And Charlie, moment by moment,
step by miraculous step,
we call back to you.

Keep your heart wide open.

Arnie Kotler, Berkeley, California

Charlie was mature beyond his 32 years, and his loving spirit and kind, great humor, live in all who knew him. Somehow I especially remember a skit he performed at the end of the June 1990 retreat in which he played a Mr. Rodgers-like character, singing: “It’s a wonderful day in the Sa-angha…”. I love you, Charlie. Fare well.

Therese Fitzgerald, Berkeley, California

Charlie, gone suddenly, swiftly. May the liberation of your spirit be as radical and thorough.

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Healing through Writing

By Michael Gardner & Therese Fitzgerald

The group of veterans gathered casually on the deck near the familiar round yurt in the bright May morning sunshine. They spoke quietly as they gazed out at the tall grass and wildflowers in the surrounding fields of Green Gulch Farm. This was the ninth meeting at which men and women who have experienced the horrors of war joined with Maxine Hong Kingston to find support and healing through writing. At 9:30 a.m. the group moved indoors to begin a day of writing and sharing. A warm spring breeze and an open door provided fresh air and a relaxed atmosphere. Two swallows created a brief distraction when they flew inside and circled like observing angels, then exited just as gracefully.

After the group sitting meditation, Maxine suggested, “Pick a scene from life of two people connecting. How is the connection made? What are the feelings? What do they say? Be sure they talk to one another. Dialogue is very difficult because you have to listen to the other voice. Listen carefully and let the characters speak to you. Limit the number of people in your scene to two. A third element will distract you from the interaction of the two main characters. You want your interaction to be focused. There are different points of view you can take as the author. You can choose to write as one of the people or as an omniscient observer. The omniscient point of view reports what is happening to both people without identifying with either.”

The group was joined in the afternoon by Ron Kovic, Vietnam veteran and author of Born on the Fourth of July. Maxine asked Ron if he would speak to us and he obliged, sharing humbly and passionately of his life as a writer and veteran. Some of his encouraging words are recorded here: “Lewis Puller, Vietnam veteran leader, took his own life last June. I met Lewis in Washington, D.C., when I joined Veterans Against the War. I was introduced to him and never forgot him. He was more severely wounded than any survivor I had met. 1 could feel that emptiness in him. He wasn’t as angry as I was. Something had been knocked out of him. I thought about my own suicidal feelings as recently as six years ago. I do have a strong faith again and belief in life. I know how important it is to keep living. I don’t know if we ever heal completely from that war, but if we continue to communicate our feelings, that is the important thing. When I was at the worst of my torments, I decided life was worth living. I think there is redemption, even in the simple things we do in our lives.

“I never graduated from college and I can’t spell, but I’ve always had a terrific drive. My book was reviewed on the front page of the New York Times. My parents were more shocked by my success than I was. The New York Times review came out August 15,1976.1 rushed down and bought all the papers in the store. My mother couldn’t believe it. I had joined the Marines to make up for my academic failure and gone on two tours in Vietnam.


“I wrote on a manual typewriter I’d bought for $40 and worked all night. When the black ink ran out, I switched to red. When the red ink ran out, I just typed impressions on the paper. I wrote top to bottom on the whole page, without paragraphs, and when it was full, I flipped the paper over and filled the other side. I wrote with fury. I didn’t want to admit I did not want to live. This was my final confession, my last will and testament, and I was afraid I was going to die before it was finished. We are here to leave something beautiful behind. We are here to struggle and fight to create something. Have faith that you will leave something special. You never know what wonderful things are out there waiting for you. The most valuable letters I received were from people who decided to keep on living after reading my book. There were less than ten of these, but they are the most precious. I put the manuscript in a box and my buddy came with me to New York. I was lucky enough to sell it to McGraw Hill in less than a week. Then I got to cowrite the screenplay with Oliver Stone.

“I want to inspire you. Try to find patrons and supporters who love your work. Be careful who you read to. Choose your supporters carefully. Make sure they really love you. Constructive criticism can be deadly to your morale.”

The participants shared their appreciation with Ron for calling attention to the problems that afflict so many Vietnam veterans. Ron stayed through the afternoon and listened as the others read what they had written that morning. There was great mutual respect and support in the room. We each felt deeply touched by the truths that were shared in the reading and those that were shared in the silence.

In August, we met in the home of a friend in rural Sebastopol. Maxine spoke to us about creating a setting for ourselves to use in writing. “I always begin a writing day with meditation. I don’t turn on the TV or radio or even talk to anyone. The silence helps me hear voices from within. The muses speak clearest when my mind is uncluttered and close to the previous night’s dreams. But after a few weeks of working alone, I need group energy to strengthen me. We get inspiration from each other. This takes strength and bravery because sometimes it hurts to bring others into our lives. “After losing everything in the Oakland Hills Fire, I found I had filled out 100 pages of insurance forms and only a few pages of my novel. I had to list each item. So I decided to use the insurance form to mourn every item. This way even seemingly routine writing served in my healing from the fire. We have many wars in life, and we can use writing to help us heal from all of them.”

After this talk we had a long silent period to write about a happy scene in our lives. The afternoon readings were filled with playful, inspired moments that many of us had thought we had forgotten. The muses were speaking to us very clearly.

The October retreat/writing workshop at Omega Institute was a rarer opportunity for veterans on the East Coast who do not meet monthly. We began a day earlier than the rest of the retreatants, and there was a strong feeling of camaraderie among the veterans who had gathered twice before with Thay and once with Maxine. The transformation was tangible and greatly helped the newcomers setde in. We had quiet to get to know ourselves and practice meditation indoors and outdoors in the gorgeous autumn weather.

Maxine encouraged us to “reclaim our bodies, take our ways of walking and eating back, reclaim our senses, and bring all this to our writing, trusting the words as a medium to return home step by step.” After a period of writing—for some veterans, the first time since the war—people read: Bill about “schlepping around in the mud and the fear,” giving thanks to the nine fellow soldiers he killed by “friendly fire” who allowed him to reclaim his spirit—”laying my soul on the table—now it’s mine.” Jerry wrote of the power of the woman warrior—”Is the shimmering of the water your voice?” Bill revealed how war “made me feel like a frightened animal, so that only with prostitutes did I feel human; only during war is such madness ‘normal.'” Jim revealed his insight in response to his similar experience: “I thought I was in heaven. Then ten years later, I realized it was my sister lying there.” Claude: “I am not a wound: I’m wounded and I’m healing.” George dug down deep and read about “cutting off your senses; no mourning, no feelings—that’s the unwritten law of war: ‘just move on.’ We have to embrace the pain to transform it.” George wrote about “fellows who covered me with their bodies to stop me from bleeding and died,” and forging a vow “to thank them by living a good life.”

Powerful work alone and with others in the circle of veterans was done before they presented their stories to the other 150 retreatants Saturday evening. “You could feel the deep listening in the room as soon as the bell rang,” Dan commented later. This deep listening—the listening of the veterans to their own and each other’s stories, and that of the non-veterans to those who were closest to the heat of the war—offered deep healing to wounds so long endured.

Therese Fitzgerald and Michael Gardner are Director and Assistant Director of the Community of Mindful Living.

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Pain, Joy, Grace, Courage

By Jim Janko

My friend Janey recently asked me, “Have you let go of Vietnam? For you, is it finally over? Does it still shape your life?”

Janey knows that in Vietnam I was a medic for an infantry battalion commanded by George Armstrong Custer, III. Although my platoon wasn’t annihilated as in the Battle of Little Big Horn, more than 50% of the boys were wounded or killed, and, of course, we killed and wounded some of those we called “the enemy.” Janey’s questions reminded me of the countless sleepless nights that for me have framed the aftermath of war. I complained to my friend about difficult nights, long nights, impossible nights.

Long ago I wrote in my journal: “I am looking for a kind of gracefulness that comes home to me shining with love; a love long-steeped in my old heart and bones, as well as in the heart and bones of star, moon, tree, flesh—flesh of all kinds as well as the stuff beneath the flesh, the love-light that is the architect of all things seen and unseen. Within pain, I know a place that is graceful. And within joy I go there again.”

Although these words were printed long ago, it seems that each night and day I need to releam that pain, joy, and grace are inseparable. My tendency is to resist pain, to want only pure healing and grace, but true healing and grace visit me only when I open myself to whatever arises. Rollo May wrote, “There is a great deal of pain in life, and perhaps the only pain that can be avoided is the pain that comes from trying to avoid pain.”

In Vietnam, I became numb to my own pain and that of others. I had no meditation practice, no spiritual community, and probably could not have survived emotionally and mentally had I let myself truly see the war. Despite my own limitations, I feel that the heart has room for every sorrow, joy, pain, and smile. In Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh remained compassionately awake in the midst of unspeakable destruction. Today the Dalai Lama, fully aware of the suffering in Tibet, continues to inspire those working for peace and reconciliation throughout the world. For me, these men are beautiful examples of what is humanly possible when the heart is open: Gracefulness, peace, equanimity, and the courage to embrace all things.

Jim Janko served as a medic in the Vietnam War and is currently attending a three-month retreat at the Insight Meditation Society, in Massachusetts.

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Visit to Vietnam

 By Linda Spangler

I had wanted to go to Vietnam for a long time. I grew up with the Vietnam War on TV and watched the fighting and the nightly list of American dead. Escaping the draft was a frequent topic of conversation in my high school. I could not understand how anyone could condone this war, when just witnessing it from my living room was enough to bring me to tears. I was incapable of imagining how horrible it would be to actually be there.

Vietnam stayed in my psyche more as a war than a country for a long time. Later, I learned of the beauty of the land and the people. I read books by Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong and was deeply moved by their wisdom, dedication, and compassion. I met Vietnamese in the United States and was drawn to their kindness and lack of bitterness. I decided to visit Vietnam before the anticipated changes took place.

As part of planning my trip to Vietnam, I contacted Sister Chan Khong to see if I could be of any service. I thought that my skills as a physician might be of use in one of the many projects her work helps support. She asked me to carry some books and tapes of Dharma teachings by Thich Nhat Hanh into Vietnam.

I hid several tapes and books in my luggage. Passing through customs was a scary experience, although the most I was probably risking was to have the tapes and books confiscated. The other passengers passed through without incident, but I was directed to a side station and asked to show the cassettes I had claimed on the custom form. Luckily, I had concealed them to look like music tapes and I passed without difficulty. Later I was told the customs agents were looking for smuggled pornographic videotapes from the West that had recently found a big market in Vietnam.

Sister Chan Khong instructed me to bring the tapes and books to an orphanage in Saigon from which they would be copied and distributed. Because of the possibility that I, as a foreigner, could be followed to the orphanage and precipitate a search afterwards, I first visited the orphanage but did not bring the materials. Later a nun went to a designated house to pick them up without my presence. People told me that just a little over a year ago you could be interrogated by the police and possibly arrested for just talking to a foreigner. Rules against connections with foreigners had obviously loosened. However, fear still predominated when something as politically sensitive as Thich Nhat Hanh’s work was involved. I have never lived under a system with such blatant censorship. It made me appreciate what a gift it is to have free access to the teachings and wisdom of people such as Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong. It is something I take for granted which the Vietnamese cannot.

I found the Vietnamese extremely warm and kind. Many of the South Vietnamese I met perceived Americans as allies in the war and were less resentful than I expected. Even the North Vietnamese greeted me warmly and welcomed me as an American. The “American War” seemed more in the past to the Vietnamese than it is for many Americans, even though they suffered much more. Many of the Vietnamese I spoke with seemed to have perfected the teaching that you could forgive the actors even if you could not forgive the action. They could continue to condemn the war even while they opened their hearts to the Americans. They also understood the difference between a government and its people. I wonder how forgiving Americans would be to a people whose undeclared war had left two million people dead.

I worked in a clinic funded by the East Meets West Foundation, which includes an orphanage, a medical clinic, and a school that serves the poor agricultural community. I worked in the medical clinic helping to train two Vietnamese female doctors in gynecology. They had come out of medical school with almost no experience in women’s health. Working with them was extremely satisfying. They were eager to learn and we found we had a lot to teach each other. The level of disease was something I had never seen in the United States, even among the poor. I was happy to be able to make a small offering.

Vietnam is a beautiful country, filled with flowing green rice paddies, mountains, and a long, lovely coastline. It is also changing rapidly. As an outsider, it is scary to watch the rush toward industrialization and the modern world. There are more and more foreigners every day, coming both as tourists and business representatives. I fear that their simple, quiet life will be replaced by technology, low-wage factory jobs, and a homogeneity that makes cities everywhere seem the same. But there is also a good side to these changes. Some people will gain access to products that will make their lives easier.

The Vietnamese were still reluctant to talk about current repression, but everyone agreed the situation is getting better. Buddhists are still in jail for simply living and teaching their Buddhist beliefs, but the Vietnamese can now speak openly with foreigners and there is more and more access to outside material. I pray that Thich Nhat Hanh and many other exiled Vietnamese will someday feel safe to return to their own country.

Linda Spangler is a medical doctor in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Generating Joy in Vietnam

By Therese Fitzgerald

What a joy it was to gather in the Red Candle Meditation Hall at Plum Village at the end of the summer to meet three nuns from Hue—Su Co Nu Minh Tanh, Su Co Nhu Minh, and Su Co Dieu Dat—who are “pillars” in the social work there begun and sustained by Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong. The nuns were introduced beautifully and movingly by Sr. Chan Khong who said, “Wherever the suffering is, these bodhisattvas go. Even through floods, even among the corpses during the war, through many ordeals, they are there with the suffering people.” These nuns, who began their bodhisattvic “careers” with Thay during the Vietnam War, described how they have carried with them photographs taken of Thay during a flood relief mission undertaken in 1964. “Thay’s compassion has helped us overcome all obstacles—through waterfalls and over mountains to starving victims of floods. The Dharma is our ‘equipment’ to relieve the suffering with our compassionate presence.”

The sisters explained their work in education, including the support of the teachers and the development of the schools; medical work; care for the elderly who have lost their homes and their relatives; and work with lepers, including setting up temples to nourish the spirit of those who have been isolated for so long. They described their joy in passing on the funds and the love of many people from all over the world to those in such great need.


We watched a vivid video that illustrated the projects. There were scenes of the social workers going to the homes of elderly persons living alone in remote areas and taking time to console and help them.

We saw the faces of children in classrooms throughout the country and heard various renditions of the children’s song of the Two Promises. We saw very poor villages in the narrow strip of land between the mountains and the sea where only shabbily-built thatched huts existed, where a sturdy building for classes is going up to encourage the education of everyone, young and old. “Although we have already established 100 classes, there is a need for 200 more,” the nuns explained. We saw inspiring gatherings of young teachers reinforcing their educational and meditative practice.


Sister Minh Tanh described her journey as an engaged nun. She is in charge of teams of monks and nuns who visit the poorest patients in Hue hospitals, bringing them comfort and some material aid. She has also organized teams of medical professionals who go to remote villages to diagnose diseases and give medical aid. “The more we work, the more we can generate happiness and joy, especially with the support of Thay and the Plum Village Sangha,” she said. “I do my best in the face of overwhelming suffering to share the practice of mindfulness with the hospital staff and the patients. This work never ends.”

Sister Dieu Dat supervises more than 7,000 children in remote villages in 105 schools. When asked to join Sister Minh Tanh in the hospital work, Sister  Dieu Dat “hid in the bathroom, it was so overwhelming,” she revealed. “But I breathed and felt the support and encouragement to join my sister in the Dharma.” Sister Nhu Minh and her team are in charge of distributing 300 scholarships for children in remote villages around Hue and day-care centers in Hue.


Sister Chan Khong ended the intimate session by saying, “We want to help people reconstruct their lives so disrupted by the war. Now ex-School of Youth for Social Service workers are helping set up self-support villages and establishing jobs for people, such as manufacturing incense, sewing, carpentry, or growing medicinal plants. The suffering is great, and the help is so small, but we can concentrate on our heart and mind of compassion.”


There is now a huge flood covering the four provinces of the Mekong Delta (Long An, Dong Than, Long Xuyen, and My Tho). Many hundreds of thousands of families are without shelter, and 128 persons, including many children have drowned and disappeared. We are supplying the victims of the flood with blankets and medicine. Any help will be gready appreciated. Please send your tax-deductible donations to Community of Mindful Living for “Working Together for Rejuvenation in Vietnam,” P.O. Box 7355, Berkeley, CA 94707.

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Latvia, Russia, & Poland

By Therese Fitzgerald

While at Plum Village this summer, Boris and Gallina, our Dharma friends and Reiki healers from Moscow, suggested that Arnie Kotler and I stop in Riga, Latvia, on our way to Russia to lead a mindfulness retreat for the community there. “Mindfulness practice is essential for real Reiki work, and Reiki is a natural expression of mindfulness,” Boris said, and he began communications with Juri Kutirev, the founder of “Jonathan,” a Latvian organization to promote self-awareness and understanding.

A few days before we arrived, the last Russian troops pulled out of Latvia, ending 50 years of occupation. Since the 13th century, Latvia has been occupied by German, Swedish, and SovietyRussian forces, except for a brief period between 1917 and 1940. Latvia is entering a time of strong nationalism, which, we would learn, has its positive and negative aspects. Juri told us that he and other Russian-Latvians have no citizenship because their families did not live in Latvia before 1940, even though he and his children have lived only in this country.


The afternoon we arrived, we were interviewed for that evening’s TV news by a woman who had read two of Thay’s books. While her camera crew was waiting to get on with the interview, the woman asked us about the nature of our visit and the benefits of mindfulness practice. “People here want to blame someone else for their troubles. How can meditation help them?” During the taped interview, we discussed the process of calming and looking deeply, establishing sovereignty over oneself, and caring for one’s states of mind through meditation.

Eighty people attended the three-day retreat held in Jurmala on the Baltic Sea. Five children formed a wonderful Sangha of practice with round pebbles gathered from the forest. (They searched in vain for pieces of amber amidst the seaweed!) Walking meditation through the pine forest to the calm blue sea was particularly enjoyable, and the whole retreat was full of delight thanks to the happy Sangha of Jonathan staffpeople, who took care of every detail with thoroughness and kindness. Tea meditation especially revealed many beauties of Russian, Latvian, Belorussian, and Ukranian cultures in the form of songs, poems, proverbs, and jokes. (“In every joke, there is a little joke,” Juri told us.)

The retreatants asked very practical questions, such as, “Do you ask your teacher questions?” and “How does practice make you calmer?” On our last day in Riga, we met with a journalist whose incisive comments inspired us. Imagine our delight when she took out her glasses’ case filled with five beautiful round pebbles gathered at Jurmala to practice conscious breathing during difficult phone calls!

Amie and I went next to St. Petersburg to help our friends there in last-minute preparations for a visit by Thay, Sister Chan Khong, and Sister Jina the next day. After a 14-hour train ride from Riga, we were swept off to review the schedule for the retreat and to make sure accommodations were in order. It turned out that a crucial fax had never made it into the hands of the organizers, and so there was some rearranging to do at the last minute. After a very full day traveling around the city settling these affairs, we sat with the St. Petersburg Sangha under the golden linden and oak trees at the international airport, enjoying bread, cheese, and juice, discussing Igor’s interest in becoming a monk, and waiting in peaceful camaraderie for Thay’s plane to arrive.

The next morning, Edward and Igor took the five of us for a walk in the Summer Gardens. As we were leaving, Thay paused alongside a canal facing the spectacular Church of the Resurrection and recounted a passage from the Vietnamese classic poem, The Tale of Kieu, about two lovers. “The woman went back to the home of her lover and saw him asleep at his desk. The young man looked up and said, ‘Is this a dream or are you really there?’ The woman said to her beloved, ‘Look as if it is the first or the last time you see my face.'” We contemplated anew the beauty before us and the wondrousness of our being together in St. Petersburg.

Walking up the stairs of the Buddhist Temple—established in 1897 with the support of Czar Nicholas II but shut down for 60 years under Stalin and his successors—Thay commented softly, “I am aware of all the previous suffering.” Thay’s lecture was attended by 250 people, and half that number attended two Days of Mindfulness, which had been publicized only by word of mouth. The Buryatian monks and novices at the temple were attentive, respectful hosts. Thay’s Dharma talks on conscious breathing to establish calm were nurturing for the many who attended. The walking meditation path wound through trees between two canals sparkling in the autumnal light. The 20 Reiki healers among the participants were especially spirited and offered songs at the stopping place by the canal, complete with guitar and birch-bark kazoo. Forty people received the Five Precepts the last day of the retreat. Twelve-year-old Oleg Borisov, one of our steadiest co-practitioners during our stay in St. Petersburg, wrote this description of his continuation of the practice:

“This was my second experience of a Day of Mindfulness, and I felt some progress in my meditation. Now both walking and sitting meditation were easy for me. The day began with the explanation of some phrases which aid in concentrating the breath, such as “I am solid, I am free.” I liked this, and I wanted to meditate not for just a few moments, but much longer. The day was sunny for walking meditation in a park, and, thanks to that, I entered deeply into the meditation. The whole world was transformed before my eyes. Everything around me was new, fresh, wonderful. It was amazing! I smiled.

“During lunch, it was hard for me to concentrate on the food at first because I was so hungry. It was easiest to concentrate on the bread. When tea meditation began, I was asked to partake in the opening ritual by carrying a cup full of tea in a meditative way to the tea master. After that I sat in place and began to drink my tea. The tea and cookies were much more delicious than usual. Then I entered into a state of deep meditation while everyone sang.

“During the second day we practiced much more. In the beginning we did exercises for half an hour, then sitting and walking meditation inside. That worked well for me, and I felt at home. After Thay’s Dharma talk, we went outside to do walking meditation, and it was much harder for me to concentrate. Something was getting in my way, even though, in comparison to the previous day, there were not so many distractions (insects, for example, that we had to brush off the road onto the earth). At lunch, I began to recite the gathas. When I opened my eyes, I saw food on the plate before me. Then I recited a few more gathas in gratitude to the person who gave it to me.

“Total relaxation was very easy for me, and soon I found myself in a blissful state where nothing could shake me. I was fully aware of my body and completely relaxed. When we got up, I didn’t quite feel right. There was some kind of residue. Later when I practiced relaxation it repeated but not as strongly. During this time I decided to take the Five Precepts. During the ceremony I suddenly felt waves as if there were some kind of energy moving inside me. In general there were more feelings coming up on this day than on the previous day. 

“These days were fruitful. Along with the Dharma name “Mindfulness of the Heart!’ I also received encouragement to practice all day long. When I see water flowing from the faucet, I remember I am only here and only now, and I smile.” 

Thay, Sister Chan Khong, Sister Jina, Arnie, and I lived in great harmony as a “family” with our St. Petersburg hosts, the Borisovs. Four of us stretched out our bedding on the living room floor every night, and we prepared our meals together and ate in deep appreciation of the goodness of Russian bread, potatoes, tea, and also the wonderful Vietnamese cooking of Sister Chan Khong.


On the last night of our stay, we met with members of a potential core Sangha of mindfulness practice, while another meeting was going on in the kitchen between Sr. Chan Khong and Orris Publishers about publishing a volume of four of Thay’s books this January—Present Moment Wonderful Moment, Touching Peace, The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion, and The Moon Bamboo. Thay spoke about the need to listen carefully to others and not to be too attached to our own ideas. “Don’t think, ‘My idea is the only one worth considering.’ We need to gather as a Sangha and make decisions together after listening to several viewpoints.” Then Sr. Chan Khong offered the Sangha 100 of Thay’s books from Orris to sell in order to help the Sangha cover such expenses as rental of a place for practice and inviting teachers to come. Thay entrusted the bell of mindfulness to Julia with instruction, and a set of books in English was entrusted to Edward for the use of the whole Sangha.

When Sasha requested that we also visit other meditation groups throughout the former U.S.S.R., Amie suggested, “Just as Thay says that the best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment, I think the best way to take care of other Sanghas is for us to take good care of the Sangha here.” After several previous visits, we could see that it is not easy for mindfulness practice to take root. Our friends in St. Petersburg are very much in our hearts and minds, and we wish them success in their efforts to practice together.

In Moscow, we were greeted by unseasonably warm weather and Sangha members offering dozens of fragrant roses. That evening, Boris told us the story of his pacifist resistance to the communist authorities. Finally, he said, “Our first daughters were born during the time of Brezhnev, and you can see the psychological scars they bear from the tension and oppression of those times Masha was born during perestroika, and you can see in her some lightness. But Katya, born after the fall of communism, is a completely different personality, so open and free.”

The next morning we did walking meditation among the cathedrals of the Kremlin. In the evening, Thay gave a public lecture to the local Vietnamese community, so beleaguered with violence, fear, and insecurity. Thay spoke for nearly three hours about the practice of conscious breathing, the need for something beautiful and true to believe in, how wrong perceptions are the source of much of our suffering, and the need for clear communication with loved ones to nurture our love and understanding. In response to the question, “If the Buddha was a man, why do we offer incense and prostrate to him?”, Thay spoke about honoring the Buddha within. When someone commented, “In the face of so much violence and hatred here towards the Vietnamese, I feel overwhelmed and hopeless,” Thay gave practical suggestions about maintaining calm as we work to overcome oppression and injustice.

On Thursday, Thay gave a lecture to 300 people, and on Friday, we headed to the retreat site, where Thay concentrated again on the problem of holding too strongly to ideas rather than practicing mindfulness of the present moment. “One ideology imposed on people can cause a lot of damage. We have to be very careful where we put our faith.” He articulated the Five Powers—faith, diligence, mindfulness, concentration, and understanding—as a way of proceeding from a failed ideology to a life of authentic contact with reality.


One question, “Is Thay going to speak about the Dharma or just his experience?” prompted an description of the difference between the written or spoken Dharma and the “living Dharma.” Thay responded to the question, “Are you enlightened?” by saying, “When you ask such a question, you need to ask, ‘enlightened about what?’ Enlightenment is always enlightenment of something.” Thay emphasized with the Muscovites how we can be enlightened many times in the course of a day if we live mindfully. This seemed like the right medicine for people who tend to mystify spiritual practice. Forty more people received the Five Precepts in a ceremony in Russian and Vietnamese. Thay seemed energized and happy at the end of the retreat as he served me a cup of sweet beans and ginger he had cooked himself, and we enjoyed them and the majestic birch forest outside the window.

Several core Sangha members stayed at the retreat site, and on Monday morning we practiced walking meditation with Thay and had a Dharma discussion about practice, communication, and Sangha organization. Several Russian friends gathered mushrooms in the forest, which they gave to a delighted Sister Chan Khong.

Thay and the Sisters went home to Plum Village, and Amie and I went on to Warsaw. Our first evening there, we attended a Jewish holiday ceremony (Simchat Torah) at the only synagogue in the city. It was encouraging to feel the revitalization of a faith and practice that had suffered near-annihilation. Men, women, and children danced in circles, celebrating the Torah in Hebrew song. The next day, with the help of Jewish-Buddhist friends from Warsaw, we ventured forth to Lodz, the home of Arnie’s maternal ancestors. We sat briefly inside the Jewish community center’s temple and witnessed a heated discussion about the Torah among several elderly men standing around the sacred text. Then we went upstairs to a dark room off the heavily scented kitchen to meet with Mr. Praszkier, the head of the temple, who agreed to look through his records for the death certificates of Arnie’s great-grandparents. He wrote some names and numbers on a piece of paper and telephoned the cemetery gatekeeper, who guided us along a wide path carpeted with yellow leaves, while the autumn sunlight filtered through the changing maples. We walked past grand tombstones of Jewish magnates to a wild maze of poorer tombstones contending with undergrowth. “Come and see the grave of my grandmother’s mother,” Arnie said as he took my hand and walked me to a gravesite not quite five feet long covered with green moss, the headstone beautifully carved in Hebrew. We touched the moss and breathed in contemplation. It was sobering to walk among the untended graves of so many others who no longer have living relatives.

The next evening we joined students of Kwong Roshi for sitting meditation, chanting, and tea in their zendo in Warsaw’s Old Town. Everything was familiar from our experience in Japanese Soto Zen, except there was a painting of the Black Madonna on the altar and the chants were in Polish as well as in Japanese. When one of the students asked how the chanting sounded to me, I said that I did not know why, but it sounded to me very much like Latin. He said that Latin is part of the Polish linguistic heritage, that from the 14th to the 18th centuries, Latin was spoken by the Poland’s aristocracy. In a discussion over tea, Arnie and I expressed our appreciation for the calm refuge of their zendo and the applicability of Zen practice and insights to family, community, work, and political life.

One hundred people attended Amie’s public lecture, and 30 joined us for a Day of Mindfulness the next day in a cozy garden house in an orchard-filled yard. Arnie spoke about joy and peacefulness as gauges for one’s meditation practice. He related many stories about the effects of Suzuki-roshi and Thich Nhat Hanh’s simple, deep, quiet, and joyous presences. There was time to hear from each participant—their needs, anticipations, and actual experience of the practices. We ended with a meeting about mindfulness practice as an adjunct to the already established Zen practices in Warsaw. Those who have taken responsibility for holding Days of Mindfulness since Thay’s visit in 1992 felt the need to share the responsibilities. It was a relief to acknowledge how important thing it is to practice mindfulness while taking care of the details of organizing the practice!

We had time before leaving Europe to marvel at Warsaw’s Old Town. A film on the death of so many thousands of soldiers and civilians and the destruction of Warsaw by the retreating Nazis opened my heart to the tenacious spirit of Warsovians and made the walk through the cobblestone streets amid reconstructed buildings decorated with paintings, woodwork, and mosaics precious and real. Exchanges with individual Sangha members were a delight and moved us. Marisha remembered when there were only the foundation stones of the majestic palace of the square. Tanna remembered being so hungry as a child after the war that she ate plaster for its calcium. Walks together, visits to churches listening to services in Polish, meals at homes and favorite restaurants, and sharing tea gave Warsaw a very special meaning.

We felt very warmly welcomed back to the U.S. when we arrived in New York City in time to enjoy a spectacular sunset. The silhouette of the Verrazano Bridge laced with light against the golden-red sky ahead and stunning views of the Manhattan skyline and the bay on either side brought home to us the feeling of bountiful beauty. At the mindfulness retreat for veterans and others at Omega Institute, we were greeted by many loving faces of Order of Interbeing members as well as many open faces of newcomers to the practice. Sitting under a glorious maple tree observing people as they began to settle into natural walking meditation, I felt blessed to be with friends maturing in the practice of mindfulness as individuals and as a caring Sangha.

Therese Fitzgerald, True Light, is the director of the Community of Mindful Living.

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Practicing the Way in Russia

By Edward Meaning

I hope our newly organized Russian Sangha will survive and progress. I am absolutely sincere and accepting ardently Thay’s teaching. The most important aim of our efforts is not an organization, but the fundamental thing about which Thay and other teachers never tire to tell us: arriving at the state of touching the here and now or the Buddha within ourselves. I feel that many are immersed in the fuss of outer activities making them as it were the goal in itself, being completely in the play of superficial developments. The person who has touched the here and now doesn’t need special stimuli or specially organized circumstances to continue on the path.

I am not a “Buddhist.” Buddhism just coincides with my natural manner of feeling the world and the tendency to make my human way in it. I refuse to label myself any “ism.” Just being nobody, I am Buddhist automatically. But I don’t want to demonstrate it or show it off. I don’t feel a need to make any special effort. But to be aware of the values and the whole system of Buddhism, to know about Dharma, and practice it, is a tremendous treasure.

Dharmic truth is available in every moment. For example, I am still in a flush of shame after the incident when I found myself in the grips of attachment and could not let go. When I came on your invitation to visit, I had concocted a very clever short speech addressed to Thay to be pronounced at the moment of handing some flowers to him. But the situation appeared to be different. He was resting in his room, and my intention collapsed. But I was still playing with the broken fragments of this intention and thus failed to do the only natural thing—hand over the flowers to those present. Wisdom certainly lies with Dharma, not with concocted ideas.

Edward Meaning is co-coordinator of the St. Petersburg Sangha that hosted a retreat with Thay in September.

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Retreat/Seminar at Plum Village, June 1995, on the Community of Nuns in the West 

For many years, the nuns of Plum Village have been developing community practice life in France and feel the time is now ripe to share with others on similar paths their practice and the issues of monastic life for women they have encountered. For this reason, they are inviting women and men of various traditions —Buddhist, Christian, and other—to come to Plum Village June 25-30, 1995, to practice meditation, look deeply, and discuss how communities of nuns might be able to flourish in the West. Anyone interested in sharing her or his experience and learning from others is invited to attend.

The main language of the gathering will be English, with translation into French, Vietnamese, and whatever other languages are needed. There will be daily meditation, as well as discussions and presentations based on each person’s experience. For further information or to register, contact Plum Village, Meyrac, Loubes-Bernac, 47120 France.

Peace Walk

Vietnam veteran Claude Thomas will be joining a Peace Walk that begins in December 1994, through areas of past or current conflict—Vietnam, Poland, Czech Republic, Solvakia, the Balkans, Israel, Cambodia, and Japan. The Zaltho Foundation is seeking contributions to sponsor veterans to walk from Saigon to Hanoi in June. Please send tax-deductible donations to Zaltho Foundation, c/o 321 Bedford Street, Concord, MA 01742. Checks should be payable to “Community of Mindful Living,” earmarked for Peace Walk. Contact Claude Thomas, c/o Zaltho Foundation, for more information.

Sharing with Children of the Third World

Partage is a nonprofit foundation founded by Pierre Marchand, a member of the Order of Interbeing, to support child health and development worldwide. Projects include a “Children’s Village” in Thailand that cares for children who are psychologically disturbed or who have been traumatized as a result of child slavery or prostitution, educational programs in Cambodia, India, Bangladesh, and many other countries. Pierre began a 3-week fast in October to protest children in embargoed areas. For information, write Partage, 11 Rue de Change, 60203 Compiegne Cedex, France.

In the Footsteps of the Buddha

Shantum Seth will lead pilgrimages to the sites of the life of the Buddha in India and Nepal in December 1994 and February 1995. For further information, contact Aura Wright, 3439 N.E. Sandy, Suite 207, Portland, OR 97232. Tel: (503) 335-0794.


Anne Aitken died of a heart attack in June. She was 83 years old. Together with her husband, Robert Aitken Roshi, she founded the Diamond Sangha, one of the first Zen training centers in the West. Aitken Roshi shares this story about Anne: “Once Yamada Roshi asked a student of the Diamond Sangha, ‘What do you think of death?’ Anne replied, ‘Why it’s like when a bus stops before you, you get on and go.’ He approved the answer and Wu-men would too.” Anne Aitken’s kindness, love, and leadership are greatly missed.

Sam Rose of Denver, Colorado, died in late September. Sam was active in the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and organized the first retreat for psychotherapists led by Thay Nhat Hanh.

Hoang Phuc (Brother True Birth, Chan Sinh) died on October 22 in Montreal. Ten years ago, his doctors predicted his imminent death due to cancer, but thanks to good fortune and the practice of non-fear and conscious breathing, his cancer went into remission for nine years. The cancer recently came back very quickly in his liver. He learned about the cancer and died just one week later.

R. Travis Masch and Leanne Haglund were married October 16 at the Berkeley Zen Center in the presence of family, friends, and the Bay Area Sangha.

Vietnamese Cultural Revival

Professor Nguyen Hue Chi of Hanoi recently visited Plum Village and shared with the community his project to compile Ly Tran Poetry and Prose, a seminal work of classical Vietnamese literature. For more information or to support this important project, please write to the Community of Mindful Living.

Russian Buddmb12-Announcementshist Needs Computer 

Professor Poribok of St. Petersburg is translating the Pali Canon into Russian. His work would be greatly advanced if he has access to a computer. Please let us know at CML if you would like to donate a computer towards this development of Buddhism in Russia.

Russian Artists

Four friends in St. Petersburg are developing art as Buddhist co-practitioners. More news and views of their work in the next issue…

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Having had time to reread two books by Thich Nhat Hanh, my relationship to my immediate and extended worlds will never be the same. I have adapted several gathas from Present Moment Wonderful Moment. I am also, at his encouragement, gathering my own gathas. My cell block of more than 100 inmates is on the fourth floor. So I have developed a gatha for ascending and descending the stairs, aimed at renewing awareness, and encouraging understanding, acceptance, and compassion. A few days ago I started up the stairs taking each step thankful for my health and the fact that I could climb the steps comfortably, and mindful of the many other things I have to be thankful for in each moment. Next, I admonished myself to be aware of the pain and the joy in others, understanding and making their feelings my own. Finally, as I neared the top of the stairs, I promised to accept and love each person I came in contact with.

Making the last turn, I found myself face to face with two huge, sweaty, disgustingly ugly, tattooed, smelly, decidedly unlovable and dangerous gentlemen who commenced, in their loudest voices, to hurl profanities at each other, systematically degrading every possible relation to the other’s family, past, present, and future. Changing their postures to better effect less than kind physical contact, they began threatening one another, adding the other’s sudden, unpleasant demise to an already alarmingly extensive resume of promised atrocities. For some reason, I remembered something I must have dropped at the bottom of the stairs and beat a retreat that was considerably more purposeful than my so recently aborted ascent On the way down, I could not help but laugh at what a good little bodhisattva I had thought I was becoming. After waiting at the bottom of the passageway, I again engaged the steps and my gatha with a little more understanding, honesty, and humility.

For some combination of reasons, including your community’s compassion, I have started to be sensitive to the truth of the Dharma. Sometimes it is difficult to accept that I have been allowed to see a bright avenue, yet am unable to explain to those around me what I have seen. Many of us carry anger and real sadness which we fight to control with gallant tales of the past and brave plans for the future. We feel we need to turn aside a better path, even if it leads towards what we want because to walk on the path requires truthfulness, mindfulness, and compassion. It seems we illogically have a need to justify being wrong, even if we know it is wrong. I think it takes courage and a good self-image to step outside of oneself to find the strength to be at peace in the whole world in this moment To practice patiently giving encouragement and consistent support may not be as exciting as being assertive and flamboyant, but I bow to you for your patient practice, your example, and encouragement, and I sit beside you mindful of my peace and thanksgiving in the moment.
S.M Dubois
P.O. Box 215
Maury, NC 28554


I’ve found Thay’s teachings to be especially inspiring in articulating the spirit and importance of Sangha. I seek to connect with members of the larger Community of Mindful Living who share this passion for a full, land-based community life, who are moved to build a spiritual homeland. This has been stirring in my heart with increasing urgency. It’s an impulse to create a living, breathing, sweating, working Sangha, a community of people integrating livelihood, ecological stewardship, play, tears, and laughter all in a context of cultivating mindfulness/heartfulness.
Craig Green
Mineral, Virginia

Thank you for producing such a lovely edition of The Mindfulness Bell on “Mindfulness in the Workplace.” I read it cover to cover in one sitting! It’s good to know that there are other people out there who share similar problems—and that there are ways to work with those difficulties. I found it very helpful. While I was studying in Australia, I came across books by Thich Nhat Hanh. I was amazed at the practicality and clarity of his teachings and was inspired to practice mindfulness as best as I can. I hope to be able to participate in a retreat although I’ve never
been to one.
Pooi Ming Lum

With Thay and the whole Sangha as constant reminders, I experienced for the first time the joy of working together with the shared intent of breathing and smiling when I was at the Winter Retreat at Plum Village. Now when I look through the many photos I took during those days I see everyone smiling and it reminds me to return to my true self.
David Lawrence
Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin

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Poem: Untitled Poem 3

You and I, my brother,
are not different.
Yet there is much I can learn from you—I can
to drive my roots down deep into Earth’s rich soil
and become steadfast;
I can learn to grow against the sky
and be a calm, patient resting place
for many chattering friends who come along;
I can learn to stay pliable
and gently sway in the winds of change,
for they will pass, and we remain.
Should the sky above decide to seek me out
as lightning’s aim,
I will not argue with my lot, nor quiver.
For even split apart and scattered,
life would soon begin anew.
I will not fade away
but only be transformed
into something even more glorious.

Travis Masch
San Francisco, California

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Dharma Talk: The Eightfold Path

By Thich Nhat Hanh

The Noble Eightfold Path is made up of Right View, Right Speech, Right Livelihood, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration, Right Thought, Right Action and Right Effort. Right View is the insight that we have within us of the reality of life. Our insight, understanding, wisdom, knowledge, happiness, and the happiness of those around us depend very much on the degree of Right View that we have. That is why Buddhist practice always aims at helping us develop a deeper understanding of what is going on within us and around us.


Right View can be termed prajna. It can also be described as enlightenment, understanding, or wisdom. There are people who practice hard, but instead of developing Right View, they become more narrow-minded. By looking at their insight, their capacity of understanding, their ways of loving others, we can know whether their practice is correct or not. It is not a problem of the mind or the heart. It is a problem of right practice. Right practice is always pleasant and joyful in this very moment and always leads to dissolving notions and developing Right View.

Can Right View be transmitted to another person? This is an important question. Sometimes parents have a deep understanding of life, but they are unable to transmit their insight to their children. There are many reasons for this. One is communication. If the line of communication is broken, no matter how much insight you have, you cannot transmit it. Another is that you do not speak the same language. A third is that your insight might be too personalized. It works for you, but it must be practiced and presented in another way to others.

Wisdom insight is the kind of energy that makes us happy, alive, and loving. Sometimes we try to express it in words, as in the sutras or the Abhidharma, the treatise on the Dharma. When the Buddha was fully enlightened under the Bodhi tree, he had that kind of energy in him, prajna. It made him very happy and loving. He wanted to share that insight with others; that is why he thought of the five ascetics who had practiced with him in the past. But before he set off for the Deer Park in Sarnath, the Buddha remained near the Bodhi tree to enjoy his enlightenment. Enlightenment is enjoyable. The Buddha practiced sitting, walking, smiling to the trees, and playing with children from the village of Uruvela.

One day he went to a nearby lotus pond and sat for a long time, contemplating the lotus flowers and leaves. It was at that moment he discovered a way to communicate his insight to others. Insight is not made of concepts, but if you want to share your insight, you must use concepts, words, and notions. As the Buddha was looking at the lotus pond, he realized that people are of many different psychologies. Like the lotuses, some have roots deep in the mud, some have leaves still curled and underwater, some have buds partially exposed to the air, and some have leaves entirely above the water. That is why we need different means to share the Dharma with various kinds of people. The intention to create different Dharma doors was born at that time. One Dharma door is not enough.

During his 49 days of enjoying himself – sitting and walking around the Bodhi tree – the Buddha continued to translate his insight into notions and words. Then, during his first Dharma to the five ascetics, he spoke about the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, which are the eight right practices. A sutra, or a Dharma talk, is a translation of the insight that has been achieved. Dharma talks are not insight in and of themselves. Sutras are just means of presenting insight in terms of concepts and notions. Even if it is a good description of the insight in terms of notions and words, there may be some difficulty. When you buy a map of New York City, you know that the map is not the city. You just use it to enjoy the city. It is important not to mistake the map for the city itself. Many people get caught by notions and words and miss the real insight. The Buddha said, “My teaching is like a finger pointing to the moon. Do not mistake the finger for the moon.” Do not get caught by the words and the notions, or you will never touch the real insight.

The Buddha also said, “My teaching is like a raft that can help you get to the other shore. Don’t grasp at the raft and think that the raft is the shore.” Another day he said, “It is dangerous to misunderstand my teaching. If you don’t learn and practice with intelligence, you will spread more harm than good. It is like a person who does not know the better way to catch a snake. He may get bitten by it. A clever person will use a forked stick to catch the snake by the back of the neck, so he can pick it up safely. If you catch a snake by the tail, you may be bitten. Learning and practicing the Dharma is the same. You need intelligence, you need a teacher, you need sisters and brothers in the Dharma to help you learn and practice.”

Right View is not an ideology, a system, or even a path. Right View is living insight that fills a person with understanding, love, and peace. It is quite different from Dharma talks, sutras, or books. We must use words and notions and the understanding behind them. Imagine someone who has never eaten a kiwifruit. When he hears the word “kiwi,” many concepts or notions are created in his mind. If you try to explain a kiwi to him, you might describe it as a fruit of such and such size, a certain color, feel, and taste. But no matter how well you do the job, you cannot give the other person the direct experience of the kiwi. It must be tasted. That is the only way. No matter how intelligent the other person is, kiwi cannot be understood until he places a slice of kiwi into his mouth. The same difficulty confronts anyone trying to convey insight or enlightenment. You must have direct experience. We practice mindfulness, concentration, and looking, touching, and understanding deeply, so that insight might be possible.

Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration, and Right View are the basis of the practice. The practice of Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, and Right Effort are easy and natural when the practice of Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration, and Right View have become solid. The Venerable Nyanaponika, a German-born bhikkhu, has described mindfulness as the heart of Buddhist meditation. I fully agree. Right Thinking is a practice, and its essence lies in mindfulness. If you are not mindful, your thinking cannot be right. If you are not mindful, how can you practice Right Speech? You can make a lot of people unhappy and create a war within your community or family. That is why mindfulness in speaking is the heart of right speech. Right Action – not to kill, not to steal, not to commit adultery, etc. – cannot be practiced properly unless mindfulness is the foundation of your being. The same applies to Right Livelihood; if you are mindful of the ecosystem and the suffering of other species, your attempt to practice Right Livelihood has a chance to succeed. If you are not mindful about what is happening to the earth, the water, the air, the suffering of humans and animals, how can you practice Right Livelihood? Mindfulness must be the basis of your practice. If your efforts are not mindful, those efforts will not bring about the good result you hope for. Without mindfulness, the more effort you make, the more you can create suffering and disorder. That is why Right Effort, too, should be based on mindfulness.

When you practice Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration is easy. The energy of mindfulness already contains the energy of concentration, and with mindfulness and concentration, you practice looking, listening, and touching deeply, and out of that deep looking, listening, and touching, Right View is the fruit. Understanding and insight grow. As Right View continues to grow, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, and Right Effort will become stronger. When you sit correctly, your thinking is clear, and you act accordingly and practice Right Livelihood. Everything depends on Right View, and Right View depends on Right Mindfulness.

The practice of mindfulness, concentration, and Right View are the essence of Buddhist practice. They are called the Threefold Training – sila (precepts), samadhi (concentration), and prajna (insight). Mindfulness is the foundation of all precepts. When you practice the Five Precepts, you see that they are not imposed on you by someone else. They are the insight that comes out of mindfulness: “Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I vow to protect all life. I vow not to kill.” That First Precept is born from mindfulness of the suffering caused by the destruction of life. Precepts are a concrete expression of mindfulness. I you don’t practice the precepts, you cannot say that you are practicing mindfulness. To practice mindfulness means to practice the precepts in your daily life.

“Aware of the destruction of families and couples, aware of the suffering of the children who are sexually molested by others, I promise to practice protecting the integrity of the individual and the family. I vow to protect children from abuse. I vow to refrain from any act that creates a disintegration of families or couples. I vow to do my best to protect children.” This Third Precept is born from our mindfulness of what happens when we practice sexual misbehavior. All precepts, whether they number 5, 10, 14, 250, or 380, are born from the practice of mindfulness. Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, and Right Effort are all practices of the precepts. When you live your daily life this way, your mindfulness will grow. The energy of mindfulness brings about concentration. You are concentrated in your daily life. You are concentrated in your sitting and walking meditation, and you look deeply and touch deeply, which brings about more and more insight. More insight helps you practice mindfulness in your daily life more easily.

If we look into any one of the eight branches of the path, we see that the other seven are present in it. If we look at Right Speech, insight is present because correct speech is born from insight. We can see that we have concentration. If we are speaking mindfully about something, we know what we are saying. Right Action, Right Livelihood, and Right Effort are also found in Right Speech. We can see the nature of interbeing in all elements of the path.


Mindfulness practice must be applied to our daily life in order to be true practice. At Plum Village, we practice not only in the meditation hall, but in the kitchen, the garden, and the bathroom as well. It is helpful to slow down. We enjoy walking, reading, bending down, and all that we do in mindfulness. When you drive, hold your baby, wash your dishes, or work at the office, you can practice mindfulness. But for that to be possible, you need the support of a Sangha. You must create a Sangha where you live, because you need the support of brothers and sisters in the practice. The Buddha was quite clear that the Noble Eightfold Path is the practice of our daily lives, not of intensive retreats alone. The Noble Eightfold Path is the practice of an engaged Buddhist. Right Action – not to kill but to protect all life, not to steal but to be generous in giving time and energy for the people who suffer, not to break up families and couples, not to harm children but to protect them – all these things are meant to be practiced in real life.

To say “engaged Buddhism” is redundant. How can it be Buddhism if it is not “engaged?” To communicate, we must use words, and hopefully our words will be heard and understood. In his first Dharma talk to the five ascetics at Deer park, the Buddha offered the Noble Eightfold Path, and in his last Dharma talk, spoken to the monk Sudhana, the Buddha also offered the Noble Eightfold Path. He said that where there is the Noble Path, there is insight. We must use our intelligence to apply the elements of the Noble Eightfold Path to our daily lives.

The practice of Right View helps us develop a deep understanding of the Four Noble Truths. If you have deep insight into the truth of the suffering of beings, the truth of origination, the truth of cessation, and the truth of the path, you have Right View. In fact, if you have a deep insight into any of these Four Noble Truths, you have deep insight into all four. Each truth contains all the others. This is the teaching of the Buddha about Right View from the historical dimension.

From the ultimate dimension, nothing can be said about Right View. There is a Zen story about two monks walking together. One sees a beautiful bird fly by. It is so beautiful that he wants to share the sight with the other monk. But the other monk has a pebble in his shoe and he is bending down to remove it. When the other monk looks up, there is no bird at all. So he asks, “What is it you want me to see?” But the bird is no longer there. All the first monk can say is, “A beautiful bird has just passed by.” It is not the same as showing him the bird. It is impossible for him to share his wonderful feeling. Sometimes we must just be quiet, when it is impossible to convey the insight.

A philosopher came to the Buddha and asked, “Is there a self? Is there a world?” Bombarded with questions like these, the Buddha said nothing. The philosopher became frustrated and left. Finally Ananda asked the Buddha, “You always say there is no self. Why didn’t you tell him?” The Buddha replied, “Anything I would have said would have done him more harm than good. I said nothing at all, to protect him from wrong views.”

Another time, an ascetic asked the Buddha to explain ultimate reality without using the terms being and nonbeing. The Buddha maintained silence for a long time, and the ascetic bowed three times and left. Ananda marveled and stated, “Lord, you did not say anything, yet he seemed to understand you.” The Buddha replied, “For a good horse, you don’t need a whip.”

Sometimes in Zen circles, they use language that is difficult to understand. This language is not made of concepts. It is a language to help us drop our concepts. From time to time, I try to use that kind of language myself. In 1968, when I was in Philadelphia for a peace demonstration, a reporter asked me, “Are you from the north or the south?” He wanted to put me in a box. If I said I am from the north, he would think I was anti-American. If I said I am from the south, he would think I was either with the National Liberation Front or pro-American. So I smiled and said, “I am from the center.” I hoped that would help him find a way to transcend the conflict. To understand the speech used in Zen circles, you must become familiar with this kind of language.

One Zen student said to his teacher, “I have been at the monastery for three years, and you have never told me about the true way of ultimate reality.” The teacher pointed his finger and said, “Monk, do you see the cypress in the front yard?” It is very important to notice the trees in the front yard. That monk had been living in the monastery for several years and he passed that cypress tree thousands of times, yet he never became aware of its presence. If he had been mindful, he could have touched the ultimate reality directly. How could he expect to touch ultimate reality if he had not even touched the tree in the front yard?

The story of that cypress tree became very well known throughout China. Another monk who heard the story of the cypress tree traveled very far to visit that teacher to ask him about it. But by the time the monk arrived, the teacher had already passed away. He was distraught as he now had no chance to ask his question. Another monk pointed him in the direction of the former teacher’s head disciple and suggested he direct his questions to him. The visiting monk went through many formalities to obtain an audience with this disciple, who was now senior monk. After listening to the visitor’s inquiry about the famous cypress tree, the senior monk answered, “Cypress tree? There is no cypress tree here.” The visitor could not believe it; the entire country had heard about that cypress tree. It had become an important topic of debate. Yet the head of the very temple where it originated did not seem to know anything about it? He tried to explain to the head monk that it was a very deep subject of meditation. He asked him if he was really the disciple of the master. The senior monk replied, “I am.”

When I first heard this story, I understood the senior monk’s intention to “kill” the cypress. Too many people were caught by it. If the visiting monk is intelligent enough, he can be enlightened by this “new” cypress. The cypress is a Dharma door. When you understand this type of exchange, you change your way of looking and understanding, and that can help lead you to enlightenment.

Another teacher when asked a philosophical question, replied, “Have you eaten breakfast?” When the disciple said, “Yes,” the teacher said, “Then please go and wash your dishes.” Washing the dishes mindfully is the door to the ultimate reality, the key to Right View and the whole Noble Eightfold Path. In the ultimate dimension, nothing can be said. In the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra it is said, “no ill-being, no cause of ill-being, no end of ill-being, and no path; no understanding, no attainment” – no Right View, no Right Thinking. These are all notions, and you must free yourself from notions and words. The Buddha said, “My teaching is just a raft to help you get to the other shore. Don’t be caught by the raft.” We do our best practice this way.

This lecture was given in Plum Village during the 1994 Summer Opening. A book on Basic Buddhism by Thich Nhat Hanh will be published later this year.

First photo by Gaetano Kazuo Maida.
Second photo by Tran Van Minh

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

From the Editors

We are happy to share with you the wonderful news that Thich Nhat Hanh will be visiting the United States this fall. We hope this gives you enough time to plan to spend time with him and Sister Chan Khong.

Thay’s Dharma talk on the Eightfold Path is a continuation of his teachings on the Four Noble Truths begun in the last issue, emphasizing Right Mindfulness, Concentration, and View as the foundations of practice that allow for the realization of the other “folds.” Dorota’s response to the Pope’s new book reflects the global consequences of practicing Right View (or not).

Mindfulness of breath and feelings informs Elana Rosenbaum’s article and the anonymous poem. Svein Myreng introduces the idea of “Sangha honeymoon,” and several practitioners share their experiences of mindfulness in nature. Greg Marton continues the theme of “returning to our roots.” Jonathan Maxson speaks for people in their twenties and we hear from young people in Gaia’s poem and Sam’s article.

As it becomes easier to know about life in Vietnam firsthand, we have vivid accounts and photographs. The work with veterans is developing now, as we begin editing the veterans’ writings for a forthcoming book.

Letters from practitioners in various situations help us know each other’s joys, struggles, insights, and needs. We invite you to respond to the pieces presented in this issue. Please let us know if we are succeeding in “bringing us back to our true selves” the way a real mindfulness bell can.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank our dear friend and all-round bodhisattva Carole Melkonian for her great energy and tireless commitment to the development of The Mindfulness Bell. Carole gave this publication its name and helped produce every issue up to this one, before moving to Mendocino, California, to cultivate her bodhicitta through nursing work in a hospital there. Carole’s love of mindfulness practice and joyous familiarity with the international Sangha (not to mention her lightning-speed as a typist) have shined all these years.

We have been fortunate to have the bright help of Michael Gardner with Sangha news and subscriptions for the past two years. His steady presence in the CML office has nourished all of us here and the many people he was in contact with throughout Thay’s visit in 1993 and since. Michael is now offering courses on the Enneagram “and beyond”in the Bay Area, California.


We are blessed to have Ellen Peskin, True Full Fruition, as the new Associate Director of CML and coeditor of The Mindfulness Bell. Offering incense, bowing, and reciting a gatha every morning together, we carry on through the day in support of each other’s efforts to practice mindfulness as we take care of all we can.

—Therese Fitzgerald, Arnie Kotler, and Ellen Peskin

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Poem: Untitled Poem 1


In the mirror I am water—
reflecting, changing,
sometimes rough,
sometimes calm.
I reflect reality, truthfulness.

You cannot tell my age.
It is not known.
That is part of the magic.
Reflecting, changing,
I am shown in different forms.

You see me as a dragon,
a flower, a stone,
a tree blowing in the wind,
reflecting, changing.
And now I am just
a girl writing a poem
about reflections.

Gaia Thurston-Shaine, age 13
McCarthy, Alaska

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Right View for the World

By Dorota Golebiewska

Editor’s note: This article appeared in the Polish newspaper Zycie Warszawy (Life of Warsaw). The author (friend and co-practitioner) was asked to explain the background of the conflict between the Pope and Sri Lankan Buddhists. Dorota writes, “I felt reluctant at first. I had a feeling that the harm had already been done. The Pope’s book is being widely read, and I felt the best answer to it would be to show what is really beautiful about Buddhism instead of joining the chorus of critics on either side. I tried to deal with it without igniting even more conflict, distrust, and confusion. Some people later called me to say that they felt very good about the text; that it seemed to bring about some harmony. I was really happy to hear that.”

The Pope’s conflict with Buddhist leaders of Sri Lanka, based on his statements in Crossing the Threshold of Hope, cast a shadow on his recent Asian pilgrimage. Distressed by the Pope’s “spreading of distorted views of their religion,” the Sri Lankan patriarchs rejected an invitation to join prayers with the Pope and decided to boycott his visit. A few days before the Pope’s arrival to Sri Lanka where Buddhists form 70 percent of the population of 18 million, antipapal gatherings became an everyday event. A church and a Buddhist temple were set on fire. Sri Lankan priests warned of undefined “acts of religious protest.”

The Pope’s repeated words of “profound respect and highest esteem” for Buddhism were rejected by Sri Lanka’s spiritual leaders as insufficient and unsatisfactory. They demanded an official apology and withdrawal from the Pope’s book certain remarks that they found “false, insulting, and degrading”—remarks calling Buddhism “a largely atheistic system,” and “a doctrine of negative salvation,” offering liberation from the world’s evils only through rejection of the world and withdrawal from society. Sri Lanka’s Buddhist Federation also called the Pope’s identification of Buddhist enlightenment with “indifference to the world” and his critical remarks on Buddhism’s “ascetic methods and meditation” derogatory. The Pope writes, “Enlightenment achieved by the Buddha is limited to a belief that the world is bad. It is the source of evil and suffering. To liberate oneself from this evil, one has to turn away from the world.. .the source of evil. That is the point where the spiritual growth comes to an end.”

This Pope’s vision strengthens the stereotype of Buddhists as “crazy folk,” spending their days sitting crosslegged because of pervasive embitterment. However, if this were the whole truth about the Buddha, it would be hard to understand how this figure of 2,600 years ago continues to move the hearts and minds of millions of people. Unfortunately, the Pope’s understanding is not uncommon and stems from the typical difficulties that the Western mind encounters when trying to understand the Eastern mind.


The Pope’s Buddha resembles more the Christian ascetics of the Middle Ages who condemned the body and the worldly life as sinful by nature than the Hindu Prince Siddhartha Gautama. The spiritual revolution started by Gautama in ancient India was based largely on his rejection of ascetic practices sanctified in those days, such as rejecting one’s body. For a Buddhist, the world cannot be the source of evil because he rejects the idea of evil as such and believes that anything that exists is good, just by the fact of its existence. The source of suffering is not the world itself but the distorted way in which we tend to see it based on greed, hatred, and delusion. According to his teachings, these “curtains” can fall off our eyes through the practice of open up to the presence of God’s Kingdom and find it truly available in the here and now,” says one of the most famous contemporary Buddhist teachers, Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. It is really difficult to call these words “spreading atheism,” even as they come from a practitioner of a religion that prefers to speak of God as “the absolute” or “ultimate reality.”

When talking about the meaning of Buddhist enlightenment, Thay brings in the figure of St. Francis as the son of a rich merchant, throwing his father’s gold at his feet and leaving home to spread “the Good News” and live only on what is offered to him, not in any way an ascetic aimed at degrading himself, but rather expressing his joyful faith and perfect inner freedom. In times when the faithful question the Church’s accumulation of worldly wealth, this young man of Assisi stands as someone trying to realize Jesus’ teachings of life as the lilies live, without worry, lacking nothing, because the Lord takes care of their needs and makes them the most beautiful of flowers. When St. Francis asks a tree to spread the word of God’s glory, the tree blossoms in midwinter. “This is one of the most beautiful tales of the nature of enlightenment,” comments Thay. “Meditation is not an escape from reality. When you silence your mind, and the curtains of fear and anger fall off your eyes, you start to see more clearly the beauty of the sun and the flowers, the smile of those you love, and the suffering of those who have made you suffer. This gives birth to true love and compassion, and you are capable of feeling deep unity with all the universe.” The fruits of meditation defined this way seem a long way from ” indifference to the world as the source of all evil.”

The chapter of the Pope’s book entitled “Buddha?” cannot be considered an objective review of the main ideas of Buddhism. The Pope is openly addressing all those Christians who perceive Eastern spirituality as an alternative or supplement to Catholicism. The Pope concentrates on the differences between the teachings of the Buddha and those of Christ. He does not conceal his aim of discouraging Christians from turning to Buddhism. Finally, the Pope says quite clearly, “In this moment, it seems necessary to warn Christians who are enthusiastically open to diverse propositions deriving from religious traditions of the East regarding methods of meditation and ascetics. It seems to me it would be much better if these young people would get a profound knowledge of their own spiritual heritage first and reconsider if it is appropriate for them to deny it without regret.”

In this point, we can note a similar statement by one of the highest authorities in contemporary Buddhism, exiled Tibetan leader, the fourteenth Dalai Lama. “Buddhism is the best way for Buddhists. Westerners should reconsider before they turn away from their original traditions. If you have been born Christian, it is quite probable that Christianity is your way. If it is Buddhism, there is a fair chance you would have been born a Buddhist. So maybe before you change your religion, you better try to meet the challenge there for you in your original tradition,” says the Dalai Lama to enthusiastic European crowds.

Living in exile in France, Thich Nhat Hanh encourages his Western students—and there are thousands of them—to use Buddhist practice to help them come to terms with their religious heritage. To this end, for example, he modified the practice of “the Five Prostrations” aimed at cultivating forgiveness: “Now I see Jesus and Mary, as my spiritual teachers and guides. I know that I have lost touch with them due to human imperfection of those who tried unsuccessfully to transfer the true treasure of religion to me. Now I go back to my spiritual roots and rediscover the jewels hidden in Christianity, and I bow down before Jesus.”

Thich Nhat Hanh encourages his students to take what is the true heart of his teachings and practice it within their own spiritual traditions. In his opinion, the real problem lies not in questions about Buddhist doctrine being more or less attractive, or higher or lower than Christianity. The true problem lies in a kind of vacuum created by unaddressed spiritual needs, especially among young people. In this vacuum, it seems the role of spiritual leaders falls into the hands of rock stars, actors, and self-declared gurus of unknown origins. Rather than waste their time on issues of control and the strengthening of Church authority, Catholic priests should make all efforts to find authentic Catholic teachings, based on true understanding and love, to reach these young people’s hearts and minds.

“I consider myself a student of Thich Nhat Hanh, and I take his teachings seriously,” says Alison, an American psychotherapist. “After returning home from a retreat with Thay, I visited my local parish church. I explained to the pastor that I was a Buddhist and I told him what had brought me to the church. I started to attend services and read the Bible, and he started quoting Buddhist teachings in his sermons. But why did I have to become a Buddhist to discover Christ?”

A serious attempt to answer this question seems a much more creative approach to these young Christians whom the Pope would like to save from getting overenthusiastic about Eastern spirituality, rather than discussing which religion is “better.” After all, as the Vatican II Sobor, quoted by the Pope in his book, said, “The Holy Spirit can act effectively even outside of the visible Church through semina verbi (seeds of the Word) sown throughout the great religions of the world. Practicing the great religions, one can also experience the glory of revelation.”

As for Buddhism, like any great religion, it also has many faces—the one of loving understanding as presented here by Thich Nhat Hanh, and the other one of the angry and insulted, declaring “war at the top” to the Pope for his wrong understanding of ideas deriving from a culture different from his own.

Dorota Golebiewska is a journalist and an active member of the Sangha in Warsaw, Poland.

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A Long Enduring Mind

By Svein Myreng

When we take up the practice of mindfulness, it feels wonderful. We enjoy a new calm and serenity, see trees and the sky more vividly, and find pleasure in a community that values friendliness and equanimity. This is the “honeymoon” of mindfulness practice, to be enjoyed fully. But it doesn’t last in this way. After a while, there usually comes a time when we are assailed by the strangest thoughts and emotions. We wonder where the precious calm of our earlier meditation periods went, and our formerly lovable Sangha friends suddenly show the most unpleasant habits. Something feels rotten in this state of Dharma.

This is a common phase in the practice, and, believe it or not, a very useful one. As mindfulness helps our mind and body relax more deeply, long repressed “internal knots” start to dissolve and surface. We become aware of subtle thoughts, impulses, and feelings that we simply didn’t notice earlier. Sometimes, our practice lets us get in touch with these “hidden” aspects, while our mindfulness is not yet strong enough for us to digest them fully. We easily project feelings or character traits onto others. Also, inevitable differences in temperament and conflicting interests become visible as we get more in touch with both ourselves and our Sangha sisters and brothers. Together, these factors can create turbulence in any Sangha, and usually, we cannot reduce them to simple questions of being right or wrong. At such times, many practitioners become deeply worried; after all, we sought peace, not a new place of conflict. Some may leave the Sangha and the practice altogether.

Three years ago, I stayed in Plum Village for a few months. There were various difficulties and tensions among members of the Sangha (including me), but we knew that we had to live with each other and find ways to solve our difficulties. (Happily, there are tools, like the “Beginning Anew” ceremony.) In this process, we got to know each other and ourselves more as real people, not just on the surface, and some true friendships developed from this.

C.G. Jung coined two useful terms: The persona is basically our self-image, the image we present to society. The shadow is the hidden aspects of ourselves, the parts that we don’t want to see, are unable to see, and have never really been allowed to express. It takes a great (unconscious) effort to keep the shadow in the shadow, and liberating this energy makes life a lot richer.

When we accept the difficulties of the practice and stay with our Sangha and ourselves, we shed the light of mindfulness on the shadow. We get to know our Sangha friends on a deeper level than the persona, learning to appreciate them as real, multifaceted people. This helps us appreciate the multitude of mental factors that exist in the depths of ourselves as well. Fearless in relation to the unpleasant, we make peace within our Sangha and within ourselves. This is real maturation: moving from the concept of how we should be, to understanding how we are—changing all the time. If we leave when the Sangha honeymoon is over and search for another Sangha instead, we will never know this maturation, friendship, and deeper peace that comes through understanding and transforming difficulties. (In certain cases, though, we may have to acknowledge that a situation is really too harmful to stay in.)

As mindfulness deepens, we get more truly in touch with joy, peace, and life as a whole. I doubt that this will ever remove our difficulties completely, but it will give us a larger perspective and a deeper equanimity. I’m fond of Chinese Zen Master Xu Yun’s expression, “a long enduring mind.” He lived to be 120, so he should know! Even with less longevity, a long enduring mind, a passion to go more deeply, is a real gift.

Svein Myreng, True Door, is an adult education teacher in Oslo, Norway.

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Planting Seeds

By Deb Soule

I have been gardening and studying the medicinal uses of herbs for 20 years. The process of gathering seeds, planting them the following spring, and watching them grow and flower and produce seed is truly a miracle. I feel deeply grateful that my life is centered around gardening and making and dispensing herbal medicines.

The practice of planting seeds, tending seedlings, and nourishing soil has become more meaningful for me because of mindfulness practice. Chimes and bells hanging from a maple tree and hops trellis have become the mindfulness bells in my one-acre garden. Beginning my 12-hour work days in the summer months with walking and sitting meditation in the garden has helped me be more present and enjoy the many tasks a garden asks of the gardener. Bowing to newly planted seedlings and to herbs and vegetables I am about to harvest has become part of my daily practice. The myriad colors, fragrances, and shapes in the garden intertwined with practice are what offer me hope in these times of great suffering. Each time I plant a seed and watch it sprout, I know this is also possible as I cultivate my practice.

Deb Soule lives in Rockland, Maine. She is author of The Roots of Healing: A Woman’s Book of Herbs.

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Settling In

By Sue Austin

Since the retreat at Omega last October, I see that I have not been peaceful. It is as though I have not wanted to surrender to all this whiteness. I fought it coming, but it comes anyway, and not gently. Even the wind blows white. I know that with winter comes bear spirit, hibernation—days up here alone with my thoughts, chores, reading, and the struggle to face myself in writing. When I left the veterans’ retreat, an experience bathed in so much color and heart, it was hard for me to settle down.

I’ve given myself Mondays as a Day of Mindfulness. Today I see the snow has laid a soft blanket that coats the roof and settles into the leaky gaps at the foundation, all to help make the cabin warmer. I stand nearly eye to eye with the white ermine tunneling in and out, happy to have this soft blanket to play in. So I begin to be like the ermine. I wear this whiteness like a coat and head out soon for some skiing meditation.

Sue Austin lives in Tetonia, Idaho.


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Space Free

By Fred Allendorf

My wife and I recently went backpacking into the wilderness on the Montana-Idaho border. Sitting in meditation, I began to contemplate how much more enjoyable my meditations were in the forest, away from the clutter of everyday life. Mindfulness of everyday actions was greatly enhanced in the wilderness. It really was possible to feel that every step caressed the earth.

I was struck by an analogy between the campfire and the television. My wife and I spent each night staring into the light of the campfire, talking and sharing thoughts and feelings. Millions of people across America gather each night to spend hours staring into the light of the TV. Campfires are a place where people share thoughts, feelings, and their experience of the day. “Television families” share a window in which they watch the lives of others.

We are numbed by modern life. TV, radios, and walkmen lead us to avoid being with our own thoughts and feelings, even in those moments when others are not around. But there is more than just escape from distraction in the forest. Morning meditations at home are peaceful, but they lack the intensity of my meditations in the forest. In the wilderness we rejoin our ancestors of thousand of generations who lived their lives in touch with all living beings.

Fred Allendorf, a biology professor and an ordained member of the Order of Interbeing, is a member of the Open Way Sangha in Missoula, Montana.

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Facing Our Demons

By Elana Rosenbaum

“Stay present! Keep your feet on the ground. Face your opponent…move towards the assailant…breathe!” These instructions come from a course in self-defense I recently took in Boston with fifteen other women. The training consisted of five sessions in which we were attacked by men with padded suits and helmets looking like tough giants. The training was to help us learn to protect ourselves from muggers or rapists, but what we also learned was to face our own demons, fears, and anxiety, and to breathe through these debilitating, painful feelings. It was a challenge to transform the garbage of past conditioning into the flowers of action and release.

We learned that being present in the moment is crucial. In order to transform rage, pain, and fear, one had to be fully present to confront the attacker. We had to be fully aware in our bodies, or it would be too late, and we could be hurt. After each of us had her turn, we’d rejoin the line, put our arms around each other, and cheer the next person on. The instructor would ask, “How are you?”

My personal breakthrough came after I admitted out loud that I didn’t feel very good. I realized that I used my breath to disassociate from my fear. Rather than embrace, acknowledge, and use my negative energy, I would breathe and freeze. Numbing the feeling would take me away from what was happening and delay my reaction, which was dangerous. What I wanted to avoid was nausea and revulsion; that terrified little girl inside me, here again. And I felt so stupid, ugly, and powerless. “Breathe.” How often have I said that to myself and to others. Now it was, “Breathe and feel, breathe and face the feelings, breathe and be present, breathe and act, breathe and forgive.” Love that scared little girl and feel the love all around.

The course ended and we all graduated. I knocked out my attacker without any hesitation, staying focused in my body, using my voice, heart, and mind. Success? Yes. But it doesn’t end. I still must care for my garden and tend to the seeds, work the soil and nourish the flowers with proper care and attention.

Elana Rosenbaum, True Dharma Taste, lives in Worchester, Massachusetts, where she practices as a psychotherapist and is a senior instructor in the University of Massachusetts Medical Center Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program.

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Poem: Untitled Poem 2


When you feel anger
and are drowning in a sea of fire,
remember to follow your breath.
Your breath will become
a beautiful lotus boat,
that will carry you away
from confusion, hatred, and desire.

Hold onto your breath
with mindfulness as both
the sail and the anchor.
With diligence,
you will soon discover
the waves of suffering
have been stilled.
We are together as a Sangha
on a beautiful lake of lotuses.


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